History of the Honors Program

The University of Nebraska at Kearney Honors Program began as an idea in 1978. Drs. Thomas Flickema, Harland Hoffman, Richard Jussel, and Michael Schuyler pursued and received a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to establish a program for academically outstanding students. The President of then Kearney State College, Dr. Brendan McDonald, appointed an Honors Council to shape this new academic program designed to intellectually challenge students. Drs. David Clark, Betty Becker-Theye, Michael Schuyler, Donovan Welch, Vernon Plambeck, and Wayne Samuelson thus forged the foundation for a new academic program: the Horizons Program.

In 1980, Dr. Loretta Johnson was appointed the first Director of the Horizons Program. The 2-year program originally began with forty students. Requirements were set as 15 hours of Honors general studies seminars, one per semester over four or five semesters.

In 1984, Dr. Richard Jussel was appointed Honors Director. Early in his 17-year tenure as Director, the Horizons Program was expanded from 15 to 24 hours making it a four-year program. Included in the 24 hours were 9 credit hours of upper division “honors options,” major courses chosen by each individual Honors student. These provide unique opportunities for in-depth study within the major and close contact and guidance from faculty mentors. Also in 1984 the Honors Student Advisory Board was formed to provide a voice for the Honors student population, as well as provide social and community service opportunities.

By 1990, the Horizons Program was renamed the Honors Program and had grown to approximately 250 students. Dr. Jussel served as the Honors Advisor to them all, while continuing to build the Program through cooperative recruitment with the Office of Admissions. Because of the burgeoning scope of the Director’s duties, an Assistant Director position was created. In 1994 Dr. Jussel’s then graduate assistant Jane Christensen was appointed to this position. She currently is Associate Director.

Dr. Jussel also worked to create diverse opportunities outside academics. Establishment of the Stout Honors Hall in 1995 created a new opportunity to develop community among UNK Honors students—a community forged naturally among Honors students by virtue of their common intellectual and academic goals. In 1997, it was necessary for Residence Life to expand the Honors housing to include the second and third floors of Randall Hall. Currently, Men’s Hall is the designated residence hall for the Honors Program.

In 2001, Dr. Peter Longo became the Honors Program Director. Dr. Longo brought in his own philosophies with a heavy emphasis on mentorship. He felt strongly that students could gain invaluable experiences by seeking out mentors and learning from them. Just as Mr. Albom learned from Morrie in Tuesdays with Morrie.

These traditions continued under the leadership of Dr. Gary Davis, who was Honors Director from January 2004 until his retirement in 2010. Dr. Davis placed an emphasis on study abroad, strengthening a partnership with the Roosevelt Academy, which is an honors college in the Netherlands (now called University College Roosevelt). Upon Dr. Davis’ retirement in 2010, Dr. Longo returned to serve while UNK explored options for moving the program forward.

In Fall 2012, the Honors Director changed from a faculty-driven Director position to an administrative position. The new Director, Dr. John Falconer, was appointed in 2013 and served the program for the next 7 years. In this administrative role, Dr. Falconer also served as the Director of Undergraduate Research and Creative Activity. Dr. Falconer pursued the goal of increasing opportunities for honors students to participate in the campus community. In order to emphasize the idea of students "giving back" to the campus community, he instituted the four pillars of the Honors Program, which still stand: Leadership, Research & Creative Activity, Study Abroad, and Community Service. Dr. Falconer emphasized that students should use coursework as the foundation for their intellectual and personal development, but should reach to participate in at least two high impact activities that embodied the Honors Pillars.

The four pillar approach still remains strong under the leadership of Dr. Angela Hollman, who became the Honors Director in 2020. The Study Abroad pillar has been shifted slightly to include all adventuring types of experiences, but premise remains the same: Through emphasis on both intellectual and personal development, Honors students have the keys to significantly enriching collegiate educational experiences and open doors to meaningful, successful lives.


Honors Program Logo