By Kate Daughtery
As the new school year begins, the Malone University Honors Program is experiencing some changes to the program layout and looking ahead to expanding the Honors Program’s offerings. In 2016, Dr. Steve Jensen, chair of the Department of English, and Dr. Kathryn Huisinga, chair of the Department of Natural Sciences, assumed the roles of co-directors of the Malone University Honors Program after former Honors Program Director, Dr. Diane Chambers, professor of English, retired. For the 2020-2021 academic year, Dr. Huisinga has stepped down as a co-director to fulfill the responsibilities of serving as chair of the Department of Natural Sciences. This change in leadership contributed to the decision to create a graduate assistant position within the Honors Program. The new graduate assistant would work closely with the Director of the Honors Program, the Admissions Department, the Honors Council and members of the Honors Program. He or she would also work to plan events, “track up to date information about students, recruits, and other aspects of the program,” the Graduate Assistant for Malone Honors Program Job Description reads, and carry out long-term projects that support the program. The graduate assistant would discuss new ideas that could be incorporated into the program with the Honors Council. The Honors Council is comprised of two members of each class nominated by their peers. “We have meetings throughout the year to chat about and create upcoming events, programming, and how we can better serve the program as a whole,” said Alexis Price, a junior social work major, who is one of the junior class representatives on the Honors Council. After an interview process, Annaliese Raynak, graduate student in the organizational leadership program, was selected to serve as the Honors Program’s first graduate assistant. Raynak graduated May 2020 with a bachelor’s in communication arts with a concentration in public relations. “I decided to come back [and] get my masters in the Master of Arts in Organizational Leadership program,” Raynak said. “It is very people orientated and that’s my thing—working with people.” With the introduction of Raynak as the new graduate assistant, new ideas have already been brought to the attention of the Honors Council and director about how to expand the Honors Program to build community with current students both academically and socially, and prospective Honors Program students. On Oct. 2, the Honors Program launched their new Instagram (@malonehonorsprogram) to work to connect students virtually due to current restrictions on in-person social gatherings. The Instagram page is hoping to feature different aspects of the program as the year progresses, including featuring honors students, thesis projects and presentations, upcoming events, and photos of past Honors Program events. A major theme within the Honors Program is community with all of its members. “We count everyone [no matter how they stand with the academic portion of the program] because they are still part of the program,” Jensen said. In a school year not impacted by COVID-19, the Honors Program would have events at Cleveland Playhouse Square and other localized gatherings with its members. However, with the restrictions on gatherings and social distancing, the Honors Program is looking for other options to continue to deepen the community among the roughly 120 current members. This means the gatherings planned for this year will be smaller in number, mostly on campus and outside when possible, but building community is still a driving force. “The Honors Program at Malone is so much more than achieving high grades; it’s truly a community of individuals who get to work and grow alongside one another, through having classes together and through program events,” said Price. A new concept for the Honors Program is the potential to do something with travel abroad. An abroad trip was planned for spring 2021 as one option for the HON 370 course, which is a requirement to complete the program. This specific course was planned to study the city of Montreal and then take a trip during spring break to explore the city and its culture in comparison to the United States. With the COVID-19 situation still uncertain and the U.S.- Canada border closed, the decision was made on Oct. 5 to cancel HON 370 Montreal for this spring with the hope of offering it in the spring 2022. Students can join the Honors Program before starting, or even during, their college career. “We want this to be a program that students choose to join and something they are interested in being a part of,” Jensen said. As for future endeavors, the Honors Program is looking to expand its events to include more service opportunities within the Malone and Canton area communities.