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Promoting Community Involvement and Leadership

Honors Program Students
Honors Program students visted the St. Paul Science Museum as part of their fall 2010 field trip to the Twin Cities.

Students who participate in the UMD Honors Program are challenged academically, personally, and socially. “The UMD Honors Program is a great opportunity for students who want to get more out of their college experience,” said Howard Mooers, director of the Program. Participants also have a lot of fun.

Qualified students are invited to apply to the UMD Honors Program. Once accepted, Honors students must maintain a cumulative GPA of 3.3, complete three Honors designated courses, complete and present an Honors Capstone Project, and participate in Honors Program activities throughout their time at UMD.


Two new components were added this year: community service and leadership. “These are designed to broaden the scope of the Program,” said Jessica Saxton, who coordinates the UMD Honors Program. “It prepares Honors students to be good, well-rounded citizens.”

The community service component requires students to complete six hours of community service per semester. Saxton helps coordinate opportunities, both on and off campus. Students can tailor the service to their interests and their degrees. “It’s about helping people and becoming more involved in the community,” Saxton notes.

Cassandra Houston
Cassandra Houston is a freshman and a participant in the UMD Honors Program
Luke Busta
Luke Busta is treasurer of the Honors Student Association (HSA).
Annie Haglund
Annie Haglund is president of HSA.

When asked about the Honors program, freshmen Cassandra Houston, a graphic design major, said “It is a commitment.” She was part of her high school’s National Honors Society and was pleased when she received a letter from UMD inviting her to join the program. She has already completed most of her required community service hours working in a soup kitchen and food shelf, and preparing a holiday meal at the YMCA.

One aspect of the Honors Program is the Honors Student Association (HSA), the "student club" for all Honor students. Within HSA, there are four committees: fundraising, community service, membership, and public relations. These committees are a way to promote HSA to Honors students and the rest of the community. Together the group is able to connect Honors students so that they are motivated to stay with the program.

Without motivation of the HSA, Houston believes it is easy for students to “slide on by” without making a real connection to the Duluth community through service projects. Although she admits the program could be a bit overwhelming for some, she has been able to handle what has been asked from her so far. The best thing about the Honors Program is “the opportunity it gives you to get involved and push you in areas that you otherwise wouldn’t,” said Houston.

For the leadership component, students take seminars at the Kirby Leadership Institute. They then put what they’ve learned into action by taking a leadership role. “A student can head a committee, a service, or an event,” Saxton noted.


In addition to these components, UMD Honors Program participants attend cultural events and lectures. There is a monthly movie night designed “to inspire critical thinking,” Saxton said. Honors students also enjoy “Pizza with a Professional,” a monthly gathering with a local professional, who shares insights about his or her career. This can pull anywhere from 20-30 students to get a different view of professors.


Luke Busta, treasurer of Honors Student Association (HSA), a chemistry and biochemistry major, said the Honors Program “is meant to promote higher-level thinking as it pertains to your course work.” Busta has been able to adhere to the requirements of the program and is now beginning his Capstone project, the end result of an Honors student’s education. The Capstone Project allows students to “present something technical in their field, but in a way that is understandable to those outside of your field,” said Busta. Another benefit of the Honors Program, he believes is the connection made to the community. “Duluth is a college town,” said Busta. “We need to give back to the community and get other people motivated to do the same.”

Annie Haglund, a Spanish and speech pathology major, is president of HSA. She chose to live in student housing along with other Honors students, and it paid off. “The people on my floor were all Honors students so we attended meetings and activities together,” Haglund said. “When you are around people with similar academic goals as you, you are motivated to do the best you can.” Honors housing is an option to students who are invited to be a part of the program. Haglund suggests two reasons to choose Honors housing: first, everyone is in the same boat in what is asked of them and secondly, you know that they are taking their academics seriously.


Two yearly field trips are a highlight of the Honors Program. One trip is taken in the fall, the other in the spring. Last September, the students went to Minneapolis. The theme was “Minnesota and World Culture.” They visited the Global MarketPlace, ate at an Ethiopian restaurant, walked around Lake Harriet, saw a play at the Guthrie, and visited the St. Paul Science Museum to view the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit. Some of the students, who were from small towns in Minnesota, had either not been to Minneapolis or had only visited a couple of times. While the fall trip is organized by Saxton and Mooers, the spring trip is organized by the students themselves. Last year, they went to Chicago. This year’s trip is still undecided but with options like Wisconsin Dells and Lutsen, the experience is sure to be great.

If you would like to learn more information about the requirements of the Honors Program, please contact Jessica Saxton by email or phone (218) 726-6776.


Written by Katherine McQuarter and Kathleen McQuillan-Hofmann

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