In many ways, the Honors Commons, located across the road from Subway and attached to the Memorial Gymnasium, shares similar characteristics with the other Cultural Centers that serve students on campus.
The space offers a place to relax and socialize along with additional access to computers and calculators available for checkout.
There is also a steady stream of free food and workshops intended to help students succeed.
Sophomore Phoenix Tarpy applied and interviewed to gain enrollment into the Honors College while she was still a senior at McEwen High School.
“I don’t think that I realized how much involving myself with the campus and the culture was going to affect my experience,” Tarpy said.
She also was accepted into the freshman cohort of the President’s Emerging Leadership Program (PELP).
“To me, being able to enter into the Commons was very exciting.” She explained, “It is a place where I can study quietly, eat my lunch, hang out with friends — there is no other place like it on campus.”
“I spend nearly all of the time that I am not in class here,” Tarpy said. “Being part of the Honors and PELP community motivates me to keep on the right track with my education.”
Wednesday of last week, the Commons hosted a Lunch and Learn presentation focused on how to get a Fulbright Scholarship. No APSU student has ever won the prestigious Fulbright Scholarship. However, some faculty have won the scholarship back in their day.
Before the box lunches were passed out and the presentation began, two young men harmonized on an odd school fight song — not a song related to APSU. It may have been an Ivy League or a hometown school’s song, but not APSU’s.
The song felt like a courting call or a declaration of a wistful dream. In some way, it demonstrated that this was a safe place for these students to be themselves.
During the presentation, Dr. Timothy Winters, professor of Greek Classics and the caretaker of the Honors Commons, shared that he was a Fulbright Scholar.
He recounted how he took his family to Greece for nearly ten months. Now he serves as a member of the Fulbright Committee, helping eager youth to prepare their applications.
When not teaching Greek or advising scads of students, Winters actively manages and fosters a specialized curriculum for the PELP and Honors College students.
“I specifically asked faculty to design courses for this program. They (courses for the program) are not available in the regular course catalog,” Winters said.
The result of his collaborations across campus is semester-long seminars for incoming freshmen on topics like “The Science of Zombies,” which is taught by Dr. Amy Thompson.
“You would never see that in the Biology Department,” Winters said.
The thought experiment “teaches our students how to critically think and structure an argument, which is critical, in my opinion.”
Keilee Daubon, a Psychology major freshmen in the Honors Program, says that she “really enjoyed being accepted into the Honors Program, having my own place on campus. It made all the stressing-out about getting all A’s and getting a good ACT score worthwhile.”
In her second semester, Daubon and her cohort will be required to take “Confronting the Other.”
Winters explained that this class is a deep dive into diversity and the barriers students are likely to encounter when they enter the workplace.
He wants them to unpack things like the lack of black physicists or the difficulty for women to achieve becoming CEOs.
Along with the heightened focus on getting an excellent education, there is a robust social element to the Honors Commons. Hannah Wise, who Winters says keeps the “place organized,” believes the Honors Commons serves as a “fun place to retreat, and maybe some occasional homework.”
Working closely with Winters and Wise, students have a big say in what goes on in the Honors Commons. The activity calendar includes trivia, tie-dying T-shirts and a formal.
Winters has also given seminars and panel discussion programs to his student leadership council.
This semester there is a new program called Politalk and a three-part series on homelessness.
Alexandria Banta, a senior serving on the Honors Student Advisory Council, demonstrated how responsive Dr. Winters is to students’ input by giving a tour of the newly installed lockers.
“Amenities like this, or the addition of development software like Visual Studio on the computers, are just an example of how accessible the Honors Commons are to STEM students,” Banta said.
Winters explained the process of becoming a part of the Honors College.
“I am not here to be a fence or a hedge, I am here to be a door,” Winters said.
Ideally, students enter the program in their freshman year, but if they want to start later in their academic career, Winters will ask them to take a minimum of one honors course per semester and prepare a senior thesis.
Any student with at least 24 honors credits will graduate “with honors.”
Winters said that only about a third of freshmen who qualify actually apply for the Honors College or PELP.
“I don’t think they understand the advantages or maybe they don’t want to do the extra work,” Winters said.
Banta is enrolled in both PELP and Honors College. Her younger sister is a freshman majoring in music who, at her sister’s urging, also took on the extra load.
“There is so much potential for this space and the Honors program and it is just waiting for students to come and get it,” Banta said.
“They are fortunate to have this space. I am fortunate to be in their company,” Winters said.