We gave it a year, but I think now it is safe to say the Baldwin Honors Program has taken a turn for the worse. The Honors Program used to be a place that encouraged smart, interesting conversations about what Drew students were involved in. It used to give students a space to share their accomplishments and create relationships with each other to begin research projects, make new friends or simply have someone to talk about your very niche-y thesis topic. The program used to sponsor trips and gave students the opportunity to see cities and museums that they would not have been able to otherwise. They hosted great parties in Mead Hall at which students and professors could mingle and talk about how the semester had gone. Most importantly: the Baldwin Honors Program used to be worth it. Now? Not so much.
Here are some of the main things that we have lost in the transition from Dr. Louis Hamilton’s take on the program to the current leadership of Dr. Stephen Dunaway: the mentorship program, the student advisory board and strong support from the faculty in charge.
Traditionally, the incoming first-year Baldwin students would be matched with a sophomore mentor with similar interests. I can tell you that without my mentor, I would not have survived my freshman year. The mentor was supposed to be your go-to person during those painful Plato essays and a useful guide in navigating the program. Most importantly, the mentor was supposed to give you the impression that the Baldwin Honors Program was a community. The mentorship program made sure that you had someone to talk to about anything Honors related as well as someone to talk to at the end of semester parties; it created bonds across class years. There was not such a stark division between the thesis-writing seniors and the frightened freshmen. Everyone was welcome and equal, everyone could find common ground in the shared experience of 250-word essays and the traditional gift copy of Plato’s Dialogues––they don’t even give the freshmen a copy anymore.
Where is the student advisory board?! Every year the program would host elections for two class representatives that would act as a liaison between the directors of the program and the people actually in it. They used to help with everything from the Honors Seminars, the parties, the trips and the Honors floor in McLendon. But ever since the administration changed we have not had an election. In fact, we have not had any kind of indication that the administration cares about our imput or our opinions on the program. Maybe if they had sent a survey or they had hosted elections this article would not even exist in the first place.
Finally, the thing that I resent the most about the changes in the program is the loss of a close relationship with the directors. Honors Tea was one of the highlights of my week. Now, you can call me a nerd or a snob, and I won’t blame you. But I loved the fact that Hamilton’s idea of open hours was providing cookies and warm beverages to the students and giving them a space to get to know other Baldwin students and create relationships. I remember listening to the seniors talk about their thesis writing process in a very casual and real way, which was both terrifying and helpful at the same time. I remember coming up with ideas for programs and events needed for campus and getting funding from the program to make those happen.
GRAPHIC COURTESY OF CAROLINE POLICH
Getting to know the director of the program in such a setting made it really easy for me and others to feel confident enough to approach Hamilton for a recommendation letter or help writing a proposal for a grant. He knew me, he knew my work ethic, he knew what I was involved in even if it was not his area of interest. He could write a good recommendation letter for any program or scholarship I wanted, I trusted him enough for that. On the other hand, Dunaway has not once in the past year and a half made a similar effort to get to know me, or even the first year students he sees every week in his Honors Colloquium. Without taking the time to get to know us, it makes it very hard for us to trust him with anything, even a recommendation letter. This could mean losing a good opportunity for scholarships or future programs.
The reality is that the Baldwin Honors Program is not what it used to be. Not to say it was perfect before, I will admit that there was a lack of science-oriented Honors Seminars and activities, and Hamilton was not everyone’s cup of tea. But it was definitely better than what it is now. Today, I don’t feel comfortable attending Honors events or interacting with people who are supposed to be my advisors. The program has, understandably, taken a very science-oriented stance. But this has alienated half of the people in it and has made some people feel like the program has nothing to offer them other than a financial incentive. And now that the scholarship amount has changed (you are no longer guaranteed the sweet, sweet 25K), one really has to question whether putting oneself through 21 honors credits and an honors thesis are really worth it.