Jonathan Earle, award-winning KU professor and American history scholar, assumed the helm of the University Honors Program in January. He replaces Kathleen McCluskey-Fawcett, who retired after four years as director.
Dr. Earle comes to the Honors Program with extensive firsthand knowledge of the Honors Program’s reach and scope. Since coming to KU in 1997, Dr. Earle has taught and advised Honors students, served as a Faculty Fellow, conducted interviews and preparation for national scholarship finalists, and taught the University Scholars seminar. Although he has had a productive career as a professor and scholar, he is eager for the challenges that await him.
“This is a great way to stay in contact with students and work on an aspect of being an educator other than being in the classroom,” he says. “We work with the best faculty to develop unique classes and curriculum, recruit and admit 10 percent of the freshman class, and advise and work with some of the best and most talented students anywhere.”
He says that coming into the position in the middle of the academic year, he is working to provide continuity while he looks to the near future and aspects that he plans to focus on.
More than ever, Honors students are focusing on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) careers. As of fall 2013, 33 percent of Honors students listed their major as engineering – a great leap from previous years – with about 30 percent in biology and pre-med. Dr. Earle has plans to develop more STEM Honors classes, particularly for upperclassmen.
“I am surprised how much the tide is strongly headed toward STEM stuff in the Honors Program. Employers keep saying they want people who can think critically, and you can learn this across many different disciplines – from the humanities, social sciences and hard sciences. But it’s hard to ignore that this is where the students are right now,” he says.
Dr. Earle also wants to make sure that Honors students have access to as many funds as possible to have transformative experiences such as conferences and research, both domestically and abroad, that prepare and inspire them for their careers.
Along with those experiences, he wants to put an emphasis on life skills learning, to equip Honors students for the real world once they are in their careers. He plans to create a series of classes with such topics as nutrition and financial literacy, so they can balance their checkbooks along with their academic aspirations.
Having taught a University Scholars seminar and therefore having seen the connections that happen for participants in that environment, Dr. Earle also wants to find ways to make the University Scholars mentoring and class a “touchstone for the Honors experience.”
He also wants to look at involving the Faculty Fellows more closely in the day-to-day operations of the Honors Program and potential changes to on-campus housing for Honors students, particularly as dormitories are expanding on Daisy Hill.
In just a few months as director, even with all of his previous experience with Honors, Dr. Earle says he nevertheless already has learned a lot.
“One of the things I’ve learned is how great the staff here is, how they know their jobs and just do them. The students are really fortunate that Beth Kelley welcomes them, they are advised by Chris Wiles and learn about scholarship opportunities from Anne Wallen, on and on,” he says.