Graduating with Honors: Mississippi College Says Goodbye to First Cohort of Honors College Students
During his spring 2019 inauguration, Mississippi College President Blake Thompson prioritized establishing an Honors College on the Clinton campus to advance the University’s vision of being recognized for academic excellence and a commitment to the cause of Christ.
Thompson commended Mississippi businessman J.L. Holloway that day for his generous gift to launch the Honors College, introduced 14 of the students who would help make up the first class that fall, and said the enriched academic experience provided by the college would strengthen the Christian University for decades to come.
Members of that first class of Honors College students will participate in MC’s Spring 2023 Commencement May 4. Dr. Erin Norcross, Honors College director, said each newly minted graduate is fulfilling the president’s promise by realizing their vast potential and blazing an impressive trail for subsequent classes to follow.
“Dr. Thompson’s vision was to establish a community of some of our most intelligent students and to train them to excel both inside and outside of the classroom,” said Norcross, associate professor of biological sciences who led the initial Honors College Steering Committee. “He wanted them to be able to take what they learn here at MC, improve their Christian foundation, and go out into the world and do wonderful things.
“From an academic and professional standpoint, they’ve done incredibly well. They have learned from each other and applied what they’ve learned to their own fields of study. The potential these students have once they leave MC is endless. It will be exciting to see where they end up, because they have already done more than I could have imagined.”
MC Honors College is an enriched educational program dedicated to maximizing academic and spiritual success in an environment that challenges students beyond the conventional classroom. Students are not required to pursue a specific major. Instead, students are encouraged to pursue their own interests, with the Honors College supplementing and enhancing their studies.
In addition to their standard coursework, Honors College students engage in multidisciplinary courses designed to encourage them to think deeply about enduring themes and important questions that cross disciplines.
“The Steering Committee was passionate about having an Honors College that was accessible to every undergraduate on campus, regardless of what they wanted their major to be,” Norcross said. “We believe in interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary education: the students learn from each other and from the different disciplines represented.”
Incoming freshmen with a score of 29 or higher on the ACT, 1330 or higher on the SAT, or 89 on the CLT are invited to apply for the Honors College. Students must also submit essays and recommendation letters for consideration.
The initial class consists of student leaders from various organizations on campus, from men’s service clubs to women’s social tribes, from MC Singers to Lyric Stage at MC, and from athletics to student government.
“They were freshmen when the COVID-19 pandemic started, so they had to transition from the typical student experience to going home for Spring Break and not coming back,” Norcross said. “They had to deal with all of the changes brought on by the pandemic while maintaining incredibly high GPAs and doing all the hard academic work required of them.”
Honors College students like Todd McInnis of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, who will receive his B.S. in political science and history during Spring Commencement, took the disruption in stride. McInnis was initially attracted to Mississippi College because of its Christian atmosphere; after visiting the campus during Preview Day, he was convinced MC would be his university home for the next four years.
“Just like other members of my Honors College cohort, I seek to push myself academically,” McInnis said. “To be selected for the program is a recognition of hard work and achievement in school. I wanted to write a thesis, engage in research at a higher level, and be challenged in a way that had never been presented to me before. I also wanted to make friends and find community.
“I would say those goals were accomplished.”
He said the interdisciplinary approach of the Honors College has expanded his awareness of other academic disciplines and stimulated his interest in other points of view.
“These are the most personally and academically talented people I have ever had the honor to be around,” McInnis said. “I have learned so much from them about how to be successful in all walks of life. These cohorts of mine achieve academically, athletically, and socially. They are Christ-like leaders, and I have been grateful and humbled to be around them.
“To sit in a class with them and listen to their conversations is an amazing experience. One can learn so much from how they communicate, the way they mentally organize the things around them, and how they respond to outside stimuli. It has been an honor and a privilege, and I will miss them deeply.”
As part of the Honors College curriculum, the class participated in a Study Abroad Program in Thailand. McInnis said it was a once-in-a-lifetime learning opportunity that he will cherish for a long while.
“I didn’t know what to expect, but from the moment we landed in Bangkok, I knew this trip would be a lifelong memory,” he said. “Our two-week visit included tuk-tuk and elephant rides, stunning natural and man-made scenery, and other amazing experiences. Our bonds were stronger than ever when we returned to the States.”
During their first two years, Honors College students take four foundational courses designed and taught by faculty members representing a range of disciplines, from biology to business to nursing and communication. Norcross said mentorship opportunities come naturally to Honors College students: many of whom live in University Place on MC’s East campus and participate in campus organizations where they constantly interact with members of other classes.
“The older students will talk to the new class members and say, ‘This is what we’ve learned,’ or “Watch out for these things,’” she said. “Many of them will participate in the same campus activities where they get to know one another and mentor that way.”
McInnis’ advice to future Honors College participants? “Focus.”
“This program will provide you with some phenomenal experiences and opportunities,” he said. “Don’t let them slip away from you. Make personal and spiritual connections. Be present, engaged, and involved.
“Don’t look back and have regrets.”
McInnis will attend the Mississippi College School of Law in the fall and hopes to one day become a politician. He said being around his classmates and supportive Honors College instructors are what he has enjoyed the most about being in the program.
“I’ve had a built-in group of friends that I have been able to rely on,” he said. “They are reliable, kind, and uplifting at all times. They have contributed to an ever-growing spiritual relationship with the Lord. I could not have been blessed more during my time here.
“I feel especially prepared to embark on the next chapter of my life, thanks in large part to the experiences I’ve had here. Most importantly, this program has grown my faith, which is far more valuable than anything.”
Norcross said McInnis and his cohorts are ideal standard-bearers for the Honors College students who will follow them.
“I get a little teary-eyed whenever I think about this group and how special they are,” she said. “There’s a wonderful group of faculty who have poured into these students, and they have been incredibly receptive to it. I get that moment of pride whenever I hear about them getting into law school, getting into medical school, getting engaged, getting married, and starting their lives in other professions.
“This class has excelled beyond every benchmark we could have thought they could reach. They’re all special.”
The importance of having success as the first cohort of Honors College students at Mississippi College is not lost on McInnis or his classmates.
“To echo what fellow Honors College member Marion Pohl said, ‘We’ve had the opportunity to set the standard of what it means to be a member of the Honors College. I believe we leave a path of academic excellence, social involvement, and humbleness in our wake.’
“While future members of the Honors College at MC may choose to focus their undeniable talent elsewhere, I hope they will always represent this University – and this Honors College – with pride and respect.”
Sign-up For Our Newsletter
Get the latest news about Mississippi College delivered right to your inbox by subscribing to the Along College Street e-newsletter.