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Incoming Honors College Students Relish Opportunity to Excel Academically, Socially, Spiritually

Dr. Erin Norcross, front row, right, and Dr. Beth Stapleton, front row, second from right, join the inaugural cohort of MC Honors College students enjoying the scenery near Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Dr. Erin Norcross, front row, right, and Dr. Beth Stapleton, front row, second from right, join the inaugural cohort of MC Honors College students enjoying the scenery near Chiang Mai, Thailand.

Charlie Hight is looking forward to interacting with fellow students who have differing career goals. Margaret Wingo is sold on being taught by experienced faculty who truly care about their students. Nathan Heard can’t wait to be pushed further than he ever has before.

The trio is among 15 of the nation’s brightest high school graduates committed to academic excellence, spiritual maturity, and civic engagement. They will soon be developing lifelong friendships while challenging one another scholastically, creatively, and Biblically as participants in the Honors College at Mississippi College.

Members of the incoming, fourth cohort hail from five different states, have varied educational backgrounds, and seek degrees in a wide array of academic programs, from electrical engineering and chemistry to Christian studies and physical therapy. But they all share the same goal: to closely follow the college’s mission to “imitate Christ, cultivate virtue, and pursue human flourishing.”

This summer, they will go through general freshman orientation before meeting with their respective departmental advisors and enrolling in Honors 101, their first class together as Honors College students. To encourage their shared experience, many of the students will live in University Place, the modern residence halls on the University’s East Campus.

The opportunity to spend time and grow with a select group of students attracted Hight, a Jackson native, to the Honors College.

“It sounded special, and I wanted to be a part of it,” said Hight, a graduate of Jackson Prep who plans to major in electrical engineering. “I have met the other students in my cohort very briefly; however, they all seem like genuine, amazing people. I am excited to get to know them all better.

“Being exposed to such a variety of ideas from students who are dedicated to achieving them with academic excellence is a huge bonus. I will be able to see the process and drive of many people trying to reach their goals, and I will also be surrounded by faculty who are dedicated to helping the students achieve those goals. I know that the Honors College is going to challenge me, and I am excited about that. I think it will help me grow as a student.”

While the main threshold for Honors College consideration is an ACT of 29 or above or equivalent SAT score, Dr. Erin Norcross, director of the Honors College, said each participant is selected after a rigorous application process.

“The first part of the application consists of two essays they write in response to questions the selection committee asks,” said Norcross, assistant professor in the Department of Biological Science at MC. “Then students are selected to be interviewed by multiple faculty members, who ask a variety of questions to get to know them better. That’s where their personalities get to shine.

“Each of these students excelled in both parts. They are interested in learning for learning’s sake, and are motivated to go above and beyond what they are normally expected to do in class. That’s the kind of students we’re looking for.”

The desire to excel scholastically comes naturally to Wingo, a Pelahatchie native and Hartfield Academy graduate who will be pursuing a degree in Christian Studies.

“I have always tried to push myself and broaden my opportunities as much as possible, especially in academics,” Wingo said. “Honors College seems like the perfect place to be challenged and grow more than I would otherwise. The Honors College faculty have already been incredibly welcoming, and the other students in Honors College are amazing. The sophomores and juniors have reached out already and made me feel like a part of the family.

“The Honors College will help me focus on what I need to accomplish my career goals and provide more experience and training in the specific area that I need. It will better prepare me and connect me with where I need to go.”

The Honors College students’ innate craving for academic and spiritual growth will be tested throughout their undergraduate careers. The students will be expected to excel in their regular curricula while taking additional interdisciplinary honors courses throughout their first two years of college.

“They’ll get to know a variety of professors very well,” Norcross said. “A lot of classes are team-taught, so they’ll have the opportunity to interact with their professors and peers in ways they might not have otherwise. They may be exposed to different ideas they may not have thought about, and they’ll be challenged to look at the world’s problems from more than just one angle – it’s never just a one-sided approach.

“In their later years, many of these students undergo honors research and acquire a deeper understanding of their chosen areas of study, making them more marketable to professional schools.”

As a Clinton resident, Heard was well acquainted with Mississippi College. The size and scope of the Honors College program kept the Clinton High School graduate home as he pursues a bio-premed major.

“It’s another level added to an already great education at MC,” Heard said. “Being in the Honors College will push me to work hard and challenge me academically, but also push me spiritually. The size of it attracted me as well – I like how the program is small enough so you can develop real relationships with most of the other students.

“The Honors College will teach me what it means to work hard in a small community and go above and beyond the required textbook knowledge. This will help me, because I plan to go into the medical field. The knowledge will be important, but the lessons and skills I learn will be the things that push me towards my career.”

Honors College students also have the opportunity to interact with notable guests, including community leaders, physicians, politicians, and athletes, and gain valuable insight into numerous professional fields. Before their senior year begins, the students can take part in a two-week summer international experience to explore their education in a more global context.

Earlier in May, in conjunction with MC’s McMillan Center for Education Abroad, the inaugural cohort of Honors College students toured the country of Thailand. They visited the Queen’s Botanical Garden in Chiang Mai and experienced horticulture from around the world. They stayed in Kanchanaburi and visited the River Kwai. They learned about events in World War II and the hellfire pass death railway. They explored several palaces and saw various forms of Buddha, contrasting their religious practices and beliefs with those in Thailand.

“Many of the students had no experience abroad,” said Dr. Beth Stapleton, director of the McMillan Center and professor of Spanish and linguistics, who accompanied the Honors College students on the excursion. “The overarching theme for them was discovery. They each discovered aspects of themselves in the new culture.

“They saw warm and hospitable people in Thailand and connected instantly. They were giving and generous with time and money to help the people they encountered. Any international experience can teach us that the more distant from your home culture, the more you learn.”

It was an experiential learning opportunity that Dr. Blake Thompson, Mississippi College president, envisioned when he announced the formation of the Honors College during his inauguration in 2018. Established by a generous gift from J.L. Holloway, a well-known Mississippi businessman, Honors College students receive a four-year, full-ride scholarship covering all educational costs at the Baptist-affiliated University, including the summer international experience.

Stapleton said the highlight for many of the first Honors College cohort’s trip to Thailand was the unscripted information the tour guide shared with them during the visit.

“We stopped daily to sample the local food and customs en route to our destinations,” she said. “The students all tried to be adventurous and open-minded. They learned the phrase, ‘sa bai, sa bai,’ which means, ‘It’s all good. Go with it!’

“Besides eating new things, we saw the process of making indigo fabric. We all got to make a sample with hot wax and dye. The artists there processed our art, and we took it home with us.”

It was a truly enlightening experience that Norcross said brought the first Honors College cohort closer together.

“During their first two years, they take Honors College classes together,” she said. “Once they get to their junior year, they take honors classes more directly related to their individual areas of interest.

“The international experience brings everyone back together. How they travel and study and look at various cultures becomes interdisciplinary once again.”