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Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Candidate for honors program director wants to expand STEM programming

Professor Spencer Anthony-Cahill, a final candidate for the Honors Program Director position, discussed expanding science offerings for honors students and the importance of ethnic and racial diversity in the program before a small group of students and faculty on Tuesday, April 7.

Anthony-Cahill, a distinguished professor of chemistry and serving Faculty Senate President, is one of four final candidates applying for the Western Washington University Honors Program Director position that will be vacated by the retirement of current director George Mariz.

As honors director one of Anthony-Cahill’s top priorities would be increasing student diversity in the program.

“I think there is an argument made that the liberal arts model of higher education is one associated with privilege,” Anthony-Cahill said. “My vision for the program includes achieving greater racial and ethnic diversity.”

According to Anthony-Cahill, simply providing access to the honors program is not enough. Faculty must be proactive in ensuring the success of all students. He said he looks forward to exploring different methods of encouraging diversity in the program, though he draws the line at admissions lowering standards.

Another of Anthony-Cahill’s chief interests is improving honors graduation rates.

“I was shocked to learn that only 60 percent of the students who enter honors graduate with honors,” Anthony-Cahill said. “I’ve talked to student’s who’ve left the program and I’ve talked to students who are still in and mostly the feedback I’m getting is that the selection of courses in the upper division simply don’t match up well with their programs.”

Though Anthony-Cahill envisions an honors program where all departments can engage and contribute, he feels that honors science and math courses are lacking and that the program is failing that 35 to 40 percent of the program’s student body who are pursuing science, technology, engineering and math majors.

“I want to acknowledge that this is a bias that I have,” Anthony-Cahill said, “My bias is that we could do more to increase the number of science offerings in the honors program.”

For honors students Anna Magidson and Eli Sohl, Anthony-Cahill’s presentation hit many of the right notes.

“I really did like his ideas about adding more sciences into the honors program,” Magidson said. “A lot of my friends go into the [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] majors and a lot of them do end up dropping out of the program.”

Sohl, a math and computer science double major, agreed that the program would benefit from some growth but was concerned about losing sight of what makes the honors program special.

“I love the classes that honors currently offers but I think there’s room to expand,” Sohl said. “I think it’s important also that we don’t lose focus in that expansion. The core of honors is that – if you stay with it – you’re going to read a lot of really great books and you’re going to learn a lot of things that you wouldn’t learn anywhere else really.”

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