“7% of people look forwards to going to work, and I count myself lucky to be among them.”
These are the words of Dr. Tom Jones, who is currently the Associate Dean of the Honors Program, as well as a Biology professor, at Gardner-Webb University.
Jones started at GWU in 1980 working as a part time instructor for a General Biology lab. Since then “I’ve been a member of most of the committees in the faculty handbook,” recounted Jones, who was also VIce Chair of Faculty and Chair of the Dept. of Natural Sciences. He has also been the Director of the Honors Program for almost 20 years.
The Honors Students Association started in 1988 at GWU. The first class to graduate honors students was in 1992, and there were a total of five students.” Around this time I began to be asked to take on the roll of Honors Director,” said Jones, who, at the time, was tremendously busy, and he refused the job for several years. In 1996, however, he consented to join up.
In the beginning it was about finding a balance. According to Jones, “the previous directors of the honors program had leaned towards one of two possible extremes: social and academic.” The challenge was to try and create a proper ratio between those two in the program. Another struggle was budget, originally $2,000.00, it grew to $6,000.00 and stayed there for many years.
Many positive changes and additions have been made over the last eighteen year, such as: Honors classes, honors conferences, a bound thesis (graduation requirement), a faculty committee (responsible for reading theses), spring break trips, HSA t-shirts and Try Something Different (TSD) dinners. Jones stated, “Travel and food make a successful honors program.”
Jones expressed thanks to the faculty and staff, who “have been supportive, more dedicated and more involved,” throughout the years. Most of the faculty have been educated about the Honors program through the students, who have taken a sense of ownership. For the last five years or so, members of administration began attending conferences as well, which has proved to be a worthwhile experience.
Over the of 34 years that Jones has spent at GWU he has experienced some trials. He defined three of the hardest moments at the University he’s experienced as: The Era of Great Unpleasantness; when the University president was let go, as well as a car accident in 1983, in which three faculty members were killed. The last tragedy, said Jones, “was when students would show up at my door telling me they’d just lost a family member.”
But there have also been many moments of triumph. Jones is really passionate about Honors and the students in it. “I love watching what Honors students can do,” he said, “I like to push people’s buttons and force them into new experiences, and then watch as they grow because of it.”
One of the difficulties to be overcome is finding a way to let new students know about Honors, remarked Jones, “we have people wanting to join…later.” We want incoming students to understand what Honors really is, versus their preconceived ideas. Another issue is the lack of students ages 21+ who can drive a van; this can make travel for trips more difficult to accommodate.
In reference to difficulties and highlights of his time here, Jones stated, “graduation is both in one.” He shared a letter he wrote to former students of his on their graduation several years ago, which he concluded by saying, “I count myself among the luckiest individuals on the planet…To me you’ll always be much more than students-you’ll be friends.”
The unique, and genuine relationships fostered between professors and honors students is one facet that sets the honors program apart. Other benefits, as concluded by a survey conducted by Honors members, include: extra activities and excursions, honors classes, honors conferences, early registration and most importantly, according to survey results, the people.