By Raimah Hossain, Honors Student Ambassador
Dr. Bill Collins and his wife, Karen.
Dr. Bill Collins, former director of the Honors Program, spent time with us reminiscing on the beginning of the Honors Program and its evolution into the Honors College today.
Getting Started at WVU
Collins and his wife, Karen, worked at West Virginia University in a variety of capacities for over 32 years. After spending two years in India with his family, Dr. Collins joined the biology
department at WVU in 1967. Upon joining
the biology department, Collins quickly moved his way upward,
eventually reaching University-level administrative positions. He spent
time as the dean of the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences, then
a position as vice president for academic affairs for the University.
Eventually, when Martha Howard, the founder of the Honors Program, retired, Collins was selected as the best candidate to become the new director of the program.
thinking, just a few minutes ago … in the next couple of months, it will
have been 20 years since I retired, so you understand if my memory gets a
little foggy,” Collins laughed, as he began discussing his time with the Honors Program with us.
The Early Years
The Honors Program was inspired by a visit Martha Howard took to England, where she observed the layout of various Honors programs. When she returned to WVU, she began the Honors Program, which became into the Honors College in 2006.
Honors Program began as a four-year pathway, as opposed to the two-tier
system used in the Honors College today. The program was course-based, and students would enroll in specific Honors
sections of courses throughout their four years at WVU. These courses were usually more hands-on
and discussion-based than the other sections, similar to the experience of students in the first two
years of the Honors College now under the Honors Foundations Program.
the end of Collins’ time as director, a
senior thesis requirement was introduced to the program, parallels of
which can be seen in the second tier of the Honors College today, under the
Honors EXCEL Program. While the program then and now both involve projects completed by students
towards the end of their time at WVU, Collins said he appreciated the increase in emphasis on community-service oriented projects within
the Honors EXCEL program, as opposed to the old senior thesis requirement, which was usually
embedded in the students’ majors.
Reflecting on his attendance at national conferences
for Honors colleges throughout the country, Collins
gathered that the Honors EXCEL program was an excellent idea and “a direction
that many larger universities were going.”
Consistent Focus on Community and Student Success
the differences in structure between the Honors Program and the Honors
College today, speaking to Collins about his favorite memories displayed
the continued commitment over time to both
student success and the establishment of a welcoming Honors community.
Collins spoke specifically about his interactions with a Foundation Scholarship finalist. “He was not happy,” Collins remembers about the
bright young man, who had planned on attending schools
such as MIT to pursue his degree in physics. He encouraged the student
to visit the physics department at WVU and introduce himself to some of the
faculty there, so he could learn more about some of the research the university was
completing at the time.
“Before I knew it, he had a key to the department,” Dr.Collins continued. Collins noted that the Honors College granted students opportunities to complete research and truly maximize their potential more than they could have imagined prior to reaching campus.
his last 4 years at WVU, when he and his wife, Karen, lived on-campus as
Resident Faculty Leaders (a program that no longer exists at WVU), Collins loved that he got to interact with
students on a more personal basis. Whether it
be counseling sessions with students, reassuring them that their major
would take them to far places (despite their parents’ initial
disapproval), or communal dinners with a group of Honors students
(something deans of the Honors College have continued to do
since then), community-building was something that was always
important to Dr. Collins and the other staff at the program.
So much so
that Collins and his partners imagined the designated “Honors floors”
of residence halls over campus would eventually
need to lead to a residence hall that was entirely Honors-designated to
truly allow Honors students to connect with one another, regardless of
their major or field. Currently, there are not one, but two residence
halls that are open only to Honors students:
Honors Hall located downtown and Lincoln Hall located on the Evansdale
A Program on the Rise
The opening of two Honors residence halls emphasizes the growth in numbers of the Honors Program
over time. Collins stated that when he retired
as director in 2000, the program had about 600 students. The Honors
College currently has approximately 2,600 students enrolled for Fall 2020. Over twenty
years, the number of students has more than quadrupled. While some of
Collins’ partners in the program feared this seemingly
overwhelming growth in numbers, Collins welcomes the change with open
“It is important for the university to be attracting the top
students … and it certainly has always helped to do that,” Collins said.
The plethora of
prestigious national scholarships and awards that
Honors College students have received and the University’s new status as an
R1 research institution in 2016 are both a real testament to Collins’
statement. As the Honors College grows, its continuity as a place of
comfort and connections rings true, always reminding
students of the opportunities the University has to offer them, but also more
importantly, the potential that resides within themselves.
Dr. Collins Today
Dr. Collins’ time at WVU was spent in a variety of roles across the institution. His work with the Honors Program established a solid foundation for what the Honors College is today. He and his wife, Karen, now enjoy retirement in a community and golf resort known as Fairfield Glade in Tennessee.