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Georgia Southern University elevates Honors Program into new Honors College

Georgia Southern University Honors College logo

Georgia Southern University now encompasses 10 academic colleges with the transition of the  University Honors Program to the Honors College. The move provides a growing community of honors students with enhanced experiential learning opportunities including undergraduate research, creative scholarship and the honors thesis, focusing on professional development, interdisciplinary education and global experiences. 

“The elevation of the Honors Program into the Honors College is a reflection of the quality of our student body and the rigor of opportunities we provide,” said Steven Engel, Ph.D., dean of the Honors College. “This new distinction will make Georgia Southern an even greater destination for high-performing students and raise the overall academic reputation of the institution.”

“It is a natural progression of success when a university elevates their Honors Program to a College—recognizing and expanding the opportunities for our highest-achieving students,” said Georgia Southern President Kyle Marrero. “With three Goldwater Scholars in the last few years and a long list of other national and international accolades for our students, we already have an impressive track record of educating bright and motivated students. An Honors College will allow us to build on this success and focus even more on creating a distinctive and challenging undergraduate experience for some of the nation’s best students.”

The University System of Georgia officially approved the program’s transition to the Honors College late last month.

Open to students in any major, the Honors College provides access to smaller classes and enriching seminars. The Honors College also prioritizes members of the military with a goal of becoming the most military-friendly honors college in the nation.

Inclusive excellence continues to be an important pillar of the honors experience at Georgia Southern. Students gain intercultural competence with curricular and extracurricular experiences that contribute to a welcoming atmosphere. With 33% of students from minority racial and ethnic groups, the honors student population reflects the many forms of diversity within the University’s broader student body.

Honors student Katie McIntosh

“I believe the transition will add more prestige to our degrees, increase the level of rigor and academic competition among peers, and enhance our education as a whole,” said Katie McIntosh, a senior majoring in mechanical engineering on the Statesboro campus. 

“I’m super excited about the program’s transition to a college,” said Zoe Lincoln, a junior majoring in health sciences on the Armstrong campus. “I think that becoming an Honors College will give students more opportunities in terms of funding and networking with professionals in their respective fields.”

Honors student Zoe Lincoln

Honors education began at Georgia Southern in 1982, when the Bell Honors Program was founded. The University Honors Program was established on the Armstrong campus in 1996 and on the Statesboro campus in 1998. Today, the Honors College enrolls more than 800 students across both campuses, representing all University colleges and academic disciplines. 

“Building on decades of success, this change further demonstrates Georgia Southern’s commitment to excellence in undergraduate education,” said Carl Reiber, Ph.D., provost and vice president for Academic Affairs. “The new Honors College will provide a rigorous curriculum for students that fosters intellectual and professional development, preparing them for top-tier graduate schools and meaningful careers.”

Since the inception of the Bell Honors Program, approximately 1,650 students have graduated from the University’s Honors programs. Thirty percent of graduates last year completed their degrees in less than four years.

The deadline for incoming freshmen to apply is Feb. 1, 2021. For more information, visit GeorgiaSouthern.edu/honors. Current Georgia Southern students are encouraged to apply.

Georgia Southern University, a public Carnegie Doctoral/R2 institution founded in 1906, offers approximately 140 different degree programs serving almost 27,000 students through 10 colleges on three campuses in Statesboro, Savannah, Hinesville and online instruction. A leader in higher education in southeast Georgia, the University provides a diverse student population with expert faculty, world-class scholarship and hands-on learning opportunities. Georgia Southern creates lifelong learners who serve as responsible scholars, leaders and stewards in their communities. Visit GeorgiaSouthern.edu.


Congratulations to the Class of 2020

Read all about our graduates and their accomplishments in our University Honors Program Graduates online booklet.


Andrea Appleton Wins Goldwater Scholarship

Flowers, for many, may simply be a nice gift for a loved one or something to stop and smell along the way, but to Honors Program biology student Andrea Appleton, they are a window into the intricacies of daily life.

“Plants are incredibly diverse and everywhere, and I feel that we have a lot to learn from them and their life history,” Appleton said. “Flowers are a remarkable evolutionary advancement for plants; and understanding their uniqueness is important to understanding the complexities of life.”

Appleton’s research in botany and floral evolution were recognized this year when she was named a Goldwater Scholar, the highest national award for undergraduate students in the STEM majors.

“A career in science, especially research, was not always the obvious path for me to take, so to pursue it and have that pursuit validated is very meaningful,” said Appleton. “This recognition, to me, means that I am trusted and expected to conduct innovative research throughout my career. I feel very fortunate for the support and for the reassurance in my career choice.”

This is the second year in a row that a Georgia Southern student has been honored with this prestigious scholarship, which is awarded to undergraduates who show exceptional promise of becoming the nation’s next generation of research leaders in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

“Having a recipient of this high honor from Georgia Southern University speaks volumes about our commitment to student research, the quality of our undergraduates, and the talent of our faculty,” said Georgia Southern President Kyle Marrero. “I would like to congratulate Andrea Appleton, and the professors who worked with her, for this outstanding achievement.”

In addition to her award-winning research, Appleton directs the Georgia Southern Herbarium, a collection of 40,000 plant specimens from around the world. While sorting through a backlog of specimens, she realized just how unique flowers can be.

“I opened a newsprint and was stunned by the most striking flowers I had ever seen,” Appleton said. “Those flowers were pressed in intricate clumps and retained the most surreal blue color, even though the newsprint was dated to the 1960s.”

The Georgia Southern junior later learned they were flowers of Delphinium, commonly known as larkspurs. Intrigued by the immense biodiversity and charm of plants, Appleton began to conduct floral evolution research with her advisor, former Georgia Southern Professor John Schenk. She studies the evolution and development of staminodes, which are stamens (the pollen-producing parts of flowers) that have lost the ability to produce pollen. His departure from Georgia Southern left the Herbarium curator position open, and Appleton was selected to take on that role, an opportunity that is extremely rare for an undergraduate student. William Irby, Ph.D., a professor of biology, taught Appleton in his Honors Principles of Biology class. He said Apppleton was an obvious choice for the position of acting curator.

“She readily took to the responsibilities of her job,” Irby said. “She began work on her honors research early, and by the end of her sophomore year had achieved as much as most honors students do, by the time they finish their projects as seniors.”

The College of Science and Mathematics and the biology department have supported Appleton’s studies with travel grants that have enabled her to present her research at regional and national conferences.

“As faculty have worked to enhance the undergraduate research experience, we see this huge benefit for our students – they are competitive at a national level and they are poised to become the future of scientific research,” said Delana Gajdosik-Nivens, dean of the College of Science and Mathematics.

The Honors scholar plans to attend graduate school after she leaves Georgia Southern and pursue a career in evolutionary botany.

“I am eager to expand our understanding of the patterns and processes of floral evolution,” Appleton said. “I want to explore the power of plants to uncover the secrets of evolution and push the boundaries of our understanding of the natural world and its complexity.” 

The rising senior expressed gratitude for the faculty mentors who guided her through the process to winning the Goldwater Scholarship. She said guidance from her advisor and mentors have been invaluable.

“I am a first-generation student and would not be in college at all without the support of the Honors Program and the Department of Biology,” she said. “The opportunities I have been granted and the people I have met have all been incredibly influential in my professional and personal life.”

Appleton was one of only 396 college students across the United States to earn the scholarship of up to $7,500 a year. The scholarship honors the lifetime work of the late Sen. Barry Goldwater, who served his country for 56 years as a soldier and statesman, including 30 years in the U.S. Senate.

Georgia Southern University, a public Carnegie Doctoral/R2 institution founded in 1906, offers 141 degree programs serving more than 26,000 students through nine colleges on three campuses in Statesboro, Savannah, Hinesville and online instruction. A leader in higher education in southeast Georgia, the University provides a diverse student population with expert faculty, world-class scholarship and hands-on learning opportunities. Georgia Southern creates lifelong learners who serve as responsible scholars, leaders and stewards in their communities. Visit GeorgiaSouthern.edu.


University Honors Program Student Named Semi-Finalist for Fulbright U.S. Student Program

Samuel Hobbs has been named a semi-finalist for the Fulbright English Teaching Assistant Program (ETA), taking an important step toward his goal of teaching English in Colombia next school year.

“I’ve had so many great opportunities here at Georgia Southern that have helped me to develop a true love for teaching and mentoring students and the Fulbright Scholarship allows me to explore this passion in a rigorous and exciting manner,” Hobbs said.

Samuel Hobbs

Hobbs will graduate in May with a degree in Political Science and Spanish, and is currently working on his honors thesis, “Does Description Equal Prescription? A Case for Gender Quotas in Latin America” mentored by Dr. Jamie Scalera. The thesis focuses on the influence that women have on legislation rates pertaining to women such as reproductive healthcare, sexual and domestic violence, and education in Latin American legislatures.

Hobbs conducted a case study analysis of countries that have gender quotas, a fixed percentage of women in the legislature, to determine if the presence of women increase the rate of legislation passed in regards to the aforementioned topics.

“Going to Colombia with Fulbright will give me even more insight into this topic because Columbia doesn’t have a gender quota. This will help me to explore the effects this has on the rates of legislation passed in a country that does not adhere to this other method,” Hobbs explained. “I’ve also had to translate hundreds of laws from Spanish to English for this project, so it only made sense to apply to a country where I could strengthen my Spanish.”

The next steps for the semi-finalist include an interview with the selection committee in Colombia. Final decisions will be made later in the spring.

In regards to his future with both this program opportunity and his thesis research, Hobbs said, “Well, if all goes as planned, I am certain that I will cry. As for my thesis, I plan on expanding my dataset and research to Africa, Asia, and Europe during my time in graduate school and hopefully get it published. With the Fulbright program, I would gladly postpone my graduate school plans and receive this opportunity with open arms.”


Developing the Research Mindset

Like all Honors Program students, when Molly Rowe graduates with her degree in biology this fall, she will have completed an independent research project in the form of her honors thesis. Unlike a number of her peers, she will also have two publications in scientific journals.

Molly Rowe in the lab.

Lots of students delving into medical research start out tackling the big health issues of the day, and Rowe is no different. She is on the list of authors for two articles that focus on cancer research: “DNA topoisomerase IIα and RAD21 cohesin complex component are predicted as potential therapeutic targets in bladder cancer” published in Oncology Letters, and “Integration of bioinformatics approaches and experimental validations to understand the role of notch signaling in ovarian cancer” published in the Journal of Visual Experiments.

In thinking about her research mindset, Rowe said, “The research process for me usually begins with reading and staying up-to-date with existing scientific literature, then identifying a topic that is intriguing to me and further refining this to develop specific questions or testable hypotheses,and my research mentor, Dr. Dongyu Jia, has really helped me progress from finding a topic of interest to identifying specific questions that can be researched and answered.”

Once a topic has been selected, the work has only just begun. Rowe’s dedication to solving real-world problems has resulted in complex research on her selected topics that can prove to be very challenging. 

“Research in general definitely has highs and lows,” she said. “Sometimes experiments that you have spent countless hours on do not work out and sometimes these experiments turn out perfectly. For these publications, the research process was no exception.” 

Her experiments involved extensive preplanning in the forms of problem identification, hypothesis creation, and designing and effective, replicable experiment. She and her other research team members also utilized various types of technology from microscopy and antibody staining to advanced computer programs to analyze data from a biostatistics and bioinformatics standpoint. While they encountered many challenges throughout their research, after a lot of work and time spent to ensure accuracy and validity, they were able to overcome these problems and produce results that they were confident in.

With a thorough experiment completed, Rowe could then move on to recording her results and submitting them for publication. “The process can sometimes be very extensive and time-consuming from writing the paper itself and deciding which journal(s) you would like to send it to, waiting to hear from your publisher and potentially having to go through multiple rounds of revision before acceptance,” Rowe explained, “but from this process you truly get to experience the value of peer review firsthand and see how it can help lead to a more meaningful contribution to your field.” 

By adapting her experimental approach and thinking outside of the box in her problem solving techniques, Rowe was able to see her work and herself grow into their best versions. “In the end, it is exciting to be able to write about and share the work that we are doing in our lab with others in the scientific community.”

Even after all of these achievements, Rowe is continuing to challenge herself. She currently has a paper written in association with her thesis work, “Analysis of the Temporal Patterning of Notch Downstream Targets during Drosophila melanogaster Egg Chamber Development”, that is currently in the publication process, as well. After graduation Rowe plans to attend medical school at the Medical College of Georgia in Augusta and continue pursuing her passions through research.