Haley Holmes, Portland State University
Other than patting a student on the back for a job well done or the occasional smiley face next to a student’s GPA on a transcript, how can advisors and faculty best compliment and serve our high achieving students? There are meaningful ways to help engage, challenge, and prepare our students for what lies beyond the college classroom. Light (2001) tells us that one of the most important things advisors can do is encourage students to participate in activities outside of the classroom. What would it look like if advisors took it a step further and organized some of these activities designed specifically for high achieving students?
Portland State University’s (PSU) School of Business Administration (SBA) has developed an Honors Track for high achieving business students. This advisor-facilitated program could easily be adapted to any population of high achieving students.
There could be many definitions of a high achieving student. Certainly one could argue that a student with a 3.5 or higher grade point average (GPA) could qualify as a high achieving student. In addition, a student with a full time job, a family, and a 3.2 GPA could also be considered part of this population. Grade point average is the most commonly looked at characteristic, but often high achieving students are also very driven, intelligent, and have an excitement for learning. These students enjoy the prospect of gaining new skills and flourish in a college environment that allows them to partake in new experiences. Each advisor or department would have to consider, based on its students and program details, what a high achieving student would mean to them.
In the SBA Honors Track at PSU, we have a limited amount of space in the workshops offered so we have a competitive admission process. The student is admitted to the program approximately two years before the student is set to graduate. For admission, we look at a combination of factors, including grade point average. Students who have around a 3.5 GPA or higher are in the ideal range to be considered for the SBA Honors Track. We also look at a recommendation letter that is submitted from one of the student’s college instructors. Lastly, we evaluate the answers to three essay questions outlining what the student is hoping to get out of the program, how this can help the student achieve future career and life goals, and how he or she plans to give back to fellow Honors Track peers.
Over the years, we have interviewed and surveyed Honors Track students and found three common themes in what the students hope to gain from the program. Upon graduation, when asked what the best experiences were, these same three themes emerged again.
The first theme is building community. This helps students feel more connected and gives them a positive group to belong to. It also increases confidence to be a part of such a special group. It can be very refreshing for high achieving students to have activities with other high achieving students because they share so many of the same interests and values. Working together in groups and fostering these positive relationships is very rewarding. It also encourages them to continue doing well in their classes so that they can continue to be a part of this group. In the SBA Honors Track, this goal is achieved through the two year cohort or ‘track’ style. The students are admitted at the same time and move through the program together, participating in classes, workshops, and other activities as a group. There is a shared responsibility among the students to learn from and teach each other. Each student has different cultural and life experiences that they bring to the table. Advisors should determine which courses and workshops would best create this atmosphere and implement them as core elements of the program.
The second theme is skill building. High achieving students often love learning in general, especially when they can put their learning into immediate practice. The SBA Honors Track students participate in workshops to prepare for the professional world beyond college. The goal of these workshops is to help them gain the necessary skills to be successful in a professional setting. Some of the topics of the workshops have included the following: Improvisation, Networking, Etiquette, Selling through Storytelling, Advanced Business Communication and Advanced Microsoft Excel. Advisors can tap into resources at their university and in their community for professionals to conduct the workshops.
The final theme is making connections. This includes connecting classroom learning to the realities of life outside of the classroom. In addition, it includes networking with each other as well as professionals and faculty in the student’s chosen field. This is very beneficial for all students but often high achieving students have very clear professional goals and are ambitious enough to get there. By bringing in community leaders, faculty, deans, and outside speakers as workshop facilitators, the advisors can ensure that students will have the opportunity to learn from others with different experiences and points of view.
The above themes directly coincide with what Astin (1993) tells us positively affect satisfaction with the college environment. This type of program for high achieving students is not meant to exclude other populations from receiving these great experiences. These activities would undoubtedly benefit all students and in many cases it is possible to expand these activities to include all students. It is meant, rather, to build a community for high achieving students where hard work, academic achievement, and the drive to learn is rewarded with additional opportunities for growth and accomplishment.
We have found that our students are more engaged with the local business community and benefit from working with a close group of peers. Together, they are able to gain valuable skills, meet business professionals, and work closely with advisors, faculty, and deans. With this sense of community, they feel more connected to the SBA and the people in it. Because these students have these relationships and opportunities as well as a clear end goal, they have a sense of responsibility to each other and themselves to finish the program and do their finest work in the process.
Director of the SBA Honors Track
School of Business
Portland State University
Light, Richard J. (2001). Making the most of college: Students speak their minds. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Astin, Alexander W. (1993). What Matters in College? Four critical years revisited. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Cite this article using APA style as:
Holmes, H. (2012, December). Serving high achieving students through ‘honors tracks’. Academic Advising Today, 35(4). Retrieved from [insert url here]