University Honors Program Connects High-Achieving Panthers

“High-achieving students are invaluable to Plymouth State University as role models in the classroom and community,” says Assistant Professor George Pettinico, cofounder of the University Honors Program. “We are thrilled to offer a program that gives back to them through enrichment and social activities.”

With a successful first year under its belt, the University Honors Program (UHP) has proven to do just that while creating camaraderie among PSU’s most academically accomplished students. The program connects students across departments and disciplines, serving as a University-wide honors system and reflecting PSU’s innovative and integrated approach to education.

“We want gifted students to know that PSU fosters academic rigor and that they have a place here,” says Pettinico.

Honors student participating in a skills workshop.

Focus groups of students with GPAs over 3.8 revealed overwhelming demand for honors-level enrichment and networking opportunities. They felt it was important for PSU to celebrate academic achievement and, that in doing so, it would bolster the University’s reputation as an academically driven school.

“Research on retention and persistence shows that students need cohorts,” says Professor and UHP Cofounder Marcia Schmidt Blaine. “They need to feel connected in order to stay and engage. By providing spaces and events that bring them together, we have created a cohort where academically driven students recognize themselves.”

“We see this reflected in new student enrollment as well,” says Director of Admissions Matt Wallace. “Students from New Hampshire with higher GPAs traditionally leave the state. This year, the first we’ve been able to leverage the honors program across our full enrollment, we have seen an enrollment increase of academically qualified New Hampshire residents.”

The University Honors Program invites the top 8 percent of incoming students to join, as well as a small number of high-achieving rising sophomores and juniors. Currently, the cohort has 120 active students engaging in the program’s many opportunities.

Honors student participating in a skills workshop.

With community connection at the core of the program, members are required to attend at least one social event each semester. These events are planned and hosted by the Student Leadership Team and have included murder mystery, trivia, and de-stress nights. In addition to these get-togethers, students can gather in the optional honors housing or in the honors lounge and study room in Mary Lyon Hall.

“A big part of this program is to be with like-minded, academically driven individuals,” says Riley Drew ’20, ’21G of the leadership team. “It’s nice to meet people from different majors who are equally committed.”

The UHP’s faculty and staff advisory council plans 15 enrichment activities per semester. While some are existing events such as the Sidore Lecture Series, others are designed specifically for honors students, including alumni talks, career-oriented skills workshops, and more. Students are expected to attend at least one event and to write a reflection paper.

Murder mystery party

Passion projects are another component of the honors program. While at PSU, students must complete an independent study with faculty guidance and for variable credit on a topic of their choice. Some examples from this year included a real-life business plan, a sustainable food pantry for students on campus, and a social event planning guide for the honors program.

“The independent study is an incredible opportunity,” says Philip Cadreact ’20 of the leadership team. “It can be focused on anything that excites you and allows you to explore your passions. I think that’s important for PSU students.”

From writing the honors program’s constitution, to running interviews for the student leadership team, to surveying members to improve program offerings, students are at the front and center of UHP decision making.

“The program is greatly driven by students,” says Drew. “We plan our events while considering budget, food, and facility use. It brings us a great sense of pride to see our ideas come to life.”

As the program gears up for its second year, incoming UHP President Sally Cederberg ’21 considers how to expand its reach. “Our team is currently focused on finding a platform where all members of the program are able to connect,” says Cederberg. “We just created an Instagram page (@psu_uhp) and a Facebook page (Plymouth State University Honors Program). We are hoping that by using online media pages, we can keep as many members as possible updated on news and events put on by the program.”

“Together, the advisory council and student leadership team want to make sure the University Honors Program meets the needs of students,” adds Schmidt Blaine. “We will always be a work in progress dedicated to supporting our high-achieving students, and understand that to do that, we have to keep evolving.”