The UW Honors Program offers innovative classes and special opportunities to top students.
By Micaela Myers
At the University of Wyoming, top students have enjoyed priority registration, special study-abroad opportunities, additional scholarship options and the chance to take innovative courses taught by award-winning faculty as part of the UW Honors Program. Aiming to recruit more high-achieving students and enrich its undergraduate experience, UW is taking steps to expand this program to an Honors College.
Currently, students qualify for the Honors Program by meeting minimum GPA and SAT or ACT scores.
In partnership with Residence Life and Dining Services, the program also offers an Honors House, where a select number of students can live. In addition, the Wyoming Honors Organization (WHO) sponsors social and cultural activities throughout the year.
Supportive faculty and talented students form the honors community—a community that treasures ambition as well as the concept that students should take an active role in their education. Here, meet three honors students who share their experiences.
Heidi Hanekamp, senior, molecular biology and physiology with minors in music and honors
Many pre-med students wouldn’t get the opportunity to take classes like Art and Culture of Bali. That diversity is one of the reasons Heidi Hanekamp of Laramie, Wyo., enjoys the Honors Program. “The Honors Program has allowed me to take classes that branch out from my major,” she says. “It’s an opportunity to make you a more well-rounded person. Also through the Honors Program, I went to the University of Glasgow in Scotland for six months. That experience was amazing.”
Hanekamp also found diversity in her areas of study and involvement, which have included undergraduate research on genetics, swim club, symphony orchestra and chamber orchestra, SPURS Sophomore Honorary, Mortar Board senior honors organization and Alpha Epsilon Delta Health Preprofessional Honor Society.
“A big reason I came to UW is that I could do music and my academic fields at the same time,” she says. Here, Hanekamp was able to study with an excellent violin professor while being pre-med—something that’s not possible at many larger universities.
“The opportunity to get involved in a lot of different organizations is really outstanding at UW,” Hanekamp says. “I think the leadership experience that I’ve gotten through being president
of Mortar Board and Alpha Epsilon Delta has been really valuable to me.”
Hanekamp’s advice to students considering UW: “I would tell them to definitely take a second look at UW. I applied to a lot of different schools. Taking in the financial aspect as well as the quality of the school, I realized I could go to an equally academically excellent school for $60,000 less. I’ve really been happy with UW and the classes I’ve taken, and the professors have been excellent.”
Alanna Elder, senior, agroecology and environment and natural resources with minors in honors and sustainability
Like many Wyoming high school students, Alanna Elder, of Laramie, Wyo., originally wanted to leave the state for college. “I started at the University of Arizona ... and then I ended up coming back, and I’m really glad I did,” she says. “At UW, you have such close interactions with your professors and people doing research.”
She has made the most of her time here, studying abroad, serving on the board of UW ACRES Student Farm, conducting undergraduate research, taking honors classes and participating in internships.
“I always look forward to the honors classes,” Elder says. “I’m always really impressed how much I learn from other students in those classes.” She also appreciates the early registration honors students receive.
“My favorite thing about coming to UW has been ACRES Student Farm,” Elder says. “It’s awesome to have the experience of growing things and working communications and the business of a farm. We’ve all learned a lot from doing that.”
Two summers ago, Elder took a two-week faculty-led course to India. “We were studying human-elephant conflict,” she says. “It was powerful to get to learn about the human and environmental dimensions of that problem. We talked to farmers and met with people at universities. That was an awesome experience and was really meaningful.”
Elder also participated in undergraduate research. “This past summer, I got to help with a project studying how forests in Colorado and Montana responded to beetle kill and what the fire risks afterward were,” she says. “The year before, I got to help study weevils and lygus on alfalfa farms around the state. That was really cool. I learned a lot about insects and about farming.”
Elder also holds a leadership role in UW’s Sustainability Coalition of student organizations. She recently won an honorable mention for the prestigious national Udall Scholarship recognizing her environmental focus.
Like many of the students profiled in this issue of UWyo Magazine, Elder found it easy to explore her diverse interests at UW. “Right now I’m interning at Wyoming Public Radio and getting a whole new experience,” she says. “I’m doing news and getting to write stories.”
With this newfound passion, Elder plans to incorporate journalism into her career plans. “That would never have happened anywhere else,” she says of the opportunity to walk in with no experience or a major in that field and get such an exciting internship. “That’s been really amazing. There are a lot
of opportunities for people to get involved here.”
She also appreciates the down-to-earth and accessible professors and hopes to pursue a master’s degree. “I feel like I’ve gotten a quality education here, and I won’t have debt, and that’s really cool,” Elder says. “That gives me so much freedom upon graduating with what I decide to do and the risks that I can take, because I won’t be trying to get back that money I had to borrow.”
Adrienne Mackenzie, freshman, animal and veterinary science with a minor in honors
Raised by a single mother, Adrienne Mackenzie, of Wright, Wyo., had to consider cost as a major issue when she chose a college. The Trustees’ Scholars Award helped seal the deal for Mackenzie, who has a strong family history at UW. Now finishing her freshman year as an honors student, Mackenzie is happy with her decision.
“The Honors Program has been a lot of fun,” she says. “We get to take exclusive classes that are just for the honors kids. I’m really enjoying the Freshmen Honors Colloquium. We get to read classics, studying history through the lens of literature.
“I think there is a lot of emphasis on personal growth throughout the Honors Program. They want to expand your horizons and make you look at things from another perspective,” Mackenzie continues. “If you’re in the Honors Program, you also have the opportunity to be a part of WHO, the RSO for honors. They do all sorts of fun activities. I’ve had a blast with honors and am glad I joined it.”
Like many freshman, Mackenzie has switched majors. The fact UW offers more than 200 areas of study makes it easy to find a quality program that fits students’ interests. She also plans to study abroad and appreciates UW’s support for these programs.
Mackenzie enjoys having classes with UW’s international students—who hail from close to 90 different countries—and her First-Year Seminar. “We were learning about other cultures, so once a week we sat down with someone from a different country and talked with them,” she says of her seminar. “I see my own culture in a different way now. Expanding my horizons has been a huge part of college for me, and it’s been a lot of fun to get to learn new things and meet new people.
“I didn’t expect to feel so at home at UW so quickly,” Mackenzie says. She credits that feeling to UW’s size, its Cowboy Connect program that kicks off the year and joining RSOs.
“There’s a real sense of community,” she says. “I think in particular I’ve had a lot more one-on-one interactions with my professors than I was expecting. I’ve learned more as a result of that.”