The Echols Review Committee recently submitted a report to Rachel Most, Assoc. Dean for Undergraduate Academic Programs, recommending multiple changes to the Echols honors program. The committee, comprised of one current student, five College professors, one representative from the admissions office and an Academic Programs Manager, convened last fall semester to consider how the Echols Scholar Program could be re-envisioned for the 21st century. The report included several proposals, such as creating an Echols fellowship program, discontinuing housing first-year Echols Scholars in only the Balz-Dobie and Tuttle-Dunnington residence halls and diversifying the class of scholars. Although this redefining set of proposals is still in its early stages, it presents a solid groundwork for transforming Echols into a real, modern honors program.
One of the most significant proposals is repealing and replacing the existing selection process with an Echols fellowship program, which would select rising second years through a combined recommendation and application process. While the current program encourages a limited group of potential students to attend the University by offering them exclusive benefits and attention, a delayed acceptance system could prove to be more beneficial for the honors program and the University. Requiring students to attend the University for a full semester before becoming Echols scholars would result in a smaller and more diverse group of passionate students coming together in their quest to indulge in and shape the College’s undergraduate intellectual life. The resulting Echols community would thus have the potential to be as strong (if not stronger) as previous ones. Although the proposed fellowship program differs significantly from the program’s traditional system, the University community should carefully consider the proposal’s benefits.
The review committee’s report also suggests that Echols scholars should be housed among the general population of students. This struck a chord with current scholars, who state that living in the same building provides them with a strong sense of community. However, living in the same space isn’t the only way to form a sense of community. The shared passion for academic excellence, intellectual leadership and sense of purpose among scholars will ensure the Echols community remains strong and close-knit. Moreover, Echols housing has previously been criticized for isolating scholars from the rest of their class, and debate on the issue has been plentiful.
Ultimately, the committee’s proposed changes are aimed at improving the current standing and quality of the Echols honors program while diversifying the class of scholars along the way. The program’s nearly 60 year-old system has certainly had its benefits in past and recent years — especially in recruiting. However, as our University enters its third century, we will be required to re-envision many of our current institutions and programs, including Echols.