The UMKC Honors College Helps Students Achieve Their Goals

Elizabeth Hemenway works quietly on her Apple laptop in a comfy chair on the fourth floor of Cherry Hall. Her gaze is fixed to the screen while her long blond hair drapes over her dark blue T‑shirt with the bright gold lettering that reads “Honors College.” Hemenway, a junior biology major, is glad she became a member of the Honors College, and credits the college with helping her decide what she wants to pursue in graduate school.

“The Honors College definitely helped me toward my post-graduate goal,” she said. “I thought I wanted to go to medical school, but after taking Honors Genetics with Dr. Scott Hawley, I changed my mind and am now focused on research in biology. The Honors College literally changed my course of study.”

So what is this Honors College?

According to its website, the honors program at UMKC was started in 1979 by Professor Bruce Bubacz as an academic program within the College of Arts and Sciences. Dr. Bubacz served as the founding director from 1979 until 1985, and during that time developed the honors program along with an oversight board and an introductory honors seminar.

Then on July 1, 2015, the honors program became the UMKC Honors College with Dr. James McKusick (“Dean Jim”) as its founding dean and Dr. Gayle Levy as director.

Levy was made director of the honors program in 2003, and continued through its transition to the Honors College. Levy is energetic, enthusiastic and excited about what the honors program accomplished and anticipates an amazing future for the new Honors College. Her excitement is contagious and the vision she and Dean Jim share is inspiring to their students. Neither of them takes credit for the success of the college though.

“The students are incredible,” Levy said, “Alumni. Current students. They are absolutely amazing, and they keep getting better and better.”

So what does it take to be an honors student at UMKC? And what can you expect to get out of it besides one of those sweet dark blue T-shirts with the bright gold lettering?

For incoming freshman, the Honors College website states that a minimum cumulative high school GPA of 3.5 in the core curriculum is a good “target.” Transfer students should have a college-level GPA of 3.7 or higher, or have participated in the honors program at their previous school. Currently enrolled students at UMKC with a GPA of 3.5 or above are eligible for admission into the Honors College.

While priority is given to students who meet or exceed these target criteria, the admissions committee takes into consideration the totality of each student’s application, with emphasis on academics and civic engagement. According to Levy, the Honors College is looking for students who want to be leaders in the classroom – and in all aspects of campus and community life – and grades are only a part of that equation.

Once admitted into the Honors College, in order to graduate with University Honors, an honors student must complete 27 honors credits. To graduate with the university’s highest distinction, Honors Scholar, an additional six-credit senior honors thesis is also required. This does not mean a lot of additional work, however.

There are many ways to earn honors credits, and most of them do not involve taking additional classes. For example, the Honors College offers honors-only seminars, anchor, and discourse classes that allow students to fulfill the university general education requirements while simultaneously earning honors credit. Students can also complete an “honors contract” in almost any other class, and earn honors credit equal to the three or more credit hours earned for that class. Honors discussion groups are also available for honors students enrolled in chemistry, biology, accounting, French, Spanish and German courses, and are a great way to both earn honors credits and get to know other honors students.

Honors credits can also be earned through study abroad programs, beyond the classroom experiences, graduate courses, and departmental honors courses that count toward the credit requirement for graduation.

For those students who are interested in the Honors College, but are concerned about paying more for their education, Levy would like to put those concerns to rest.

“The Honors College is a great addition to the wonderful education you will receive at UMKC, and it doesn’t cost anything extra. It is ‘value-added,’” she said. “We want all of the high-achieving students at UMKC to be a part of the Honors College,” she continued. “For a student who is gifted, talented, high-achieving, or whatever other term people want to use, there is a certain way of teaching that corresponds to their way of learning, so the classes are not harder, they are simply more tailored to the way high-achieving students learn best.”

Besides the cool-looking dark blue T-shirts and other “swag” that honors students receive, perhaps the most valuable rewards are the intangibles.

“I have met a lot of people in other majors that I might not have met otherwise,” Hemenway said. “The Honors College has definitely enriched my undergraduate experience. Also, I took classes like, ‘Honors Anchor – The Value of Beauty,’ that I might not have otherwise taken, but that I really enjoyed.”

Levy wants students to know that the Honors College is not just some snobby, private, exclusive club for future Mensa candidates to gather and mingle with others like them. There is something for everyone in the Honors College, and the focus of the college is on allowing individuals to explore what they want to explore – whatever it may be.

“Almost any student can find their niche in the Honors College,” Levy said. “This is a place for students to create what they want to create, and to pursue whatever it is that interests them. We give students a way to earn credit for research and other work they are already doing. The focus of the Honors College is to make learning more individualized, while offering the support of the honors community.”

Levy believes that the community provided by the Honors College for incoming 18-year-old students is especially invaluable. There are currently 60 honors students residing in Oak Street Residence Hall in the honors-only Living/Learning Community, and the college is working to expand into Oak Place Apartments in order to offer this same community for upper-level honors students no longer living in the residence hall.

There are currently 130 new honors students starting in fall 2017, and Dr. Levy expects that number will rise significantly before the start of the semester.


Tom Osborne grew up in West Des Moines, Iowa, where he lived for over twenty years before moving to Kansas City with his wife, Sheri, in 2008. Tom spent twenty years in the restaurant business, mostly as a manager of fine dining restaurants, before returning to school in 2012. An interest in the law sent Tom to Penn Valley College, where he earned an associate’s degree with highest honors in paralegal practice in 2014. Tom worked as a paralegal at a local law firm for two years before deciding to return to school and pursue a law degree. Tom has been a member of the Honors College since 2016, and plans to graduate with University Honors in May 2018. Tom was recently admitted to the UMKC School of Law where he will begin classes in the fall. After graduating and passing the bar, Tom plans to pursue a new career in environmental law. Tom and Sheri live in a condo in Quality Hill with their two cats, Fred and Morris. Besides playing guitar and cheering on his favorite teams, Tom enjoys cooking, eating good food, golfing, reading, and vacationing in San Diego, where his parents and brothers live.