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How a Building Changed the Honors Program from a Curriculum to a Community

“Pancakes. Honors Commons.”

The text lit up Dr. Chuck Fuller’s phone one Saturday morning. Intrigued, he hopped in his car and drove to campus. Arriving at the new building set aside specifically for the Honors Program, Dr. Fuller found a room buzzing with the voices of freshmen and filled with the aroma of pancakes.

The pancakes were homemade by the students themselves. After eating their fill, an impromptu worship service broke out. “It was incredible,” Dr. Fuller said. “That’s what we want for the Honors Program.”

Just months before, the Honors Program operated out of a limited space in the back of Denmark Hall. It contained Fuller’s office, along with a small meeting room and common area. For a program of around 150 students, the location made it tricky for them to convene and connect with each other on a personal level. “It’s hard to have a community without square footage, without a home. It’s hard to build a culture without that,” Dr. Fuller said.

The Anderson University Honors Program is highly unique because of its interdisciplinary nature. Students from a variety of majors and backgrounds come together in their Honors classes to discuss the relationship between faith and scholarship.

“To have a class where there are biology majors, business majors, music majors, painting and drawing majors, education majors, political science majors, and to have them around the table discussing perennial human questions, I just find that unendingly fascinating,” Dr. Fuller said.

At its core, Dr. Fuller said the program is a “learning community.” He had long dreamed of a space that could help students cultivate a sense of belonging on campus and in the program.

“I would drive by this house a lot and think, ‘That just looks and feels like Honors.’ I always had these visions of a historic home that feels like C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. This house really says those things,” Dr. Fuller said. “We have covered porches and a patio and a beautiful backyard with a brick wall that surrounds it. It’s just gorgeous.”

Although he had admired the house for a while, it was a complete surprise to him that the Honors Program would be moving there. The building formerly housed the Office of Admission, followed by the Center for Career Development. Fuller recalled being absolutely “thrilled” by the news and immediately started envisioning how this space could transform the program. The house was dubbed the “Honors Commons” to include the Honors Program and the College of Christian Studies faculty members who now have offices there.

Every year, graduating seniors write a paper detailing the pros and cons of joining the Honors Program. Fuller takes the feedback seriously and does what he can to implement changes accordingly. The desire for relationship-building opportunities has been echoed in many student papers. The Honors Commons is crucial to providing those opportunities for Honors students. “To see students consider this to be a home, and truly to use this space as a learning community, is a gigantic leap forward,” Dr. Fuller said.

For senior Hannah Edwards, the addition of the Honors Commons took her experience of Honors from a “curriculum to a community.”

Honors is less of a group of really smart people trying to show off, and more of people realizing how little they know and seeking to understand more.
-Hannah Edwards, Class of 2024

Edwards came into the program with no prior knowledge of philosophy or exposure to Socratic seminars. Once she got to know her peers, her initial nerves wore off. “I’ve loved the connections that I’ve made through it. Some of my best friends I’ve met in Honors classes,” Edwards said.

She recalled fond memories of Welcome Week, when she introduced freshmen to the Honors faculty and the space they could use for their years at AU. It has been exciting for her to witness a shift in community and be part of building a bridge between underclassmen and upperclassmen. From pancake mornings to game nights to faculty presentations, the house is always full of life.

The opportunity for increased faculty/student engagement has been a wonderful perk of the Commons. Honors faculty from different departments collaborate to teach Honors students. Dr. Fuller described the program’s faculty as “really bright” and said he is “always thankful for them.” For many Honors students, these professors become mentors while at AU—and friends after graduation. At Homecoming last year, Honors students were eager for their parents to meet their professors and see the house that has become a haven for them. “The Honors house feels like a family home,” said sophomore Grayson Inman. From sitting in the comfy chairs in the lobby to hanging out in the kitchen, Inman has loved the conversations he has had in the Commons. For a program that is discussion-based, students need an environment that is conducive to dialogue. “The Honors Program has given me a safe place to test ideas,” he said. “It’s so much fun to be surrounded by people who have a similar worldview to you and who have a strong faith.”

Having more chances to build friendships with the freshmen has been refreshing for Inman. “Through the Honors Commons, we’ve found ways that we can connect with the freshmen in a way that we couldn’t in that small space,” he said. He has been repeatedly impressed by the initiative the freshman class has taken to plan events, such as the Saturday pancake breakfasts.

For freshman Lydia Johnson, the Honors Program has been an important part of her time at AU. “Being in the Honors Program has provided a lot of community with others who have similar academic standards and interests,” Johnson said. The Commons has been instrumental for her to build friendships with her peers. Along with her suitemates, Johnson started the pancake breakfasts as a way to foster community in the program. What started as a random idea has now become a favorite tradition among underclassmen and upperclassmen alike.

The future of the Honors Program is exciting, and Fuller is hopeful about how the Honors Commons will continue to impact students’ experience. When students feel like they belong, they are more likely to complete the program and continue those relationships after graduation.

“It’s difficult to leave the program when the program feels like home,” Dr. Fuller said.