University of Central Missouri: The Honors College Begins New Era at UCM’s Achauer House

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As competition between colleges and universities increases nationally for a smaller number of students who are entering higher education, one of the best assets an institution may possess is a vibrant honors college. This information was part of a message delivered to members of the University of Central Missouri campus and the local community on Aug. 17 during a celebration of the relocation of The Honors College at UCM from the James C. Kirkpatrick Library to the university’s Achauer House at 314 S Holden St., in Warrensburg.


Remarks by Peter Viscusi, who worked with the university’s honors students from 1992 to 2008 and was the college’s first dean, were included in the brief program dedicating the college’s new home. Viscusi joined UCM President Roger Best for the ceremony on the front porch of the Achauer House along with Lynn Alkire, professor emerita and former associate dean of the College of Health, Science and Technology, and Bruce Uhler, a UCM alumnus who is a member of the Warrensburg City Council and president of the Johnson County Historical Society. Jennifer Carson, professor of criminal justice and director of The Honors College, served as master of ceremonies.


When speaking to the small gathering of individuals seated outside the house, President Best said the idea for relocating The Honors College began with the question, “What if…?” As he put it, “If you ask a simple question, amazing things can happen behind the question because of the vision and effort that other people put into that.”


“It was literally three months ago, I asked the question of a couple of people associated with The Honors College…What if? What if we take this space we call the Achauer House and have our Honors College in this facility?”

He commended Laurel Hogue, vice provost for online and learning engagement, and Carson for their work in making the move possible. He also recognized the vision of Phil Bridgmon, provost and vice president for academic affairs, for his guidance regarding The Honors College, including his insight into how to structure its leadership and reporting lines to ensure that it was accomplishing university objectives. Such efforts by all three individuals have demonstrated a commitment to students and their success, according to Best.


“Our Honors College really exemplifies our approach for deep engagement with students and where we want to see them engage with us,” Best said.


In his remarks, Viscusi called his time serving honors students “years of joy” that gave him something to look forward to every day because he “got to work with the best and brightest students from every academic department on campus.” He also noted how much he enjoyed collaboration with outstanding administrative assistants who were dedicated to students and contributed to the strong community spirit within the college.


“As the old saying goes, ‘Nothing succeeds like success.’ This is true with regard to honors,” Viscusi said. “The success of past honors students attracted more and more incoming students enjoying The Honors College.”


“The academic accomplishments of The Honors College students never ceased to amaze me,” Viscusi remarked. “We had great students over the years who published their research in national and international professional journals and who presented their work at conferences here and abroad. If I had time, I could give you countless examples of our extraordinary students and their accomplishments.”


Founded in 1958, the Honors Program at UCM is considered the second oldest program of its kind west of the Mississippi River. The program began with 12 students and became The Honors College during Viscusi’s tenure in 1999. Enrollment climbed to to 625 students while he served UCM, giving more students an opportunity to engage in high-impact learning in a collegial environment that adds significant value to their university academic and social experiences.


Viscusi said honors students who graduated many years ago continue to contact him today. He met recently with a group of 15 former students who reminisced about their honors experience at UCM.


“Honors was not only the best thing that happened to them, it had a great impact on their lives,” Viscusi said. “It also had a lasting impact on our faculty.”

He rekindled a conversation he had with a faculty member who was involved with honors students. “He told me how much he missed the intellectual curiosity of the students he had in his class, and he also told me how much he missed the intellectual repartee that went on in his class,” Viscusi said.


“Faculty teaching honors classes learn how to adapt their honors teaching to enrich their classes for the regular students,” Viscusi told the audience. “Having honors students with great potential is wonderful but having faculty who can actualize that potential is magical.”


He pointed out that statistics show a decline in the number of students pursuing a college education. There are 2.5 million fewer students seeking a higher education in 2022 than there were three years ago, according to Viscusi. He believes honors colleges have a role in building a strong base of academically talented students.


“Every university wants to attract incoming students. The challenge is to go beyond generic majors…There needs to be a distinctness that one can point to,” Viscusi said. “The answer to this challenge is a vibrant honors college that can draw the best students.”


Alkire and Uhler shared memories of Maurine Achauer and what the house, built in 1887, has meant to the community and to UCM.


Uhler noted that the Achauer House, a Victorian structure that now sits at the northwest edge of campus and provides a link to downtown, is “symbolic” of the way community residents and education supporters came together to make a college possible in Warrensburg. In a short period of time, they raised $260,000 (the equivalent of about $6 million in today’s dollars) and obtained a property gift of 16 acres This helped convince Missouri legislators that this community should be the home for what became in 1871 the State Normal School, Second District.


One of the Achauer Houses’s unique characteristics is the kitchen table which was a popular gathering spot for the owner who enjoyed her connection with the community and the university. She often used her home to host dignitaries who came to Warrensburg and the campus, including entertainers, military and political leaders, and a long list of other individuals who had the opportunity to enjoy her hospitality.

“I sat at that kitchen table many times,”Alkire said, noting that she and Uhler are both excited about the university utilizing the Achauer House for The Honors College.


“We want to thank Dr. Best and everyone else involved,” Alkire said. “Maurine’s house is going to be used by The Honors College because she had a passion for everyone in the learning process and she wanted to bring the community together, This is what she lived by and this is what she did every day when she was here. I know she’s looking down and smiling, saying ‘today is such a happy day.'”

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