Bob Mennel

From Small Beginnings: A History of the University Honors Program

The University Honors Program (UHP) is rooted in humble beginnings. From advising a small group of 200 students in 1984, the UHP now boasts over 1,500 graduates, with 900 students presently enrolled in the program.

It was in 1983 that Professor Robert Mennel, now Professor Emeritus of History and then Chair of the History Department, was selected by a University committee to be the founding director of the UHP. Professor Mennel, along with colleagues and skilled staff members, envisioned an Honors Program that would attract a diverse group of highly motivated and academically excellent students. To implement this vision, Mennel began by enlisting qualified UNH professors interested in mentoring exceptional students. To foster classroom dialogue, Professor Mennel designed small Honors sections that could support experiential learning. Unique Honors courses, therefore, emerged, and—similar to today’s UHP courses—field trips were common, class discussions were enriched, and students enjoyed an additional measure of mentoring from Honors professors.

Professor Mennel was proud of the program as students successfully completed their coursework and senior theses. He noted that these students had become experts in their fields of research and were both “self-possessed” and “sure-footed.”

From Founding to Fostering

Originally, the UHP was located in Thompson Hall, where the new program outgrew its office space on day one. While the building has benefitted from some lovely renovations since the 1980s, the then cramped office—with its brown tiles and dim lights—and its limited resources inspired Mennel’s description of T-Hall as a “19th century asylum.”

Today, the UHP is located on the second floor of Hood House, a kind brick building neighbor to the Memorial Union Building (MUB) and home to several University academic programs: Academic Advising and Career Services, Hamel Center for Undergraduate Research, The National Student Exchange Program, Connect, The Center for International Education, and the Fellowships Office. Many UHP students have entered Hood House for Honors advising and left with a vast array of academic brochures, study abroad applications, and grant proposal guidelines. The Hood House is a hub for intellectually curious students.

And from small beginnings the UHP has grown and produced astute, engaged citizens involved in a variety of careers and professions. UHP graduates have pursued graduate education, received honorary awards, and been selected for competitive careers. Though the program has evolved since its inception, its skeletal framework has remained virtually the same, a solid idea that has stood the test of academic time. The UHP continues to foster academic excellence and scholarly inquiry.

 


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