Skip to main content
Skip to navigation

Oct. 27, 2011 Volume 33, No. 10

Making the MU Honors College an ‘experience’

Nancy West

DEFINING AN HONORS STUDENT Nancy West, who took over the helm as MU Honors College director Sept. 1, teaches a class last week. West says she wants to make being part of the Honors College an “experience” for students. Photo by Nicholas Benner


West settles into new role as director

Nancy West sees the University of Missouri Honors College as more than just an opportunity to take honors courses.

West, an MU English professor and previous Department of English chair who became the director of the MU Honors College Sept. 1, says she is looking to create an “honors experience.”

“I enjoy thinking about how courses can be designed for honors students with unique opportunities available to them,” West said. “So, honors students might have the opportunity to have a private seminar with one of the distinguished lecturers being brought into campus, or they might have the opportunity to do archival research at the State Historical Society, or take a field trip, or visit local schools and libraries to give presentations on the research they are doing.”

West wants to identify what being an honors student at Mizzou should include. While that identity has not yet been defined, she expects it will be more than just a student with a high GPA.

“Do we want them to be more than that?” West asks. “Some honors colleges define their honors students by their leadership potential and not their ACT scores. They care about a student’s promise to shape the world in better ways. I find that intriguing, but I don’t know if that is necessarily the right definition for MU.”

Her schedule has been full of meetings with faculty, staff, administrators and students across campus to get their input on what makes up an honors student at MU.

“Those conversations will never stop,” she said. “They are on-going. This way, the departments and programs know what the Honors College is doing and we know what they are doing. Together we can define what an honors student at MU is.”

West was an honors student herself while at Rutgers, where she was able to take advantage of special opportunities. During her senior year, while working on a thesis on playwright Clifford Odets, West’s honors advisor took her to Lincoln Center, where she was able to view original manuscripts.

“I was looking at one of Odets’ plays, typed out by him, with the smudges and crossed-out lines and everything,” West said. “It was the original manuscript and I thought, ‘this is just amazing. I get to do this because I’m part of the honors program.’”

That experience is not only helping West in determining what she feels an honors student should be, but it also played a role in her taking on her new position at Mizzou.

“Being part of that program meant so much personally to me. Knowing how it feels to students, I thought, would help me relate to the honors students here at MU.”

West, who has been a professor in MU’s Department of English since 1995, has served as a faculty mentor for numerous students conducting research or writing a thesis.

Noting that the interaction with students is her favorite part of her job, she said she has started ‘Afternoon Tea with the Director’ where students have a chance to sit down with her and talk about their plans, interests and what they have going on.

“They come in and we have homemade cookies, tea and a casual conversation,” West said. “It’s a time to be sprawling and intellectual and even a little goofy all in one meeting.”

Those conversations are all part of the honors experience West hopes to develop at Mizzou.

— Josh Murray