The directors and deans of Honors Programs and Colleges in the Committee on Institutional Cooperation, CIC (the schools of the Big Ten Conference and University of Illinois at Chicago) meet annually to discuss the best practices and challenges of Honors education. In 2008 we invited our colleagues from the University of Maryland to join us at our annual meeting. They are a similar university in terms of mission, size, and scope. They are now, of course, part of the BIG 10 Conference and the CIC. It was felt to be a great benefit to all and so we began the practice of inviting a different peer institution to our annual meeting each subsequent year. Although other Honors focused conferences and meetings have much to offer, it quickly became evident that none were meeting the specific needs of Research 1 institutions. We needed a way to expand our CIC based annual meetings to allow the larger nation-wide community to meet and share best practices and scholarly work on providing enhanced educational experiences for high achieving students. Thus Honors Education at Research Universities (HERU) was born.
About the Conference
For those of us immersed in it, the place for honors education at research institutions of higher learning seems obvious. Our resources, our faculty, our academic foundations in the sciences and technology, and our emphasis on practical application of research and scholarship define and distinguish us. But it's not always an easy sell to others in the Academy or to some of the nation's best and brightest high school students who have a myriad of choices vying for their attention. The truth is, we're different. Neither better nor worse, but different.
That is why a group of Research I institutions with strong, vibrant honors programs launched HERU in 2013: Honors Education at Research Universities. HERU is the brainchild of Honors Directors/Deans in the Committee on Institutional Cooperation in recognition of the vitality and strength of honors education. By coming together during this two-day conference, we envisioned sharing best practices, discussing scholarly work, and building collaborations that would strengthen the case, and the place, for honors education at research universities.
Penn State University was the host of the inaugural HERU conference in 2013. The Planning Committee included members of the CIC and Dr. Nancy West, Director, Honors College, University of Missouri. It was determined at that conference that it should continue and plans were made for its establishment as an ongoing professional meeting.
Oregon State University was the host for the second HERU conference in 2015. The planning committee consisted of Oregon State representatives plus interested parties from the HERU 2013 committee.
A key decision, agreed upon by general consensus, was that effort would be made to keep HERU from becoming another society with a corresponding overhead, committees, and politics. Instead it would be a bi-annual meeting with a "daisy-chain" structure of committees, passing along decision making one to another. Thus the 2013 Planning Committee created a sub-committee for Site Selection of the 2015 HERU Conference. Once the new site was selected (Oregon State University) a new Planning Committee was created, with the host serving as the Chair of the committee. And so on. Finally, it was also agreed that, as the founding members of HERU, each committee would always have representation from the CIC.
It was the hope of the founding committee and inaugural conference that HERU would be an opportunity for our peers to come together, sharing best practices and build relationships that will benefit us all. Furthermore, it is hoped that this structure will allow for organic growth of HERU that is responsive to changing needs without imposing a cumbersome or imposing structure. In the end, HERU belongs to those who attend the conference and choose to participate. It is in good hands.