That seems to be the case for Jansen Harman and the elite honors program in which he is enrolled at Jacksonville State University. When he was a young child, his parents divorced, family money became scarce and he had to find a way to make a challenging situation work. Those conditions, which might have become stumbling blocks for some, served as a catalyst for his academic success.
“I always had to be independent,” Harman said. “I had to mature. I decided that I was in a bad situation and it was my job to make it better.”
Last year he became one of eight charter members of the elite honors program, for which he was eligible because of his academic achievements as a high school student. He and the seven other charter members were on hand Thursday as eight new freshmen were inducted into the program at a brief ceremony on the 11th floor of the Houston Cole Library.
These first classes of inductees are laying the groundwork for how the program will operate in the future and that opportunity is not going unnoticed by the scholars.
Twin brothers Brian and Terry Hinkemeyer were drawn to the university because of the Marching Southerners, but said the opportunity to be part of the honors program played an equal part in attracting them to JSU.
“We have the opportunity to help create something right now,” Brian said.
The distinction comes with more than just acclaim. It includes a full scholarship, which covers the cost of tuition, books, food and housing expenses. Each student in the program also receives a bright red laptop that he can keep, even after graduation.
Without the scholarship, Harman may never have been able to afford tuition at a four-year institution.
“It came down that I was going to have to go to Gadsden State and then I got the letter from the honors program,” he said. “It was a great blessing to receive the elite honors scholarship, because now I won’t have to take out a loan.”
Harman’s class, and the class inducted Thursday, comprise the eight students with the highest ACT scores in the incoming freshman class. In the years to come, that selection process will be amended to include essays and interviews, but the program’s goal of enabling students like Harman will remain the same.
The program’s founder, Steven Whitton, has been working at the university for 38 years. He describes the opportunity to develop the program at this stage in his career as a gift.
“When I was asked if I wanted to head this up, I jumped at the chance,” he said. “It’s something special that, to my knowledge, this school has never had.”
He added that the elite program is just one element of the larger honors program that is expanding. The scholarship, and others associated with the honors program offered to students with ACT scores 26 and above, are attracting students with higher academic standards.
This year the honors program as a whole grew to include 330 students, up from 180 last year. The program is growing, in part, because of the growing number of scholarships it is offering.
In general, honors programs are known to help universities draw academically ambitious students to their institutions. That has certainly been the case at Auburn University, according to James Hansen, director of that school’s honors college.
“There is no question that’s happened in Auburn,” Hansen said. “Honors programs are more and more essential tools for recruiting the best students to your university.”
Auburn began raising its academic standards several years ago, and today one-fourth of its 4,000 freshmen have ties to the honors program. Those honors students in the freshman class have an average ACT score of 31.5, just a few points below the test’s maximum score of 36, Hansen said.
Whitton said once the more selective elite program at JSU is fully developed, it will include a total of 32 students each year, but he hopes it also raises the academic bar for the all students at the university. If it can, it’s likely that more professors and students will be drawn in, and, in the end, more people will receive a quality education from JSU than ever before.
“We’re right there at the beginning of it,” Whitton said. “With the help of people and professors, it’s just expanding and it keeps expanding.”
Contact staff writer Laura Johnson at 256-235-3544.