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University Honors Program Fuels Minds and Futures Posted: 8/13/15

University Honors Program Fuels Minds and Futures



Parents hoping to advantage the futures of their bright students have often looked to honors programs to provide them with a competitive edge.

Universities are homes for such programs, and often provide an experience on par with private institutions, at a considerably smaller price tag and with an at-home feeling. 

At Texas A&M International University (TAMIU), the University Honors Program (UHP) has been providing that distinct advantage since 2000 and has seen over 650 students enroll, said Dr. Deborah Blackwell, UHP director and associate professor of History.

“It’s really a win-win-win situation for students,” Dr. Blackwell said, “bright students take part in seminar-style learning and critical thinking through designated core courses and contracts with professors in the student’s major field of study. It’s a challenging, yet deeply supportive and embracing environment that University Honors Program students thrive within.”

TAMIU President Dr. Ray Keck concurred.

“The University Honors Program brings TAMIU into complete alignment with other higher education institutions, elevating all our programs. We combine gifted and ambitious students in a forum that challenges and launches them toward their careers and graduate education.   It’s a smart option for parents and its benefits to students will span their lifetimes,” Dr. Keck said. 

As should be expected, UHP entry is competitive.

“We accept a new cohort for each long semester.  Students already enrolled full-time at a college or university for one or more semesters must have a 3.25 cumulative GPA for all schools, exclusive of AP/CLEP testing. For high school students who have not yet been enrolled full-time in higher education, the criteria is top 5% of the high school graduating class or 1200/1600 SAT score (reading and math) or 24/36 ACT score and a 3.25 GPA on college coursework taken through dual enrollment.  First-time freshmen close to these numbers who really want the experience may still apply, and we consider high school class size and student motivation.  Applications and more information are available at

And full-time UHP students also reap the rewards of financial support, she noted.

“Generous donors help us to offer funding for students in the University Honors Program on a competitive basis between $1,000 -$4,000 per year during their sophomore, junior, and senior years at TAMIU.  We currently do not offer scholarships to incoming freshmen, though we do give priority in awarding scholarships to students returning to the program rather than students newly joining the program,” Blackwell explained.

She said the program, initially known as the D. D. Hachar Honors Program, has been expanded to include both Hachar Honors Scholarship recipients and other students. Over 375 students have graduated with either the University Honors Diploma or the University Honors Certificate from TAMIU to date.  For this coming Fall, 71 students have been admitted for the fall 2015 cohort, creating a UHP total of 182 Honors students.

She noted the program offers two tracks for students. 

“Depending on the student’s standing when they enter, they will be on one of two tracks.  Those joining during their freshman or sophomore years work towards a University Honors Diploma: up to four courses designated as Honors-only “standalone” courses and a minimum of 8 courses contracted with professors to complete Honors-level requirements in major coursework. They also complete a senior Honors Thesis, a faculty-mentored undergraduate research project intended as an Honors capstone. 

“Those joining during their junior year, such as transfer students from Laredo Community College, pursue the University Honors Certificate with the Honors Thesis, which requires a minimum of five courses with Honors contracts; or without the Honors Thesis, which requires a minimum of seven courses with Honors contracts.  At graduation, University Honors Program students wear silver medallions and silver tassels to symbolize their distinction,” Blackwell said.

She said she’s very proud of all UHP graduates and their success stories are inspiring.

“I have had the great pleasure of seeing Honors students go on to many different careers: medicine, nursing, law, teaching, insurance, engineering, psychology and counseling, accounting, and other professions. A significant percentage goes on to graduate school, often here at TAMIU. Others attend medical schools throughout the state of Texas; pharmacy school; dental school; law schools such as Georgetown University and Penn State University; speech pathology and audiology programs at Incarnate Word and other universities; engineering, and public health at Texas A&M, just to name a few,” she recalled.

Dr. Blackwell said that through the years she has noted  an appreciation of shared experiences by UHP students: they cherish the close faculty mentor and research experience and feel better prepared for their postgraduate futures.

“When I speak to students as they are nearing graduation, they nearly always talk about how much it meant to them to have a faculty member mentor them in undergraduate research. Almost all were in honors or AP courses in high school and are looking for a similar challenge in college, but I think they are often surprised at how much more they have been able to develop intellectually through the work that they have done here. The students who go on to law school, medical school, and graduate school—which is a very large percentage of our University Honors Program graduates—say that their experiences made them much better prepared for the rigors of postgraduate education as well,” Blackwell affirmed.

For additional information, contact Dr. Blackwell, TAMIU University Honors Program, at 956.326.2133, email, click on or visit offices in Pellegrino Hall, Suite 314.

Fall classes start Wednesday, Aug. 19. Late registration continues through Tuesday, Aug. 25.

                For complete information on schedules and University catalog, visit

                For registration information, contact the Office of the University Registrar at, call 326.2250 or visit offices in the Senator Judith Zaffirini Student Success Center, suite 121.

                More is available on @txamiu on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube and the free TAMIU smartphone and tablet app

                University office hours are  8 a.m. - 5 p.m. Monday-Friday.