Q&A with Honors Program Director Elizabeth Corey, Ph.D.

Under Dr. Elizabeth Corey's guidance, Baylor's Honors Program has thrived with a 25% retention increase and an uptick in prestigious award winners. In this Q&A, Dr. Corey explores the program's unique qualities, discusses mentorship, the rewarding experience of teaching, and how leading the program has influenced her scholarship. 

January 29, 2024
Elizabeth Corey Q&A

Throughout your tenure as Director, how has the Honors Program grown and changed?

I began directing the program in 2015. Since then, our retention has increased by 25% (meaning the rate of  students who not only start but also complete the program, having completed the thesis). We have also seen the number of prestigious awards continue to grow. In the last few years, we have averaged 5 Fulbright winners per year and had 3 of Baylor’s 6 Marshall Award Winners. 

What distinguishes Baylor’s Honors Program from those at other institutions? 

Baylor’s Honors Program is significantly larger and older than many other honors programs. Our program began with just a handful of students in 1959 and has been operating continuously since then. We have always required students to write a thesis, which is a significant personal accomplishment for an undergraduate, or anyone, for that matter! We admit about 250 students per year, which is the size of the entering class at many small colleges. And we have faculty who are devoted solely to teaching undergraduates. Many honors programs depend on “borrowed” faculty from other departments. We have our share of deeply valued colleagues from around Baylor's campus who support our Honors students. However, we also have a full-time faculty in the Honors Program who are principally focused on our Honors students and can invest deeply in them.

Faculty mentorship is a huge part of the Honors Program. How does the program facilitate meaningful interactions between students and faculty members? 

The program facilitates mentorship at all levels. In the “First Year Seminar” students work with faculty members in small class settings, getting to know the professor personally and frequently taking future classes with that faculty member. Often students meet with faculty informally, for meals or church, and sometimes grow into deep friendships alongside their mentoring relationships. In undertaking the Honors thesis, each student also chooses an official mentor with whom he or she works over two full years. Many of my own advisees stay in touch a decade later, and this is true for almost all the Honors faculty members I know. 

What makes teaching Honors Program students worthwhile?

I teach at a prestigious national summer program in Washington D.C. that pulls students from all kinds of universities across the country—Harvard, Yale, state universities, and smaller Christian colleges. Baylor students are as good as the best of these students, and perhaps even better, because they are not ideologically rigid. They come to college ready to learn, to entertain diverse viewpoints, and to converse about difficult issues. I wouldn’t want to teach anywhere else.

How has leading the Honors Program impacted your scholarship? 

A great deal of my scholarship emerges from the work I do with students, often one-on-one. Sometimes this is part of a thesis project, but it is often just the result of an independent study in which the student and I read texts and discuss them. Much of my work centers on the question of “what is liberal education?” and I have found that bright Honors undergraduates are the perfect partners for exploring these questions. I also write about my students (not by name of course!) in public essays because I am interested in what makes them happy. I want to explore how they face the myriad choices about what to do after college. So Honors students impact not just my “professional” scholarship, but my whole life.

What advice would you give to students considering applying to the Honors Program? 

Write a good and thoughtful essay. Don’t use a thesaurus. And come ready to learn and be transformed.