Hundreds of high school seniors sat in Plachta Auditorium, nervously surveying each other as they waited for Honors Program Director Phame Camarena to greet them and begin the competition to enter the Central Michigan University Honors Program.
Their eyes are on the prize: a highly competitive Centralis Scholar or Gold Award scholarship. Roughly 550 high school students submitted applications during the two competition dates in 2018, Oct. 27 and Nov. 3.
They don't know it yet, but for a handful of these students, life is about to change. It certainly did for CMU seniors Audrey Hartson and Holly Gregory, who sat in those same seats four years ago.
“We transform students so they can transform the world.”
— Phame Camarena, Honors Program director
Hartson, a Port Huron, Michigan, native double majoring in music and child development, recalls feeling nervous and as if everyone in the room was smarter. Gregory, a senior from Breckenridge, Michigan, double majoring in psychology and cultural and global studies with a certificate in Middle Eastern and Islamic studies, remembers feeling much the same.
Both women had felt the Honors Program was all about being the best academically and maintaining a high GPA. Hearing Camarena speak on competition day changed their thinking.
Camarena said the Honors Program focuses not only on high academic achievement but on giving each student a unique experience and opportunities for growth and challenge.
Honors students are encouraged to engage in hands-on research with faculty, explore other countries and cultures through study abroad, and share their own creative and scholarly work.
"I couldn't believe the opportunities available at CMU. I was shocked to learn how far-reaching the Honors Program was within the university. It really emphasizes students having the best experience possible," Hartson said.
Hartson's and Gregory's unique opportunities in diversity and leadership have shaped them.
Hartson traveled to Urbania, Italy, the summer after her sophomore year, studying music theory. She said being surrounded by history and immersed in Italian culture while learning about classical music changed her understanding and helped her become more collaborative.
Gregory studied overseas during the summers after her sophomore and junior years, first in Morocco and then Ireland — travel she said was attainable thanks to the Honors Program.
“These experiences really shaped my personal and
professional goals and opened my world view.” — Holly Gregory, honors student
A collaborative community
Hartson and Gregory said they also had been nervous about how well they would fit into the honors community in Larzelere Hall. Would it be overly competitive or too focused on academics to foster connections with peers?
They found a community of staff, faculty and peers that offered endless support and encouraged the best in each student.
Hartson says the program has pushed her to seek new opportunities to challenge herself to make a difference in the community.
As music coordinator for the Centralis competition — giving student musicians the opportunity to perform at the competition — Hartson pays back the support she received entering the program.
“Honors has been a way for me to lift other
students up.” — Audrey Hartson, honors student
Hartson added that the Honors Program also provides a supportive professional network outside the classroom. She received an internship in arts administration early in her time at CMU after Camarena introduced her to the director of the nonprofit ArtReach of Mid Michigan.
Some students choose to be change-makers by getting involved in government. Gregory interned for U.S. Sen. Gary Peters.
"We transform students so they can transform the world," Camarena said.
Each semester, Honors Program service learning classes engage students in community problem-solving. In the past year, honors students have created plans for accessible travel, designed spaces for a local homeless shelter and developed curricula to introduce schoolchildren to nature.
Thousands of reasons to choose CMU
Camarena said Centralis offers the greatest number of full-tuition and full-ride scholarships in Michigan.
Approximately 550 qualifying students completed a detailed application and competed at one of two on-campus essay writing competitions. A team of Honors Program faculty, staff and current honors students will review the applications.
In mid-December, twenty students will be offered Centralis Scholar full-ride scholarships. Another 130 will be offered Centralis Gold Award full-tuition scholarships. Every participant will be offered at least a CMU Merit Scholarship.
While the financial incentives make Centralis an exciting option, the program offers students far more than money. The support and opportunities go far beyond the scholarship, Gregory said.
"I can't imagine being anywhere else."
Written by Anna Kendall, CMU Communications intern