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Online program for ASU honors students wins national award

Program cited for providing a full honors experience for online learners


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February 29, 2024

Barrett, The Honors College at Arizona State University has received the 2024 Gold Excellence Award from NASPA, Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education, for its program serving online honors students.

The award from NASPA, an organization of professionals in the areas of higher education student engagement and operations, recognizes Barrett Online for its innovative approach to providing a full honors experience to online learners.

According to NASPA, the Excellence Awards, which are given in 12 categories, highlight the contributions of members who are transforming higher education through outstanding programs, innovative services and effective administration.

This year’s awards will be presented at the 2024 NASPA Annual Conference, March 9–13, in Seattle.

Image of NASPA Excellence Awards Gold logo

“This award is a national recognition of how Barrett has reimagined the honors experience in order to make it accessible to online students," said Tara Williams, dean of Barrett, The Honors College. "This has truly been a collaborative effort with EdPlus and our faculty and staff, and these amazing students are enhancing the honors community in many ways”

Barrett Online, which is the first of its kind offered by a top-rated honors college in the country, grew out of the necessity to offer honors courses online throughout the coronavirus pandemic that began in 2019.

Over the 2020–21 academic year, staff and faculty from Barrett and EdPlus at ASU worked together to devise the core framework of an online honors pilot program. The program’s first student cohort began taking honors courses online in fall 2021. In 2023, students from the first Barrett Online cohort graduated ASU with honors. 

“This initiative addresses a critical gap in higher education. Before Barrett Online, online learners did not have access to a full honors experience. This gap is not simply a matter of missing out on enrichment opportunities, it is an issue of equitable access to experiences that meaningfully support student success,” said Kristen Hermann, vice dean of Barrett, The Honors College.

She said the goals were to develop an online honors experience with the same key elements as the campus immersion honors experience; take advantage of online technologies and tools to provide access to the honors experience for a new and diverse community of learners; support equitable student success across the on-campus and online formats; and plan for sustainable growth in the online cohort.

Barrett Online is a “highly innovative program that opens the door for increased diversity in our student population, both within Barrett and the larger university. It has made the honors experience accessible to an entirely new population of learners through ASU Online,” Hermann said.

“This program speaks directly to NASPA’s mission of driving innovation and evidence-based student-centered practice throughout higher education, and ASU’s commitment to being a comprehensive public research university, measured not by whom it excludes, but by whom it includes and how they succeed, as stated in its charter,” she said.

Students take ASU Sync versions of honors courses and seminars, and partake in research opportunities, honors advising and resources, a dedicated honors online student organization, and live community-building and professional development activities. 

Barrett Online students come from across Arizona, the United States and the world, and range in age from 13 to 65. They are performing at parallel rates to on-campus honors students, with a cohort average cumulative GPA of 3.7, and show strong rates of persistence and retention to ASU term to term.

Photo of Fatimah Alexandria Cornelius
Fatimah Alexandria "Alex" Cornelius

They report that Barrett Online has enhanced their ASU learning experience and made them feel more connected to the university and to their peer networks.

Fatimah Alexandria “Alex” Cornelius, a senior anthropology major who co-founded The Forge, an organization for online honors students, said Barrett Online afforded her strong connections to fellow students, an online space that felt like an in-person classroom, access to honors summer study abroad programs and the opportunity to complete an honors undergraduate thesis.

"You will undoubtedly gain strong friendships, have access to readings selected from the personal libraries of the faculty members teaching you, and have opportunities you would not normally experience,” she said.

Jennifer Ryan, a senior psychology major, said Barrett Online helped prepare her for graduate school.

Photo of Jennifer Ryan
Jennifer Ryan

"Not only did the program help me gain admission to my dream graduate program, but it also gave me a much deeper understanding of the concepts in my field of study, leaving me feeling fully prepared for graduate school," said Ryan, who plans to pursue a master’s degree in early childhood intervention at the University of Texas at Austin.

"I highly recommend Barrett Online to any student who is serious about academics and personal and professional development," she said.

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