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Marcella McCoy-Deh
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Institution: Philadelphia University

Location:Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Phone: 215-951-5367

Institution Type: 4-year private

Program Type: institution-wide, honors in major

Program Enrollment: 225

Present Position: Director (2002-present)

Previous Honors Positions:

  • Assistant Director (2000-2002) Morgan State University
  • Honors Faculty (1996-1999) Hampton University

NCHC Member Since:1996

Program Reviews and Consultation

NCHC Activities Related to Honors Program/College Assessment & Evaluation:

  • NCHC Program Reviewer Training,  2016
  • NCHC Site Visit Institute,  2004.

Activities in other areas or organizations related to assessment or site visits, workshops, etc.: 
  • Annual honors program assessment (home institution)
  •  Program assessment mentor for co-curricular programs (home institution)
  •  Strategic Plan committee - Yes! And Collaborative Arts Board 

Self-Identified Areas of Special Interest and Experience

  • Program fortification
  •  Program visibility
  •  Attracting stakeholders/ Friend-raising
  •  Raising program profile
  •  Student community building
  •  Program revision
  •  Integrating co-curricular requirements
  •  Strategic staffing on a budget

The Role of an NCHC-Qualified Site Visitor 

Many honors administrators have been asked, “why honors”? This question comes from tentative parents, curious students, cynical faculty colleagues, even provosts and presidents. As passionate as we might feel about honors, efforts to reply to this question are often inadequately articulated, the precise language eluding us with the exchange leaving us feeling defensive. The honors community has struggled to define honors, for fear that large programs would set an unattainable standard for those with the leanest of enrollments. NCHC has worked hard to distill a description that presents curricular value-based goals that transcend program size. As higher ed moves toward assessment as a measure of success, how do programs petition for the resources to deliver their respective honors curricula? With this in mind, what is the role of the site visitor?

I see the role of the site visitor as an NCHC integrity liaison: an advocate for the best use of institutional resources to promote the sustained viability of honors as a distinct curriculum for the university’s intellectual stars. Institutions requesting a review are usually looking for guidance to: establish a new program; assess a mature program; fortify a struggling program; or, in some cases, defend a threatened program. A site visitor’s job is to elucidate strengths and weaknesses. In doing so, s/he must be a reflective, resourceful and sensitive solution seeker.

The honors director, the primary point of contact along with any staff, needs the site visitor to serve as an empathetic advisor and fresh voice to interpret needs. The site visitor should be viewed as a partner who offers a nuanced perspective. This partnership should be characterized by honest discussion of: curriculum and enrollment data; leadership dynamics at the office level up to the president; and institutional lore that can help make the most of the visit. Conversations with staff provide the opportunity to encourage possible partnerships, identify fertile ground for easy wins, and learn what students are reporting about their honors involvement or lack thereof.

Faculty and Deans are a source of information gathering of university-wide resources. With this population, a site visitor should investigate perspectives on the tangible and intrinsic benefits of teaching honors. A site visitor should inquire about the campus culture, the standing and character of honors, its history, competing interests, political obstacles and opportunities that the director might not have detected. Here, the site-visitor needs to understand the often competing priorities and suggest how honors might offer common ground; and ways to acknowledge, challenge and engage top students from every discipline. The site visitor must listen carefully to students. Students (and alumni) offer a pure reflection, unfiltered and forthcoming about the successes and problems of their program. In this, and all interactions, site visitors must reinforce their function as a friendly presence requiring nakedly honest feedback.

While the institution has contracted the site visit, those directly responsible for financing it can require the most delicate handling. Meetings with the Provost and President need to be frank discussions around honors as primary to institutional mission delivery. The site visitor is tasked with serving as the emissary of vital financial and other needed resources. The site visitor needs to advocate for honors as a priority program reflecting the institution’s academic reputation using indirect evidence from all stakeholders as well as direct evidence provided by institutional data and benchmark comparison. The latter data set is effective in talks with the president. Data is critical in elevating honors to the top of a president’s agenda. The site visitor has an obligation to be most strategic in building rapport and advising the president on how to align the honors and university agendas.

In the end, a site visitor must be a critical reader and interpreter of data, human dynamics and organizational landscapes who can communicate effectively the current state of things as well as the promise, leaving campuses feeling empowered to take steps toward improvement.

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