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With ‘Interim’ Label Removed, New MC Honors College Director Brings ‘Fresh Vision’ To Role

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Christopher Weeks said his greatest challenge as director of the Honors College at MC is learning how to guide the program to “a place of greater flourishing.”

A robust conversation between a pair of students in the Honors College at MC sparked by an elective class epitomizes what Christopher Weeks, associate professor of biology at Mississippi College, values most about the program.

The roommates – one pursuing a biology degree, the other, mathematics – were embroiled in a deep, epistemological discussion about a question that has plagued man throughout the ages: “How can anyone be certain that he really knows anything?”

“They were going back and forth with each other about an honors elective – ‘Knowing and Believing’ – that was neither of their majors of study,” Weeks said. “It was totally unscripted, but it was worth the price of admission. As director of the Honors College at MC, that’s what I’m hoping for – to set the stage for discussions like that to happen organically.

“I want the honors core curriculum and electives to push and challenge students in a way they may not have experienced anywhere else, and have a cohort of insightful, motivated students from different disciplines to engage in conversations that sharpen their minds.”

After a year serving as interim director of Mississippi College’s most challenging academic program for undergraduate students, Weeks’ enthusiasm for the Honors College has remained unabated. In May, the “interim” label was removed from his title: Weeks formally succeeded Erin Norcross, the original director of the program proposed by MC President Blake Thompson during his inauguration in 2018.

Established by a generous gift from J.L. Holloway, a well-known Mississippi businessman, MC’s Honors College provides students with a four-year, full-ride scholarship covering all educational costs at the Christian University, including a summer international experience. The second cohort of Honors College students graduated from Mississippi College last spring.

Weeks said he is encouraged by the support he has received from Honors College faculty members, many of whom have expressed interest in participating in the rigorous interdisciplinary curriculum dedicated to academic excellence, spiritual growth, and civic engagement.

“Dr. Weeks brings a fresh vision to the honors program and, with his past experience as a college minister, is uniquely equipped to build relationships both within and between the class cohorts,” said David Miller, professor in the Department of English and Philosophy and an Honors College faculty member. “He has a genuine heart for constructing opportunities for student engagement and student development – including his ‘family dinners’ and the opening-year convocation.

“Dr. Weeks also had a vision for including more faculty in honors classes and programs. This summer, we will be working on clarifying the path toward proposing new honors electives and promoting the honors and undergraduate thesis projects.”

MC Provost and Executive Vice President Michael Highfield describes Weeks as an incredibly intelligent and thoughtful individual who cares deeply about investing in the lives of his students.

“On many occasions I see him sitting on benches on the Quad talking and listening to students,” Highfield said. “While we want every MC student to feel a personal connection with our faculty and staff, the customized education experience students are seeking by becoming part of the Honors College demands even more time and attention from the director.

“Dr. Weeks has consistently demonstrated an ability to mentor students in a positive, Christ-like way that makes them excel as part of the MC community.”

While Weeks is grateful for the “great foundation” Norcross set during her five years establishing and leading the Honors College, he admits the directorship didn’t come with a user’s manual. He recognizes areas for programmatic growth and plans to continue crafting the core curriculum that Honors College students experience during their first two years while expanding the program’s electives.

“Having an interim year was worthwhile because it allowed me to see the lay of the land, what areas were solid, and where there are opportunities for growth,” Weeks said. “It afforded me the time to investigate the challenges and discover what I needed to do to help keep moving forward.”

Highfield said Weeks demonstrated innovation and a commitment to a special student experience during his inaugural year at the Honors College helm.

“Dr. Weeks provided outstanding leadership to the MC Honors College during the 2023-24 academic year, from the first Honors College Convocation in Provine Chapel to organizing a completely new interview process for academically talented high school seniors seeking to become members of the program,” Highfield said. “He was also instrumental in helping us chart a path for a residential Honors College program in the newly renovated Ratliff Hall.

“Dr. Weeks accomplished much in his interim year, and I am excited to see where he takes the Honors College in the years to come.”

His immediate objective – what Weeks calls a “mission-critical need” – is to cultivate specialized, interdisciplinary elective classes taught by multiple faculty members. Another is supporting a greater sense of community between Honors College cohorts.

“The Honors College maintains an academic focus and a community focus around each 15-student class,” he said. “Last year, there was a large initiative to strengthen bonding within the cohorts. This year, we will look at how we can also build inter-cohort camaraderie.”

To strengthen the Honors College students’ connection with the greater campus community, the cohorts will no longer be housed exclusively at University Place on MC’s East Campus. Instead, starting with the incoming class, they will live in the newly renovated Ratliff Hall, a residence hall situated in the heart of the Clinton campus.

“An unintended consequence of putting the Honors College students at University Place was that it created a large social gulf – especially for the freshman students,” Weeks said. “The president, the provost, and I thought it was best to move them back to the main campus and create an ‘Honors Dorm’ where all of the Honors College students would live together to enhance both their social and academic experience.

“Incoming Hon-ors College students will progressively move into Ratliff, which will become their home base and the place they will live for four years.”

Another bonding experience “baked in” to the Honors College curriculum is a two-week Study Abroad opportunity for cohorts in the summer preceding their senior year. The cultural immersion tour allows students to explore their education in a more global context and communicate the experiential knowledge they gained through individual research projects.

“The international learning experience provides hands-on education on a number of topics, including native culture, history, archaeology – even food,” Weeks said. “The students engage with a different culture, language, and ecology. It expands the students intellectually.”

Miller, who accompanied Weeks and the Honors College cohort to Peru in May, said the trip made a significant impact on the students.

“I saw Dr. Weeks’ sense of adventure and eagerness to help students be open to their own sense of adventure,” Miller said. “He encouraged us all to try new things, learn new things, and to remember that we needed to seize the opportunities we had been given.”

Another of Weeks’ initiatives is to reach out to MC Honors College alumni and provide a means for them to connect with current students.

“We’d like to engage our alumni to come back to Mississippi College and reinvest in our students,” he said. “We want to build a culture within the program of having them share the challenges and successes in their lives. We want our students to benefit from the experiences of those who have already walked in their shoes.”

A hallmark of the Honors College program is its interdisciplinary approach to instruction. Honors College students have the opportunity to interact with notable guests, including community leaders, physicians, politicians, and athletes, and gain valuable insight into numerous professional fields. Highfield credits Weeks for escalating that cooperative educational focus.

“Throughout his career, but particularly during his interim year as director of the Honors College, Dr. Weeks has demonstrated an ability to build strong interdisciplinary relationships with faculty from across campus,” Highfield said. “He incorporated members of the faculty from across the University during Convocation, Honors College events during the academic year, and the student interview process.

“As we went through the search process it became clear that his colleagues respect him as a colleague, but they also respect him as a person. He is articulating a strong, clear vision for the Honors College program at Mississippi College, and I am confident that the Honors College faculty will work with Dr. Weeks to provide a challenging and worthwhile experience for Honors College students.”

By design, there are only five or six full-time faculty who serve as Honors College course instructors per semester – though multiple classes implement multiple guest lecturers.

“There may be one primary instructor for a class, but there’s six or seven additional professors giving their input,” Weeks said. “That broadens the number of faculty who are making contact with the students. I support more faculty involvement in the Honors College.”

To ensure the quality of students admitted into the program, Weeks revised the interview structure for potential Honors College scholars last year from a panel format to a Multiple Mini Interview style that included more faculty and staff in the process. Of the record 142 applicants, 72 were invited to compete for the 15 available slots in the Honors College Class of 2028.

“More faculty and staff – at least 25 – were involved in interviewing the applicants and it created a better selection process,” he said. “The applicants were looked at from many different angles. We’ve got a slate of students who were well vetted by multiple faculty and staff. They represent the best of the best.

“I’m proud we implemented the MMI format for our applicants because the payout was greater involvement by faculty and staff and an outstanding cohort of students.”

Weeks said he is grateful to have inherited leadership of an Honors College program that has established a legacy of excellence in academics and commitment to the cause of Christ. His aim is to help guide it to a greater level of achievement.

“My challenge is figuring out how to take it to a place of greater flourishing,” he said. “The thing that’s always percolating in my mind is how to take it to the next level.

“I can’t do it alone. I need faculty who are willing to be brought in, to come alongside us, and to invest in our program. There are plenty of opportunities for faculty involvement, and I welcome their collaboration.”

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