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Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College

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Title: Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College  
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Subject: Jim Barksdale, Douglass Sullivan-Gonzalez
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Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College

Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College
Established 1997
Type Public
Dean Dr. Douglass Sullivan-Gonzalez
Undergraduates 900 (approximately)
Location Oxford, Mississippi
Affiliations The University of Mississippi

The Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College (SMBHC) is the honors program at the University of Mississippi in Oxford, Mississippi. Founded in 1997 through an endowment from Jim and Sally McDonnell Barksdale, the college boasts the rich education of a private liberal arts school at the cost of a public university. The institute originally bore the name McDonnell-Barksdale Honors College but was renamed upon the death of Sally McDonnell Barksdale in 2003.

The SMBHC is among the four leading honors colleges in the United States, which include Barrett, The Honors College at Arizona State University, the Schreyer Honors College at Penn State (both of which shared the Reader's Digest “Best in America” honor in 2005 with the SMBHC), and the Clark Honors College at the University of Oregon. [1]

The Chronicle of Higher Education says the SMBHC "offers as fine an education as one might find at Carleton or Kenyon Colleges."


The College of Liberal Arts at the University of Mississippi instituted the first Honors education in 1952. Monies given by the General Education Board under an agreement with the Board of Trustees of the Institutions of Higher Learning provided the opportunity to create “a special program to meet the requirements of the best students” and to bring to campus “nationally known and distinguished lecturers and professors” to interact with these and other students. The 1953-1954 Bulletin of the University of Mississippi noted that “The College itself had instituted a Scholars program to provide special instruction to superior students….” The program was first led by Assistant Professor Doris Raymond, Preceptor for the Scholars Program, (A.M., University of Chicago; Ph.D. Johns Hopkins University). During the second decade, Assistant Professor Anita Hutcherson served as the Preceptor of the demanding program. Thus, the Scholars Program became a permanent feature of the College of Liberal Arts, offering a set of core courses and encouraging a special project in the scholar’s major field of study.

In Fall 1974, under the direction of Professor George Everett, the University Scholars Program replaced the Scholars Program and soon these opportunities became available to all of the top performing students including and in addition to those in the College of Liberal Arts. In 1983, the University Honors Program emerged to offer students the ability to take a set of core courses together, and then to contract work on an individual basis with professors to graduate with Honors from Ole Miss. Professor George Everett directed this program through 1995.

In 1996, the Provost created a committee to design an Honors College that would build on these past achievements at Ole Miss and create more opportunities for our high-performing students to study and work together. Students would take courses together, not on a contractual basis, but in a small, seminar format for the majority of their program for the first two years. Students would then explore their world through internships, study abroad, directed readings, and/or research in a laboratory. Honors scholars would cap their senior year with a thesis that emerged from their individual departments and would demonstrate distinction in writing and research. The Committee also asked of each student to give back to the community through voluntary work a certain amount of time each semester to integrate their learning into active commitment to our society. Thus, Honors College scholars would spend an invaluable portion of their undergraduate career with other scholars in active learning both inside and outside the classroom. [2]


The Honors College is a four-story building located near the heart of the campus, just a few minutes' walk from major academic buildings and the Student Union. Many of the honors classes meet there. Along with classrooms and administrative offices, the building also houses two computer labs open only to honors students, study rooms for individual or group study, a lounge with a fireplace and plasma television, a fully equipped kitchen, and a wireless Internet connection accessible even on the courtyard and deck.

Honors students receive priority registration, giving even an honors freshman an earlier registration window than most seniors. Freshman have the chance to participate in Freshman Ventures. Freshman Ventures is an opportunity to travel to various regions of America, from Los Angeles to small fishing towns in Maine, to interview common (and some fairly uncommon) Americans, probing who we are, what we have achieved, what we can achieve, and how one leads a good life.

Sophomores are given the option to plan a Sophomore Service Trip. The Service Trip allows the class to partner with a volunteer organization in another city where they can help over a long weekend. Funded by the Honors College, the trip is organized by sophomore honors senators who work in conjunction with all the students interested in participating.

Studying abroad is an important emphasis of the program. The Honors College offers fellowships to its students, for either a semester or year abroad. With the help of these fellowships, honors students have studied in places as varied as Namibia, China, Chile, and France. [3]

The Honors College also offers fellowships to help students who have received internships, since many of these are unpaid. These fellowships can help offset the living expenses of working students in places like Washington, D.C. or New York City.

The Barksdale Award (two awards of $5,000 each) supports students willing to take risks with their time and efforts and who propose ambitious independent programs of study, research, or humanitarian effort. [4]

One important part of the staff is the Office of National Scholarship Advisement. The Office works with any student who may be eligible, but with the Office housed in the Honors College honors students naturally have more exposure to the workshops and to individual meetings that can help them learn about opportunities in their areas and what it takes to become competitive for major scholarships like the Rhodes, Marshall, Gates/Cambridge, Truman, Goldwater, and Fulbright scholarships, among others.[5]


In fall 2007, the Ole Miss community celebrated both the ten years of the Honors College and the fifty-five years in work with high performing students who demonstrated a commitment to the academy and to their world. Jim and Sally Barksdale made the idea of an Honors College possible, enabling the purchase and renovation of the Alpha Delta Pi sorority building to house the new Honors College. That first gift also endowed sixteen scholarships and provided for operating expenses. Other generous donations included endowments from the Pichitino and Parker estates to fund scholarships, and from Lynda and John Shea to support study abroad fellowships. In Fall 1997, the McDonnell-Barksdale Honors College opened its doors, under the direction of Professor Elizabeth Payne. Douglass Sullivan-González followed in 2002 and currently serves as its Dean. With the unfortunate death of Sally McDonnell Barksdale in December 2003, the Honors College was renamed in her memory in Spring 2004 as the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College.

Today, the SMBHC hosts more than 890 undergraduate students from all of the schools and colleges that comprise the University of Mississippi. The resources provided initially and in later gifts by the Barksdales and by other generous donors support an increasing number of challenging courses, opportunities for experiential learning here and abroad, and avenues for effective engagement with community concerns. The Readers Digest recognized the SMBHC as one of the outstanding honors colleges in the nation in 2005, and, for the last two years, more than 200 freshmen, averaging a 30 ACT and 3.85 High School GPA, have joined the SMBHC.

In 2005, Reader's Digest named the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College as Best Honors College in its Best of America issue.[6]


Assistance from the Honors College staff adds to the personal side of public education.

Honors College staff members include:

  • Dr. Douglass Sullivan-Gonzalez, Dean (known to students as "DSG")
  • Dr. John Samonds, Associate Dean
  • Dr. Debra Brown Young, Associate Dean
  • Andrus Ashoo, National Scholarship Advisement Specialist
  • Shelley McGraw, Academic Counselor
  • Ryan Upshaw, Admissions Counselor
  • Costa Osadov, Telecommunications Analyst II
  • Penny Leeton, Honors Coordinator
  • Rachel Coleman, Senior Secretary
  • Fred Caraway, Accountant


External links

  • Official SMBHC website
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