The Honors College at Rutgers University–Newark was founded in 1972 as an honors program. It was established in response to the 72-hour-long occupation of Conklin Hall by the Black Organization of Students three years earlier, in February 1969. The new program provided enhanced academic opportunities, a sense of community, and support to a diverse rising population of students being admitted to the University through the state’s new Educational Opportunity Fund. Rutgers–Newark Honors Program sought to assist the university’s efforts to bridge divisions among students by fostering a small college-like community among all academically-focused students.
In the coming years, under the direction of Dean Lydia Rodriguez, the Honors Program grew to accommodate more students and new groups of Rutgers University–Newark scholars. The Carr Scholars, named after James Dickinson Carr, the first African American student to graduate from Rutgers, were minority students recruited for their demonstrated academic promise, were automatically enrolled in the Honors Program. "The Honors Program gave me a great start in life,” remembered one of our Carr Scholars who had emigrated to the U.S. from Jamaica, “and I absolutely devoured the additional challenges it provided." Honors students began the program in their junior year and participated in two years of lectures, special events, and seminars where they were guided toward opportunities in the nation’s top graduate, medical, and law schools.
In the mid-1990s, the Honors Program began requiring all graduates to write senior theses under the guidance of faculty mentors. In the late 1990s, building on the rapidly accumulating record of undergraduate research and scholarly accomplishment generated by the thesis requirement, Faculty of Arts and Sciences Dean David Hosford and Rutgers University–Newark Provost Norman Samuels transformed the Honors Program into an Honors College that would enroll students from across all programs and schools at Rutgers–Newark.
Led by Dean Elizabeth Mitchell, the Honors College was now a four-year program with its own curriculum. Its purpose was to provide a high-quality undergraduate education to diverse students, many of whom did not have the financial resources needed to attend more exclusive private colleges and universities. Provost Samuels also created the Provost’s Scholarship (now called the Chancellor’s Scholarship) to financially support incoming students in the Honors College. The University proudly used the Honors College and the opportunities it offered to recruit and provide socioeconomic mobility to talented high school and community college graduates from throughout New Jersey.
In the 2000s, RU–N Chancellor Steven Diner appointed now-Vice Chancellor Dr. John Gunkel as director of the Honors College. The College partnered in major research initiatives, including the launch of the Garden State Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (GS-LSAMP), a $5 million, five-year, multiple-school program funded by the National Science Foundation to increase the number of underrepresented students pursuing majors in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (also known as STEM fields). Additionally, the Rutgers–Newark Alumni Association and other graduates endowed scholarship funds to support Honors College students. The Honors College’s new curriculum emphasized interdisciplinary studies in the liberal arts and sciences. The College’s offices were relocated to their current location in Engelhard Hall, where our largely-commuter student cohort gained a study lounge.
After Honors College Director John Gunkel became Associate Dean of Arts and Sciences, he was succeeded by Dr. Kinna Perry. Under Perry’s leadership, Honors College graduates increasingly won prestigious national fellowships and awards. In addition, the Honors College began hosting an annual poster exhibition where students from Rutgers University–Newark presented their research projects. It would later be expanded to a week-long celebration of research, showcasing undergraduate, graduate, and faculty projects. In 2016, Dr. Brian Phillips Murphy was named Honors College Director. The College continued to accumulate achievements while also providing numerous experiential educational opportunities, most notably embedded study abroad courses.
Dr. Laura Troiano was appointed Dean of the Honors College in 2019. Building off fifty years of successes and a rich legacy, in its current iteration, the Honors College is centered on four guiding words: Curiosity. Creativity. Discovery. Excellence.
As the oldest established honors initiative at an urban public research university in the United States, the Honors College at Rutgers University–Newark is today one of the few honors colleges or programs that strive to serve a population of primarily commuter, first-generation college and transfer students.
Our mission is to provide inclusive excellence in higher education. Our expansive interdisciplinary curriculum cultivates curiosity, and fosters an environment for creativity and discovery, while nurturing a sense of engaged citizenry and community. Our approach, grounded in an interdisciplinary curriculum, challenges our students to wrestle with advanced concepts and undertake expansive research in business, the humanities, natural sciences, and social sciences while encouraging active participation in the intellectual conversations and debates taking place across our campus and within the many communities of which they are a part. Our commitment to our students is to provide them with the support they need to succeed in their undergraduate careers and beyond.