Burr, Alligood to Lead New Honors College

Posted: March 3, 2009 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Robin Herron

Zofia Burr
Zofia Burr
Photo by Evan Cantwell

Zofia Burr and Kathleen Alligood might seem an unlikely pair. Burr, an English professor, is a writer and a literary scholar, specializing in the field of poetry and poetics. Math professor Alligood studies nonlinear dynamics and topology.

But their partnership over the past two and one-half years has transformed Mason’s Honors Program in General Education from one that had a heavy emphasis on the humanities and social sciences into one that comfortably encompasses students from every major across the university.

As of July 1, the Honors Program will become a key part of the new Honors College, and Burr and Alligood will become dean and associate dean, respectively.

Kathleen Alligood
Kathleen Alligood
Photo by Evan Cantwell

“The Honors College will provide a framework to highlight and coordinate the university’s programs for high-achieving students,” says Linda Schwartzstein, vice provost for academic affairs. “This initiative will enable the university both to enhance existing programs and to develop more opportunities for our students.

“We are fortunate that Zofia Burr and Kathleen Alligood have agreed to provide the leadership of this important project for the university.”

The new college will envelop three other existing programs:

The new college will not supplant the existing honors programs within individual majors.

Begun about 10 years ago, the Honors Program was designed to provide a challenging and interdisciplinary curricular approach to general education for high-achieving undergraduates. Because of this approach, students in the program can fast-track their general education requirements and move quickly into their major studies.

At the same time, students receive an enriched academic and social experience through a living-learning community, small classes taught by the university’s most distinguished faculty, opportunities for mentoring and scholarships and other advantages.

When Burr became director of the program in 2007, her first priority was to make the program more relevant to students in the science, technology, engineering, economics and math (STEM) fields.

“I wanted to make the Honors Program represent the university in all fields,” she says. “The Honors Program should be the heart of intellectual life at the university.”

Although the new dean and associate dean don’t foresee the program growing in curricular offerings or enrollment (about 500 students are in the program), they envision additional programming to keep students involved – in a “full and supported academic experience” – once students have finished their general course requirements. They also anticipate opening the college to previously unrecognized students who demonstrate academic excellence in their first years, whether from Mason or as transfers.

“I would like to see the program and the students be more visible and contribute more to the university,” Burr adds.

One example she gives is that Mason will host the Virginias Collegiate Honors Council conference in April. The conference provides a forum for Virginia and West Virginia honors students to present their work publicly and to network with other honors students.

Burr received her MFA and PhD from Cornell University, and wrote the book “Of Women, Poetry and Power: Strategies of Address in the Poetry of Dickinson, Miles, Brooks, Lorde and Angelou.” She is also the editor of “Set in Motion: Essays, Interviews, Dialogues,” the collected prose of A.R. Ammons. She joined Mason in 1992 and is a past winner of Mason’s Teaching Excellence Award.

Alligood has an MS and PhD from the University of Maryland. She has written many scholarly papers appearing in mathematics journals and is a co-author with Tim Sauer and James A. Yorke of the book “Chaos: An Introduction to Dynamical Systems.” She joined Mason in 1985.

For more information on the Honors College, see the web site.

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