While VCU continues the search for a new provost and vice provost, the recently vacated position of Honors College dean was filled this summer.
The new dean, Barry Falk, Ph.D., left his seven-year position as the honors program director at James Madison University after president Michael Rao and former provost Beverly Warren shared with him their vision for the university and the vital role they saw for the Honors College within that framework.
“I thought it was a very powerful vision,” Falk said.
“They also indicated that the person who took this position would be expected to create a national model for the Honors College in the 21st century. Quite honestly I thought it was an opportunity that I couldn’t resist.”
Originally from Allentown, Pennsylvania, Falk graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a bachelor’s degree in economics and eventually earned his doctorate from the University of Minnesota. His career started as an economics professor at Iowa State University where he taught for 25 years.
In November Falk will also assume the role of president of the National Collegiate Honors council.
One of Falk’s first interactions with his new students was on Aug. 28 at a Berglund Seminar Series for Honors students titled “Making the Most of Your Honors College Experience.” At the seminar he shared advice for students and personal experiences.
“I love working with students and if I didn’t have an opportunity to interact this job wouldn’t be nearly as fun as it is,” Falk said.
Falk is also organizing an alternative spring break trip for honors students where they will participate in service work with Jamaican school children and conduct light physical labor such as pulling weeds or repairing fences.
The students will be living with Jamaican families, attending nightly community events and traveling to the country’s beaches. Nine JMU students went on the trip last year, but Falk hopes to take 12 to 20 students this year.
Other than his plans for an alternative spring break, Falk also plans to change the Honors College by fundraising for more study abroad opportunities and changing the admissions criteria.
Currently, incoming freshmen must have a two-part SAT score of at least 1270 or an ACT composite score of 29 and a minimum 3.5 unweighted high school GPA. Transfer and continuing students must have at least a 3.5 cumulative GPA and between 12 and 53 semester hours of college credit. Falk said changing the criteria will allow for the college to look at the whole person and not just a set of numbers.
“We want to do that for a couple reasons, one is because I don’t think that numbers like SAT and GPA tell the whole story about a student’s fit for an honors college,” Falk said. “Also I think it will help us diversify the Honors College.”
Falk said one of his primary goals is to have VCU’s Honors College considered one of the best by the national honors community and better mirror VCU’s extensive diversity.
Senior history major on a pre- med track Carley Langley said she thought Falk was “absolutely amazing.” Recently she has been appointed to a student council which Falk initiated to garner student feedback on advising, study-abroad opportunities and other positive potential changes.
Langley said one of the changes she would like to see is the honors advising system readjusted.
“I don’t think there’s necessarily anything wrong with advising, I just think that the way it works right now there’s just a lot of rules associated with the advising,” Langley said. “They’re great people I just think we could find more people who are qualified to fit into the advising, which I think is something that Dr. Falk is looking into doing.”
She said she would also like for there to be more honors classes offered for her major, something she has campaigned for in the past. She said it is difficult to convince a professor to teach an honors course which may include smaller class sizes and a pay cut.
Langley also mentioned that the majority of students in the Honors College are science, pre-med and engineering majors and are better represented in the classes available for honors students.
Though she said she is excited Falk is focused on making the Honors College more diverse in regard to majors, she said she is unsure how she feels about Falk making it easier for students to be inducted.
“The way it was sold to me is going to VCU you get all the perks of being at this huge urban campus,” Langley said. “But being an honors student at VCU offers you the opportunity to have all those big school advantages while also having advantages of being in an intimate college setting.”