A NEW DEAN AND A NEW DAWN FOR HONORS COLLEGE
As President Robert J. Jones prepares to assume the role of Chancellor of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Dr. Hui-Ching Chang, who received her doctorate in speech communication from the very same Urbana-Champaign campus and served as Associate Dean of Academic Affairs for the University of Illinois at Chicago, Honors College, is welcomed as the new dean of the Honors College at the University at Albany.
While the Honors College serves as an exclusive home for the top five percent of UAlbany’s undergraduate population, it also has less than a 30 percent retention rate, something she hopes to change.
What is your educational background?
I grew up in Taiwan, if you asked my high school classmates they would not believe that I’m working with the Honors College because I was very shy as a child. When I was in undergrad I studied law and it was a very packed (strict) program, so I took a bunch of weird classes in anthropology, English, sociology, and classical music to open up my perspective . . . After that I said I’m going to America to study something different . . . I stumbled into a program called Speech Communication and I applied and went. I’m a serious student, but I take a lighthearted attitude because I think seriousness and being playful are two sides of the same coin, from the way I see it.
The Honors College is one of the least diverse groups in the campus community. Do you have any reasoning as to why that is or do you want to correct that somehow?
When I was interviewed for the job that’s the one thing they [the interviewing committee] talked to me about. That’s one thing I really need to do a more detailed analysis on, in terms of knowing about the history, the ways in which we invite the students to apply, and so on. I think there are a lot of well-qualified minority students; the question is do we make the information known to them?
How are you looking to solve the low retention rate?
That’s one of the things I’m going to work on. I want to create a new culture so there’s a supportive system among students. I want the younger students to be able to socialize with the junior and senior honors students; currently there is no opportunity for that.
Do you think the 4.0 is necessary at this stage?
I think 4.0 is an interesting concept … I think I would make a point to say that students who didn’t get a 4.0 are equally important. I kind of make fun of myself because I was never a 4.0 student. A lot of students come to talk to me and say, “I didn’t get a 4.0. I only have one B in my whole transcript.” You know what I usually tell them, “It’s good you have one B.” That means you’ve learned and you can improve from there.
Would you want to reincorporate students who dropped the Honors College recently?
Absolutely. I actually wanted to reach out to those students, especially the juniors because I heard that juniors drop the most. I think that the metaphor that students are then sent back to their department once they finish sophomore year is wrong. I don’t send students back, this should be your home and there’s no conflict. You can still belong to your own discipline, but you can also belong to the Honors College. I am so Taiwanese in that aspect. I always say that you can combine things, you don’t have to pick and choose; you can have both.
Chang is no stranger to new adventures; she studied law in Taiwan, Speech Communication in America, spent a semester at sea, and was a Fulbright Scholar in Ukraine. She is eager to hear from students and she wants the focal point of the transformation of the Honors College to stem from increased communication, hoping to the sense of community the Honors College at times lacks. Chang lives in the newly renovated apartment located in Steinmetz Hall of State Quad with her two cats.