As part of the program, Schlag and his team will start developing students beginning in their freshman year so that they can compete for prestigious national merit-based awards such as Fulbright, Marshall, Rhodes, Goldwater and Truman scholarships.
One of the first steps was hiring Schlag, who has extensive experience running honors colleges, as the program’s first executive director. He previously ran the honors program at Western Illinois University, where Thomas was president before coming to CSU. The two transformed the honors college at Western, Schlag said, noting that they hope to do the same at Central.
Schlag already has a road map for what it takes to develop students for the prestigious awards, as he mentored a Rhodes Scholar finalist at Western Illinois. He plans to implement a similar plan at Central State, while also building on the current foundation with a goal of developing multiple students who can compete for Rhodes and the other national awards, he said.
His goal is to have up to 20% of the university’s nearly 3,000 students in the honor’s program. But he’ll also look to recruit transfer students from other institutions as well as graduating high school students, Schlag said.
Many of CSU’s students are the first in their families to attend college, and they’ve not been exposed to honors college or the prestigious awards, an issue Schlag also faced at Western Illinois. So another of his goals is to educate the current Central State students but also to target high-caliber incoming freshmen.
In addition Schlag and the honors college staff plans to work with the various colleges at the university to develop criteria for specific majors.
“The honors program in physics would look much different than an honors program in music,” he explained. “So you can’t have the same criteria, and that’s where I think a lot of honors colleges (are not successful). So we’ll come up with some standards here that will give the students real opportunities to become more marketable.”
To help boost students’ profile even before they enter the job market, Schlag plans to hold symposiums so that law and medical schools can recruit on campus, as CSU will be a “hot commodity” for those disciplines, he said.
“We want to make sure that everybody, no matter what their background, if they’ve got that grit, they have that desire to learn more and do more, to go above and beyond a traditional undergraduate experience, we want them in this honors college,” he said.