Though Dr. Simon Morgan-Russell is stepping into his post as dean of Bowling Green State University's newly-minted Honors College, he's no stranger to the institution, or the program.
|Dr. Simon Morgan-Russell (J.D. Pooley/Sentinel-Tribune)
This year marks Morgan-Russell's 20th with BGSU.
"I think the thing that really kept me at Bowling Green, and still keeps me, is the institution and particularly my interaction with undergraduate students, which I've always enjoyed," he said during a recent interview.
Originally from North Yorkshire, England, Morgan-Russell earned his master's and doctoral degrees in English from Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Penn., in 1992 and 1994 respectively, and joined the faculty of BGSU's English Department in 1994.
"When I came to BG 20 years ago, I came here from eastern Pennsylvania and this was my first time in the Midwest, and obviously wasn't sure what to expect," he said.
Morgan-Russell later served as the chair of the English Department, and subsequently moved into administrative positions as associate dean and later dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.
The university announced in a statement this week that Morgan-Russell, who had until now been serving as dean of Arts and Sciences as well as the Honors Program, has decided to step down as Arts and Sciences dean "after a search is conducted and a new dean is appointed."
"It's a little tough," he said of juggling the two roles. "They're both big jobs in different ways. Clearly my main role this year is dean of the Honors College, and really founding that. And so my office is over here (in Founders Residence Hall), obviously. I'm still working with Alumni and Development with the College of Arts and Sciences, because a lot of that work is about relationships that I've built up over a long period of time."
He said that, currently, more of the Arts and Sciences' daily operations are being overseen by the college's associate deans.
"As dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, I didn't often get to see students," he said of his new post. "As dean of Honors, I'm here in the main Honors suite, in the dorm where the students live."
The Honors College itself was initially established in 1978 as the university's Honors Program, and was designated a college in September of this year. Students from across the university may be accepted into the Honors College - which focuses on development of critical thinking skills, making interdisciplinary connections, conducting original scholarship, and other opportunities. Among other programming, the Honors College offers its own sections of some undergraduate courses. Students are to complete an interdisciplinary Honors thesis project in order to qualify for University Honors.
Also available is the Honors College's living-learning community in Founders Residence Hall, where Honors students can both live and take some of their courses. The former dining hall on the lower-level of Founders has recently been renovated to provide office and other space to the Honors College, including a communal sitting area, and classrooms. The classrooms themselves may be exclusively accessed by Honors students as quiet study space. The Honors offices and living-learning community had previously been located in the Harshman quadrangle across campus, near the Art Building.
Involvement in Honors is nothing new for Morgan-Russell, who began teaching classes for the program since his second year at BGSU.
"I was recruited by the director at that time, who was Larry Small, to teach in the Honors Program. So I've had a long acquaintance with the Honors Program in that sense," including teaching Shakespeare for a number of years.
"I think that the Honors College typically recruits students from every college at the university," he said. "But they're very high-achieving students. So it's really a privilege to get to work with students who are adventurous, high-performing, high-achieving individuals. I think as a faculty member I very much like to be challenged by my students. The Honors College students have been very good at doing that. One of the things I've always said about the Honors Program ... is that the Honors College at Bowling Green is like a small liberal arts college within a large public state university. I think it has that atmosphere, I think it has that level of performance, but it's accessible to first-generation public university students, which I think is remarkable."
And the shift from program to college for Honors is more than cosmetic.
"We have to figure out what it means of us to have that status as a college. I think we're interested in continuing recruitment, so we want to grow the Honors College both in size and also in success."
The college will also foster students' applications for such prestigious scholarships at the Rhodes, Truman and Goldwater programs.
"So really, the program moving to a college has elevated the status of the institution. So we have to grow into that and become the premier unit on campus for student success.
"I'm certainly excited to do this," Morgan-Russell said. "I'm excited to be part of a program and a college that I've always had a great deal of respect for. It's an exciting opportunity not only for me personally, but also for BGSU."