Meet Art Spisak
The new honors director hopes to strengthen the program’s identity
Art Spisak has quite the view from his perch inside a fourth-floor corner office in the Blank Honors Center. And that’s not only because his two walls of windows are the canvas of a spectacular panorama that captures the Cleary Walkway, the Iowa River, and a full palette of spring colors.
No, Spisak, the new director of the University of Iowa Honors Program, is most excited about what he sees going on inside the Blank Honors Center and the possibilities that lie ahead.
“This program has a lot of good things going on,” Spisak says. “That was obvious to me right from the start. But now it’s moving toward a stronger identity. It’s finding its focus.”
By focus, Spisak, who came to Iowa from Missouri State University, means the Honors experience will be more defined. What does it mean to be an Honors student at Iowa? What should be the requirements? How can we best prepare high-achieving students to excel after graduation?
Currently, the only requirement once a student is admitted to Honors is that the student maintain a 3.33 grade-point average. That has led to some 6,000 Honors students on campus, of which approximately 1,500 to 2,000 are what Spisak calls “active.”
“We want to see what that group is doing and use that piece to tell us what the students already are doing that makes them Honors active,” Spisak says. “Then add to that what we have seen is most effective for high-capability students.”
To do that, Spisak and others applied for and received a grant and will take a look at the UI Honors student population, national standards, and best practices for honors colleges and programs across the country, taking a particularly close look at Big Ten schools and other peer institutions.
Based on their findings, they’ll recommend a set of requirements beyond the minimum GPA, which Spisak says could possibly lead to tiered levels of Honors.
“Could be something like having to take so many honors classes in your time here,” he says. “You may have to be involved in undergraduate research, or an internship, or study abroad, or a selection from a menu.
“The strength of the program now is that it has a lot of flexibility, so students can tailor it to their own wants and needs. We want to try to keep that as much as possible.”