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$5 million grant gives Honors College a unified home | The Triangle

$5 million grant gives Honors College a unified home

A new addition, which is part of the renovations currently being done at the former Calhoun Hall, will consolidate the Honors College, making it more accessible to even non-honors students. (Photograph courtesy of DrexelNow)

Sectors of Drexel University’s Pennoni Honors College are currently scattered across campus but a generous $5 million gift from CEO of Bentley Systems, Greg S. Bentley and his wife Caroline, will create a new hub to unify the College.

As part of the renovations unraveling at the former Calhoun Hall, which will now be known as Bentley Hall, a two-story glass and stone addition encompassing about 10,800 square feet will be added to house the college’s offices and seminar rooms.

While this change will have a notable impact on honors students, Dean of the Pennoni Honors College Paula Marantz Cohen said this project will yield a transformative effect on the entire campus since the college’s offerings are more widespread than most students realize.

“People tend to think of the Honors Program when they think of the Honors College,” she said. “A lot of students don’t know how much we do that isn’t just the Honors Program.”

Though students must apply to become a part of the Honors Program, the college is open to all students across disciplines. Beyond the program, which is designed to offer high-achieving students special coursework and programming, there are four other units, Cohen said, that all students can take advantage of to broaden their minds by seeing things beyond the parameter of their field.

The Office of Undergraduate Research, which includes the STAR Scholars program, supports student research across the university; the Center for Scholar Development helps students prepare and apply for competitive grants, scholarships and fellowships in addition to offering mentorship workshops. There’s also the Center for Interdisciplinary Inquiry, which encompasses the custom-design major, that offers cross-disciplinary symposium courses. The last unit, the Center for Marketing and Media, gives students the opportunity to be involved with The Smart Set, a nationally recognized online journal, and “The Drexel Interview,” a nationally distributed television talk show, as well as a podcast, “Pop the Question” in which faculty and students discuss topics in popular culture. Pennoni Panels are also currently housed under this sector of the College.

The new addition, however, will connect these units to bring new life to them. While honors classes and offices are currently in MacAlister Hall alongside the research office, the Inquiries Office lives in the library and the Fellowships Office is run out of Disque Hall. The separateness of these units has made it hard to harness necessary synergy for the college, Cohen said.

But she said that this consolidation will also give the honors offerings a stronger presence on campus, since they will now be easier to identify. This, she said, will ultimately equip students to take better advantage of offerings, in addition to connecting students to resources at a much faster pace.

“We’re excited to be all under one roof,” Cohen said. “This will be so different because we’ll be able to collaborate more.”

In addition to unifying pre-existing facets of the honors college, future plans include the introduction of the New Center for Civil Discourse. The center, which will take in the existing Pennoni Panels, will provide a space to encourage civil dialogue as we endure a contentious political climate while also bringing together experts and activists from various institutions to address important and controversial topics from various perspectives.

“The idea of fostering the ability to speak across different points of view I think is lacking in our society, but students need to develop [this] if they are going to become the citizens and leaders we want them to be,” she said.

Cohen said the size of the Honors Program will remain the same — 10 percent of the study body — but she is hoping the other areas of the college can further blossom and attract non-honors students. She wants to encourage students to more thoughtfully explore what the college offers, especially the various fellowship opportunities and intriguing discussions that take place through Pennoni Panels and the “Dean’s Teas” events.

Overall, she said that these opportunities presented by the college help students to become more competitive in a changing workplace, while also making them more interesting to other people and to themselves. Using the words of President John A. Fry, she said that it truly stands as an “intellectual oasis” where students can gather to talk about ideas, explore new avenues of research and think about what their future will be in large, existential terms.

She is hoping the honors addition will become a site where students can contemplate their future goals and aspirations, pinpoint their values, figure out moral obligations and learn how to effectively contribute to society.

“We have so much going on at Drexel, but often we don’t have a place where students can think deeply in the larger sense,” she explained. “Questions about meaning and value are questions I think should be a part of the undergraduate education; now we will have a space where those questions can be pondered and acted upon.”

The new space will include a living room on first floor with a cozy fireplace where students can congregate informally. The first floor will also include three seminal rooms of different sizes for interdisciplinary discussion-based classes, as well as a gallery space for small gatherings and lectures. A terrace in front complete with rocking chairs on a lush, green space in front of the building will provide further space for students to converge. All offices will live on the second floor of the addition.

Bentley Hall — which is currently being renovated by American Campus Communities — will include about 380 beds and is scheduled to open this fall.

The complex is designed to be a true living/learning community for honors college students.

“This is a unique instance of having students and programming and coursework all in one place. There is no other example of this kind at Drexel, and we’re hoping for this to be a model,” Cohen said.

Cohen said she is thrilled to see the project, after almost 5 years of planning, finally come to fruition.

“I’m excited to think about what will happen when you get all these great people together,” she said. “I can’t predict what will come out of it but I think we are going to be able to generate all kinds of great stuff and make life more interesting for the students on this campus.”