Sunday, November 19, 2017

Q&A: Sean Kelly, dean of the UTSA Honors College

Q&A: Sean Kelly, dean of the UTSA Honors College

As the UTSA Honors College Dean, Sean Kelly has transformed the college's curriculum.

(Oct. 19, 2017) -- The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) Honors College provides academically talented undergraduate students with a unique educational experience through a rigorous curriculum that allows them to graduate from two colleges: the college of their major and the Honors College. And over the past year, the academic credentials of the students accepted into the Honors College has strengthened, under the leadership of Dean Sean Kelly.

Kelly joined UTSA in July 2016. Prior to becoming a Roadrunner, he served as interim dean of undergraduate studies at Florida Gulf Coast University.

Recently, we sat down with Kelly and he told us why he believes the UTSA Honors College is one of the most innovative honors programs in the country.

When you were in college, what did you think you would do with your degree?

To be honest, I thought I’d be a lawyer and English would be a great major because I’d rather read stories and novels. Then I discovered philosophy. Before I knew it, I was in graduate school thinking I was going to be a professor. I fell in love with creating curricula and with student development. After I completed my Ph.D., I had the opportunity to teach in the Honors College program at West Texas A&M University near Amarillo. That’s where I developed a real passion for working with honors students.

How did you end up in San Antonio?

Florida Gulf Coast was building a new university and saw how I was developing the philosophy program at West Texas A&M. They invited me to make a move.

During my time in Florida, I saw exponential enrollment growth every year and we were adding eight to 10 majors on the books each year. I enjoyed building programs from the ground up. It was exciting and entrepreneurial and that was one of the things that attracted me to UTSA. I wanted to join a younger university that had aspirational drive and entrepreneurial spirit, so when I found this opportunity, I knew it was the right position for me.

What goals have you already achieved at UTSA?

We’ve really transformed the Honors College curriculum, which will be kicking off next year. Students will have more service and study abroad opportunities. I want to make sure we’re giving our students what they need to be successful and what will create the most impact. I believe it’s one of the most innovative and experiential honors curriculum in the United States.

We’ve also moved some of our enrollment numbers up. Our average ACT for our incoming class went up about two percent. Our average SAT went up to 1390, compared to 1320 one year ago.

Our students are also working in the community. Our freshmen are building toys for the elephants as part of a unique partnership with the San Antonio Zoo. They’re working with a mechanical engineer to build prototypes for the elephants to test. Another group of UTSA Honors students is working with a local start-up, building products to raise money for local animal welfare organizations. We are trying to admit high quality students and also give our students real-world opportunities that will help them succeed.

What does the future hold for the UTSA Honors College?

We want to be even more involved in community partnerships. We want the UTSA Honors College to approach San Antonio as a living laboratory. We’re also working with other colleges throughout the university to develop college specific honors programs, where students can experience deep, meaningful discipline-based knowledge.

We also want to make sure we are recruiting the best talent from San Antonio and once they’re at UTSA, we want to keep them here, building roots in San Antonio. I want these top achieving students to know UTSA is an elite college right here in their backyard. Why uproot them when they have something so great right here? It’s also a goal to attract more people, from across the nation, to UTSA who choose to make San Antonio their home. Give them ways to place roots here so when they do make San Antonio their home, it’s authentic as opposed to just a place where they work.

What do you love about San Antonio?

It’s one of the friendliest places I’ve ever lived in. It’s a great place to raise a family. We find it very easy to connect with people. It’s a major metropolitan area where you have everything you could ever want but at the same time there’s a real sense of community. You don’t feel isolated like it’s a big urban landscape. I grew up in another border city, Buffalo, New York, so I was attracted to the international influence. San Antonio has much better weather. Of course, you can’t forget the food!

You have a new addition to your family.

Yes, my wife and I have a new baby named Lordes Grace. I’m spending a lot of time being a daddy. We also have a three-year-old and an 11-year-old. We spend a lot of time in the parks. I really love to run. I was really excited to find out San Antonio has ice hockey. I’m hoping to get involved in the ice hockey community again. I’m also learning to be an NBA fan.

What’s your favorite part about working with honors students?

I love the community-building side of it and the opportunity to work with students in smaller settings in an environment where they can share their ideas with their professors and one another. It’s a wonderful bonding experience. I absolutely love it!


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