Montana State University

Board of Regents make MSU's acclaimed honors program the university's newest college

September 6, 2013 -- MSU News Service

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Tel: (406) 994-4571

The Montana University System Board of Regents has elevated Montana State University's honors program to college status.

Meeting Sept. 18-19 in Butte, the board upgraded the program by renaming it the MSU Honors College. The board also named Ilse-Mari Lee dean of what is now MSU’s 11th academic college. Lee was director of the program that currently provides enriched academic opportunities for 1,112 students representing all of MSU colleges.

“It would be great for the university and great for MSU students,” Lee said prior to learning of the new designation. "A positive vote from the Board of Regents (is) an affirmation of the 32-year history of the Honors Program, during which highly motivated students have been provided with extraordinary academic opportunities."

MSU's newest college began more than three decades ago as a program based in MSU’s College of Letters and Science. In 1981, former MSU President Bill Tietz and Stuart Knapp, then vice-president for student affairs, moved the program to the MSU Quads and made it an interdisciplinary program serving the entire university. In the following decades, the program has been an academic home for some of the university’s most distinguished students, particularly so recently. In the past three years, MSU honors students have won some of the country’s major scholarships, including two Rhodes Scholarships. The university’s first Marshall Scholar as well as the first Gates-Cambridge Scholar were members of the program. Other top awards include a Udall scholarship and several Goldwater awards, the country’s most prestigious scholarship for math, science and engineering.

Lee said honors students also have brought great distinction to MSU and the state by serving as ambassadors, tutors, organization leaders, agents of outreach and service and by gaining admittance to some of the nation’s top graduate schools.

In addition to a degree in their regular majors, honors students who complete curriculum requirements also graduate with a University Honors degree.

MSU’s Presidential Scholars program is also based in the new college. Each year, University Honors oversees the selection of 20 of the state and nation’s top incoming freshmen who receive the university’s most prestigious scholarship.

Lee said student demand for an honors program at MSU has mushroomed in recent years. In 2005 there were 140 freshmen honors students. By 2012, that number was 317.

Lee pointed out that for many years the program functioned as an honors college in all but name.

“In size, courses offered and rigor of academic curriculum, our program has been consistent with an honors college,” Lee said.

Lee said she has been particularly appreciative of the “full and enthusiastic” support for MSU’s designation by James McKusick, dean of the University of Montana Davidson Honors College.

To learn more about the MSU University Honors College and its programs, see

To learn more about MSU’s major scholarship winners, see

Ilse-Mari Lee, (406) 994-4689 or