Honors program prepares for director change

Zurcher is the new Honors Program Director. Photo courtesy marquette.edu

After 10 years, Anthony Peressini will step down as director of the honors program next year, to be replaced by Amelia Zurcher, an associate professor of English and the current director of the Women’s and Gender Studies program.

Zurcher will assume the role on July 1, and will spend the next semester learning about the program from Peressini and program assistant director Maria Cooper. Zurcher applied for the position in early October, and her selection was made known on Dec. 15 in a news brief released by the university.

Zurcher was chosen after a series of interviews with faculty and administrators headed by College of Arts & Sciences Interim Dean the Rev. Philip Rossi. Zurcher, who will be stepping down from her position as director of Women’s and Gender Studies, said her experience with the program and its students made her want the job.

“I’ve taught in the honors program for a long time. I love the students,” Zurcher said. “They’re really intellectually curious and intellectually engaged.”

Zurcher and Peressini are graduates of the honors programs at Yale and Montana State Universities, respectively. Zurcher will continue to teach in the English department while director, as Peressini had in the philosophy department.

Although she has said it is too early to know what she wants to do with the program, Zurcher said she looks forward to continuing Peressini’s work while expanding student access to interdisciplinary and research opportunities.

“I’m going to try to keep doing the good work that Tony Peressini had been doing, in terms of foregrounding intellectual exploration and foregrounding interdisciplinary education,” Zurcher said.

Former University President the Rev. Robert A. Wild appointed Peressini to the position in 2001, and appointed English professor Heather Hathaway as co-director. Using a grant, Peressini and Hathaway, who stepped down from the post in 2005, expanded and updated the program, increasing it from roughly 70 students per class to 100. In addition, the two changed the program’s curriculum, creating seminars for freshmen and sophomores at a time when they were reserved for juniors and seniors.

“The curriculum hadn’t been thought about since, I believe, 1963,” Peressini said. “The program hadn’t been assessed or matched with what other programs do in the country.”

Under Peressini’s tenure, the honors program created the living/learning floors in Straz Tower where roughly 80 percent of freshman honors students live. The program also received renovations to its office and created the position of assistant director.

Chrysanthemum Gorospe, a freshman honors student, attributed her decision to attend Marquette to her impression of the honors program and its presentation by Peressini.

“When he talked to us about the honors program, it was amazing,” Gorospe said. “I wouldn’t have gone here if I wasn’t in the program.”

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