By Mike Kemp
When he was recently given a standing ovation during a University of Central Arkansas board of trustees meeting, UCA Distinguished Professor Emeritus Dr. Norbert Schedler was at a loss for words.
Sitting in his front row chair, he held his hand to his chin to keep his emotions in check, and accepting the adulation of his colleagues as his name was given to the program he has spent the majority of his professional career nurturing.
“I was thinking about how much I now want to softly go into the future,” Schedler said.
Trustee Elizabeth Farris, whose father, the late UCA President Jeff Farris, gave Schedler the go ahead to begin the Honors College, read from a prepared statement to propose naming the program after Schedler. It recounted how the program began with Schedler thinking aloud with Farris as the two sat in the shade of a tree near the administration building in August of 1981.
The program started with a $600 budget and a handful of students; today, there are 264 students enrolled in the program, helping the “severely gifted” receive a degree based on a close-knit relationship with their faculty and educational opportunities not available to every student.
“I got forced into being an administrator,” Schedler said. “It’s not something I chose. The dean at Purdue, when I got the John F. Kennedy Educator of the Year, in his statement to the public, he said, ‘Norb hovers over what is and imagines what could be.’ In essence, I’ve always been a daydreamer.
“In my next life, I want to be an architect; you draw the plans and let somebody else build it. Somebody said, ‘That’s what Norb is; he’s an intellectual architect.’”
Some of the opportunities for Honors students include participating in the Travel Abroad Grants (TAG) program, offering financial support for students to study across the globe; and the Undergraduate Research Grants in Education (URGE), allowing scholarships for research and creative projects.
The end result is evident. With a median ACT score over 30 for Honors College students, the program boasts a 90 percent graduate rate, and 80 percent continue their learning through advanced training. The program has produced national recognition among the students, with Truman, Rhodes, Goldwater, Fulbright and Rotary Ambassador Scholars as well as a Cooke Fellow.
Not only did Schedler want to create an environment where students could realize their potential and excel, he wanted to create an educational experience based on community among students and faculty.
“I’m very much into the students participating in a community and that community having a collection of stories about its origin, about how it developed, about what its pedagogy is,” he said. “A lot of students have had a lot of encounters with all kind of different people, who take them on all sorts of retreats, and say, “You remember when we . . .?” I thought that was important in the Honors College . . . You’re part of a story, you’re part of a narrative, and I see a very tight connection in that sort of way.”
Although he admits he prefers to dream plans and let others administrate, Schedler never backed away from helping the “severely gifted” work around any hindrances they faced.
“As an administrator, as a mentor, I see the primary task as helping students deal with roadblocks that stand in their way of finding out just how good they are. I think a lot of the students would say, ‘I went and saw Norb and he said, you can do it,’ and they did, and they came back to report to me about what they’ve done, to me that’s one of the greatest thrills academically.
“Just imagine, to see on a student’s face their awareness, to come to realize just how good they are and how well they’ve done out there in the big world. A lot of them have never left Arkansas. You give them an URGE grant and they go off to Johns Hopkins and do research and they are interacting with kids from Ivy League schools and they did just as well. Think of how empowering that is for them, to see that on their faces, ‘I did it!’ To me, that’s the joy I’ve had of being a teacher.”
“I’m a word philosopher, so I love language. One of the expressions that models a great deal of what I do is the word pedagogy. It is the science of teaching.
“The interesting thing is that the root of that word is foot. Now, why ever would it be foot? Because the early teachers in western culture were the Greek slaves who walked with the rich young Roman boys to the agora, and the job of the slave is to get them ready to participate with virtue in the public arena. That has been a controlling image for me in terms of what I would hope my legacy would be. Students and faculty get together and walk to the public space where politics is done, business is done, and we prepare each other with the virtues that we need to be successful and have a healthy society.”