University Honors Program gets new director

Heather Fielding will take over as director this summer

Madeline Fuerstenberg

More stories from Madeline Fuerstenberg

November 2, 2020


Dr. Heather Fieldings, the current associate dean of the Honors College at Purdue University Northwest, was named the Director of the University Honors Program last week, and will join UW-Eau Claire starting this July.

Heather Fielding, an associate dean and English professor at Purdue University-Northwest, will take over as director of UW-Eau Claire’s University Honors Program in July.

Fielding said she helped establish the honors program at her current university and has since worked with honors students for almost 10 years.

But, Fielding’s experience with honors really began in the late 1990s, when she was an undergraduate student at Tulane University.

“An honors scholarship made it possible for me to attend the university and the research I did through honors helped me decide to go to graduate school,” Fielding said. “I also had the chance to take some innovative, interdisciplinary honors courses — including a course I still remember, on both the political history and the engineering of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster. Nothing in this course was related to my major (English), but it sparked a lifelong interest in Ukraine and 20 years later I was fortunate to teach there for an academic year on a Fulbright.”

When Fielding heard about the open director position at UW-Eau Claire, she said she jumped at the opportunity to apply.

“UW-Eau Claire’s honors program is really well-known in the honors community,” Fielding said. 

Eau Claire’s honors program does a good job of creating a model of holistic admissions, Fielding said and recognizing all sorts of student achievements. 

Fielding said university honors programs are beneficial because they offer students a lot of extra support.

“They provide a diverse array of high-achieving students with support and resources as they plan their futures and explore all of their interests,” Fielding said. “And offer opportunities for them to challenge themselves as thinkers, leaders and lifelong learners.”

According to the UW-Eau Claire website, it is the mission of the University Honors Program to provide “highly motivated, high potential students with a challenging and supportive learning community that allows them to develop their distinctive abilities, creating a foundation for high-value intellectual, professional and personal achievements in future settings.”

As Fielding prepares for her new position as director, she said she will be tasked with a range of responsibilities. While she knows it will be her job to staff honors classes and build additional programming, Fielding said it is still too early for her to set any solid plans for the honors program. 

“I’m incredibly excited to take on this position and these responsibilities,” Fielding said. “The first thing I have to do is a lot of listening.”

Allie Knuth, a third-year biology student, has been an honors student throughout her entire college career.

Knuth has worked as an orientation assistant for incoming honors students last summer under Program Associate Pam Golden. She said it was her responsibility to help and inform the incoming first-years and share her own experiences with the honors program.

David Jones, then the interim director of the University Honors Program, stepped down from his position last July. Since then, Knuth said, program organization has been “chaotic.” Knuth said Golden was forced to do a lot of the director work with limited access to the necessary resources.

Knuth said it is her hope that Fielding will help to improve the overall structure of the honors program and staff training procedures, get more information relating to the program out to students and have more face-to-face interaction with honors students. Knuth estimates that there are between 950 and 1,000 honors students at UW-Eau Claire now.

Knuth said she was pleased with Jones as a director, but she is choosing to remain enthusiastic about Fielding’s appointment to the position.

“Hopefully (Fielding) is as invested and honest as (Jones) was,” Knuth said. “I think she will be.”

Fuerstenberg can be reached at [email protected].