Drew hadn’t been on the radar of Mariel Hooper C’14. But in the fall of 2009, while visiting a cousin on campus, she decided to schedule an admissions interview. The decision turned out to be life changing.
Hooper, an exceptionally strong student throughout high school, was told that if she decided to apply, she’d most likely be admitted not just to Drew but also to its recently established Baldwin Honors Program. The idea of spending four years among a community of scholars, along with the $25,000 annual scholarship awarded to all students in the program, helped clinch her decision to apply. Established in 2009, the Baldwin Honors Program— named for the Baldwin family, which has a long-standing history of generously supporting Drew, starting with Leonard and Arthur Baldwin, the brothers who founded Drew’s liberal arts college in 1927—owes its creation to the continuing largesse of the Baldwin family during the recently completed One And All fundraising campaign.
Building on an earlier program known as Drew Scholars—which offered merit scholarships and the chance to write a senior thesis to a small number of students each year—it has helped to attract and retain a group of exceptionally talented students, offering them the opportunity to pursue the highest caliber of undergraduate scholarship. Many go on to elite graduate schools—Hooper is now in her last year at Harvard Law—and credit the program with honing their ability to write and research at the graduate level.
Baldwin Honors, says Louis Hamilton, the program’s director since 2013, “was designed to guide students from being consumers of knowledge to producers of knowledge.” Through a demanding 21-credit curriculum culminating in an eight-credit, yearlong senior thesis, the program encourages students to think and work independently. To enter the program, students must maintain an A average in a rigorous college preparatory program and score in the low- to mid-1200s on the SAT (or a total of 27 on the ACT)—or above. Most Baldwin Honors scholars are nominated before entering Drew, but first-year students and sophomores may also apply. (The program is limited to 60 students per class year.) The going isn’t easy. The curriculum is challenging, and the senior thesis is particularly daunting. “Students will say, ‘I was scared to death of this thing; I wouldn’t have done it if it wasn’t required. And it’s been the most satisfying and rewarding thing I’ve done at Drew,’” Hamilton says.
At Drew, Hooper majored in English and political science. But thanks to her participation in the Baldwin Honors Program, some of her best friends are scientists. “I did all arts and humanities,” she says, “so I probably wouldn’t have met all the people that I did if I hadn’t been part of the honors program.” The Rev. Dr. D. Stuart Dunnan, a Drew trustee and a great-grandson of Arthur Baldwin, was instrumental in founding—and funding—the program. He’s particularly impressed with the enthusiasm of its students, with whom he meets every year, and what he describes as the sense of “fellowship” encouraged among them.
The program accomplishes such camaraderie through shared classes and, sometimes, shared living arrangements. Many students choose to live on a floor in McLendon Hall set aside for as many as 24 Baldwin Honors scholars. Among them was Kishan Patel C’15, who’s now pursuing a master’s in international relations at Oxford. Patel remembers studying in the open area near the elevators and fielding questions about the program from younger students who’d just entered it. The Baldwin Honors floor, he says, “encouraged a kind of de facto mentorship among upper- and lowerclassmen.”
The sense of community goes beyond the merely academic. A weekly, non-mandatory “Tea with the Director” draws scholars eager for advice—or cookies— and a soupçon of inspiration. Alex Slotkin C’17, an English and philosophy major, remembers a particularly fascinating conversation, about the difference between 19th- and 21st-century medicine, sparked by something he’d recently learned in Introduction to Medical Ethics. “The arguments didn’t much matter,” he says. “It was just cool to find people who shared my academic interests.” An annual holiday get-together is all about celebration. As a perk, students receive holiday gifts—usually clothing—emblazoned with Drew’s 1928 seal, designed by the Baldwin brothers. At one recent celebration, Drew President MaryAnn Baenninger earnestly asked a group of Baldwin Honors scholars what they needed from her. “Sweatpants!” one student called out. (Hamilton hints the pants may be forthcoming.)
Inji Kim C’19 still remembers the anxiety she felt upon her initial encounter with Plato. His dialogue Meno was the first work assigned in the required first-year Honors Colloquium, in which a professor from a different discipline teaches each weekly class. “In the course of 13 weeks,” says the program’s well-loved founding director, Paolo Cucchi, “students meet more than a dozen wonderful faculty members, and as a result of that, some end up exploring programs they hadn’t known anything about when they arrived.” Like many new Baldwin Honors scholars, Kim found the required weekly essays tough going but loved the colloquium. In a recent Baldwin Honors newsletter, she recalled “making wonderful discoveries about liberal arts education.”
The program continues to test academic comfort zones in the semesters that follow, thanks in particular to a series of challenging first-year, sophomore and junior honors seminars, which have ranged in recent years from Chinese Politics to the Jewish Jesus to the Research in Industry and the Sciences Seminar, led by Drew’s distinguished RISE fellows. For Madeline Lederer C’16, who’s now in her first year of medical school at Temple University, the seminars opened up new worlds. “Because I was a chemistry major,” she says, “most of the classes I took were science based, but all of the honors courses I ended up taking brought me into fields of religion and history and sociology, which really expanded my base of knowledge.”
Barbara Walters, Leon Panetta, Condoleezza Rice—during Lederer’s time at Drew, they all spoke on campus before rapt audiences of hundreds as part of the Drew Forum. But Lederer and a few dozen of her fellow Baldwin Honors students got to meet them in an intimate setting before their respective speeches. “I was able to ask them questions directly, instead of sitting in the back of a packed auditorium,” she remembers. Honors students also enjoy sponsored cultural experiences, including concerts at Lincoln Center, opening nights at the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey and museum trips to New York, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.
Sharpening leadership skills is an integral part of the program, particularly during junior year, when students are required either to come together in a group to plan a project or event on campus or work one on one as a conversation partner with an international student. Last year, Alex Slotkin and Richa Patel C’17, along with a few other Baldwin Honors scholars, sponsored an international film festival, pairing movies with ethnic foods, Patel says, “to help open an educational dialogue on diversity and the arts.”
Hamilton says Baldwin Honors scholars are encouraged to “turn an internal distinction”—acceptance into the honors program—“into an external distinction.” Some, like Gina-anne Cameron-Turner C’17 and Rayyan Sayeed C’17, have presented papers at prestigious undergraduate and professional conferences, often paying for travel with grants from the Paolo Cucchi Student Research Fund or the Baldwin family. Others have used Baldwin and Cucchi grants to study abroad, to which Hamilton attributes the large number of Baldwin alumni now pursuing graduate degrees outside the United States. Others have earned Goldwater Scholarships and National Science Foundation grants. Olivia Blondheim C’18 received a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scholarship and spent last summer studying at Oregon State University.
Of the many opportunities afforded Baldwin Honors scholars for independent research, the senior thesis might be the most significant. Many Baldwin Honors scholars consider the thesis the single most enriching aspect of the program. Maeve Olney’s C’13 experience working on her thesis helped the recent graduate of William and Mary Law School earn a position on the school’s Journal of Women and the Law. A sociology major at Drew, Olney chose as her subject a quantitative analysis of wrongful criminal convictions in the United States. She worked closely with sociology professor Scott Bonn, who helped her get the paper published in the journal Criminal Justice Policy Review. Her research and writing experience was also important in helping Olney secure her first post–law school job with a Manhattan law firm, where her practice focuses on privacy and cybersecurity law. Researching, writing and ultimately publishing her thesis, she says, “was a great opportunity that I probably would have missed if not for the Baldwin Honors Program.”
Mariel Hooper marvels at how her own thesis, on the rise of anti-government populism on both the left and right in Italy, presaged currents in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. She credits writing the thesis with her decision to forgo graduate studies in favor of law school. Producing the thesis, she says, “gave me a taste of what grad school would be like, and I knew that wasn’t what I wanted.” She’s more than happy with her choice—one of the many benefits, she notes, that have accrued to her as a Baldwin Honors scholar.