Dr. Heather Ness-Maddox Assumes the Role of Honors Program Director at MGA

Author: Alexandria Brooks
Posted: Tuesday, March 5, 2024 12:00 AM
Categories: Faculty/Staff | Pressroom

Macon, GA

L-R: Honors students Aliyah Durham, Teagen McSweeney, and Brooklyn Zeagler at the Georgia Collegiate Honors Conference in Dahlonega, Georgia.
L-R: Honors students Aliyah Durham, Teagen McSweeney, and Brooklyn Zeagler at the Georgia Collegiate Honors Conference in Dahlonega, Georgia.

As of the spring 2024 semester, Dr. Heather Ness-Maddox, assistant professor of psychology, has assumed the role of director of the Honors Program at Middle Georgia State University (MGA).

Despite being new to the role, Ness-Maddox is no stranger to MGA.

She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in psychology from what was then Middle Georgia State College, now MGA. She then went on to earn her master’s degree in clinical psychology from Clayton State University, later returning to MGA as an adjunct instructor. Driven by her newfound love of instructing and an eagerness to enhance her skillset and her students’ classroom experiences, Ness-Maddox continued her education, pursuing a doctoral degree in educational psychology at Georgia State University.

“At the end of the day, I am passionate about helping students develop effective learning strategies and developing courses in a way that facilitates learning,” says Ness-Maddox.

Armed with a slew of best teaching practices, she returned to MGA again in 2022, this time as an assistant professor of psychology. Now, she plans to use her abilities to elevate the University’s Honors Program.

“Since returning to MGA as assistant professor of psychology, Dr. Ness-Maddox has enriched the lives of our honors students by serving as an advisor to the Honors Student Association,” says Dr. Mary Wearn, School of Arts & Letters dean. “As director, she brings a wealth of experience and energy to the Honors Program and is committed to enhancing our honor students' sense of community and belonging.”

MGA’s Honors Program is designed to help high-achieving students further develop their intellectual potential through small, discussion-based classes and challenging educational activities. The coursework fulfills core curriculum requirements while being more innovative, enjoyable, and enriching for academically advanced students. Although there are various tracks in which a student may complete the program, all participants must finish with at least a 3.5 GPA to be considered Honors Program graduates.

The University offers dual-enrolled high school students the unique opportunity to earn the Honors Pathway Certificate, a program that allows students to engage with course material in creative ways tailored to their own interests and goals in both face-to-face and online formats. Students must complete at least four honors classes in two or more subject areas with a grade of A or B in each and fulfill an outside enrichment requirement to be awarded the certificate.

All students in the Honors Program are members of the Honors Student Association (HSA), a corresponding student organization which hosts academic, social, and community student-led events. Honors students are also able to attend state, regional, and national Honors conferences.

In February, Honors students Aliyah Durham, Brooklyn Zeagler, and Teagen McSweeney delivered diverse presentations at the Georgia Collegiate Honors Conference at the University of North Georgia in Dahlonega, Georgia. McSweeney, English major, presented a paper on Marie Vieux-Chauvet’s Love, Anger, Madness, winning first place in the essay competition for humanities/social sciences.

Ness-Maddox attributes much of the Honors Program’s success—and her own—to the “long tradition of excellent mentors,” like MGA faculty members Dr. Clay Morton and Dr. Amy Berke, who delivered “exceptional years of service” to the program.

“My ability to begin from day one to put ideas into action to grow the program is due to the service of Dr. Clay Morton… Dr. Amy Berke was the Honors Program director before Dr. Morton and mentored him, and Dr. Morton mentored me as a student and continues to mentor me in my role now. The Honors Program would not be a part of the MGA community as it is without the efforts of Dr. Morton, and I would not be the educator that I am without his mentorship.”

As the program continues to grow, Ness-Maddox’s goals to transform it into an “elevated colligate experience” have begun to take shape.

Currently, she is working on a multitude of ways to develop a sense of community around the program. She plans to increase student involvement by expanding the number and diversity of classes offered, while also building campus and community involvement with the HSA via student officers, Teagen McSweeney, Coby Roye, and Nikita Khennavong, who are motivated to bring enriched academic, social, and service events to the community.

“I want people to think of the Honors Program when they think of excellence at MGA. Not just academic excellence, but I want to help the rest of the campus community recognize our honors students as leaders in creative and community endeavors.”

In the fall of 2024, the program will expand its Living Learning Communities on the University’s Macon and Cochran campuses, where like-minded students can live in a residence hall together and support each other in their collegiate pursuits.

Overall, Ness-Maddox hopes to expand the program while breaking down any barriers that may prevent students from academically, socially, and professionally thriving during their time at MGA.

“Honors is not about gatekeeping excellent academic experiences; it’s about identifying motivated students to get them the resources and opportunities to develop their interests,” says Ness-Maddox. “It’s about providing these opportunities for students to be inspired, curious, and enthusiastic about what they are learning.

“I’m dedicated to creating a college experience for students so that years after they graduate from MGA, they think, ‘the Honors Program made my college experience something special’—just like I do.”