Honors Program selects Shaun Vecera as new director

Over the summer, the University of Iowa’s Honors Program conducted a search for a new director. Shaun Vecera will begin his tenure with the program on Sept. 20.


Eleanor Hildebrandt, News Editor

Growing up, Shaun Vecera didn’t know much about academia.

When he started college, he quickly realized his love for research and education, catapulting him from a first-generation college student to a lifelong academic in a matter of years.

“It was only through my time as an undergraduate, as a psychology major, that I learned about opportunities and found myself able to get into a research lab and seeing the whole academic and piece and then being engaged by it and deciding to pursue graduate school and a career in academia from there,” he said.

The University of Iowa’s Honors Program announced Vecera as its new director Tuesday through an email Vecera sent to students in the program. The search for the position opened in May, after Art Spisak announced he was stepping down from the position.

During the transition, Honors Program Assistant Director Emily Hill served as the interim director.

Anne Zalenski, the associate dean of the University College, served as the search committee chair. In an email to The Daily Iowan, she said there was a strong applicant pool for the position this summer, which was narrowed down to four finalists before Vercera’s selection.

Zalenski said Vecera stood out because of his “long-standing experience with the Honors Program.”

“We anticipate that he will hit the ground running,” she said. “I’m sure he will spend time meeting with Honors Program staff, students, and campus partners to discuss the strengths of the current program and opportunities moving forward.”

UI psychology professor Shaun Vecera speaks during How Psychology Can Change the Planet in the UI Office of Sustainability on Thursday, Oct. 19, 2017. The event was part of a month;y Sustainable Lecture series hosted by the UI Environmental Coalition. (Lily Smith)

While teaching intro courses for the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, Vecera said he created an honors contract for students. He has also taught first-year seminars for honors students and Primetime classes, where honors students come to campus a week early for an extra class.

Vecera said he starts his new role on Monday, Sept. 20.

One of his long-term goals for the program is to encourage students to engage with the Honors Program during their entire collegiate experience.

“I’d like to try to find ways to keep students engaged with and connected to the program,” he said. “So that’s one of the first identities students have when they think about themselves and the university.”

Vecera said he hopes to be a role model to first-generation students at the UI.

“I’ve been involved with and been a member of the first-generation task force for a number of years,” he said.

Associate Provost for Undergraduate Education Tanya Uden-Holman made Vecera’s formal appointment on Sept. 10. She wrote in an email to the DI that she knows the future of the Honors Program will be bright under Vecera’s oversight.

“With his wealth of experience and his deep commitment to undergraduate and honors education, as well as his relationships with campus partners, I am confident Dr. Vecera will guide the Honors Program towards a successful future,” she wrote.

Uden-Holman wrote that she learned there was a great interest in the Honors Program during the search process this summer and many campus members are looking for more opportunities to engage with the program.

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Vecera has worked for the UI since 1998. While he doesn’t know everything about his new position yet, he said he’s excited to learn more about the program and continue to support undergraduate students and show the world what the UI Honors Program can accomplish.

“I want to share that the Honors Program is a unique opportunity for students,” he said, “It’s also a unique opportunity for campus and faculty members who want to have students help with research and scholarship. And one of the things that’s on my to do list is to make sure there’s good communication … to let everyone know what the program is all about.”