Professor Roger McWilliams, whose career in Physics and as the Founding Director of the Campuswide Honors Program profoundly influenced generations of students, retired this past June after 40 years at UCI. McWilliams, who was well known for sporting a colorful collection of bow ties and for his wide interests in everything from plasma physics to jazz to antique cars, put his stamp on the Campuswide Honors Program (now the Campuswide Honors Collegium) from the very beginning. His wide ranging interests are mirrored in the depth and breadth of study at the core of Campuswide Honors.
In 1987 McWilliams was asked by then Dean of Undergraduate Education Meredith Lee to work on creating an honors program at UCI. The first class of 88 Campuswide Honors students entered in the fall of 1988, and the Collegium has since grown to nearly 1,200 students this year. Over the years, McWilliams oversaw the development of a program that is often called one of UCI’s gems, a highly successful honors program and community of scholars. Visitors from other universities commented on the “esprit de corps” and the “high level of intellectual enthusiasm, inquisitiveness, and eagerness to obtain further training” so common among Campuswide Honors students.
It was McWilliams’ early vision to create an honors experience that would enable honors students to succeed in their academic goals, but also become well-rounded, well-adjusted citizens of the world. McWilliams himself has a broad variety of interests, and along with the Campuswide Honors staff encouraged students to follow their curiosity and pursue whatever interests they may have. The program was structured from the beginning so that students wanting to double major, pursue minors, or study abroad, could do so. This exploration culminated in research and an honors thesis or creative project, which could either take place in one’s major or in another area of interest.
But learning was not only something one did in an academic setting. McWilliams recognized the importance of learning by having fun. The annual gatherings at the beach to kick off a new academic year always ended with McWilliams explaining the atmospheric phenomenon of the green flash, and everyone peering into the sunset to look for It https://www.aaas.org/catching-elusive-green-flash. Additional Campuswide Honors traditions, such as the camping retreat, arose because McWilliams wanted UCI honors students, many of whom come from urban areas, to experience the desert and see the stars. Traditional events like these are the foundation of the thriving honors community, which enhances students’ academic experiences and makes Campuswide Honors so unique as an honors program.
McWilliams stepped down as the Campuswide Honors Director in 2009, rededicating himself to research and teaching of Physics, and then becoming an Associate Dean in the School of Physical Sciences. He taught in the Science Core Course sequence until recently, and continued to mentor Campuswide Honors students and to welcome visits and emails from alumni. Upon his retirement he was lauded for his contributions to research and teaching in Physics by the School of Physical Sciences. He continues to be an example to Campuswide Honors students, with the McWilliams Renaissance Award being awarded each year to a graduating senior who embodies McWilliams’ spirit of inquiry, breadth of interests, and leadership qualities.
The Campuswide Honors Collegium, its students, faculty, and alumni, all send our warmest thanks to Professor Roger McWilliams for his extraordinary work to help honors students at UCI thrive. We wish him the best in his retirement!
For a recent School of Physical Sciences article on Professor McWilliams go to https://ps.uci.edu/news/1021
Contributed by Dr. Lisa Roetzel