Commonwealth Honors Academy celebrates the program’s 23rd year

By Alex Pologruto | Jun 29, 2023

CHA students

Commonwealth Honors Academy students pictured from left to right: Irina Macaranas, Canyon Bourque and Brandon Moser.

MURRAY, Ky. – The Murray State University Commonwealth Honors Academy (CHA) is a challenging three-week enrichment program for outstanding high school students who have completed junior year of high school. The Academy begins in June, offering high school students who have just completed their junior year a unique approach to learning in a living-learning community located on Murray State’s campus. The Academy requires each student to enroll in college-level honors courses including an Interdisciplinary Humanities & Fine Arts course, an elective course and a seminar. 

CHA recently completed another successful year, with the program taking place from June 3-24 and a total of 93 students participating. 

Since the program’s start in 2001, CHA has welcomed over 1,700 students from various high schools across the United States to learn, live and grow on Murray State’s campus. All students applying for CHA should have at least a 3.5 GPA and a 25 ACT score, and are notified by letter regarding their acceptance by mid-April prior to the start of the program in June. Dr. Danielle Nielsen is the Academic Dean of the program.

“The classes can both complement what the students are interested in, but also provide them with things that maybe they haven’t even considered before,” said Nielsen. “For example, one of the classes offered studies the manufactured paradigm, making students think about the different ways we can understand manufacturing, but we also have the Humanities & Fine Arts classes that are asking students to think about different people’s perspectives. I think these are all really important skills that all students need, no matter what their future career path may be… Developing empathy, understanding different perspectives and learning about people that are different from you. These are all skills that are really valuable. CHA is not only about academics. It is definitely an academic program, but I suspect everyone (students, faculty and staff) involved in this program are growing as people. And that’s important.”

“We attended seminars three times a week and I have never in my life built that much of a connection with people,” said Brandon Moser, a CHA student from Trigg County High School in Cadiz, Kentucky. “I only knew a few other people from my high school in CHA when it first started, so everyone else were complete strangers to me, but that sure wasn’t for long. I feel as if these seminars string an instant connection between us all. You learn how to talk and effectively communicate, and you learn how to express yourself. It’s really beneficial to everyone involved.”

“All of the classes here are about sharing your story. That is something I have definitely noticed, especially in seminar,” said Irina Macaranas, a CHA student from J. Graham Brown High School in Louisville, Kentucky. “They promoted us to share our stories and talk about our life experiences. It’s really interesting because I’ve been given the opportunity to meet all kinds of people outside of my hometown of Louisville, Kentucky. I’ve heard a lot of new opinions and everyone has been super respectful and considerate about what everyone else had to say. It is truly a safe-zone community that I am so happy I got to be a part of.”

Throughout the program students get to take field trips that enrich classroom experiences, attend speaker sessions and listen to professional artists perform and talk about their work and participate in social and personal growth seminars. All students, faculty and staff are housed in a residential college for the entire three weeks of the program. CHA had exclusive use of Richmond Hall this year. Additionally, all students attending the program received a meal plan from Racer Dining.

Students’ classes are spread across the entirety of campus with some classes being located in Wilson Hall, the John W. Carr Hall and Faculty Hall.

Three students who just completed CHA recall on what they think benefit them the most from the experience:

“I usually am most comfortable sticking to the people I know,” said Moser. “Coming here and being with 25 other guys I’ve never met has taught me how to make new friends and that we all share this bond together now. We hang out all of the time and get to share this special experience together.”

“Definitely time management,” said Canyon Bourque, a student from Murray High School in Murray, Kentucky. “There were so many things I wanted to do while I was here, but it definitely taught me how to prioritize my time with studying and daily tasks that I need to get done. Being on my own without my parents reminding me of things that I need to do, I had the freedom to make my own choices and to prioritize the many different things that CHA offered me. I learned how to balance my own schedule, how to be on time to classes and incorporating enough time to get somewhere on campus. It is preparing me for what college is going to be like.”

“I completely agree with my peers,” said Macaranas. “I also made one really, really good friend here, she is my random roommate. She lives two hours away from my hometown and I just know we are going to keep our friendship after the program.”

93 students were enrolled in this year’s program. The total number of students represents 69 different high schools.

“In comparison to last year’s program and the enrollment number, CHA has seen a significant increase in the number of different high schools represented in this year’s class,” said Nielsen. “It is really exciting to bring these students together from lots of different schools, so that they can branch out from the people that they go to high school with.”

Upon completion of the program, students will receive six hours of tuition-free, transferable credit and are granted an in-state full-tuition scholarship to Murray State. 

“CHA is an excellent recruitment tool for Murray State,” said Nielsen. “One reason being that students get to see the beautiful campus that Murray State is, and the chance to get acclimated to college life, making lasting relationships with people on campus whether it be with faculty, staff or other students, and just getting a sense of comfortability with what college would be like if they do attend Murray State. The scholarship that each student earns from completing CHA is another result of being a part of this program. Students who have the ACT of 25 and above and a 3.5+ GPA now have a full-tuition scholarship for all four years at Murray State. Currently, we have about a 45 percent four-year enrollment return rate from students who have completed CHA, making the program a success in highlighting the best of what Murray State has to offer.”

“It is really nice to be around such smart, nice, accepting people… it is truly such a great community to be a part of,” said Moser. 

“This program brings in some of the best students around and not to mention that we get to learn from some of the best professors, too,” said Bourque.

High school juniors throughout Kentucky and other states are invited to apply. The deadline for applications is March 1 of each year.

An electronic student application and more information can be found on Any questions may be directed to or by calling the Honors College Office at 270-809-3166.

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