U: Honors is a ‘benefits’ program for students

UHP offers special tutoring and smaller class sizes.

Cali Owings

As one of three professors who teach Sociology 1001, Ross Macmillan lectures a class of 170 students every Monday, Wednesday and Friday morning.
But students enrolled in the University of Minnesota Honors Program can take the honors version of MacmillanâÄôs course that, at 35 students, is one-fifth that size.
Macmillan said the classes are very different, outside of the size comparison.
He allows his honors students to determine what topics they will focus on and how they will be evaluated. This semester, the class is focusing on education. They will be evaluated on a written research project and presentation, with six or seven writing assignments throughout the semester.
He said the introductory sociology course has only one written assignment and three exams along with weekly or bi-weekly quizzes to make sure students are keeping up with the material.
For Omar Ammash, a political science sophomore, honors sociology and other 1000-level honors courses are comparable to upper division nonhonors courses.
Ammash cites smaller classes, interesting topics and research opportunities as reasons honors classes are more engaging.
He said the honors program is really more of a âÄúbenefitsâÄù program.
In addition to smaller sections and one-of-a-kind honors seminars, there is special tutoring and advising available for students in the honors program.
The program requires freshmen and sophomore students to have four honors experiences each year, which can include classes, seminars, community involvement, internships, research and studying abroad. Juniors and seniors must complete three honors experiences per year and complete an honors thesis project.
In exchange for devoting their time to these experiences, honors program students are the only students who can graduate with Latin honors, such as the cum laude distinction for students who maintain a GPA of 3.5 or higher.
Professor Jennifer Alexander, who specializes in history of technology, said she chose to teach an honors seminar in order to have the opportunity to work with undergraduates.
Her class âÄî Golem-Robot-Cyborg: Artificial People in History âÄî is a seminar in the traditional sense: Students read and discuss together to come to their own conclusions.
There are five students in the class, each from different programs of study.
She said she was told that honors students were careful, conservative and less likely to be creative, but so far that hasnâÄôt been her experience.
âÄúFrom my understanding, these programs arenâÄôt supposed to be rigorous. They are fun investigations,âÄù Alexander said.
UHP Director Serge Rudaz said there is not one requirement for all honors classes because they come from different departments throughout the University.
He said the idea behind honors classes isnâÄôt just to give students more work but rather a different kind of work that includes more depth, breadth of coverage, advanced tools and techniques and accelerated pace.
âÄúEach field has its own culture and way of approaching problems,âÄù Rudaz said.
Maya Suresh, a senior honors student in Carlson School of Management, said her courses challenged her to take a project further.
In her Management 3033 class, the final project was to present a solution for a problem a company had. Nonhonors students were given the same problem and told to address it during their group presentation. But Suresh and other honors students formed groups and had to go out into the business community, find a problem themselves and present their proposal to the class.
âÄúThe honors program is just an extra opportunity to challenge yourself in a different way,âÄù she said.
For students like Suresh who plan on going to law school or graduate school post-graduation, honors might make them stand out from the pool of applicants.
âÄúWhen we review an application, we know what that GPA means at that institution,âÄù Robert Schwartz, dean of admissions for the UCLA School of Law, said.
Schwartz said honors distinction wasnâÄôt that important and looking at the rigor of the academic program is more relevant.
He said both nonhonors and honors programs could be challenging enough to develop analytical, written, research and public speaking skills to prepare students for law school.