Bigger, harder honors program in sight for U

The University plans to merge the different college’s honors programs into one.

Elizabeth Cook

University officials hope to draw top students by increasing the visibility of the honors program.

Starting in fall 2008, honors programs will offer more opportunities and merge into one University-wide program, instead of being divided by college, said Craig Swan, the vice provost and dean for undergraduate education.

Students will still have individual majors with the new program, he said.

An honors task force decided on the changes to increase the “visibility” of honors at the University for prospective students, Swan said.

The honors task force submitted recommendations to University administration in September to change much of the current system.

All honors students currently do some kind of research, but under the new program they will be better paired with faculty during their entire college experience, Swan said.

Study abroad options for honors students will also be expanded, Swan said.

“There will be ways in which we will strongly encourage (study abroad), but if a student for one reason or another couldn’t study abroad, they could still be an honors student,” he said.

Honors students from different colleges will “deliberately rub shoulders and elbows” with each other to create more of an exchange of ideas, Swan said.

Students will also take a freshman honors seminar, with typical class sizes of 20 students or fewer, he said.

Pamela Baker, the assistant program director for the College of Liberal Arts honors division, said whether the program is visible depends on the students’ level of interest.

“There are students who know about honors,” she said of applicants, “but there are some that Ö never know honors exists.”

Baker said the changes are to make the program better, not to fix any particular problem.

Some students and faculty are skeptical.

Svetlana Gitman, a history sophomore and CLA honors student, said she likes the way the honors program is now, but some changes could help.

She said the program needs more honors-specific classes, instead of just adding an honors option onto an existing class.

Gitman said she took an anthropology class with an honors option added on to it, and didn’t do anything different than the other students.

“They said you were graded harder,” she said, “but I didn’t see a difference.”

Gitman said the research aspect of honors doesn’t need to change.

“If you want the opportunity to work with a professor, and them to know who you are, you could totally make that happen,” she said.

Current honors students will be grandfathered into the new program, Swan said, and new honors requirements have yet to be decided.

“Part of the notion too is that, I think, we’ll both be offering more but we’ll be expecting more from students,” he said.

Pamela Drake, assistant director for the Institute of Technology honors program, said there are many who would like the honors program to stay the same.

She said the program is running fine the way it is and isn’t sure it needs change.

“We have a great honors program in IT,” she said. “It’s very, very successful.”

Chemical engineering and chemistry sophomore Andrew Jones joined the IT honors program his first year of college.

He said he “likes the distinguishment you get from IT honors,” and isn’t sure he would like it to be University-wide.

“My opinion would be: Keep it as it is,” he said.

Jones said there is a lot of opportunity for research at the University already, whether a student is in honors or not, and making changes to the honors program probably won’t improve it.