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The Blue & Gray Press | September 25, 2017

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Honors Program in Progress

As rising generations of college-bound students evaluate their potential universities, they look for programs that will support their interest in building strong, distinctive foundations.

“High school students are looking for innovative college and university programs that are distinctive,” said Richard Finkelstein, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.

An effort to meet these applicants’ changing needs has prompted the formation of a committee to create an honors program at UMW. Finkelstein is head of the 12-person group as it develops its proposal.

“It is a means to draw students’ attention to the quality and distinctiveness we already have,” Finkelstein said. “It would increase our selectivity without making us elitist if we fashion the right kind of program.”

He envisions a program that would incorporate additional interdisciplinary work, offering courses that provide multifaceted approaches to topics. Students would be able to study the historical, literary and scientific implications of a single subject area in one course.

“My hope is that this program will attract some students to UMW who might not otherwise come, and that it will foster creative teaching and learning for all faculty and all students, not just honors students,” said David Rettinger, associate professor of psychology and committee member.

For Finkelstein, the program’s development is not a particularly substantial departure from the school’s existing philosophy.

“One thing we also strongly believe is that it should reflect the school’s history, character and values,” he said. “It will be an enhanced version of what we already do.”

The committee has up until now met to discuss the general aims of the proposed honors program. In the coming months, its newly formed subcommittees will discuss the specifics of applicant requirements, course offerings and increased opportunities for experiential learning.

“We have a broad vision, but an enormous amount of detail to build and fill in,” Finkelstein said.

Though the committee has looked at a number of other honors program models from other universities, it does not plan to follow in the footsteps of any one directly. Instead, it will adapt the most pertinent ideas to best suit UMW.

Rettinger works on the subcommittee in charge of developing the honors curriculum, an area that is still in its fledgling stages. While the courses and co-curricular activities have yet to be formulated, Finkelstein anticipates a number of learning opportunities outside of the classroom

Douglas Searcy, vice president of student affairs and a committee member, will work with other faculty to develop this facet of the honors program.

“Some honors programs use service learning, community service or other co-curricular components to enhance the classroom rigor,” Searcy said.

The incorporation of more service learning, internships and research will provide students with more variety for capstone courses.

The committee, comprised of faculty from a broad range of disciplines, hopes to hold open forums later this semester for outside input on the proposal and plans to put it before the faculty senate in the spring semester.

Any program of this nature is contingent on the response of the Board of Visitors and the university’s faculty, according to Finkelstein. It will have to achieve their approval before being implemented.

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