Tue. Nov 12th, 2019

The Blue & Gray Press

The University of Mary Washington Student Newspaper

Honors courses lack flexibility for some majors

3 min read

Students in the Honors Program have priority registration. (Sarah Sklar | The Blue & Gray Press)

by JOE JOHNSON & KATE SELTZER

Staff Writer & News Editor

It’s that time of the semester when students register for their new courses. Honors Program scholars have to make this decision earlier than most students, and got to choose their courses starting Oct 24. They are required to take nine credits of honors-designated coursework beyond their freshman seminars. Since its inception, the Honors Program has consistently added courses to cater to a diversity of majors. Four new courses were added this year alone.

The goal of the program from its inception in 2011 has been, according to the Honors Program director Kelli Slunt, to provide “an intellectual home” for high-achieving students. Honors classes are available to all students, however.

Slunt said she recently sat in on a modern languages meeting with the intent of expanding the honors designation to courses beyond Spanish. Coming this spring, students are able to choose from 21 courses in a variety of subjects.

Some students think there should be more honors course offerings in a variety of majors.

“The problem is that there’s only a handful of honors-designated courses in each major. There’s only two or so that are really offered in religion to the best of my knowledge,” said junior history major Grace Corkran. “A lot of people find themselves in the situation where they need to take an honors-designated course, and they have to take a course that has nothing to do with their major and so it kind of pulls them away from that.”

Other students feel the honors course selection is too STEM-heavy.

“It seems like it’s for people who are primarily pre-med,” said freshman Maya Jenkins.

The process for designating a class is strenuous. The class is first recommended by a faculty member to be designated as an honors course. The Honors Program website states that the course must meet the objectives of the Honors Program, including developing communication skills, incorporating an interdisciplinary focus and enhancing research skills.

The course is then approved by a faculty committee with five members. Only after it has been vetted, and it is clear that the course articulates the objectives of independent student learning as defined by the Honors Program objectives does it become an honors course.

These objectives may scare off the average student who is not a part of the Honors Program due to fear of extra work and long papers. Slunt made it clear that this is not what makes an honors course different from any other course at UMW. She said that the honors course lectures are similar to a regular course but the lab part of an honors course involves more research and advanced instrumentation. It is also possible that students have a background in honors-like courses because multiple courses at UMW already teach advanced speaking and interdisciplinary skills which is a vital part of any honors course.

“If someone had not told me that they were honors I would never have been able to guess it,” Corkran said. “That doesn’t mean that they’re bad classes, but all these classes at college are hard and so there’s nothing that makes an honors class more difficult.”

Corkran said honors classes should be more goal-oriented, like courses designated as speaking or writing intensive.

“I really can’t say what an honors-designated class gets you,” she said. “I would have just said that maybe you needed an extra writing-intensive course or an extra speaking intensive course rather than doing specifically honors-designated classes.”

Abigail Buchholz contributed to reporting for this article.

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