Honors Program weighs changes

When junior Megan Greer was accepted to the University Honors Program two years ago, she adjusted to college life while taking what was then a requirement of three Honors classes per semester.

“It was initially a little scary, being a freshman,” Greer said. “But I loved it.”

The Honors Program’s curriculum requirements have changed since Greer came to GW – students are only required to enroll in one Honors course each semester now – and a current review may cause the Honors program to modify again.

The review will evaluate course offerings and the size of the program and “quality of the experience,” said Grae Baxter, interim director of the Honors Program.

She said she is also trying to add more upperclassman classes that meet students’ major requirements.

“Once we do the program review, on the basis of what we find out we’re going to develop a strategic plan for the University Honors Program, which should guide its development and evolution for the next three to five years,” Baxter said.

Baxter said the review is “basically done” and that it will be “the foundation for the strategic plan.” She said she does not know when the plan will be complete.

As part of the review process, Baxter created an Honors Student Leadership group, which consists of 17 volunteer students representing all five schools and all four classes. The group meets monthly to discuss the program’s course offerings so Baxter can assess the programs strengths, weaknesses and student needs. The group began meeting in October.

Baxter also interviewed 45 additional students in the Honors Program last semester.

“Students told me that they wanted more residential options,” she said. “They would like more occasions to meet with faculty outside of the classroom, co-curricular programming issues, those kinds of things.”

Sophomore Matthew Esteve said the Honors Program does not coordinate with other University departments and that it should offer more courses related to his international affairs major.

But he said he likes the fast pace of courses and depth of study.

“For instance, my Honors microeconomics class had a large section covering the philosophy behind economics, whereas the regular course does not cover any of that,” Esteve said.

Baxter said she understands the importance of student feedback and wants the program to improve.

“We are just trying to make it rise from a very good program to an absolutely wonderful program,” she said.

Baxter said she met with Honors faculty members, deans from all GW schools, University President Steven Joel Trachtenberg and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs Donald Lehman, who initiated the review.

“We review all of our academic (programs and departments) every five years,” Lehman said. “Since the Honors Program really didn’t have a strategic plan, (I thought) that they (should) develop a strategic plan.”

Founded in 1990, the Honors Program currently has 950 students who choose from 60 courses each semester. Honors classes have a maximum of 20 students, who receive intimate advising from the program’s faculty, early registration and at least an annual $12,000 presidential scholarship, Baxter said.

Baxter said the highly selective program does not accept students past their sophomore year. Selected students are typically in the top 10 percent of their class and must maintain a 3.4 grade point average while at GW to remain in the program.

Matthew O’Gara, adjunct associate professor for the Honors Program, said he tries to use discussions instead of lectures in his Honors classes as a way to gauge student opinion. For his political science classes, O’Gara assigns five to six books and three to four papers, along with a midterm and final exam, and daily reading reaction papers.

“These are sort of hyper-ambitious people who come in freshman year thinking of futures and careers,” he said of Honors students. “The program is meant to be an intellectual sanctuary. Most of the professors I know relish teaching these classes because you get the students who really want to be there.”

“In some ways I admire my students for taking that challenge,” O’Gara added. “They take my class, where it’s double or three times the work of a normal class.”

The Hatchet has disabled comments on our website. Learn more.