Honors program hopes to enact drastic changes to its curriculum

GW’s honors program would undergo drastic changes under a plan requiring students to take a high number of four-credit courses in a more selective and structured environment. Backers of the program said the potential changes are necessary to raise the caliber of academics within the department.

“No matter how smart students are, they are emerging from universities and seem to be unable to make connections and integrate their learning with service learning, such as internships,” said Grae Baxter, interim director of the University Honors Program.

Under proposed changes being put forth by a committee of 11 faculty members who advise the honors program, honors freshmen would be required to take two honors pro-seminars and a University Writing course – each four credits – during the fall and spring of their first year. Freshmen would have room for an additional three-credit course each semester. Baxter said the changes could take effect as early as fall 2007, and that they wouldn’t apply to current students.

During the fall and spring of their sophomore years, honors students would take two honors pro-seminars of four credits each.

During junior and senior years, students will work toward their major requirements, and seniors would be required to complete a final pro-seminar, called the global issues practicum, before graduation. Proponents of the changes say the pro-seminars will utilize an interdisciplinary approach, teaching students how to process and analyze information.

The new program, unlike its current incarnation, would not accept upperclassman transfers, Baxter said. She emphasized that non-honors students would still be allowed to earn departmental and grade point average-based honors.

If the proposal is approved, then next semester faculty can begin developing the curriculum for the courses that students will be taking in their freshman and sophomore years.

Baxter said the committee has been working on the proposal for two years and presented the new program to Donald Lehman, executive vice president for Academic Affairs, in August. The committee is in the process of meeting with department chairs and deans of each school, explaining to them the “alternative honors experience.”

The pro-seminar courses will be four-credit, writing-intensive courses that will meet more frequently and require work outside of the classroom, Baxter said. She added that the pro-seminars will satisfy the general curriculum requirements for students and help guarantee they will graduate in four years. The changes will also ensure students would have the opportunity to study abroad, she said.

Baxter said the change will help facilitate a connection among the students in the program. Currently, freshmen are required to take one honors pro-seminar. Students of all other years must take either an honors course, a weekend-long symposium or conduct extra work outside a class under the supervision of a professor to satisfy their honors requirements.

“Many people have felt that the honors program has not been a cohesive one in the past, and we’re trying to address that feeling with these changes,” said professor Leslie Jacobson, chair of the University Honors Program Advisory Committee.

If the new proposal is accepted, the honors program will become more selective, dropping from 8 percent to 5 percent of undergraduate students. Currently, the program enrolls 815 undergraduates.

“Students will benefit from a smaller group because it will give them more of a sense of community,” Baxter said.

William Frawley, dean of the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences, said in an e-mail that CCAS is looking closely at the proposed honors changes.

“The new curriculum would seem to require some detailed coordination across Honors, CCAS majors, and the GCRs, but I am confident we can manage this coordination if the faculty wants to make this happen,” wrote Frawley, who is leaving GW to assume the presidency of the University of Mary Washington in Virginia.

Baxter, describing the global issues practicum, said the course is modeled on an idea from the business school and will “use a team approach, looking at issues such as AIDS, poverty and the environment.”

Kevan Duve, a sophomore and Hatchet columnist who works for the honors program, said the new curriculum is “designed for the curious student who wants college to be an intellectual adventure, not simply a path to a credential.”

-Michael Barnett

contributed to this report.

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