Every year, 100 students take part in the Honors Program, taking classes and usually living together in the Straz Tower residence hall, but now the program is transitioning to be more friendly for students outside of humanities degrees.
Amelia Zurcher, director of the Honors Program and associate English professor, hopes to bring new life and energy to a program she believes has great potential.
“The Honors Program has flown under the university’s radar for a long time,” Zurcher said. “Part of my goal is to make the good work already happening here more visible.”
The Honors Program is housed within the College of Arts & Science, though it includes students from across the university, and Zurcher said she hopes to better include those students and expand the benefits and opportunities offered by the program.
“(The Honors Program) allows students both more depth and more breadth than they might get otherwise,” Zurcher said. “I always think about Honors as a set of opportunities, and so we need to provide opportunities that are interesting and challenging.”
RETAINING HONORS SCIENCE MAJORS
A main concern Zurcher has had as director is that the Honors Program faces a lack of appeal to students majoring in the sciences, noting that the dropout rate among those students borders 50 percent.
“It makes perfect sense that it would be,” Zurcher said. “Because the Honors Program doesn’t offer them much after a point.”
Emmali Hanson, a junior in the Honors Program and College of Engineering, said smaller class sizes for core classes in the program was one of the reasons she applied for the program, and she said that aspect could be expanded for her science requirements.
“One thing I always haven’t liked about science classes at Marquette has been the huge class sizes, and having smaller class options would have been a huge draw,” Hanson said.
The Honors Program currently requires honors section core classes of history, philosophy, English and theology, while also taking four honors seminars, ideally one per year at Marquette. Starting fall 2015, honors sections will be expanding to include introductory biology, chemistry and psychology, in an effort to be more compatible to science students.
A problem many honors students face, especially those majoring in the sciences, is fitting in the limited number of honors sections for each core requirement. Zurcher said she hopes to change this by creating options for students to take honors version of some classes, while taking non-honors versions of others.
“You might not want to take honors philosophy, but you might want to take honors biology,” Zurcher said.
Linda Vaughn, a biomedical sciences professor and the College of Health Sciences representative on the Honors Program Faculty Advising Board, said she is happy to see the Honors Program expanding.
“It would be good for all students, not just those who are science students,” Vaughn said. “I think that the more courses that we can offer in honors, the better. ”
Vaughn also said she hopes to see eventually the offered honors classes expand into more courses that will fulfill the individual and social behavior and diverse culture credit requirements.
“I don’t think we’re expanding just for science students,” Vaughn said. “We’re expanding for all students.”
There is certainly a greater opportunity to have a better understanding of science when placed in a smaller class environment, according to Vaughn, but it really comes down to the resources and professors available to teach sections of 20-30 students instead of 200-300.
‘STEP IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION’
Adam Bissonnette, a senior in the College of Arts & Sciences and a co-president of the Honors Program Student Advisory Board, said while he thinks expansion of the program is a good thing, he still hopes to see some of the things he likes about the program remain.
The honors seminars are usually offered in a wide variety of topics, ranging from studying video game culture, to yoga or meditation and provide a way for students of all majors to study things they otherwise never would.
“I think that’s a big thing, that there’s still going to be opportunities to study something in-depth that’s outside of your regular classes,” Bissonnette said. “I think that’s part of what makes the Honors Program great, is having those opportunities.”
Bissonnette acknowledged that making the honors core more flexible will make it easier to fit within the schedule of a science student, though he hopes that these opportunities for interdisciplinary engagement remain a priority.
He also noted that faculty sought out student input throughout the process.
“This is more student interaction than ever before,” said Haley Jones, a junior in the College of Business Administration and secretary of the advisory board. “While it’s still growing, it’s definitely a step in the right direction . . . and I think all the changes that are going to be made will be taking student input into consideration.”
EXPANDED HONORS OPPORTUNITIES
Zurcher also plans to create more opportunities for all students, even those taking courses outside the program.
A pioneer program called “Honors in the Field” is currently being planned. The expanded program would offer honors credit through all colleges in a way shaped to meet the needs of students majoring in their departments.
“The colleges would decide what they’d offer as an honors experience,” Zurcher said. “The Honors Program would act as an umbrella, and what constitutes honors in each major might be different. Psychology may require a final research project, while other majors might have a capstone class.”
Vaughn said she is “wildly in favor of” expanding honors within majors.
“Something that definitely comes to mind is greater research opportunities,” Vaughn said, “but also greater opportunities for engagement with society, so you’re expanding your knowledge of science, doing more volunteer work in the community and getting more experience related to professions in health care.”
Vaughn noted that students are currently able to do research with professors, but that the process is very independent. Students need to seek out opportunities by asking professors what they are researching and if they want any students to assist them.
Research opportunities usually begin on a volunteer basis, according to Vaughn, but can became an independent course taken for credit or even a paid opportunity. Opportunities within honors in the field could be molded after a current college-wide program that fully employs students in research over a 10-week period during the summer.
‘NOT ABOUT CREATING A CLUB’
These classes would not be shut off to only honors students but would be open to the student each college deems eligible for honors credit. Zurcher suggested that a GPA cutoff might be the requirement set. This would allow the Honors Program to expand to a greater number of students.
“It’s not about creating a club,” Zurcher said. “It’s about creating more opportunities you can enter at varying points.”
Currently, the Honors Program is only available to those who applied before entering Marquette, with about 1,000 students applying to the program each year. There are some opportunities to apply at semester freshman year, but once those required core classes have already been taken, it is very difficult to enter the program.
The program only makes up 3.5 percent of the undergraduate student body. At other universities with honors programs, such as other Jesuit colleges and the University of Wisconsin-Madison, that number is closer to 7 percent.
“There’s a need to keep up,” Zurcher said.
She also said she is working closely with Richard Holz, dean of the College of Arts & Sciences, to have the program expand to 175 students per year rather than the current 100 in order to expand the number of students being represented.
One of the biggest obstacles facing the program, though, is fundraising.
“We don’t offer honors scholarships, and in that way we are not like other schools,” Zurcher said. “A huge part of the Honors Program now is fundraising so that we can endow things like scholarships and research projects.”
She hopes to have funds available to students to use for undergraduate research projects and that those funds can be used in any field of their choosing, giving faculty and labs the ability to employ more students as more funds become available.