Honors “add-on’s” have mixed bag of results for students
The university’s honors program claims to have a reputation for its rigor and creativity, but some honors students are finding themselves lost amongst registration, struggling to find honors sections to fulfill their graduation requirements.
Freshman year schedules are easy to figure out according to Charlotte Breef-Pilz, an honors sophomore who studies health behavior science. This year, however, was much more difficult.
Although honors students get to sign up for classes earlier than non-honors, the spots available in those classes can be competitive.
“I was looking to sign up for a class, but there actually ended up only being three spots for honors students,” Breef-Pilz said. “Those three spots had filled up by the time I went to sign up for my classes.”
Classes like these that have a set amount of seats for honors students, give the rest of the spots to non-honors students, often combining both into one classroom. Inside the classroom, the instruction is no more rigorous for honors students, instead they are given extra assignments and projects to qualify it as honors.
These classes are called honors “add-on’s.”
Michael Chajes, director of the Honors program, said that students in less popular majors often have to take these add-on classes because there aren’t enough students for an entire honors section.
“We look at the course evaluations to see are the students getting the experience that we would expect them to get,” Chajes said.
Meghan Dabkowski, a Spanish professor at the university, says that those mixed classes can be tough for professors trying to challenge honors students.
“It’s extra work for the professors, which of course we don’t mind,” Dabkowski said. “But I think the students would get more out of it if they had their own honors section. I think we could get more done, we could go further with some of these topics than we’re able to do in a regular class.”
Gillian Crawford, a junior honors nursing major, has had only good experiences with her classes where she is mixed in with non-honors students.
“It really comes down to how well the professor integrates it into their class because some really take advantage of it and some really don’t,” Gillian Crawford said. “When they do take advantage, it’s really nice because you actually develop a closer relationship with professors. I’ve had zero problems throughout college getting recommendations, because they all know me and you have to do stuff with them more than everybody else does.”
Breef-Pilz has had different experiences, however, and said that some of the larger lecture halls she’s taken as an honors course weren’t what she expected them to be.
“I really enjoyed the class, but [with] that large of a class, it’s hard to get that honors component out of it,” Breef-Pilz said.
Gillian Crawford’s sister, Jessica, a freshman honors exercise science major, says her first semester courses have challenged her, but she’s worried the classes she’ll take as a major requirement will be the same.
“As an elective I think that like doing a little bit extra, the essay or the project, that’s one thing,” Jessica Crawford said. “But in a core class I would definitely expect there to be more going along with an honors versus a regular section.”
There are guidelines for professors teaching honors courses, and Chajes said that many faculty go through training and workshops on how to teach an honors course and how to make an add-on “meaningful.”
One guideline is for professors and honors students to meet regularly outside of class to discuss the coursework. Faculty interaction with students is considered a key element of the Honors program.
“We believe the honors experiences is more than just coursework,” Chajes said. “It’s being part of the community and getting engaged on campus.”
Some report feeling that their professors are not or have not done enough to set the bar of an honors level class, but several students said that other opportunities within the honors program make up for any lack of instruction in the classroom.
Gillian Crawford loves being a writing fellow for freshman honors students in their English colloquium class. She also has had the opportunity to do close research with professors that could potentially be published with her name on it as well.
Joe Mullen, an honors junior with economics and finance majors, has never been in an honors class that was mixed with non-honors students, but had other disappointments with the program.
“I hated how all of the freshman honors kids had to be secluded in one building,” Mullen said. “I couldn’t room with my friends because they were non-honors.”
Others however, like Gillian and Jessica, said that they’ve enjoyed their time in Louis L. Redding Residence Hall, the honors dorm for freshman, and found it helpful to be close to other honors students.
“I’ve met a lot of like-minded, driven people,” Jessica Crawford said. “It’s nice, especially in the honors courses, there’s a lot of us that take the same classes so we have our own mini study groups.”
Ultimately, the coursework in the honors program is not available to only honors students. Dabkowski said that since much of the honors work is done outside of the classroom, any student could be learning at an honors level whether they are in the program or not.
“Do you need to be an honors student to do [extra practice?],” Dabkoski asked. “Absolutely not. Anyone can do that. I tell my non-honors students to do that all the time. It’s just when you put the requirement in place, then you can really see what happens.”
This article was updated at 11:29 p.m. on Tuesday Dec. 3 to include information from an interview with Michael Chajes, director of the Honors Program.