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Its Been An Honor

The benefits of partaking in our unique honors program

By Diego Frias
On April 26, 2016

With the university in debt and with enrollment rates quivering, St. Thomas has to evaluate the programs and resources that attract students to the university now more than ever. Of the many enticing aspects of St. Thomas, what really sealed the deal for me was the Honors Program. As my junior year nears the end and I look back at what has enriched me the most out of the liberal arts education I have received so far, my thoughts inevitably turn to Honors.

The Honors program in this university is not very large or generously funded. In fact, it does not even have its own faculty despite having more students than some majors in the university. However, what Dr. Hall and the recruited professors manage to do with each cent and minute is truly incredible. At the heart of much of this success, is the co-teaching style that students in the program enjoy for the first four seminars spanning their freshman and sophomore years.

The co-teaching Socratic style of the honors seminars allows for the students participating in the honors seminars to receive different points of view on some of the more complicated texts of our undergraduate career. In a crucial stage of our college education, co-taught seminars provide a variety of areas of expertise from different professors, thus giving the honors student a comprehensive and in depth experience from the readings.

Students additionally are forced to adapt to the teaching and grading style of two professors, making the course more challenging and as a result, more rewarding. Different professors expect different things from a student, and this helps to keep the students on their toes.

“Co-teaching is vital to the Socratic style in which the honors program is taught,” junior Sydney Keller said. “Every single semester my experience and learning was only benefited through the fact that two teachers lead the Socratic discussion. I remember from my fourth semester in honors we were learning about romantic literature. Dr. Forbes would ask the students to analyze the poems and novels through the point of view of the writer. She would also have us critique and analyze each writer's specific style. In contrast, Dr. Hall would provide insight as to how the time period that the writer wrote in influenced their writing. Dr. Hall also would ask probing questions involving the implications of the writing. If either one of these professors had not taught that semester, I would have learned significantly less from that course.”

Not only do different professors expect different conclusions and insights from you, but sometimes they even disagree amongst themselves. This in turn elevates the level of the discourse in class to a whole different scale of intellect. The Socratic style mentioned by Keller above allows for a dialog to develop between every member of the classroom. Not only do the students learn from a single professor, as with a lecture led class. They additionally learn from each other, from both professors, and every once in awhile, even contribute to a professor's insight. The texts, in a reflection of the dialog taking place in the class itself, often take from and complement each other as well.

“Having two professors results in an exceptional learning experience because, as students, we are guided through the texts by experts of different fields, which offers us a greater perspective,” Alyssa Barnes said. “If we, as students, are expected to consider what Aristotle has to say to Genesis, or what Descartes has to say to Virginia Woolf it is only logical for us to be introduced to each text by professors of different disciplines. Not only is co-teaching beneficial in that way, but also the professors sometimes disagree with one another, which is yet another key element of truly learning.”

By the time students complete the first two years of honors, they are not only familiar with the texts that they have read in them, but have acquired a number of tools with which to tackle future texts. They have learned to break down texts from philosophical, literary, theological, historical, and social viewpoints on a number of different platforms.

“In the Honors Program, we are expected to demonstrate inter-textual analysis in our papers, thesis, and research symposium,” Barnes said.

They have learned to argue a given position on a reading to their peers and professors from multiple angles, always referring to the text at hand and appealing to the arguments that a particular professor might be looking for. The co-taught socratic seminars have allowed me, as well as all students before me, to be able to read and dissect complicated texts, be attentive to the bias or tendencies of each professor and adapt accordingly, even within the same class session.

Most importantly, they have allowed for a dialogue to develop between students and professors who they might have otherwise never met. In fact, out of all the professors that I have had in honors, only one has taught a class for my major or minor. Philosophy, History, English, Theology, Environmental Science, and Political Science will have all been represented by professors in my Honors generation by the time I graduate. It precisely this kind of intellectual diversity that the UST Honors program boasts about and the reason many students are lured towards it.

“Prospective college students have innumerable opportunities before them in terms of which school they will attend; thus, it is absolutely essential that each school offers something unique in order for it to stand out,” Barnes agrees. “The one unique feature of UST that influenced my decision was the Honors Program.”

If the university wants to uphold the educational integrity of the program and continue to draw students to the university, it should do all it can to preserve the co taught Socratic seminars, the diversity of faculty, and support the program in every way it can. Otherwise, it might face harsher losses in registration and income further down the road.

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