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The Honors Program:
Enhancing the Undergraduate Experience

By Carol Dowd Forte

NSU’s Undergraduate Honors Program, housed within the Farquhar College of Arts and Sciences, offers everything students might expect to see in such a program, as well as some surprising opportunities and experiences.

“Honors seminars, for example, are an opportunity to expose students to interdisciplinary study,” said Suzanne Ferriss, Ph.D., professor at the college, who serves as chair of the English major. Her Honors seminars Chick Lit, Chick Flicks; and Motorcycle, Myth, and Culturecombine sociology, film, literature, gender studies, and history. “This engagement of students in ongoing research and scholarship, while encouraging them to stretch the boundaries of academic disciplines, makes our program special.”

In addition to an emphasis on research and scholarship, and small class sizes, the Honors program takes a well-rounded approach by encouraging students to support and learn from each other in and outside the classroom. It promotes balance by advancing students’ personal and professional goals. And it creates unique ways for students to interact with their professors.

Biology major and Honors student William Kotkin said he “chose to be involved in the Honors Program in order to take advantage of the culturally enriching and intellectually stimulating electives it offers.”

But he didn’t turn down the opportunity to kayak through mangroves, go horseback riding, and attend Florida Panthers hockey games with other Honors students. “It’s an advantage of being in the program,” he said, in addition to “classes that have given me the opportunity to participate in thought-provoking discussions.”

Through many opportunities at the college, Honors students are encouraged to expand their education beyond the classroom. They can participate in a wide range of activities designed to foster relationships and explore the boundaries of academic and personal growth.

As part of the college’s Distinguished Speaker Series, Honors students can engage in private seminars with guest speakers. Students can also become directly involved in the planning and coordination of Honors activities by becoming Honors Advocates, like Kotkin and Genevieve Macaisa.

“An Honors Advocate is a liaison for the entire Honors student population,” said Macaisa, who graduated from the college with a bachelor’s degree in English in 2011. “Honors Advocates are the voice of the other Honors students, which is why it’s such an honor to be chosen.”

Based on previous academic performance, about 10 percent of entering students from all majors are asked to participate in the Honors program each year. Applicants submit short essays, which are anonymously assessed for creativity and distinction by a faculty coordinating committee. Since its inception in the fall of 2003, the program has grown from 76 to 285 members in fall 2011. Academic excellence continues to be its core value.

“Admission reflects a personal and academic commitment,” said Don Rosenblum, Ph.D., dean of the college. “Honors students are part of a select group of students, and they take on a significant responsibility to represent their peers, this program, and the university.”

Beyond the benefits of hands-on learning, special recognition, scholarship rewards, and interaction with full-time faculty, students in the Honors program connect with and support each other through workshops, study groups, and other co-curricular activities. They learn not to see each other as adversaries but to work as a team, something that may be a new concept to many of them.

“We don’t have to tell Honors students to study,” Rosenblum said. “We do try to create opportunities for them to learn more about themselves and what they can do.”

One such opportunity is the Divisional Honors Thesis, an exciting prospect for students interested in any form of research or writing. The work required to complete the thesis resembles that conducted at the master’s level and thus offers students a unique competitive advantage when applying to graduate school. Each study is carried out with the goal of being published in a peer-reviewed journal.

“It’s not typical for students to have the opportunity to carry out such intensive research projects as undergraduates,” said Jaime Tartar, Ph.D., associate professor and coordinator of psychology research at the college. It’s an arduous process, she said, but “students seem to develop a unique confidence as they go through the program.”

“The challenge is there, but it’s up to the student to balance their priorities,” Macaisa said. “The Honors program surpassed my expectations and changed them at the same time.”

Carol Dowd Forte is a student in the college’s Master of Arts in Writing degree program.

PICTURED: (L-R): Honors students Geraldine Macaisa, Melissa Villalobos, and Natalie Negron