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New Honors Program: Propelling students to greatness

December 2011

When Brenda Peters, PhD, professor of biology, and Denise Kall, PhD, assistant professor of sociology and criminal justice, began talking with their faculty colleagues about the formation of an honors program at St. Ambrose, it quickly became evident that the university was already solidly engaged in a number of scholarly initiatives.

"From learning communities to interdisciplinary programs to academic-themed residence halls, it was clear that we were already doing a lot," said Peters, who will begin co-directing a new honors program with Kall this January. "And we kept hearing from faculty that they don't want to add new honors classes to our general education curriculum. Rather, they suggested we leverage the multi-disciplinary approach that today is very much part of our academic experience."

Peters said the outcome has been a completely faculty-driven, grassroots, creative process that has taken off because the campus is committed to elevating its culture of scholarship.

The program, which will engage first-year, transfer and current students, will be built on a two-tier system. Honors I, designed for first-year students and beginning in the fall 2012, will offer team-taught courses by faculty from different departments and centered around a specific theme.

"For example, we may offer a course in inequality, and teachers might present on stereotypes from a psychological and a philosophical perspective," Peters explained. She also said students will participate in a one credit guest speakers series and a one credit service learning experience.

Honors II, on the other hand, will engage transfer and current students in department-based scholarship, with students working alongside faculty members on research based on mutual interest. That program will likely begin in 2014.

Acceptance into the honors program will be based on ACT scores and GPA, and an essay in response to an article on the value of a liberal arts education in today's society. Peters hopes to accept 40 students to the program next fall.

"The Admissions Office is identifying students who may be interested in the program, and inviting them to apply," Peters said. "We will carefully evaluate each applicant's essay when selecting participants, because we want to offer a program that's inclusive to any student who is poised to make the most of their academic career, not just those who scored well on their college entrance exams."

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