The following is an essay I wrote this fall for publication on PublicUniversityHonors.com. The editor of that site reviews honors colleges and programs and the SHC was one of only seven to receive a five mortarboard rating in A Review of Fifty Public University Honors Programs. Time has passed so I am now happy to be able to post it on our blog!
“Honors programs and colleges are each as distinctive and unique as the college or university of which they are a part.” This is how I begin every presentation I make to prospective students and their parents. There is no one set definition of what an honors program is, other than that all programs have the general goal of enhancing and enriching a student’s academic experience. The mission, vision, character, nature, and experience of each program or college will vary widely even as they all achieve that single goal.
I have had the great pleasure to be the director Tulane University’s Honors Program and I am now in my tenth year as dean of the Schreyer Honors College at Penn State University. I have also been a part of and led reviews of numerous other honors programs and colleges around the country. This combination of intimate working experience and the opportunity to survey the national landscape has led me to the personal conviction that honors education should be built upon two pillars resulting in an “osmotic incubator.”
“Accessibility,” “permeability,” and “leaven” are all terms I have used to describe this attribute. I remained a pre-med student long enough to know that “osmosis” is the process by which molecules can pass through a membrane from one region to another. Honors education may be thought of in these terms, to a certain extent, taking in students at different stages while at the same time the college should be making contributions to the rest of the university.
TL;DR: Traveling and study abroad is a life changing experience.
My freshman roommate and I were not that different, on the surface. Both white males from suburban school districts (he Chicago-land, I DC Metro) and living in a typical first year residence. I quickly realized we had little in common in terms of social lives and mores. I spent my summers coaching swimming and managing a pool while he followed the Grateful Dead around the country. A “good guy” by everyone’s account, it wasn’t a situation I was happy with and moved rooms over the winter break.
In my new suite I met people who were again quite different. One student, a Navy ROTC cadet, was taking Swahili, believed that he was an African in a prior life, and became the first white man to pledge the African American fraternity Omega Psi Phi. Another was a Chinese-born man from New York City. He and his wife remain two of my closest friends to this day. Through Kai, I encountered worlds and traditions that I never would have experienced otherwise.
These are the sorts of experiences we talk about when we say that college will help expand a student’s “world view.” Even without leaving their home state, they can get a glimpse of the world through another person’s eyes and experience. That is always enlightening but it takes intentionality; we need to reflect on those encounters and relationships in order to learn from them.
Today the Centre Daily Times began a series of editorials to promote our inaugural “Shaping the Future Summit.” My piece is intended to set the tone and build interest and excitement in our upcoming summit. Check out all the exciting events culimatinating with our keynote speaker, Dr. Peter Diamandis: http://futuresummit.psu.edu
This year, April 1st is no joke! Come to the Summit!
Education is about the future.
This should be fairly obvious and it often is, especially when we consider the so-called STEM fields: science, technology, engineering and math. My colleagues in these fields are seeking solutions to challenges we face today in an effort to make our future more secure, healthier and equitable. But even those of us who study the past often do so with an eye toward a better understanding of the present and informing the future. Education, however, is far more than research and discovery. It is about forming, guiding and empowering our students. They are the embodiment of our future; they are our future.
HERU 2013 – Keynote Address
Welcome to the inaugural Honors Education at Research University conference! It is a great pleasure to have you all here at Penn State. Gathered are nearly 100 representatives of 28 schools from around the nation and the world, including our colleagues from the Netherlands and the universities of Radboud and Utrecht.
I would be remiss if I did not begin our event by thanking those who have made this possible. While the idea of such a meeting arose within the annual meeting of the so-called CIC schools (the Big 10 plus Chicago), the planning committee included representatives of other schools as well. Would those on the committee please stand as I call your names?