Honors Program promotes scholarship and learning
Students who wish to extend their liberal arts education beyond the core curriculum may opt to join MCLA’s Honors Program, which draws hard-working scholars who often bring recognition to the College through their achievements.
Recently reapproved for another seven-year term by the Massachusetts Board of Higher Education after a review of the Commonwealth Honors Council, MCLA’s Honors Program typically draws 30 to 40 new students each year.
According to philosophy professor and the program’s co-director, Dr. Matthew Silliman, “Participants who complete the program get an education that can be both broader and deeper than they might have gotten otherwise. They take coursework that is not necessarily a part of their major or minor.
“That coursework is challenging and connects them with students and faculty they might not have otherwise met. Such an accomplishment might also look good to prospective graduate schools or employers, but the more important advantage is the opportunity to grow,” Silliman said.
Co-director Dr. Susan Edgerton, a professor of education, has shared Honors Program responsibilities with Silliman for the past seven of the nine years he’s been involved with the program. She will go on to direct the program after Silliman steps down as a co-director this summer.
“Honors courses are designed around a set of criteria that insures a rich experience: reading- and writing-intensive research that includes primary sources, and small class discussions around a topic that is explored through two or more disciplines,” Edgerton said.
Edgerton particularly enjoys working with program participants because, “I get to meet and work with students who are intellectually curious, and passionate about important matters. Further, I meet more of our students – students who study in many different departments – than I otherwise would,” she said.
This summer, Edgerton is spending some extra time in the campus’s Honors Center – located in Mark Hopkins Hall, room 213. Full of books and comfortable chairs, the room is being “spiffed up” in anticipation of the new school year this fall.
Although new students with strong grades and test scores are invited to join the program, MCLA also offers a “Fresh Start” initiative.
“Because Honors is an academic program – not a club – we don’t really care what your performance has been like in the past,” Silliman explained. “What we care about is what you aspire to now. So, any student who comes to us and says, ‘I know I was a "C" student in high school, but I’m engaged now and I’d like to be an Honors Student,’ we interview them and give them a chance.”
Honors courses are interdisciplinary, and often are capped at 16 students. “They are especially reading and writing intensive, with an emphasis on scholarly and primary source documents, rather than textbooks. They are typically small seminars,” Silliman explained.
In addition, participants have opportunities to do independent research, as well as collaborative work with other students.
“It’s sort of like a regular college course on steroids,” Silliman laughed. “It’s not that it’s more work, but it’s more interesting work. We’re trying to create a home for students whose primary reason for being in college is scholarship and learning. It’s getting passionate about their work and sharing that with other students.”