Notre Dame College Creates New Standard in Honors Scholar Study

Notre Dame College’s innovative honors scholars program combines the traditional undergraduate intellectual community experience with an emphasis on one-on-one self-directed, enhanced study with faculty.

This fall, 15 students—one of the largest cohorts in the initiative started five years ago—have joined the College as honors scholars, bringing to nearly 50 the total number currently in the program. Students must earn 21 honors credits over their college career to qualify for the distinction on their degree.

Notre Dame graduated its first class of honors scholars this year, when three students received honors diplomas. All three majored in mathematics and the sciences. Four more students are expected to graduate with honors degrees in the spring, in nursing and business as well as the sciences.

Honors Cohort Sections

The distinctive hybrid nature of the Notre Dame program allows honors students to learn together as a class in the honors sections of certain courses, like general education requirements in philosophy and theology. The scholars also can self-design advanced curricula with singular, separate “honorized” courses.

“In honors programs at some colleges and universities, the students only take classes with other honors scholars. They live in honors dorms, and they work with the same honors faculty,” said Ken Palko, associate professor of philosophy and chair of the honors committee at the College. “Our program is very different; it is integrated. Our students take courses in honors sections and with other students and can work with any of our faculty to honorize courses.”

Individual Honorized Courses

Nearly 20 professors—one-third of all full-time faculty members—have honorized individual courses for specific honors scholars so far. These classes include general education credits, required courses for majors and electives. They range from English literature to political science to art history, among others.

When scholars honorize separate courses, they do everything required of every other student in the class but also work with the instructor one-on-one to go above and beyond what is required in the syllabus.

“The Notre Dame honors program is not designed to be about more or harder work. It is a student-faculty centered educational experience designed to help students develop their own ideas rather than simply having them memorize and feed back information,” Palko said.

Scholarly Pursuits

Chelsea Law ’14, who recently graduated with a chemistry degree, honorized a Biochemistry I (CH305) course with David Orosz, Ph.D., associate professor of biochemistry. In addition to the regular class sessions and assignments, she attended meetings of the Cleveland Chapter of the American Chemical Society and studied research articles in the professional organization’s Chemical and Engineering News publication with Orosz.

Law now works as an extractions technologist with LabCorp, a national network of clinical and specialty testing laboratories that provides leading-edge medical services, including genomics and clinical and anatomic pathology.

“Our honors scholar program not only helps attract and retain students with high academic achievement but also helps these students prepare for graduate school and for employment,” said Mary Lou Currivan, M.A., associate dean for academic affairs. “The honors designation on a diploma can make the difference in a hiring decision or admission to an advanced degree program.”

A current nursing student, Christina Haston, recently honorized Comparative Politics (PO311) and Social Science Research (PO350) courses with Ronald Eric Matthews Jr., assistant professor of political science and history. Along with the traditional course requirements, Haston conducted a research project examining policies related to a woman’s choice of contraceptives—and was one of the few undergraduates selected to present her findings at the Midwest Political Science Conference in Chicago.

“Our program is about discussing issues and encouraging critical and creative thinking in an atmosphere of dialogue where students’ views are respected,” Palko said. “It is about developing a students’ full intellectual potential in thinking clearly, writing well and arguing thoughtfully.”

Extracurricular Elements

In addition to individualized academic endeavors and cohort classes, honors scholars also share extracurricular activities. This past year, students took part in a high tea, had a special meeting with the new president of the College and attended a Broadway show with faculty.

“Our honors program emphasizes diverse perspectives, a strong liberal arts experience, personal growth and rewarding interaction between students and professors who love to teach,” Currivan said.

To be accepted as honors scholars, students must enroll at the College full-time and achieve two of the following three criteria prior to entering Notre Dame: They must have a composite ACT score of 27 and above or an SAT score of 1180 and above, have a high school grade-point average of 3.75 and above or be ranked in the top 10 percent of their high school graduating class. Students ranked No. 1 in their high school classes are automatic invitees.

E.g., 06/18/19
E.g., 06/18/19