INSIDE Chico State
0 April 19, 2001
Volume 31 Number 14
  A publication for the faculty, staff, administrators, and friends of California State University, Chico




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Honors: Learning at Its Best

Mike Bruce, left, Katie Stuit, and Ben Kerney study a bicycle in Ron Roth's mechanical engineering Honors course How Things Work.
Mike Bruce, left, Katie Stuit, and Ben Kerney study a bicycle in Ron Roth's mechanical engineering Honors course How Things Work.

(Photo by Kathleen McPartland)

Program Highly Motivating to Both Students and Professors

"It's not that classes are harder in the Honors Program," said first - year Honors student Shay Har - Noy, "it's that they're made of different stuff." It's an intensity bred between highly motivated students and faculty in a small class (26 students).

"I've never had a class like my Honors class last semester," said Har Noy. "It was about what images the media projects, and how we're influenced by them. Our in - depth discussions on this changed my entire outlook on what's important."

In fact, his Honors experience, which includes living in the Honors House, has so moved Har - Noy that he's reviving the Honors Student Council, a vehicle for holding student - sponsored Honors events.

"I've made really good friends in the dorm," Har - Noy said. "Forming study groups is excellent, too. Being with students who are motivated allows for great conversations, and I think my grades have definitely benefited."

A theme that crops up over and over in talking with participants in CSU's Honors Program is how the program affords a depth and quality of interaction -- among students, and between students and faculty -- that enhances learning.

Student participation in Honors programs has doubled in the last four years. What is it about this program, which Vice Provost Byron Jackson notes is the largest of its kind in the CSU system?

There are in actuality two Honors programs on campus: Honors in General Education and Honors in the Major.

Students in Honors in General Education must maintain a 3.3 cumulative GPA during this four - year program, taking courses that satisfy general education requirements and are sponsored by departments across campus.

These are either regular classes that have Honors sections, or specially created courses, such as the popular How Things Work, taught by Ron Roth, which teaches physical and mathematical principles by looking at how everyday items, such as scales and toilets, or everyday phenomena, such as the wind in a sail, work.

In addition, the program offers a seminar each spring with a teacher who has won the Outstanding Professor Award. Honors director Carol Edelman describes these classes as rigorous, with themes instructors are passionate about. "These are subjects they don't get to teach in their regular course load," said Edelman. "We've had some wonderful topics, such as Renaissance writing and science fiction. This year Robert Cottrell is teaching Twentieth - Century Radicalism."

Often these courses are linked between departments, combining subjects such as anthropology, literature, and geography. This interdisciplinary approach begins with one of the first Honors courses, Freshman Connection. Judith Bordin, who teaches incoming freshman in this continually revamped class, said that the goal is to get students used to a multidisciplinary collaboration right away.

In upper - division courses, linking is even more important, noted Honors adviser Sally McNall, since "the upper division theme is, by definition, an interdisciplinary experience."

What's called the Honors Theme on paper is informally called the course on Big Questions, explained McNall. "We focus on globalization in many different ways, on issues such as technology and science, economics and geography," she said.

McNall's linked course with Susan Place weaves literature into the equation, and last semester included reading a popular literary book on the Hmong culture, Anne Fadi - man's The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, and inviting a Hmong woman to lead the resulting discussion.

These interdisciplinary courses have impressed four - year Honors student Sloan Simmons, a history major now working on his Honors thesis under Edelman and Professor Cottrell.

"The theme courses are really flexible as far as letting the students guide where the course is going," said Simmons. "You know not only what the teacher's perspectives are, but what the students think, too."

Simmons, a senior, has been invited into the second facet of the Honors Program, Honors in the Major. Here students take six units of special course work in their major, doing a research project under the guidance of a faculty mentor.

"It gives students with a high GPA, who are exceptional in their major, an opportunity to work with faculty and do some advanced research in their field," said McNall.

Simmons, who plans to go on to law school, will this year present his Honors thesis -- on Supreme Court Justice Breyer's effect on education -- at the Western Regional Honors Conference, where CSU, Chico will be strongly represented by 12 students.

Capstones to the Honors Program are the Honors thesis ("for introverts," as McNall put it) or a course in conjunction with CAVE and the sociology department (for extroverts) called The Global Within the Community.

"The point is," noted McNall about the program's overall approach, "that students see how everything is interconnected -- that going to university is not just drifting in and out of this smorgasbord, but can build a solid foundation for understanding the world."

Zu Vincent
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