Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
The sophomore class attended the annual sophomore planning meeting, this year called “Chocolates, Chai and Choosing” on Thursday, January 21. What was expected to be a general outline of upcoming deadlines and requirements, however, became a heavy information session on the Honors Program.
In the past four years, student participation in the Honors Program has been on the decline. This generated concern that the communication between students and faculty was ineffective in helping students understand what the program truly entailed. Currently, there are a lot of misinterpretations circulating around campus about Honors, and by promoting and explaining the program more thoroughly, many hoped these assumptions would be discredited. The main goal was to draw in the students who would otherwise have dismissed the program entirely.
The administration decided that the best place to start this line of communication was the sophomore class. By having all of the necessary information readily available to them, the idea was that the sophomores can more accurately determine how the Honors Program truly operates, and not base their knowledge of the program off of legend and hearsay.
In previous years, the Honors segment of the sophomore planning meeting would only be comprised of one speaker—Honors Coordinator Craig Williamson. But in the past two years, the structure has changed. In addition to Williamson, multiple people from different divisions gave presentations. “It is important for students to get these different perspectives on the Honors Program from the people who are working in different areas and different fields,” Williamson said.
Before the current structure of the sophomore planning meeting, when Honors were not as heavily emphasized, some of the ways by which students were motivated to participate were experience and personal predetermination. Says one senior enrolled in the program, “I was motivated to join the Honors Program because I knew I wanted to do research, and doing this research has forced me to take a lot more ownership of my project. I’ve thought about it a lot more and I’m excited to formally write about it this spring. In addition to that, I took an honors seminar and knew I didn’t want it to be my only seminar.”
The administration purveyed that partaking in the program is of benefit to individuals and to the college as a whole. Many students are attracted to Swarthmore because they have read about the Honors Program and want to apply, and professionals in a variety of fields feel an attachment to Swarthmore because of the Honors Examination process, often asking the school to send students their way in whatever area they’re working in. For students themselves, the proposed benefits are plentiful. “The skills that people learn in the Honors Program, the interactions they have with other people in small classes, the chance to do research and write a thesis on something that really interests them, being able to work in a small group with a teacher, learning to challenge themselves and others to think outside the box…those are all enormous skills. The Honors students who’ve left Swarthmore are more deeply satisfied with the education they’ve received here,” Williamson said.
The qualities that the Honors Program possesses are certainly enticing in their promise of enriching academic experience, and prospective Honors students were faced with weighing these factors against those of a non-Honors experience as they sat in the LPAC Theater. The relative success of the in-depth Honors information session during the sophomore plan meeting will be revealed in the next year or so—for now, sophomores are in the midst of determining if all of this encouragement has steered them in the direction of the program, or simply given them some brief food for thought.
Featured image courtesy of swarthmore.edu