Each year the Honors Program sends out invitations to high school seniors with a cumulative GPA of 3.5 to apply to the program. Last year more than 7,000 invitations were sent out, and of those more than 900 applied to the program. The 2010-11 academic year began with a freshman class, or cohort, of 170 students. Current as well as transfer students are accepted into the program each year, but in smaller numbers.
Each year the program appears to grow in popularity. The number of students has almost tripled in the last three years, and this year’s junior cohort is the largest yet.
Susan Jacobsen, Ph.D., director of the University Honors Program, said her goal for students is for them to be confident in their abilities.
“When students in this community of scholars graduate with University Honors, they know that they can compete in the job market or in any post-baccalaureate course of study with the best students from any college or university anywhere,” said Jacobsen.
An honors curriculum consists of a minimum of 24 units of honors coursework, which includes a five-unit senior honors project. Usually, about 15 of those units can count for general education courses as well.
Across the board, the consensus has been that these courses are not “harder” than non-honors courses, nor do they really require any “extra” work. The key difference is that honors courses have much smaller class sizes and are treated as seminars, meaning the focus is very discussion-based. Students in the program said this is one of the largest benefits of being in the program.
Tracy Goins, a third-year political science major, said the small classes are her favorite aspect of being an honors student. Aside from creating a community of students who can socialize as well as push one another academically, the classes provide an arena for collaborative thought.
“It’s challenging in that with small class sizes you are known and held to a certain level,” said Goins. “But if you put in the effort, it’s not hard to do well.”
Jennifer Barber, a second-year business administration major, said the opportunity to enroll in smaller classes was a large part of her decision to join the program.
“I wanted more specialized attention, and the classes (in the Honors Program) are significantly smaller than a normal GE class,” said Barber. “I like it because it forces me to actually participate and be present, and because of that I do well.”
The highlight of the program comes at the end of the student’s undergraduate career. During their senior year, each honors student is responsible for completing a senior project that Jacobsen said is “truly the students’, from conception to completion.” These projects can tie back to a student’s major, heritage, interests or all three. Students work with a mentor on this project, and the subject as well as the matter of presentation is entirely up to the student.
In the past, two honors students, one majoring in accounting and finance and the other majoring in illustration and advertising, collaborated to write and publish their own graphic novel. They created a business to promote their own graphic communications and productions company, all done as their senior project.
Another student, a history major, conducted research on California’s gold rush as part of a study on the role of women in the gold rush.
A health science major drew upon her heritage as a Romanian-American and did a health-needs assessment on the Romanian-American population in Southern California.
“I am always astounded by the range and the excellence of the projects,” Jacobsen said. “I have learned much from all of them.”
Presentations of the projects happen during the spring, specifically in early May of 2012, and everyone is invited to attend the event and witness what some of these students have created in the culmination of their study within the University Honors Program.