Semesters and students come and go so frequently that it becomes hard to remember the important details about one’s students the longer one teaches at a university. I have had the very good fortune of serving as the Director of the University Honors Program at Southern New Hampshire University for the last three years. Each year has brought with it something new.
Being an Honors director is a little like being a university provost. One is not necessarily tied to a specific discipline or school within the university. The idea of an Honors program is indissolubly related to the concept of interdisciplinary thinking. The University Honors Program draws students from nearly every aspect of the university, which makes my job as director that much more interesting. I like the fact that I can come into contact with, say, a marketing student, in a prolonged context. This takes me out of my comfort zone and brings me to a place where the real challenge of thinking takes place.
Giving our students a chance to participate in a truly interdisciplinary program only enriches the total university experience. An Honors program is at heart an intellectual endeavor that seeks to think for the sake of thinking. We do this by looking into subject matter more deeply and with smaller classes. For Honors, most of the classes are discussion based, which means that the professor, in most cases, takes a back seat and becomes a kind of silent spectator, or discussion facilitator. For me, this was a hard change to get used to, as I was comfortable with the lecture format that I had been exposed to myself as a student. Yet, as I quickly became aware, the thoughts of even the most unlikely students can be quite profound and enlightening.
By coming into contact with different disciplines on a regular and sustained basis, students gain multiple perspectives. One does not necessarily have to be a Classics major to bring something thought-provoking to a discussion on Herodotus. In fact, some of the most thought-provoking discussions come from those students who dwell outside the field of the subject matter. Honors classes offer perhaps the best site from which to draw out numerous perspectives on any given topic.
And this can only raise the level of conversation and thinking among students and their professors.