Conference Highlights Faculty
It would seem to be every professor's dream come true: a classroom full of talented and highly motivated honors students.
In the past decade, UConn has been successful in boosting not only the numbers of students, but also their quality. Increasing numbers of incoming students are in the top 5 percent of their graduating class, with combined SAT scores well over 1300.
The Honors Program has played a crucial role in this success. Established in 1964, it has enjoyed new vitality in recent years. In the fall 2003 semester, 258 freshmen enrolled in the Honors Scholars Program, a 30 percent increase since 1995.
The University has taken a number of steps to strengthen the Honors Program and boost the recruitment and retention of talented students, such as establishing dedicated housing for honors students and creating a new Office of National Scholarships within the Honors Program to help students compete for national awards such as Rhodes Scholarships.
And last week, the Honors Program held a half-day conference for faculty members on honors education. The conference, "From Student to Scholar," held Jan. 15 at Rome Commons, attracted about 100 participants, many of whom teach honors classes and direct honors programs within various disciplines.
The two main speakers of the day were Fred Maryanski, senior vice provost, whose portfolio includes the Honors Program, and Sally Reis, professor of educational psychology and a nationally respected authority on the education of gifted and talented students.
Maryanski told participants the administration is committed both financially and administratively to the nurture and training of the University's top students.
He said the administration is working to enhance opportunities for faculty to be involved with honors students and to provide incentives. "We need to reward innovation and creativity," he said.
Reis, the conference's keynote speaker, offered insights into the difficulties talented students may experience in making the transition from high school to college.
"Being smart does not mean that you are smart in everything, all the time," said Reis, adding that many students coast through high school and then become lost when they get to college and face new challenges.
"We have to know when to push and when to be supportive," she said.
Lynne Goodstein, associate vice provost and director of the Honors Program, said she hopes faculty will increase their efforts to get students involved in their research.
Veronica Makowsky, associate dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, added that faculty may need release time to develop new courses.
The conference panels focused on the challenges facing honors education. A panel titled "So You Want to be Involved in Honors?" discussed the need to increase the involvement of departments in every school and college, at a time when the University is coping with the impact of retirements and budget constraints. Each department has to be convinced, speakers said, that devoting personnel to small honors courses will be good for the department because it is good for the department's students.
The faculty have much to gain from involvement with honors students, said Thomas Seery, an associate professor of chemistry: "The reward is that we get to interact with great students."
A panel on "Honors in the Major" focused on how honors directors within the majors are seeking ways to retain students in the Honors Program, one of whose cornerstones is the senior thesis. Too many students, trained for years to be compliant rather than innovative, lose heart at the prospect of producing a sustained, original piece of research. The Honors Program is seeking to offer more support for talented students to accomplish this.
A panel on "Models for Teaching Honors Students" included a free exchange of new pedagogical methods. And other panels stressed the emotional and social, as well as cognitive, development of students.
Nathaniel Eaton, an undergraduate and president of the Honors Council, spoke about his experience in the honors program.
Eaton is the type of student for whom university admissions offices compete. A graduate of E.O. Smith High School in Storrs, he said he considered going to Dartmouth, McGill University in Montreal, or one of several Boston-area business schools before deciding to enroll in UConn's Honors Program. Eaton expects to graduate in 2005 with a double major in finance and French and German studies, and has already studied abroad, under UConn's aegis, in Paris and Germany.
During one of the panels, he spoke of the many supportive faculty members who have helped shape his educational experience at UConn. He added, though, that some honors students would like to see more upper-division honors courses in their majors and more opportunities for interdisciplinary work.
These objectives, embraced by the Honors Program, will require significant financial resources, said Goodstein. "Although no easy solutions have yet appeared, the conference gives every indication that the administration and the faculty are working more and more closely together to realize these goals."