Because community service can be a powerful learning tool, it has been applied to sophomore seminars for some time. Last year, honors students completed a 20-hour placement and "provided tremendous resources to the community," according to Pam Heintz, director of the Center for Public and Community Service. However, the goal is to help the students learn about themselves. "They are accustomed to problem solving very successfully. In this course, they had to adjust their intensity and high level of expectations. They learned that being smart doesn't mean you have all the answers. Some problems are very complex and need to be managed, not solved. For many of these students, this was the first time they bumped up against something they couldn't fix by being smart," she says. "All the students learned to be more empathetic, and put a human face on social issues. This is important, since students of this caliber are likely to affect social policy one day."|
With or without a nudge from a community service seminar, Carter characterizes many of the students as being altruistic and socially committed. "Community service seems to go hand-in-hand with better students," he says.
Right out of the gate, Jessica White '01 joined several campus organizations, including Undergraduates for a Better Education (UBE). In her first year, she led a campaign to add a citizenship clause to the University's mission and vision statements. "There's a big movement on campus to teach and practice good citizenship," she says. "I hope to help make it a more formal commitment."
White's effort dispels another myth: Honors students are eggheads, immersed only in academic pursuits. "Their hearts are as big as their brains," insists Coryell, who organized a breakfast club last year at a local middle school. Once a week, about 20 honors students started the day by showering attention on at-risk sixth-graders.|
Jordan Potash '98 could be a poster child for altruistic honors students. Potash, who graduated with a dual degree in art and psychology, produced an innovative honors thesis on art therapy as a tool for helping gays, lesbians, and bisexuals with coming-out issues. Despite sometimes staggering pressure related to his thesis, Potash worked as a resident advisor on campus and as a volunteer at Hutchings Psychiatric Center. He was also active in student affairs and interreligious efforts. "Anything involving social action and challenging people's beliefs, I was part of it," Potash says. "I've always been very concerned about diversity. Everyone knows you don't tell certain kinds of jokes around me."
In the junior year, the Honors Program narrows its focus. Drastically. Thesis Project, the secondand completely separatephase of the program, requires students to explore in-depth a topic in their major. Thesis Project requires an application for admission, a minimum GPA of 3.5, and an extraordinary level of commitment. Completion of General University Honors is not a prerequisite. "Thesis Project is not for every student," warns Judy Hamilton, associate director of the Honors Program. "It's a huge commitment, and it involves a lot of blood, sweat, and tears."
SU's 50 percent completion rate for Thesis Project is at the high end for universities nationwide; many report a completion rate of only 5 to 10 percent. Boosting SU's success rate is a Thesis Project planning seminar that gives juniors a detailed road mapand fair warningof the process ahead. While many universities have honors programs, only SU offers such a seminar. |
"The Thesis Project is modeled after graduate work," explains School of Management Professor Sandra Hurd, associate to the director for Thesis Project Honors. "It is very autonomous and in-depth. One of its real advantages is the experience of working one-on-one with a faculty member. Three semesters of sitting down and having intellectual conversations with a faculty member can have a magical effect."
marvin t. jones
This intense faculty interaction proved pivotal for Elliott Portnoy '86, SU's first Rhodes Scholar. "It was identical to the tutorial system I encountered later while earning my Ph.D. at Oxford," says Portnoy, who received a political science honors degree from The College of Arts and Sciences. "The typical American undergraduate experience does not prepare you for Oxford's one-on-one faculty interaction. Had I not completed Thesis Projectwith all its opportunities to think on my feet and defend my positionsI would have floundered.