Curriculum for Students Entering in Fall 2020

Niemeyer Learning and Living Center front view

An Interdisciplinary Approach

The hallmarks of the Honors program have long been its interdisciplinary approach and emphasis on active learning. We teach topics, not subjects, and we learn together--socially and collaboratively. We tell prospective students that the Honors College is for students who want to make the most of their experience at GVSU. Honors is for students who want to engage deeply in classes, explore multiple interests, work closely with faculty, get active on campus, and explore the world off campus. Honors is an experience, not just a credential. It’s not for students looking for the quickest path to graduation or simply an impressive line on their résumé.

The Honors College curriculum is an alternative to GVSU’s regular 35- to 41-credit General Education program. In Fall 2020, we introduce a revised 27-credit curriculum with an enhanced emphasis on interdisciplinarity and project-based learning. Interdisciplinary courses integrate content, data, methods, or concepts from two or more disciplines in order to answer questions, address issues, or advance ideas that are too broad for a single approach. Such courses recognize the inherent complexity of nature and society and help prepare students to address today’s problems and the problems of the future. Project-based courses model the kinds of purposeful collaboration that goes on in virtually every organization. Together, interdisciplinarity and project-based learning provide the right foundation for our students to become lifelong learners and active participants in global society. (For more on high-impact practices, see this recent article.)

The Fall 2020 curriculum seeks to enhance the already strong experience Honors College students have at Grand Valley. With it, we pursue greater continuity across all four-years, including a stronger second-year experience and a standardized senior project. We also seek ways to give students depth as well as breadth with departmental Honors courses that might also count towards major or minor requirements.

The curriculum has four components:


HNR 151, 152, 153, 154. 12-credit team-taught first-year interdisciplinary sequence. Students choose one year-long four-course sequence from a list of 15 or more options including such topics as urbanism, food systems, water issues, civil rights, ancient Greece and Rome, religious history and culture, the Middle East, and many more. The sequences are team-taught by faculty from different disciplines; their primary goal is not to provide an introduction to their disciplines but rather to use their disciplinary training to explore the sequence topic. Faculty members are also expected to include disciplinary perspectives other than their own, so each sequence integrates the concepts or methods from multiple disciplines. In addition, co-curricular and cohort-building experiences such as field trips, guest lectures, and shared meals are part of every sequence. Current sequence faculty come from across the university: Anthropology, Biology, Classics, Criminal Justice, English, Geology, History, Marketing, Modern Languages & Literatures, Philosophy, Political Science, Sociology, Visual & Media Arts, and Women, Gender, & Sexuality Studies. Proposals for new sequences are open to all university faculty, and we expect to see new and exciting topics and disciplinary mixes.


HNR 200. 3 credits of campus/community engagement experiences. We say that Honors students make the most of their university experience. To fulfill this requirement, students engage in approved campus or community leadership or service. Possibilities include study abroad, study away, serving as classroom assistant, working as a tutor, leading a student organization, serving in the Design Thinking Academy, or taking a community-based learning course. Students are encouraged to propose a course or activity to satisfy this requirement

HNR 201. 3-credit Live/Learn/Lead colloquium. Aimed at equipping students for intelligent participation in public dialogues, this course draws on regular campus events (Fall Arts Celebration, Meijer Lectures, Civil Discourse Symposium, Shakespeare Festival, etc.) and a thematically-focused Honors colloquium series featuring invited speakers and performers to give students practice in preparing for, experiencing, and processing cultural events in meaningful ways. Required reflections are both individual and collaborative, and both written and spoken.


The following pairings require students to engage deeply in topics of interdisciplinary scope, and they also ensure that all Honors students experience such engagement from both the humanistic side of the academy and the scientific side of the academy. All students take either HNR 250 and HNR 351 or HNR 251 and HNR 350.

HNR 250. 3-credit project-based learning course.


HNR 351. 3-credit integrative seminar.

Topics vary but generally have an artistic, humanistic, or socio-political focus—and always involve interdisciplinary learning and problem solving. Students work to delineate a problem or issue and its context, articulate any past efforts to address it, and produce a collaborative product or presentation that addresses the problem or issue. PBL courses outside of Honors may substitute here if approved for Honors designation.


Variable-topic, small-enrollment seminars that draw intentionally from the diverse disciplinary knowledge of the students and focus on important social and academic issues that cross disciplinary boundaries. In contrast to HNR 250, HNR 351 includes quantitative modes of inquiry and generally has a mathematical or scientific focus.




HNR 251. 3-credit project-based learning course.


HNR 350. 3-credit integrative seminar.

Topics vary but generally have a mathematical or scientific focus—and always involve interdisciplinary learning, problem solving, and quantitative modes of inquiry. Students work to delineate a problem or issue and its context, articulate any past efforts to address it, and produce a collaborative product or presentation that addresses the problem or issue. PBL courses outside of Honors may substitute here if approved for Honors designation.


Variable-topic, small-enrollment seminars that draw intentionally from the diverse disciplinary knowledge of the students and focus on important social and academic issues that cross disciplinary boundaries. In contrast to HNR 251, HNR 350 generally has an artistic, humanistic, or socio-political focus.


HNR 401. 1-credit Honors senior project proposal course. Students explore project possibilities, identify a faculty mentor, and develop an approved project proposal.

HNR 499. 2-credit Honors senior project. Substantial project sponsored by a faculty mentor. Includes a showcase requirement—through print publication, conference presentation, or Honors-arranged senior showcase presentation.

Senior/capstone experiences outside of Honors may substitute for HNR 401/499 if approved by the Honors College.

What About AP and IB Credits?

All AP and IB credits that are accepted by GVSU count toward the 120-credit graduation requirement, effectively reducing the number of credits a student needs to earn a degree. Some credits count in the General Education program, some count toward various majors and minors, some count toward a foreign-language requirement, and some count as electives—but they all count.

In the Honors College, we value AP and IB courses as excellent preparation for our curriculum, but because our curriculum is topical, interdisciplinary, discussion-oriented, and project-based, with frequent co-curricular excursions and activities, we don’t believe that high school courses, even excellent ones, in Physics, Psychology, World History, and other subjects substitute for the cohort-building academic experiences we offer. So while AP and IB credits count toward the 120 credits required to graduate and may apply to other requirements, they do not reduce Honors credit requirements.

GVSU’s regular General Education program comprises 35-41 credits, or 11 to 13 courses, while our Honors curriculum amounts to 27 credits, or 9 courses. For Honors students, all General Education requirements are fulfilled through those 27 credits. Reducing the credit requirements is our way of acknowledging the excellent preparation students have through AP, IB, and other Honors-oriented academic experiences.

Six of the required 27 credits in Honors may be covered by a study abroad experience (HNR 200 and one other course, in consultation with an advisor). Nine, potentially, may be covered by courses required in major or minor programs (HNR 200, HNR 250/251, and HNR 401/499). But even students who do not study abroad and do not take any departmental Honors courses will take just 27 out of their 120 (or more) credits overall to satisfy their general education requirements. This means that no more than 22.5% of a student's academic requirements will be in Honors. Our aim is to make that 22.5% as meaningful and impactful as possible.

What about transfer credits from other colleges and universities?

College students who apply to and are accepted into Honors may be placed in the Honors curriculum based on the number of credits they have earned through college General Education courses by the time they begin taking Honors courses at GVSU. College courses are those taken through dual-enrollment, early middle college programs, and two- and four-year institutions, including GVSU.

Our first-year interdisciplinary sequences are designed for first-year college students, so in general, if students have completed the equivalent of a full year of college General Education courses and satisfied the first-year writing requirement before enrolling in Honors, they may request a waiver of the first-year Honors courses.


# of GE credits completed

Honors courses waived

Remaining requirements

Fewer than 18


All (27 credits)

18 to 44, including WRT 150 credit

HNR 151/152/153/154

HNR 200, HNR 201, HNR 250/251, HNR 350/351, HNR 401/499 (15 credits)

45 or more, including WRT 150 credit, or completion of the MACRAO/MTA

HNR 151/152/153/154, HNR 200, HNR 201

HNR 250/251, HNR 350/351, HNR 401/499 (9 credits)