The Frederik Meijer Honors College is in transition. In March 2017, the National Collegiate Honors Council (NCHC) conducted a program review, and while the team praised many aspects of the current Honors College, including its innovative first-year interdisciplinary sequences, it also made some important recommendations to improve FMHC’s governance structure, curriculum, visibility, student governance structure, and alumni connections. In July 2017, longtime director Dr. Jeff Chamberlain left for the Hicks Honors College at the University of North Florida. Dr. Roger Gilles was named interim director, and Dr. Coeli Fitzpatrick began a term as chair of the Honors faculty. Together with the full-time faculty and staff of the FMHC and under the direction of the dean of the Brooks College of Interdisciplinary Studies, Fitzpatrick and Gilles are leading an effort to revise the Honors curriculum in time for the start of the 2020-21 academic year.
A note to current students: Students always have the right to stick with the catalog requirements of their entering year, so you will not be affected by the revisions unless you choose to be. FMHC advisors are available to any current or prospective Honors student to discuss curricular requirements and options.
What Has Already Happened
Governance Structure: In Fall 2017, the FMHC followed NCHC recommendations and revised its internal governance structure by clarifying administrative roles and reducing its primary oversight committees from three to two:
- The Honors Faculty Council (HFC) is chaired by Dr. Fitzpatrick, and its members include all tenured and tenure-track faculty in Honors as well as all faculty-in-residence. The FMHC director is ex officio. The HFC’s primary responsibilities include setting personnel standards and policies for the Honors College, conducting personnel reviews of full-time Honors faculty, developing curricular and pedagogical standards and guidelines for the Honors College, and conducting regular unit assessments and strategic planning for the program.
- The Honors Curriculum and Development Committee (HCDC) is also chaired by Dr. Fitzpatrick, and its members include five elected faculty representatives from CLAS, one faculty representative each from BCOIS, CCPS, COE, CHP, KCON, PCEC, SCOB, and University Libraries, three HFC representatives, two Honors students, and the Meijer endowed chair. The FMHC director is ex officio. The HCDC’s primary responsibilities include developing curriculum in accordance with the standards and guidelines established in consultation with the HFC, giving suggestions and advice on direction for Honors in the university, recruiting prospective faculty to propose courses and/or teach in existing courses, reviewing and approving curriculum proposals submitted by faculty, and developing student opportunities and outreach.
Curriculum: A key NCHC recommendation was for the FMHC to move away from the General Education “replacement model” whereby all its courses and outcomes are tied explicitly to GVSU’s disciplinary-based General Education curriculum. Instead, the NCHC recommended thinking of the Honors curriculum as an alternative to GE—that is, as a different way of achieving the same broad goals.
In December 2017 and January 2018, Fitzpatrick and Gilles consulted with the dean of Brooks College, the director of GE, the chair of GEC, the chair of UCC, and representatives from the provost’s office to discuss the viability of loosening the strict equivalencies between the Honors and GE curricula. As a result, GEC “agreed that the Honors Program should completely separate from the GE Program” (GEC Year-End Report). It’s important to note that Honors will still be required to pursue the nine GE program skills outcomes, which also function as institution-level undergraduate student learning outcomes.
This past year, HFC also worked to address the recent proliferation of first-year Honors courses. As of Fall 2017, Honors had ten first-year sequences in the catalog (38 separate courses) and another nine (30 separate course proposals) at various stages of approval in SAIL, the curriculum development system. The sheer number of courses made the curriculum difficult to summarize to prospective and incoming students and obscured the overarching purposes of the first-year sequences within the overall curriculum. It also seemed an unsustainable model for growth.
HFC pulled all the SAIL proposals and began the process of restructuring the first-year sequences along the lines of our variable-topic junior seminars. That is, we intend to create a single set of container courses (e.g., HNR 151, 152, 153, and 154) and offer individual first-year sequences as sections of these courses, with the topics clearly identified in Banner and on our website. This plan has two main benefits:
- It will create greater unity among the first-year sequences, as all will adhere to the overarching syllabus of record of the numbered courses. The syllabus of record will, of course, reflect much of what is already happening in the sequences—plus whatever changes may be proposed as part of the larger revisions.
- It will allow for more flexibility and evolution of sequence topics. Currently, all new sequences (and changes to sequences) need to go through SAIL, but in the future all individual sequence proposals will just have to be approved by HCDC, which will be responsible for making sure all sequences adhere to the syllabus of record.
In both Fall 2017 and Winter 2018, at the request of Dean Hiskes and Interim Director Gilles, Professor Linda Chamberlain, the Meijer Chair for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, challenged her Design Thinking junior seminar students to respond to the NCHC report and its recommendations for the Honors College. A handful of key student perspectives emerged that we would like to keep in mind as we proceed:
- Students would like to be more explicitly guided into the Honors curriculum and even into their career options.
- They’d like to see more consistency of rigor across sequences and courses.
- They’d like to see more connections with their post-baccalaureate lives and careers.
- They’d like to have more opportunities for community service, study abroad, study away, and/or field experiences—i.e., getting out into the world.
- They’d like to feel more connected to Honors throughout their time at Grand Valley.
The student curricular proposals varied, of course, but they clearly showed that Honors students value flexibility (variable-credit courses, more pathways or choices), cultural competency (community engagement, study away, study abroad), and a more “real-world” or skills-oriented approach generally.
Finally, over the course of 2017-18, HFC also engaged in discussions about the core vision of the Honors College—a working vision, if you will, that might guide the revision process. These discussions were guided in part by trips to two national Honors conferences and the insights of the Design Thinking students, as well as by the current Honors College assessment and strategic planning documents.
As we embark on the curriculum revision process, we agree on a handful of basic principles and guidelines:
- We affirm the stated mission of the Honors College: to inspire and empower motivated students to be intellectually-curious lifelong learners who make positive contributions to their local and global communities, and serve as capable leaders and active global citizens.
- We aim to graduate Honors students who are curious, ethical, engaged, and collaborative.
- In terms of Honors-specific student learning outcomes, we have tentatively settled on what we’re calling the Five I’s: Inquiry, Integrity, Interdisciplinarity, Innovation, and Internationalization. Together, these five outcomes embody the “Live, Learn, Lead” motto of the Honors College and capture the essential qualities of effective citizens and leaders.
- We also believe that the nine GE skills outcomes—written communication, oral communication, information literacy, quantitative literacy, critical thinking, ethical reasoning, collaboration, problem solving, and integration—are embedded in our mission and in the Five I’s.
What Is Happening Now
To prepare for and facilitate a university-wide conversation about potential changes to the Honors curriculum, HFC has established a spring/summer exploratory task force chaired by Dr. Fitzpatrick. Its members are Ellen Adams, Ed Baum, Jeremiah Cataldo, Kurt Ellenberger, Coeli Fitzpatrick, Roger Gilles, Meg Marshall, Kelly McDonell, Amy McFarland, Jane Toot, and Peter Wampler. The committee has four charges: 1) interview people from around campus, and a few off campus, about the Honors College and interesting curricular possibilities; 2) investigate Honors curricula from around the country for ideas; 3) research the Five I’s to learn more about each term as a potential foundation of the program; and 4) develop several contrasting curricular models for initial discussion around the university in Fall 2018.
If you would like to share your own ideas about the current Honors College and possibilities for its curriculum, please contact any of the task force members.
What to Expect in 2018-19
Look for an Honors session at the Fall FTLC Conference. We expect to initiate discussion of the core values and outcomes of the Honors College and share our draft curricular models for consideration.
Over the course of the fall semester, we’ll prompt discussion in a number of ways:
- In the Honors Curriculum and Development Committee (HCDC), with its elected representatives from around campus.
- In CLAS units historically invested in teaching in Honors: Classics, English, History, and Modern Languages and Literatures.
- At invited meetings of all Honors-affiliated faculty (those who have taught in Honors).
- At colleges with a high number of Honors majors: KCON, PCEC, and SCOB.
- At open forums for all faculty and staff.
- At the Provost’s Cabinet or other appropriate administrative groups.
In November 2018, six or seven Honors faculty and staff will attend the NCHC conference in Boston, both to report on our revision activities and to gather more ideas and information from other colleges and universities.
In early winter 2019, after gathering feedback from around campus, HFC will draft a single proposal, including conceptual foundations, a curriculum map, new and revised SORs, an assessment plan, etc., for HCDC consideration and approval.
HCDC will then post the proposal on the FMHC website for any further feedback before submitting a final version to the Brooks College Curriculum Committee as the first step in the formal faculty governance process.
Your Input Is Always Welcome
Now or at any time during the revision process, if you have questions, comments, suggestions, or concerns, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org, and your message will be forwarded to the task force.