Lee Honors College at Western Michigan: A Strong Combination of Classroom and Experiential Learning

Although the Lee Honors College at Western Michigan University offers more than 40 sections of all-honors classes, with an average class size of fewer than 16 students, perhaps the most impressive feature of the college is the range of inventive co-curricular learning options available to the college’s 1,785 students.

As a reminder, the term co-curricular refers to learning experiences that complement classroom learning, whether for credit or not. Increasingly, co-curricular activities provide credits for participants.

Dr. Carla Koretsky, Dean of the college, tells us that one of the co-curricular options is the Study in the States “placed-based” learning series.  Offered for three credit hours, mostly in the summer, the courses are capped at 8-10 honors students.

“Students, a faculty member and an honors college staff member travel for 7-10 days to study something outside of the state of Michigan,” Dean Koretsky says. “Students receive honors, and typically also general education credit for these courses. Students pay the regular tuition rate and the honors college pays all expenses associated with the travel for every student in the course (airfares, ground transportation, lodging, meals, incidentals).”

Recent courses include:

  • Garbage in Gotham: Anthropology/environmental studies course in New York City.
  • Texas Tour: Business course in Austin, San Antonio and Houston, TX.
  • Entrepreneurship: Business course in Austin, TX and Boulder, CO with additional travel to Detroit, Grand Rapids, Chicago and Cincinnati.
  • Vue d’Afrique: French film course to the African Film festival in Montreal.
  • Disney Pilgrimage: Interdisciplinary course traveling from Chicago, IL to Los Angeles, CA

The college also offers a weekly Lyceum Lecture series, featuring a weekly talk by a faculty, staff or community expert. Recent themes include Climate Change, Race Matters, Living with Uncertainty, Globally Engaged Citizenship and Sustainable Energy Future.

A Metropolitan series takes small groups of students to museums and cultural events. “Recent groups have visited the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, the Art Prize Competition in Grand Rapids and the Arab American Museum in Dearborn,” Dean Koretsky says.

A Peer Student Success Team, comprised of upperclassmen who serve as mentors to incoming freshmen, “hold office hours in the honors residence hall, help with our events and organize at least four volunteer group events for honors students each semester.

“The honors college has a Common Read book for freshmen, who are given a hard copy of the book during summer orientation. We begin fall welcome week with a facilitated discussion of our book and invite the author to campus in the fall semester to discuss the book and meet with honors students. Recent books include The Events of October, the Life of Pi, Tell the Wolves I’m Home and Unbroken.”

The honors college has also spear-headed a major lecture series, Raise Your Voice, open to all students and the public, but especially promoted to honors students. “The series theme is understanding and preventing gender-based violence and hostility. Speakers include Anita Hill, Jackson Katz, Wagatwe Wanjuki, Soraya Chemaly, Tatayana Fazlalizadeh and Gloria Steinem.”

The presence of extensive co-curricular offerings is no indication that classroom learning has been slighted at the college. It is unusual for honors colleges and programs to offer only all-honors classes–sections that are not “mixed” or “contract” courses where honors students may been the minority of those enrolled. All the honors sections at the college are all-honors sections.

Even better news: all of the major disciplines are included. English, history, math, chemistry, philosophy, business, psychology, economics, political science, and health-related classes are all a part of the course schedule.

In addition, the college has an honors residential hall (Ackley) and includes priority registration for honors students during all four years of study. Prospective honors students often succeed in the Medallion Scholarship competition. “All competitors receive a 1-year $3000 scholarship and automatic admission to the honors college. Semi-finalists receive $6000 over 2 years and approximately 20 finalists receive $60,000 over 4 years. Finalists who complete an undergraduate degree in less than four years may use remaining funds for graduate study.

“We also offer honors scholarships for study abroad (up to $3000) and to pursue research and creative activities (up to $3000). These are awarded through a competitive application process.”

Prospective students should know that the minimum admissions requirements are a high school GPA of 3.6 and ACT score of 26.  The six-year graduation rate for honors entrants is 81 percent.

Honors News is a regular (not always daily) update, in brief, of recent news from honors colleges/programs and from the world of higher ed. Occasionally, a bit of opinion enters the discussion. These brief posts are by John Willingham, unless otherwise noted.

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