Macaulay Honors College CUNY: Devour the Big Apple

Editor’s Note: We will include a full, updated profile and detailed rating of Macaulay Honors College in the next edition of our book, scheduled for release in September 2016.

Students who are residents of New York State have the unique opportunity of qualifying for free tuition and other benefits at the Macaulay Honors College, which is affiliated with eight senior colleges of the City University of New York. Admission to Macaulay for state residents not only makes them Macaulay Scholars with free tuition but also presents to them the Big Apple in all its fascinating dimensions.

Out-of-state students who meet CUNY New York State residency requirements can also receive the full tuition scholarship. And for those who do not qualify for the free tuition support, CUNY provides one of the best values in higher education. In addition, the student will receive all of the enhanced benefits of a Macaulay education.

Macaulay students study at the following CUNY campuses: Baruch College, Brooklyn College, City College, Hunter College, John Jay College, Lehman College, Queens College, and the College of Staten Island (CSI). There are special honors housing packages at City College and Hunter College. All the other colleges have residence options. Macaulay Honors College is housed in an elegant, renovated brownstone located in the Upper West Side, near Central Park and the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.

In addition to free tuition, Macaulay students receive a $7,500 Opportunities Fund “to pursue global learning, internships, and other service and learning opportunities”; a MacBook Pro laptop; a “Cultural Passport” that permits free or discounted admission to arts, cultural, and educational institutions across the city; and specialized advising through the Macaulay Advising Program (MAP).

The laptops are an integral part of Macaulay’s plan to enable students to participate in social and academic programs at campuses other than their home campuses and to prepare and present e-portfolios of their college work, with the help of Instruction Technology Fellows (ITF’s) assigned to each of the honors seminars. “ITFs are CUNY doctoral students in a wide range of academic disciplines, carefully selected for their familiarity and experience using technology both in the classroom and in research,” according to the Macaulay site.

Admission to Macaulay is selective, with an average SAT score of 1410 and grade average of 93.9. In addition, co-curricular activities, essays, and letters of recommendation are required. The acceptance rate was 29% for the Class of 2016; approximately 540 freshmen will be entering Fall 2013.

The honors curriculum for the first two years is focused on the city of New York itself:
“Seminar 1 introduces Macaulay Scholars to the arts in New York City and the Cultural Passport. During the semester, students attend theatrical, operatic, and musical performances, exhibitions of visual art, and other highlights of the current cultural season, and help to create the annual “Snapshot of New York City” exhibition.”

“During Seminar 2, Macaulay Scholars investigate the role of immigration and migration in shaping New York City’s identity–past, present, and future. Visits to archives, interviews, mapping and walking tours allow students to create the collaborative Neighborhood Websites, presenting their research through audio, video, photography, and other media.”

“In Seminar 3, Macaulay Scholars analyze issues in science and technology that have an impact on contemporary New York. Students work together to create scientific posters and presentations for a Macaulay-wide conference of their peers and others in the Macaulay community.”

“The purpose of Seminar 4 is to analyze the ongoing interplay of social, economic, and political forces that shape the physical form and social dynamics of New York City. Throughout the semester, students engage in a team research project, sometimes including Public Service Announcement Videos, to be presented at a model academic conference.”

Macaulay’s upper-level seminars encourage students to integrate course work and their own primary research, in a richly collaborative and supportive interdisciplinary setting. Recent topics include Sexuality and American Culture, Imagining the End of the World, The Future of Education, Religion and Public Policy, and Women and Global Public Policy Since the 1960s.

As for off-campus opportunities in New York City, Macaulay students benefit from special access to network with New York’s most dynamic firms.

“Macaulay students often use some of their $7,500 Opportunities Fund to develop customized programs that enable them to explore different professional paths, or to gain additional hands-on experience in fields they wish to pursue in graduate school or professionally after college.”

Examples of recent internships are New York Life, HBO, The New York Historical Society, The Earth Institute Center for Environmental Sustainability (EICES), NYU Langone Medical Center, BBC Worldwide Americas, The New York State Office of the Attorney General, US Trust, Free Arts NYC, The Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA), and Northwestern Mutual.

Over 90% of Macaulay students intend to study abroad. Again, they can use their Opportunities Fund, outside fellowships, and additional resources CUNY makes available to them to pursue a wide range of semester and year-long study abroad programs, at universities around the globe.

Students might analyze marine life in the Galapagos, study drama at Trinity College of Dublin, learn Arabic at Bosphorus University in Istanbul, or study mathematics at the City University of Hong Kong.

Other examples of recent study-abroad locations are the following: Argentina, Australia, Austria, Barbados, Brazil, China, Chile, Costa Rica, Cuba, Czech Republic, Denmark, Ecuador, Egypt, England, France, Germany, Greece, Guatemala, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Korea, Lithuania, Morocco, Netherlands, Puerto Rico, Russia, Singapore, South Africa, Spain, and Turkey. Macaulay students have studied on every continent with the exception of Antarctica.

Macaulay graduate, David L.B. Bauer of City College, became something of an undergraduate “brainiac” celebrity, who chose Macaulay over the Ivies after he won the Intel Science Talent Search as a high school student in 2005. A winner of Goldwater, Rhodes and Truman Scholarships while at Macaulay, Bauer focused on research in clinical medicine at the Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics (WTCHG) at the University of Oxford, where he worked during his junior year at CCNY. Bauer is currently a DPhil candidate in clinical medicine at Oxford.

A second Rhodes scholarship was awarded to a Macaulay student in October, 2011 to Zujaja Tauqeer (Macaulay and Brooklyn College ’11). Zujaja, who graduated with a BA/MD, is studying the history of medicine in a two-year program at Oxford.

Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA): A Rationale for Honors?

In a previous article, we wrote about philanthropist Bill Gates and his ideas regarding hybrid college courses that combine “superstar” faculty videos with classroom discussion groups. The Gates Foundation is also associated with the Council for Assistance to Education, which has developed the Collegiate Learning Assessment test used by some universities.

Gates has said that he does not want universities to turn into vocational institutions, and he  has maintained that students need to develop broader skills, especially the critical thinking and writing skills measured by the CLA test, not only for the students’ own benefit but for the benefit of employers and society functioning in a world where vocational training becomes outdated so quickly.

Honors curricula for decades have emphasized critical thinking and writing skills as a central component.  The writing requirements for almost all honors students are significantly more demanding than those for non-honors students, and the curricula develop critical thinking by engaging students in texts, research, and projects that demand sophisticated, in-depth analysis.

The CLA test is used to compare the skills of entering students with those of graduating seniors in a given institution.  The results of the test provide part of the statistical basis for the 2011 book Academically Adrift, which argued that students in American universities learn relatively little during their time in college and, moreover, do not work very hard in the process.

Critics of higher education, especially of public higher education, cite the book as evidence that universities over-emphasize research at the expense of undergraduate instruction and as confirmation that too many of the students now entering college are not sufficiently motivated or prepared to be there in the first place.

That argument aside, Academically Adrift and a more recent and detailed study by the CAE itself show that students in certain major areas do better than those in others.  For example, students majoring in science or the humanities score the highest in improving the critical skills between the time they enter a university and the time they graduate.  Business, education, and engineering majors do not show as much improvement.

Although some honors programs have a lot of engineering and business students, in general the focus is on the arts and sciences.  Under siege by reformers for not being vocational enough, the humanities and social sciences, as well as the natural and physical sciences, can now stake a claim to being leaders in developing “higher order” thinking.

The longstanding honors role in teaching to this end is generally accepted; but there are other roles, less noticed by the general public, that honors education has promoted critical skills in their universities as a whole.  Allowing non-honors students to enroll in some honors classes is a common practice, and of course all honors students take classes that are not directly a part of the honors curricula.

While it may cost more to educate an honors student than it does to teach non-honors students, the need for critical thinking skills is emerging as a priority.  Even gradual increases in the enrollment of honors students could, in the long run, be one of the best investments a university can make in its own future and the future of all its graduates.

 

 

 

 

Bill Gates on College: More Hybrid Courses, Less ‘Marking Time’

In the most recent issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education, philanthropist Bill Gates says that even though education “has not been substantially changed by the internet” thus far, the future is likely to bring fundamental shifts toward online instruction.

Gates advocates greater use of hybrid courses, defined by the Chronicle as those “in which students watch videos from superstar professors as ‘homework’ and use class time for group projects and other interactive activities.”

Even if such an approach might be effective for some colleges or programs, what applicability might online classes have for honors programs, which emphasize the interactions of students and professors in small classes?   Should honors programs be on the cutting edge of integrating online learning with instruction in relatively small classes?

But, if so, how would the effectiveness of such honors experiments be assessed?  Gates acknowledges (and laments) that there is a lack of evidence showing “where…technology is the best and where face-to-face is the best.”  One big problem, he told the Chronicle, is that higher education “is a field without a kind of clear metric that you can experiment [with] and see if you’re still continuing to achieve [increased learning].

“You’d think people would say, ‘We take people with low SATs and make them really good lawyers.’ Instead they say, ‘We take people with very high SATs and we don’t really know what we create, but at least they’re smart when they show up here, so maybe they still are when we’re done with them.’”

Clearly, “maybe” is not good enough for Gates and other reformers.  Here it seems that public university honors programs can help in developing curricula that improve measurable skills and that facilitate the transfer of those improvements to the larger university population, including some students who do not have “very high SAT’s.”

Honors curricula are recognized as being highly effective in developing and improving critical thinking and writing skills, both of which are emphasized by the Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA) tests used by some colleges to measure improvement in important skills between the freshmen and senior years.  (The Gates Foundation has connections with the Council on Assistance to Education (CAE), which develops CLA testing.)

Another advantage of honors programs is that the course work and activities of honors students are never entirely segregated from the larger university and inevitably have an impact beyond honors.  Therefore, honors programs are and have been a natural vehicle for the transfer of enhanced instruction  to the larger university.

A key element in this process would be the assessment of non-honors students who have frequent classes or projects with honors students in order to understand how the interaction is beneficial.  The next, and much more difficult, step would be to determine what parts of the process could be used with similar effectiveness in a hybrid context.

The hybrid model that Gates is exploring can sound a bit like the communication and training structure of an international high-tech company: we watch the CEO in a series of online videos; we note his insights and instructions; and we meet and discuss the ways in which they might be developed, used, and enhanced.  Then we are graded according to our progress.

But given the hard choices by some public universities, the use of more online instruction might make the advantages of an honors education more readily transferable to the larger university if online lectures and instruction were incorporated into the curriculum, provided that at least some of the assumed cost savings could then be used to fund more frequent small-group discussions and projects.

The founder of Microsoft also believes that many students are marking time in school because “if you’re trying to get through in the appropriate amount of time, you’ll find yourself constantly not able to get yourself into various required courses.”

The Chronicle asked Gates if, in response to this problem, he might “create pressure to make universities into a kind of job-training area without that citizenship focus of that broad liberal arts degree.”

“But I’m the biggest believer in taking a lot of different things,” he said.  “And so, yes, it’s important to distinguish when people are taking extra courses that broaden them as a citizen and that would be considered a plus versus they’re just marking time because they’re being held up because the capacity doesn’t exist in the system to let them do what they want to do.  If you go through the student survey data, it’s mostly the latter.”

Whatever effect online instruction may have on university curricula, Gates says that “…obviously, anything that has to do with the universities is going to be figured out by people who have worked in universities, and it’s going to be piloted in universities.”

And in that effort, honors learning innovations could lead the way.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ole Miss, SMB Honors College Thesis Can Equal Jobs

This story about the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College at Ole Miss shows how the undergraduate thesis required of honors students can help them in their search for postgraduate employment–and how the honors focus on undergrad research can be a model for the university as a whole as it seeks to find the best jobs for grads.

Students Get a Mentor for Engaging in Intellectual Curiosity

By Rebecca Lauck Cleary
April 23, 2012

OXFORD, Miss. – The undergraduate thesis is a hallmark of the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College at the University of Mississippi. Now, students will have someone available to assist them with getting started on their projects.

That person is Jason Ritchie, the new assistant dean of undergraduate research at the SMBHC.

Exploratory research has been a required component of the Honors College since its creation in 1997. Most students begin their research in the junior year, leading to a thesis in the senior year, although some students begin earlier. The thesis is an opportunity for students to devote time to exploring topics that particularly interest them in their fields; it’s a chance to learn to ask questions as the discipline asks them and to answer those questions using the methodology of the discipline.

Undergraduate research is vital to a student’s training, said Honors College Dean Douglass Sullivan-González.

“The SMBHC is deeply committed to the role of independent research in preparing our students to be citizen scholars,” Sullivan-González said. “When the leaders of the future start tackling tough issues, we want them to be trained to look closely and clearly at what’s really going on when things look ‘knotty.’ We expect our students to be leaders in finding creative, effective solutions to public challenges.”

Since 2000, Ritchie has been assistant and associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry at Ole Miss and was named the Cora Lee Graham Outstanding Teacher of Freshmen in 2007. Before that, he obtained his bachelor’s degree in chemistry in 1994 at the University of California at San Diego, where he performed undergraduate research on conducting polymers. He earned his Ph.D. in chemistry in 1998 from the University of Texas at Austin, where he studied the surface chemistry of high-temperature superconductors. He then went on to post-doc at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, studying electrochemistry in rigid polymers.

He has a strong interest in the leadership development of younger chemists, and he believes that serving as assistant dean of undergraduate research will allow him to help develop the careers of students across the university.

“The students come here and it’s intimidating,” Ritchie said. “They need help in the basic process of how to get started with research. I will put together a database of faculty projects so they can look at it and find their interests, and I will give them resources and advice about how to approach faculty members. They may be scared, but I will help them open up the conversation.”

Even the brightest students may be ruffled by the thesis requirement, and Ritchie hopes to alleviate their fears and work with them to find both internal and external research opportunities.

“When a graduate goes on a job interview, they don’t talk about their GPA, they talk about their thesis project, so it really sets them apart and marks them as a strong and independent thinker,” he said. “I personally learned far more doing my undergraduate thesis than I did in class. The honors thesis is a capstone for a student’s undergraduate years, bringing together everything they have learned the past four years.”

Ritchie will work not only with Honors College students, but those across all areas of campus.

“We think this unparalleled learning experience should be available to all students at the University of Mississippi,” Sullivan-González said. “Much of what Dr. Ritchie will undertake will be geared toward increasing and supporting undergraduate research campuswide, not just in the SMBHC.”

The most important lesson of the thesis may be how to stick with a tough assignment when there is only the students’ own character and passions to keep them going. This May, 130 SMBHC seniors are en route to be commissioned, having completed all Honors College requirements, including the thesis.

For more information on the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College, go to http://www.honors.olemiss.edu/.

Reformers, Distance learning, and the Future of Honors Education

Recently, President Obama called for a series of reforms directed at reducing the cost of tuition at the nation’s universities. Most public institutions are already operating with minimal state support, and these latest demands to cut costs and improve efficiencies, are, one hopes, an attempt by the president to take over the reform agenda from those who use it as part of a larger plan to reduce the role of government in all areas of life.

Some members of this alleged reform effort also champion private, for-profit online colleges as an effective means to make college education more available and affordable, despite the low graduation rates and high student loan burdens that are frequently associated with these institutions.

Of course these schools rely almost entirely on distance learning. Whether or not they are effective, overall, as educational tools, rather than as inexpensive delivery systems, is a matter of debate. But for those whose only bottom line is the one with dollar signs, distance learning will always be appealing.

The president’s proposal gives a strong nod to the role of technology in reducing costs:

“Through cost-saving measures like redesigning courses and making better use of education technology,” the president argued, “institutions can keep costs down to provide greater affordability for students.”

So how will the reforms affect honors education, especially the emphasis on distance education? It is possible to see at least three scenarios:

(1) public research institutions could use distance learning and even campus online courses to lower the cost of education for most students, thereby allowing the universities to maintain honors programs as they are, with small, personal classes and the best professors; or

(2) honors programs will have to ride the technology wave and include online learning to the same extent as the university as a whole; or

(3) An approach that includes somewhat more online instruction but retains the essential, more personal quality of an honors education will generally prevail.

Some universities, notably the University of Central Arkansas and the University of Maine at Augusta, already use distance learning in honors education, with good results. Many others require honors students to develop digital portfolios that involve the students in a process of reflection; this process not only allows students to collect and synthesize what they have learned but also to discover new connections along the way.

Even so, too much emphasis on digital learning will change the essential nature of the public honors hybrid. The combination of high-level research and a liberal-arts atmosphere would surely suffer if direct personal contact became significantly less frequent.