Editor’s Note: Thanks to honors Deans and Directors from across the country, we received more data than ever before in 2016. Most of the data appear in our new book, but periodically we will report on other discoveries that we did not have time to include.
We have written about honors classes several times, having reported on average class sizes and the various types of honors class sections–honors seminars, honors-only classes in the disciplines, mixed honors classes (honors and non-honors students), and contract sections, in which honors students do extra work in a regular class for honors credit.
Before presenting data that show the percentage of class work honors students do in the various class types, here is a brief recap on the average class sizes of honors sections, based on actual, detailed data from 50 major honors programs:
Honors-only class section size= 19.0 students
Mixed sections for honors credit= 51.1 students
Contract sections for honors credit= 60.1 students
OVERALL average size of class sections for honors credit= 26.3 students
But now for the additional, unpublished data.
Since class sizes vary significantly according to the type of class section, here is a summary of the percentage of classroom time that honors students spend in the different section types:
In 22 of the 50 programs we rated, all honors credit sections were “honors-only” sections (no mixed or contract sections).
Across all 50 programs, 83.1% of enrollment time was in honors-only sections.
13.6% of enrollment time was in mixed sections that included both honors and non-honors students. Many of these sections had separate honors-only breakout or lab components.
The remaining 5.1% of enrollment time was in contract sections, in which students in regular classes had to complete extra work for honors credit.
Honors-only classes may be seminars that are generally interdisciplinary, or more discipline-specific classes.
Our findings show that 45.8% of honors-only classes are seminars are interdisciplinary sections, which are typically offered through the honors college or program itself.
The remaining 54.2% of honors-only classes are centered on the academic disciplines, many offered directly by the academic departments.
After three months of analyzing data, we are almost at the point of rating at least 50 honors programs, writing their profiles, and adding another 10 or so summary reviews (unrated).
What I can say now is that there will be some significant changes–and some surprises. We are running behind schedule, but I still hope for publication by late September.
Here’s why. The 2014 edition was a great improvement over the 2012 book. In 2012, I was so focused on the importance of honors curriculum and completion requirements, along with the glitz of prestigious scholarships (Rhodes, Marshall, Goldwater, etc.) that the first effort failed to drill deeply into the complexities of honors programs.
The 2014 edition moved the ball forward–about halfway downfield, or more–because I was able to obtain more information from honors deans and directors. I also studied class section data online and derived a lot of useful information about honors-only classes, including average class sizes and a general idea of the disciplines offered.
For the 2016 edition, I knew going in that I needed far more detailed information from the programs themselves to develop precise measures for all class sections (including mixed and contract sections). Fortunately, I have been working with that much better information. The result is that instead of listing the number of honors classes in, say, math, the 2016 edition will report how many sections there are in relation to the total number of honors students.
This approach will have a dramatic impact in some cases. For example, say that Program A has 4 honors math sections might have looked good in the 2014 edition; but if Program A has 1400 enrolled honors students, 4 sections do not look very strong.
Another difference will be in the rating for honors class size. In 2014, the most accurate ratings were for honors-only class sizes. But the fact is that many programs offer much of their honors credit via mixed and contract sections. Accurately measuring the class sizes for these sections is extremely difficult when using only the online data. Indeed, there is no section information about contract sections online. Approximately 60 percent of programs allow credit for honors contracts (basically, doing extra work in a regular section for honors credit). A few have use contracts extensively. The new edition will list the average size of contract and mixed sections (honors and non-honors students in the same class).
Finally, another major difference that will have an impact in 2016 is that the rating for honors housing will have a new dimension: one-third of the rating will now be based on the availability of housing space, in addition to the amenities and dorm layout.
I thought it was time to raise my head from the ocean of data I am crunching for the 2016 edition of our Review.
Since we have much more–and much better–data this time around, the book itself will be even more data-driven than its predecessors. We will still have narrative profiles for each program/honors college under review, but it’s likely that within each narrative there will be a table that summarizes our findings.
Here is some of what readers will see in the new edition:
Class Sizes–Instead of reporting only the average class size for honors-only classes, we will show, in addition to honors-only class sizes, the average class sizes for mixed sections (classes with honors credit but including some or many non-honors students), and even the class sizes for honors contract sections (regular classes in which honors students do extra work for honors credit). What I can say at this point is that the total class size metric will be based on a combination of the above. This change alone could result is some significant changes in our ratings.
Contract Sections–In the past, we have focused on regular honors sections, and we are somewhat tardy in giving some attention to a fairly widespread practice in honors education: contract sections. These are sometimes called honors options, honors enhancements, etc. As noted above, these sections generally feature an agreement between the honors student and instructor (as approved by honors staff) according to which the student does extra work to earn honors credit. In a few programs, honors contracts may account for more than 30% of the total honors class enrollment in a given term. The 2016 edition will present views on the relative value of these types of classes. There are many pros, as well as some cons. Stay tuned.
Course Offerings, by Academic Department–In the 2014 edition, we tried to give readers an idea of the general range and type of honors classes offered by each honors college or program. Although we did approximate estimates of honors classes by academic discipline, I thought that that aspect of the 2014 ratings was surely the most subjective. This time around, the number of classes by discipline will be strictly quantified so our readers can know how many honors sections are available, and in a ratio to total honors participants.
Courses in “Key” Disciplines–It goes without saying that one person’s choice of “key” academic disciplines will probably not be the same as another person’s choice. What we plan to do is emphasize the classes in disciplines that we believe should be offered by honors programs, regardless of how popular the discipline might be as a major. For example, relatively few college students major in philosophy and many students (and parents) might not place much “value” on courses in that discipline. But honors students are supposed to be different–more motivated, more curious, more open, and more capable of in-depth critical thinking. From the more obviously practical perspective, we also place speech and communications classes in the key group. (One reason we favor small classes for honors students is that those classes typically require students to develop argumentation and group communication skills.)
Other “key” disciplines that we will quantify are biology; business and related disciplines; chemistry; computer science and related disciplines; economics; English; engineering; history; math; physics; political science; psychology; and anthropology/sociology.
So, if you want to know how many honors chemistry sections a program offers, or how many of those relatively scarce honors polysci, econ, or physics sections are available, we will tell you how each program stacks up.
Editor’s Note: The post below comes to us from Kendall Curlee, director of communications at the University of Arkansas Honors College.
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — A University of Arkansas research team has published a paper in ChemBioChem, a top European journal of chemical biology, based on groundbreaking experiments led by undergraduate honors student Armin Mortazavi. The paper contributes to the understanding of the molecular properties of membrane proteins, which play critical roles in cell signaling, both for diseased states and basic biological functions.
“It could be useful in understanding how proteins aggregate, which is characteristic of some neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s – but that’s long down the line at this point,” Mortazavi said.
Armin Mortazavi and faculty mentor Roger Koeppe examine deuterium magnetic resonance (NMR) results. Photo: Matt Reynolds.
“Our main purpose is to understand how they interact in the body.”
Mortazavi, from Hot Springs, is an honors chemistry and physics double major, a Bodenhamer Fellow, and the recipient of the Goldwater Scholarship. He is listed as first author on the article, giving him primary credit for performing the experiments that led to the discoveries. Roger Koeppe, Distinguished Professor of chemistry and biochemistry in the J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences, is Mortazavi’s faculty mentor and director of the study.
The paper is titled “Juxta-Terminal Helix Unwinding as a Stabilizing Factor to Modulate the Dynamics of Transmembrane Helices.” The U of A team used nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy to alter the amino acid sequences of model peptides and incorporated deuterium labels to study how the peptides move within a model for the outer membrane of a cell.
Mortazavi’s research builds on earlier work by honors student Kelsey Sparks, who studied the role aromatic rings play in the movement of the same family of peptides. Sparks was the first author on a paper published in 2014 in Biochemistry and is a coauthor on this paper.
Previous work in Koeppe’s lab found that a similar peptide helix might be unwound or “frayed” at the end. Mortazavi has confirmed that there are multiple peptides that fray at the end, limiting their extent of motion and helping to anchor them within a lipid membrane.
“What Armin has found suggests that there may be more importance to the loops within membrane signaling proteins, which have largely been ignored up to now,” Koeppe said. “His work may point us in a new direction.”
Mortazavi presented his work at the 2015 meeting of the Biophysical Society and will present his latest results at the February 2016 meeting in Los Angeles.
Koeppe has mentored more than 25 honors students, with six of them publishing their research.
“To this point, I’ve not had a student publish before they graduate,” he said. “Armin started research early, in his freshman year. He’s well organized, dedicated, hardworking, and he’s produced a lot of results.”
Mortazavi’s work has been supported by a State Undergraduate Research Fellowship and Honors College research and travel grants. Other members of the research team who are coauthors on the article are graduate student Venkatesan Rajagopalan and research associate professor Denise V. Greathouse.
About the Honors College: The University of Arkansas Honors College was established in 2002 and unites the university’s top undergraduate students and professors in a learning environment characterized by discovery, creativity and service. Each year the Honors College awards up to 90 freshman fellowships that provide $70,000 over four years, and more than $1 million in undergraduate research and study abroad grants. The Honors College is nationally recognized for the high caliber of students it admits and graduates. Honors students enjoy small, in-depth classes, and programs are offered in all disciplines, tailored to students’ academic interests, with interdisciplinary collaborations encouraged. Fifty percent of Honors College graduates have studied abroad – three times the national average – and one hundred percent of Honors College graduates have engaged in mentored research.
Editor’s note: The following article is from the University of Arkansas. My thanks to Kendall Curless of the Honors College for sending it along.
Researchers at the University of Arkansas have established that pits and scratches on the teeth of mammal fossils give important clues to the diet of creatures that lived millions of years ago. Two new studies, both involving undergraduate Honors College students, analyze the effect of environmental change on the teeth of existing species, and may shed light on the evolutionary fossil record.
Peter Ungar, Distinguished Professor and chair of the anthropology department, mentored the students and is a coauthor on both papers.
Both studies compare dental wear of species in environments that are relatively undisturbed to those in environments that have been disturbed by human development.
“Human disturbance, from an ecological perspective, is not a great thing, but for folks like me, they’re really cool natural experiments,” Peter Ungar said. “If we can understand the reaction of living animals, including primates, to environmental change, then we can apply that to the past, to understand evolution. Conversely, we can use our understanding of how things change on evolutionary time scales to get a better appreciation for our effects on the environment today.”
Tracking Lemurs in Madagascar
The paper “Mechanical food properties and dental topography differentiate three populations of Lemur catta in southwest Madagascar” was recently accepted by the Journal of Human Evolution, the premier journal in the field.
Emily Fitzgerald (B.A. in anthropology, magna cum laude, ’12) and Andrea Riemenschneider (B.A. in anthropology, cum laude, ’13), who were undergraduate honors students at the time, used data collected in Madagascar by Frank Cuozzo and Michelle Sauther. Since 2003 Cuozzo and Sauther have caught and made molds of the teeth of ring-tailed lemurs across a variety of habitats.
Building on research by first author Nayuta Yamashita, Fitzgerald and Riemenschneider made high-resolution casts of the molds, then used a laser scanner to make 3-D models of the teeth, which they analyzed using global-information system software. Their findings confirmed different patterns of wear in different settings.
Lemurs in disturbed areas were most heavily impacted, wearing their teeth “down to nubbins – we’re not entirely sure why,” Ungar said. This finding could help scientists interpret wear-related tooth shape changes more generally.
ComparinG Capuchin and Howler Monkeys in the Brazilian Amazon
In “Environmental Perturbations Can be Detected Through Microwear Texture Analysis in Two Platyrrhine Species From Brazilian Amazonia,” recently published in the American Journal of Primatology, Almudena Estalrrich, a doctoral exchange student from Spain, and Mariel Williams Young (B.A. in anthropology and Spanish, magna cum laude, with a minor in psychology, ’13), then an undergraduate Honors College student, analyzed the effects of habitat variation on capuchin and howler monkeys.
Each species was sampled from environments ranging from minimally disturbed to an area that had been deforested with the construction of a hydroelectric dam.
Young used a confocal microscope to zoom in on a very small part of the tooth – the wear area where the upper and lower teeth come into contact. The team predicted that capuchins, which eat nuts and berries, would be more impacted by environmental disturbance than howler monkeys, which eat leaves.
Their findings confirmed this prediction, and established that dental microwear texture analysis is an effective tool to detect subtle differences in diets among living primates. Studies like this one, which use well-documented specimens with differences in habitats, suggest that subtle changes in microwear may shed light on habitat-forced diet changes in the fossil record.
Peter Ungar has worked with dozens of Honors College students in the past 20 years, and several have published their undergraduate research in peer-reviewed journals.
“Honors students are bread and butter for me,” Ungar said. “I couldn’t get done what I get done, research-wise, without their help.”
“It feels great to have a publication early in my career,” said Mariel Young, who completed a master’s degree in human evolutionary studies at Cambridge and is now pursuing a doctoral degree in human evolutionary biology at Harvard. Young was awarded the Gates Cambridge Scholarship and NSF Graduate Fellowship, and credits her success to research with Ungar: “These two awards have had a huge impact on my career, and my initial research at U of A in Dr. Ungar’s lab is definitely what set me on the path toward achieving them.”
“We’re very proud of these three alumni, and pleased that, yet again, undergraduate thesis research conducted by our Honors College students has been published in top journals,” said Lynda Coon, dean of the Honors College.
About the Honors College: The University of Arkansas Honors College was established in 2002 and unites the university’s top undergraduate students and professors in a learning environment characterized by discovery, creativity and service. Each year the Honors College awards up to 90 freshman fellowships that provide $70,000 over four years, and more than $1 million in undergraduate research and study abroad grants. The Honors College is nationally recognized for the high caliber of students it admits and graduates. Honors students enjoy small, in-depth classes, and programs are offered in all disciplines, tailored to students’ academic interests, with interdisciplinary collaborations encouraged. One hundred percent of Honors College graduates have engaged in mentored research.
Two major grants from the foundation of UW-Madison engineering alumnus David W. Grainger will boost research and hands-on teaching capacity and provide additional support in the form of tutoring and mentoring for undergrads.
A grant of $25 million is for the establishment of the Grainger Institute for Engineering Research. The Institute ” will serve as an incubator for trans-disciplinary research conducted in the University of Wisconsin-Madison College of Engineering. Such research will enable the College to lead discoveries in targeted technological areas important to society and to our nation’s economy.”
The enhancement of hands-on training and research facilities has become a major feature of leading engineering programs in the nation.
“Currently, researchers in the Institute are focusing on advanced manufacturing and materials discovery and sustainability—areas that build in existing strengths within the College of Engineering and at UW-Madison. These three areas share commonalities and each benefit from close interaction with the others. Together, they provide opportunities to accelerate the process of materials discovery to application or use in a product, and to engage in this process in a sustainable, environmentally friendly manner.”
At a time when Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has led successful efforts to cut funding for the UW System, the grant for the Institute “will create an endowment for professorships, faculty scholar awards and postdoctoral fellowships, with additional support for new faculty from UW-Madison, the UW-Madison Vilas Trust, and the College. In total, the funding will enable the College to hire 25 new faculty. This commitment will enable the College to attract clusters of top engineering faculty to define new research directions through the Grainger Institute for Engineering.”
Another $22 million grant from the foundation “will be aimed at helping undergraduate students by supporting a tutoring center and giving them more opportunities for hands-on learning,” officials announced recently.
The donation endows the engineering school’s undergraduate learning center, “which provides tutoring and peer-to-peer learning services — assistance officials said is key for students as they work through tough introductory courses
The donation will help to expand engineering college facilities will as well, including a new ‘design innovation makerspace,’ where students will be able to use equipment such as laser cutters and 3-D printers to experiment and build prototypes.”
The foundation has also funded the building and expansion of Grainger Hall, home of the UW-Madison business school.
Occasionally, we report on the developing scholarly research related to honors colleges and programs, much if it published by the Journal of the National Collegiate Honors Council (JNCHC).
As we have been analyzing honors curricula and course offerings for the next edition of our book, we have again observed that most honors programs give students the option to “contract” with a faculty member to do more in-depth work in a non-honors section in order to receive honors credit.
In her 2005 JNCHC article, “Contracting in Honors,”KambraBolch, then with the Texas Tech Honors College, sought to answer this question: “Does contracting really measure up to the expectations of the honors experience?”
Now well established, the Texas Tech Honors College dealt forthrightly with this question a decade ago, and Ms. Bolch deftly recounts the experience and then offers answers that should be of interest to prospective honors students and their parents, who should inquire about the frequency and quality of honors contract courses.(Please see “Solutions” below.)
“Despite a significant growth in the college’s resources and a corresponding increase in its ability to offer stand-alone honors courses, a number of students, particularly in the engineering and science disciplines, still had difficulty completing the required 24 hours of honors coursework to earn an Honors College designation on their diploma,” she wrote.
Another factor leading to more honors contracts was that dual credit and advanced placement credit gave many honors students a chance to apply those credits to general education requirements instead of taking honors courses. These students then had to find ways to meet the 24-hour requirement, and the use of contract courses increased. (Now, the college does not allow advanced placement test scores to replace honors courses.)
But the increase in contract courses carried a series of problems. The typical honors component of non-honors classes was an extra paper, but these were often turned in at the very end of the term, with little previous contact between the professor and honors student, “a situation that seemed antithetical to the expectations of an honors experience.”
Then even more serious issues arose. Some students submitted plagiarized papers at the last minute, leaving little time to discover the dishonesty. The quality of legitimate contract work was also uneven.
Accepting that honors contracts had to be retained in some form, the college began a series of meetings, including faculty. In the end, they came up with the following steps to ensure that honors contracts did in fact meet “the expectations of the honors experience.”
To ensure the quality of contract credits, the college alone certifies the contract work as worthy of honors credit even though faculty retained the authority to issue whatever grades they thought appropriate.
More importantly, the contract forms themselves became much more detailed and specific.
The information sheet “emphasizes three components of the additional work required for the contract: 1) that the student complete a substantial paper or project (15-20 page research paper or a project of equivalent time/effort); 2) that the student share the knowledge/skills/experiences gained through the paper or project with an audience of some sort; and 3) that the faculty member and student have regular contact outside of class to discuss the student’s progress and answer questions regarding the paper or project.”
In addition, the student is “required to state specifically on the contract form how he or she will meet each of the three requirements. At the midpoint of the semester, the faculty member is asked to provide a brief report on the contact he or she has had with the student and to assess the student’s progress to date.” An honors college staff person, or persons, is designated to work with all contracts and professors, thereby developing valuable knowledge about courses, grading, requirements, and the range of disciplines open to contracts.
Finally, the college began allow honors students to enroll in graduate courses for honors credit.Because the courses almost always feature seminar engagement along with rigorous reading and research requirements, they definitely meet the expectations of the honors experience.
The track record of the Center for Undergraduate Research Opportunities (CURO) at the University of Georgia makes the center a model of “high-impact” practices that allow students of exceptional promise to engage in faculty-mentored research almost from the day they arrive at the Athens campus.
Founded in the late 1990s, CURO allows undergraduates, including non-honors students, to
“create a self-selected research career, allowing them to earn credit hours which can count towards degree program completion.
“gain access to presenting (Symposium); funding (Summer Fellowships) and publishing (JURO, the Journal of Undergraduate Research) opportunities.
“form a mentoring relationship focused on conducting research and professional development.
“develop a deeper understanding of their chosen field by working closely with a research faculty mentor.”
As evidence of the center’s success, UGA can point to the involvement of all of the university’s Goldwater scholarship winners in CURO since the center’s inception, and to the fact that CURO has “figured prominently in the programs of study” for 5 Rhodes Scholars, 5 Gates Cambridge Scholars, 4 Marshall Scholars, 3 Mitchell Scholars, 5 Truman Scholars, 5 Udall Scholars, and Fulbright Student Scholars.
We believe that the Goldwater awards are a strong indication of the level of undergraduate support and mentoring at a given institution, and UGA and CURO offer two special programs to augment the already impressive features of the center:
Summer Fellowship Program–In this extremely intensive program, students submit research proposals for 30 fellowships each summer. If selected, students spend 320-400 hours over the summer working closely with one or more faculty mentors on the research project that the student has self-selected. The summer fellowship program has “led directly” to 4 Goldwater and 2 Udall Scholarships.
CURO Honors Scholarship Program–Honors students in their very first semester at UGA may begin their participation in this program, which focuses on developing the writing, presentation, and other professional skills necessary to clarify and develop their research, and to make it as persuasive as possible. To date, 7 honors scholars have gone on to win Goldwater scholarships.
Editor’s Note: Thanks to Hutton Honors at Indiana University for providing this update showing how important undergrad research is for graduate school admission and for employment opportunities.
Honors students engaged in intensive research endeavors are attractive to top graduate schools and to great companies.
Consider the Cox Research Scholars Program administered by Indiana University’s Hutton Honors College.
Cox Research Scholars are selected through a competitive process to study and apprentice all four years with an Indiana University faculty mentor on research or creative activity. Each student receives a renewable scholarship and stipend that covers the total cost of attendance.
According to data compiled by the Hutton Honors College, by December of 2012, the Cox graduating class of 2011 had a 100 percent placement rate (either in graduate school or in jobs), while the 2012 cohort clocked in at 87 percent. Graduate school-bound Cox alumni are studying at, among other institutions, MIT, Emory School of Medicine, the University of Chicago, and NYU’s School of Law. Cox alumni are also employed at Deloitte Consulting, Cummins Inc., Price Waterhouse Coopers, and General Mills.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that it’s not merely research experience that gets the attention of recruiters, but rather, demonstration of research commitment and results. In 2012, alone, Cox Research Scholars co-authored or presented more than 20 papers at major research conferences.
The Cockrell School of Engineering at UT Austin has launched a $310 million project to build the Engineering Education and Research Center , which will include 23,000 square feet of space for engineering students to create and develop hands-on projects.
The total size of the center will be 430,000 square feet, including classroom and office space.
Dr. James Truchard, co-founder and CEO of National Instruments, has donated $10 million for the National Instruments Student Project Center. Dr. Truchard has bachelor’s and master’s degrees in physics and a Ph.D. in electrical engineering, all from UT Austin.
The Cockrell School of Engineering is outgrowing its present space and needs the addition in order to match recent growth at MIT, Georgia Tech, UC Berkeley, and Texas A&M.
The Cockrell School says that for Truchard, “the a gift to the EERC is about more than giving back to the university. It’s an investment in National Instrument’s future workforce. Headquartered in Austin, Texas, National Instruments includes more than 6,000 employees working in 40 countries.
“We hire from many different areas, electrical engineering, computer science, mechanical engineering and increasingly biomedical engineering. Our professionals need to be flexible, creative and innovative and know how to stay above the curve. Their education is a critical component to their future success,” Truchard said.
“Bringing to life math and physics to students in a way that it inspires innovative thinking and allowing them to succeed and fail with hands-on projects are just a few of the many benefits Truchard and others look forward to with the building of the EERC,” according to the Cockrell School.
At least one-third of the total cost of the 430,000 square foot facility will come in the form of private donations, with the UT System, the university, and the state of Texas providing the rest. So far, the Board of Regents has designated $105 million for the project from the state’s permanent university fund.
“Depending on fundraising progress, the construction could begin in 2013, and faculty and students could move into the EERC by 2017,” the School says. “The return on…investment will be substantial since a typical graduating class from the Cockrell School generates
$2.5 billion in annual spending, $1.1 billion in gross product, and 10,240 jobs in the U.S. according to an economic study by the Perryman Group.”