Testimonials: University of Iowa Honors Faculty

Editor’s Note: From time to time, we publish testimonials from honors program faculty and students. Below are three contributions from honors faculty who teach at the University of Iowa. Emphases are added.

Tom Keegan: Rhetoric

Head of the Digital Scholarship & Publishing Studio

I am always impressed by the extent to which my Honors students view their studies as inextricable from their personal and professional lives. They don’t so much take classes as absorb and apply their learning. They want to know how what they learn today can be used today and tomorrow. They are creative pragmatists who will undertake any assignment – digitally–oriented, community–based, or research–intensive – as a means to honing skills that they can put to use in the broader world.

Honors students’ capacity for innovation has made them a joy to teach. I often run my classes as experimental labs for new assignments. I find Honors students are eager to test out new ways of learning and new forms of analysis. They are also excellent at troubleshooting these new initiatives, and all my best assignments have been the result of the handwork and critical creativity of my Honors students.

And Honors students follow up. Months and years after they have taken my courses, students will email me, come to my office hours, stop me in the hallways to talk about a debate we had in class or a TV series we studied or trip abroad they are planning. They are among the chattiest, most engaging, and intellectually inquisitive people I have ever met. They are a tremendous boon to the University community and the great sustainers of its spirit of wide-ranging intellectual endeavor.


Waltraud Maierhofer: German

I was drawn to teaching in the Honors program by everything it advocates, especially small class sizes, interdisciplinary study, students from very different majors, creative and more in-depth course design, focus on the students and peer activities instead of lectures. Yet the rewards of teaching in Honors have far exceeded my initial expectations, and that is because of the students in the Honors program. They are not only academically gifted and often have an exceptional basic education with great speaking and writing skills; they are curious, hardworking, and highly motivated individuals who challenge each other as well as me and with whom it is a pleasure to learn. The difference between regular undergraduate non-major classes and an honors class in one of the General Education areas where all are eager to participate, is enormous and makes for a fresh and very satisfying teaching experience.

Recently, I have initiated and taught an “Honors Seminar on Global and International Issues” about contraception and unwanted pregnancy across time and cultures. The Honors course allowed me to experience and share the value of sharing ideas and approaches across disciplines. For several sessions, I invited presentations by expert colleagues not only from other languages and literatures and other disciplines within the College of Liberal Arts but also from the Colleges of Public Health and Medicine.  I have learned from them, along with the participants in the seminar. For several weeks of the seminar, the students present and discuss their research projects, allowing for diverse materials and building on individual interests and expertise. Often, they become the teacher with me more a learner than the authority behind a podium. I am confident we all benefit from the intellectual exchange. It is a pleasure to work with such gifted young minds.


Donna Parsons: Honors and Music

Honors seminars place a high emphasis on developing undergraduates’ research skills and providing students with opportunities to share their research in a wide array of venues.  Whether studying popular music or literature, lively class discussions require students to provide textual evidence to support their ideas. 

For example in discussing the level of creativity behind John Lennon’s utilization of an 1843 antique circus poster in crafting his lyrics for “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite,” students spend 15 minutes walking around campus documenting random words and phrases that catch their eyes and ears.  In class they attempt to turn their findings into a catchy lyric and realize the difficulties in converting the mundane into the profound.

Equally important in expanding students’ critical thinking are the opportunities honors seminars give students in conducting primary and original research.  As students examine first editions of Jane Austen’s Sense & Sensibility (1811) and Emma (1816) in the University Library’s Special Collections and Archives, they consider how Austen’s contemporaries encountered these novels via their subscription to their local lending library and then critique subsequent editions as they analyze the development of book publishing.

University of Iowa Revises Honors Curriculum

Editor’s Note: Our thanks to the honors staff for providing this update:

The curriculum for University Honors has been revised, effective for students entering The University of Iowa Summer 2013 and after.

Students who complete the new University Honors requirements will have a notation on their transcript and diploma stating that they have graduated with University Honors. Indication of this award will be part of graduation ceremonies.

General Requirements

  • Students must opt into the program after being invited to do so.
  • First-year first-semester students must attend an Honors Program orientation session in the summer; other students must attend an informational session (e.g. Welcome to Honors) during a regular semester.
  • All students in their first semester of Honors Program membership must take at least one Honors course. First-year first-semester students must complete a 1 s.h. Honors First-Year Seminar during the fall semester. Other students may choose any offered Honors course or may develop an Honors Contract course.
  • Students must maintain a cumulative UI GPA of 3.33.


 Level One Requirement:  Building Knowledge

  •  Students must complete a minimum of 12 s.h. of Honors course work by the end of the fourth semester of fulltime Honors Program membership.
  • A maximum of 3 s.h. of Honors Contract courses may be applied to the level one requirement except in the case of new members with significant General Education credit. These students may apply up to 6 s.h. of honors contract credit.

 Level Two Requirement: Learning by Doing

Students must complete an additional 12 s.h. (or the equivalent) of Honors experiences.

Experiential learning for honors credit can take many forms, including research, study abroad, or internships; work completed for honors in the major, usually resulting in a thesis or creative project, also counts as experiential learning for honors credit.

Students choose from the options below, with some options completely satisfying the requirement and others requiring a combination of activities:

  • Honors in the major (as required by a department) completely satisfies the level two requirement.
  • Mentored research (practica, paid, or as a fellow with the Iowa Center for Research by Undergraduates).
  • Study abroad with project.*
  • Internships with project* (may satisfy up to 6 s.h. of the level two requirement).
  • Honors and graduate level course work (may satisfy up to 6 s.h. of the level two requirement).

*Study abroad and internships require a pre-approved, independent project with a poster presentation or paper facilitated by Honors.

(*Engineering students have alternative requirements; please visit the Honors Program web page for information.)

For questions on the new curriculum and requirements, contact Holly Yoder at honors-advisor@uiowa.edu.

NCHC Conference: A Student Board of Directors Candidate Speaks Out

Planning a national conference in Boston, the birthplace of American Independence, allowed the National Collegiate Honors Council to go with their instincts and tie many conference presentations to the individual and independent character of honors programs–and honors students.

One such student is Riley Cook from the University of Iowa Honors Program, who is a candidate for the two-year term as student representative on the national board of the NCHC.  It is fitting that the NCHC would include students on its board, and the presence of 600 honors students at the annual conference attests to the interest and commitment to honors students.

We ran into Riley at the conference and realized that his outlook corresponded closely with the overall theme of the meeting: challenging structures in higher education. Other articles about the conference have addressed the commitment of the honors community to insist that a high-level college education must go far beyond the acquisition of specialized skills to include an intellectual focus on “the things that matter” the most in life: a deeper understanding of ourselves and our relation to other human beings and institutions.

Or, to use Riley Cook’s own words, honors “should not just be something to put on a resume; it should be a medium through which students explore their passions on a personal level with faculty and fellow students to their full extent. My main concern is what honors can do intrinsically for students to enrich their academics rather than just be a series of requirements to fulfill.”

Now if you look at the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, you will see the following: “Intrinsic value has traditionally been thought to lie at the heart of ethics. Philosophers use a number of terms to refer to such value. The intrinsic value of something is said to be the value that that thing has ‘in itself,’ or ‘for its own sake,’ or ‘as such,’ or ‘in its own right.'”

Intrinsic values are what we discover; instrumental knowledge is what we receive.  Honors education is about discovery.

Riley expressed concern to us that many institutions lack the commitment to honors education that would allow faculty to teach the smaller discussion courses that promote this kind of discovery.  The reason: faculty “productivity”is a metric used by administrators–and legislators–to assess how efficient departments are, productivity typically reflects only the quantity of students taught, and not the content or individual character of courses.

“Unfortunately,” Riley said, “the quantity of students in the classroom is considered more financially worthwhile than investing in the quality of personalized honors discussion.”

Riley sees this as shortsighted.   “I spoke with a business student in honors at [another] university who informed me that an honors program did not always exist there. The lack of honors directly affected enrollment, significantly enough to necessitate the establishment of such a program.” In other words, honors attracts more students, and these students, in turn, raise the overall quality and perception of the university.

Riley also sees the importance of honors programs in generating support from honors alumni who can become mentors and, in some cases, donors to the institution.

“Students aren’t the only ones who benefit from honors opportunities,” he said. “By offering research opportunities, professors are able to work with valuable research assistants. Even collaborating on a student’s independent research project could influence their research or at least deepen their knowledge of a certain topic in their field. In a university setting, professors are learners, too, and the students they collaborate with may become valuable partners in their field in the years to come.”

After hearing what Riley has had to say, it should be no surprise that honors faculty frequently find themselves in the role of partners or facilitators, and less as the intellectual masters who deliver wisdom from on high.  They, too, engage in the process of discovery.








Iowa Enhances Honors Curriculum for 2013

The University of Iowa Honors Program will implement significant changes to honors curriculum requirements, effective Fall 2013, and also require all honors students to accept a formal invitation to participate and then attend a comprehensive honors orientation.

The first 12 hours of the curriculum, the honors foundation or core, requires completion within the first four semesters and allows only one honors contract course to be counted toward the core requirement.  The emphasis is “building knowledge” in this first half of the curriculum.  All honors students must take at least one honors course in their first semester.

The second half, at least another 12 hours, is more experiential in its focus.  Honors students will have several ways to meet these requirements:

i.    Honors in the major (completely satisfies the second level requirement), which typically includes a thesis;

ii.   Mentored research (12 semester hours or the equivalent);

iii.  Study abroad for a minimum of two semesters (fall and/or spring) or the equivalent;

  • Single semesters of study abroad, including summer and between-semester experiences, may count for up to half of the second level requirement
  • Requires students to conduct/carry out an independent project while abroad and to submit a report on the project

iv.  Internships may count for up to half (6 semester hours) of the second level requirement;

  • In some cases, e.g. Engineering and Business, internships may count for the entire requirement (12 semester hours or the equivalent)
  • Requires students to conduct/carry out an independent project while interning and to submit a report on the project.

v.   Honors coursework (including graduate course work) may count for up to 6 semester hours.

Students who complete the new curriculum will be eligible to graduate with university honors, a distinction that entitles them to recognition at commencement and formal notation on their transcripts and diplomas.