New Mexico Honors: Interdisciplinary, Interactive

While all honors colleges and programs offer interdisciplinary courses and emphasize student interactions in small classes, the University Honors Program at the University of New Mexico does an excellent job of describing exactly how these best practices come together to develop students who are confident, engaged, and increasingly aware of their place in a complex world.

“Rather than simply piling on extra work, Honors courses are specially designed and crafted to be interdisciplinary,” the program site says. “Topics are examined a little more in depth than in normal undergraduate courses at the University. Extensive student participation and creativity form the foundations of every course. Enrollment is capped at 16 students. Interaction takes place in group activities and round-table discussions or presentations.”

The curriculum requires a minimum of 24 hours of honors credit, and it is, in fact, carefully designed.  First-year students take at least one 100-level honors “Legacy” course.

“Legacies incorporate history, literary works, philosophy and/or political theory, drama and/or poetry, art, music, dance and/or architecture, science, math and/or technology. Legacies deal with the development of ideas rather than definitive historical time.”

Next come 200-level courses.  These are cross-cultural topics, including Women, Africa, the Far East, the Americas, Medieval Europe, and the origins of mathematics and science. “These courses incorporate interdisciplinary explorations of specific topics with an emphasis on developing and strengthening skills important to success in Honors and undergraduate education, including oral and written communication skills, reading skills, critical and creative thinking, etc.”

The next series, 300-level courses, are an interdisciplinary exploration of specific topics designed to demonstrate the interconnectedness of academic disciplines. “Recent courses have focused on the significance of gender in myth and literature, bio-medical ethics, the nature and politics of nuclear energy, the origins of prejudice, arts across cultures, the existential imagination, and cross-cultural communication.”

At the 400 level,topics are more in- depth than those in lower-level courses, and students will have increasingly greater roles and responsibilities, the ultimate goal of the curriculum. “These courses afford enthusiastic and enterprising students the opportunity to craft a publishable paper or coordinate a collaborative mini-conference.”

Finally, senior options, earning six credit hours, can take the form of a thesis that can be interdisciplinary or within a discipline; or a senior teaching assistantship; or a senior colloquium involving a service learning project.

Another especially interesting option for honors students is to work on the honors publication, called Scribendi, Latin for “those which must be written.”  Ten to twelve honor students work on the magazine, which publishes creative and non-fiction work not only by students at UNM but also by students at any of the 127 members schools of the Western Regional Honors Council.  UNM honors students can receive credit for their work on the magazine.

Through the Conexiones Program, honors students can participate in more than a month of intensive Spanish-language study in Spain, in the cities of Trujillo and Salamanca. Students live with host families in Trujillo, “a city whose history and architecture represents in itself the history of Spain (from Iberians and Romans, Moors and Christians, to the famous Spanish nightlife, modern architecture and cyber cafés).”

“Students will attend classes in a 15th century restored convent, the site of the Fundación Xavier de Salas, an institution created with the purpose of studying and disseminating the theme of connections between Extremadura and the Americas.

“Weekly excursions are part of the program, including the visit to the medieval city of Cáceres and the Roman city of Mérida. Some highlights of the program are: a behind scenes tour of the ancient library at the University of Salamanca (one of the oldest in Europe), a day at a bull ranch in Salamanca, attendance at a performance of Classic Theater at the Roman Amphitheater of Mérida, a visit to the medieval town and monastery of Guadalupe and a day in the sister city of Alburquerque, with a tour through its medieval castle.”

The UHP at New Mexico began in 1957 with an enrollment of only 30 students; now the program has 1,300 students.  Admission requires a minimum ACT of 29 (SAT 1860) and a minimum GPA of 3.50.  Students must maintain a 3.20 GPA to remain in good standing.

UHP students enjoy priority registration, and many live in the Scholars Wing of the Hokona/Zia Residence Hall, home to Regents’ Scholars, Presidential Scholars, as well as UHP residents.  Hokona is a traditional, co-ed dorm, with mostly double rooms and corridor-style baths.  It is air conditioned and centrally located, very close to La Posada (LaPo) Dining Hall, the library, and buildings for economics and social sciences.