Honors students take advantage of small classes, driven community

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When Stephanie King has questions about physics, chemistry or calculus, she walks out of her room on the eighth floor of Middlebrook Hall and quickly finds classmates working on the same assignment.


In an environment dominated by members of the University Honors Program (UHP), King and her neighbors have unlimited access to each other’s brains, which helps them navigate the harder classes and heavier workloads. Residents said the floor lounge fills each night with students getting help with homework and studying for tests together. Similar scenes can be found on the other three honors floors in Middlebrook.


The UHP spans all undergraduate colleges at the University of Minnesota. Prior to its 2008 inception, colleges operated honors programs individually. This year’s freshman class is the second to enter the University under the united program.


There are about 2,500 students in the program, Jake LaSota, outreach coordinator for the UHP, said. The retention rate following its inaugural year was 95 percent.


LaSota said the new University-wide version of honors allows the University to make the most of available resources.


UHP gives its students the opportunity to take honors courses, which are faculty-taught and are smaller than most normal classes. UHP students also receive individual advising and participate in an interdisciplinary community that “fosters the exchange of ideas,” LaSota said.


While the program has barely changed since last year, LaSota said some areas have been further developed.


The University Honors Student Association (UHSA) has taken a central role in ensuring students have the opportunity for a “comprehensive” experience, UHSA President Sarah Super said. She listed the association’s biggest roles as building relationships between honors students and faculty, encouraging community service through a long-term relationship with People Serving People and organizing social events for students to attend.


To LaSota, getting an honors degree from the University proves the student got as much out of his or her college experience as possible. The “honors experiences” students are required to fulfill each academic year challenge them to get involved on campus and in class.


The majority of those requirements can be filled by honors courses and seminars during a student’s first two years in the program. Later years are more difficult because specific programs do not offer as many courses, LaSota said. That’s why UHP allows studying abroad, interning, researching and volunteering to count toward the requirements.


Food science first-year Bronwyn Deen said she expects it will be hard to include all the necessary honors experiences later in her schooling because she is a part of a small major with few options for honors classes. Knowing that, she said she’ll have to plan ahead, but if nothing fits in her schedule, she said she is not too hard-set on remaining in the program until she graduates.


The honors student


Each University applicant is considered for UHP upon admission. LaSota said about 10 percent of incoming first years are invited to join the honors program. That group is made up of students who did well and were involved in high school.


Students already studying at the University can also apply to the honors program, LaSota said.


Super, a sociology and American studies junior, said taking honors courses usually means getting the opportunity to engage in a smaller class with students who are eager to participate.


Residents of Middlebrook’s eighth floor agreed honors courses dig deeper into the material and demand a lot of work. King said her course load includes calculus, physics and chemistry, a schedule not unique to her floor.


Even so, she said, “It’s so much easier for us … there are people around who are helping us.”