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Inside Marquette University’s Honors Program

Tucked inside the heart of the Marquette University campus is its University Honors Program, a unique community comprised of many of the university’s best and brightest students.

Marquette’s Honors Program has been around for more than 40 years with designs to empower participants to obtain the skills and insights characteristic of a liberal arts education but at a deeper and more integrated level.

The small group of chosen students benefit from the attention and instruction of some of the university’s finest professors through a curriculum created with the primary goal of fostering an intrinsic way of seeing, thinking, valuing and behaving both in and out of the classroom.

Honors students are brought in closer contact with their teachers and peers and participate in activities and campus events designed specifically for them. Freshmen Honors students are encouraged to stay on specialty floors of Straz Tower along with others looking for similar growth opportunities.

“The Marquette community is one thing, but to have a community of students who are like-minded and are interested in learning and are here based on the same reasons why you are here is exciting,” says L.J. Cooper, an Honors sophomore, who has not yet declared a major. “It’s a community within a community and the program does a good job of facilitating that kind of ideal.”

Through a holistic selection process that takes into consideration standardized test scores and grade-point averages, letters of recommendation, involvement in high school activities and responses to an open-ended academic-based essay question, approximately 100 of the more than 900 students who apply each year are admitted to the University Honors Program.

Once in, Honors students are challenged to learn through seven intensive and enhanced courses that make up the new sequence of the integrated and robust Honors Core aimed at providing academic excellence. In addition, there are four innovative experiential academic seminars that encourage the exploration of learning across disciplines.

What’s more, the Honors Program offers unique undergraduate research opportunities designed to allow students to work directly with faculty members to develop and carry out research projects in their fields of study.

“We place an importance on intellectual curiosity and want students who are really driven to figure things out,” says Amelia Zurcher, director of the Honors Program and associate professor of English. “We challenge our most motivated students and offer them the opportunity to reflect on and integrate their academic experience.”

Cooper, for example, is developing a research project with an English faculty member that takes a look at the aesthetics of romantic literature. He said his friends in Honors Programs at other universities do not enjoy the same opportunities.

“They don’t work individually with faculty members and communicate with them and have the project be mutually beneficial and engaging at the level we do here,” he says. “I was drawn to how the Honors Program is invested in examining a multitude of perspectives and letting the students explore those pathways themselves in ways that are meaningful. That what’s unique about it, its learning approach and its mission are to bring together all of these perspectives of people who are intellectually curious.”

Junior Laurel Hogan, who plans to graduate from the program with a degree in political science in 2015, said the program’s flexibility is what has stood out to her. Last fall, while in Washington, D.C. through Marquette’s Les Aspin Center for Government, she was able to count one of her courses there toward an Honors seminar requirement. When she studies abroad in London next year, she hopes to do the same.

“The program directors really work with you to make sure those experiences count toward the Honors Program,” says Hogan. “One of the things that I like about my education is to be challenged. I thought the Honors Program would be a good outlet for that. And I wanted more of a personalized experience. I’ve had that thanks to its flexibility.”

Sure, graduating with Honors looks good on a resume and has pragmatic value. But is it worth tackling a more rigorous curriculum and intensive workload, while being in a learning environment that demands constant engagement? Cooper says what makes the program challenging is what also makes it rewarding.

“The goal for me is to leave the Honors Program with the ability to understand the complexity of life and education and learning, and to learn how to view that within our world and to become a better person based on that experience,” he says.


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