It all started when Kathleen McCluskey-Fawcett, former director of the University Honors Program, noticed that Honors students weren't just meeting our requirements—they were exceeding them.
For the past 14 years, Honors students have completed six courses, participated in one experience (choosing from study abroad, research, an internship, or an extended service project), and then chose one additional course or experience for a total of eight honors "units."
But McCluskey-Fawcett and her staff routinely talked to students who took extra Honors courses, studied abroad, had internships, AND were leaders of groups on campus. These students chose KU because of its broad range of opportunities the campus offered, and they were actively preparing themselves for the future while improving KU as a whole—so why weren't they getting credit for all their engagement and hard work?
McCluskey-Fawcett concluded that while the Honors requirements were flexible and achievable, they weren't representing the true richness of the average Honors student's experience. She therefore challenged her staff to develop a new curriculum.
McCluskey-Fawcett retired before a new curriculum was completed, but Bryan Young, the current Honors Program director as of 2014, agreed that a new curriculum was essential. "Honors students at KU are outstanding: they're multi-talented, curious, sharp, and a joy to work with," Young says. "Broadening our understanding of their Honors experience only made sense."
Young charged Anne Dotter, Associate Director of Honors, to take the project on. Dotter started by calling together a Curriculum Committee consisting of Honors faculty fellows representing major schools across the university. After 18 months of meetings, many drafts, and several rounds of staff and student input, a new curriculum was approved for the incoming Fall 2016 freshmen.
The coursework requirement has remained largely the same (18 credit hours total instead of 6-7 courses), as has the GPA requirement (3.25). The real change is the new Enhanced Learning Experiences (ELEs), which replace the previous Honors experience requirement.
Beginning in Fall 2016, students must complete four out of eight possible ELEs to graduate with University Honors. Each ELE offers a full menu of fulfillment options, meaning that the requirements can be tailored to fit almost any Honors student's experience. What all of these possibilities have in common is that they ask Honors students to stretch themselves as thinkers, scholars, leaders, and future professionals.
For example, one student might complete KU's Service Learning Certificate (Public Service), be published in an on-campus literary magazine (Aesthetic Engagement), double-major in two distinct academic fields (Interdisciplinarity), and lead Safe Zone trainings (Cultural Literacy & Social Justice) for their four ELEs. Another student might minor in a language (Global Citizenship), complete a summer internship (Social Entrepreneurship & Professional Development), do research in a lab on campus (Research Skills), and be elected to KU's Student Senate (Leadership) to complete their requirements.
"The curriculum committee has been careful to create plenty of opportunities for students in the Schools of Engineering; Music; and Architecture, Design, & Planning, three schools whose major requirements have been notoriously constraining," says Dotter. "I am confident that we have created a new curriculum that will not only accommodate but enhance all of our students' various major requirements."
In addition to flexibility, the new curriculum fosters interdisciplinary thinking. "Honors students usually do not want to give up breadth of knowledge when they come to college—they are excited to have the opportunity to explore," says Mary Klayder, Honors Faculty Fellow and member of the Curriculum Committee. She says that the Curriculum Committee faculty observed that "The strongest Honors students and graduates were those who were flexible, who connected fields easily."
Honors faculty and advisors are excited to see the new curriculum in action. "Most of us know that life is not one thing. None of us is only a teacher or a lawyer or a doctor or an engineer," says Klayder. "My own hope for the students is that it encourages them to explore and gives them support and recognition for that exploration. The new honors curriculum endeavors to help students become broadly and richly educated so that they can live those full lives."