University Honors Undergoes an Update
Students in Honors College’s Biggest Program to Explore How Issues Cross Academic Boundaries
From tracing the links between the American Revolution and SoundCloud rappers to brainstorming ways to improve their own school, new University Honors students will step into a redesigned program this year meant to stretch the bounds of their thinking.
The revisions are the culmination of a two-year effort to build a more coherent University Honors program curriculum, said its director, Stephan Blatti.
“There was no beginning, middle and end,” he said of the program’s earlier curriculum. “There was no sense among students that they were having a common experience.”
University Honors, which traces its roots back to 1966, includes about half of all students enrolled in the Honors College. The current two-year program will be phased out as individuals complete requirements that revolved around taking a collection of seminars that changed frequently and may only have been tangentially related.
Students in the new University Honors will choose from clusters of thematically related courses and “theory and practice” tracks that aim to join the classroom with the outside world. To earn the University Honors citation, students will complete two thematic clusters or one cluster and one theory and practice track, with bookended seminars at the beginning and end of the two-year cycle so they can reflect on and define their academic, professional and co-curricular aspirations.
The overall goal is to get students to see how society’s challenges are interconnected and cross disciplines before they embark on more specialized studies within their majors.
“What matters is whether they are able to see a problem in its multiple facets before they get into the second half of their college careers,” said Blatti, who is also an affiliate associate professor of philosophy.
So the 500 first-year students beginning University Honors can choose from initial clusters such as “Revolution,” which includes classes ranging from the lives of ordinary people during the American Revolution to Black protest music, and “Deliberation,” which has courses on topics like the future of higher education and how information is weaponized. The theory and practice track unveiled for this semester is “Transform Maryland,” which challenges students to study UMD’s institutional processes and work in partnership with university leaders to make improvements.
More thematic clusters and theory and practice tracks will roll out over the next two years, Blatti said.
Richard Bell, associate professor of history, taught in the previous University Honors system and will teach the American Revolution course in the “Revolution” cluster this fall. He said the theme will be helpful in showing students how the 18th-century conflict “lives and breathes amongst us today.”
In addition, Bell said, joining together with colleagues from across campus around the same central platform “gives us the opportunity to do genuinely transdisciplinary work.”
“We don’t normally get to talk to each other or share the same students,” he said.
Rohan Uttamsingh, a freshman from Howard County, is planning to take the “Revolution” cluster and said it will be a perfect opportunity to learn more about musical artists he listens to all the time as well branch out beyond his intended majors of computer science and mathematics.
“I don’t want to just study STEM. University Honors is the perfect program to do that,” he said. “I’m really hoping this gives me a new perspective.”