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Honors Program to be restructured within next two years

Belmont’s Honors Program will get a facelift in the next two years, and Dr. Mimi Barnard, Belmont’s associate provost for interdisciplinary studies and global education, held a meeting Tuesday with students to discuss the potential changes.

The meeting was a brainstorming and feedback session between students and Barnard, who expressed a vision to grow the program, potentially even making the program its own separate college.

Ideas proposed included a personalized core curriculum for every student, additional honors faculty, a change in the number of credit hours honors courses are worth, a study abroad program tailored specifically for the Honors Program and students beginning their tracks earlier than sophomore year.

Barnard said she was there to listen and learn, as the process is still in its beginning stages.

She said one of the main reasons for a desire to reshape the program comes from student complaints and a lack of student retention in the program for the whole four years.

“We have the tools this to make this a vibrant, exciting, place,” said Barnard, who acknowledged she did not know very much about the academically selective program when she was first appointed to the role.

Currently, honors students begin by taking four rigorous history courses, a science course and a math course. They take two seminars on varying topics, and during sophomore year they declare a track tailored to their interests and areas of study.

There are four tracks within the program; Artist’s Studio, LEAD, Science/Math Thesis and Social Science Thesis. Honors students are not required to take general education classes.

At the forum, students told Barnard about community events within the program and the science and math offerings and the tracks.

Students in attendance expressed a desire for updates to the curriculum requirements and asked for more resources.

“We need the tools to complete the program,” senior Priyanka Kumar said, proposing more full-time honors faculty.

Students wanted a clear definition of the value of the program. As of this year, students who entered the program were told priority registration — registering before the rest of the student body — was a benefit of being in honors.

This semester, the registration process was changed, and priority registration was removed from honors students.

“Benefit is a transactional term,” Barnard said. “If their ticket to staying is this registration thing, I don’t have the treasure chest to give them.”

Barnard said the decision about registration came from upper administration and said she hopes students will choose to be in the program by their own agency.

Barnard said she believes the program should remain “a program of privilege and responsibility” and that the coursework should remain intellectually challenging.

“I definitely think that rigor needs to be associated with all of this,” she said.

Barnard and Thorndike will work with a panel of Belmont faculty as well as students Shannon Fish and Mohansingh Udhwani on shaping the new curriculum.

Barnard said the evaluation of curriculum will take 12 to 18 months. The process will involve surveying students and faculty and comparing Belmont’s program to similar programs in the region. If all goes according to plan, Barnard said, changes will be made next fall.

Some students are concerned about the timeline for the changes and the effects they will have on their experience in the program.

“It seemed that any changes that could enhance the honors experience would be made much further down the road when current students have either graduated or dropped the program,” junior Claire Holden said.

The proposal for a new, 21st-century curriculum must be submitted by the end of January and will then be reviewed.

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This article written by Sarah Everett. 

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