Honors Program

Program Purpose

The Honors Program mission is to develop student-scholars from across the university who will become broad thinkers, creative problem solvers, and influential leaders.  This mission is achieved by cultivating academic excellence, a community of scholars, interdisciplinary thinking, and skills of inquiry.

An Honors education is not merely a more intensive general education or a more strenuous program in a major.  Rather, it grounds students in broader interdisciplinary inquiry that strengthens leadership and encourages the integration of faith, intellect, and character.  The central focus of the program is the study of big or "great" questions.  Through coursework, research, writing, and hands-on experiences, students explore interdisciplinary approaches and consider ways in which unexpected connections not only can be found between different disciplines, but also can lead to a deeper understanding of the questions we seek to answer.  The Honors Program invites students to satisfy university core requirements through the Honors Interdisciplinary Core where they can begin to consider the questions that drive our inquiry, and indeed, lie behind every bit of knowledge we study and learn.

Curricular Structure

The Honors Program is not a major. Rather, students complete honors graduation requirements simultaneous to fulfilling their requirements in any undergraduate major. Yet, in many regards, graduation with honors parallels a major in terms of curricular structure, as is evident in the description of requirements that follows. Aligned fully with the BYU Aims document, the requirements for graduation with University Honors complement both major and university core education. The Honors curriculum and Experiential Learning requirements enhance the university core components with an interdisciplinary approach, while the Honors thesis requirement provides in-depth, individual mentored research . To graduate with University Honors, the requirements are as follows:

1. Honors Enrollment
Students who wish to explore the Honors Program should attend a small group enrollment meeting as early as possible in their undergraduate program. Consultation with the Honors advisement center allows the Honors Program personnel to be aware of students' plans to better assist with registration, help develop plans toward graduation, and consult on other Honors program requirements.  The enrollment process is the door to a community of well-rounded, enthusiastic scholars and to all of the activities and programs the Honors Program offers.

2.  Honors Commitment Interview

Students who intend to graduate with Universit yHonors will submit a letter of intent in preparation for an interview usually held during the student's third or fourth semester at BYU.  Accommodations can be made for transfer students and students joining late. Newly committed students will be recognized at the Fall Honors Opening Evening.

3.   Honors Curriculum Requirement

The central focus of the Honors curriculum is the study of big or "great" questions (e.g., justice, human agency, relationships, ethics).  Courses are designed to model different disciplinary approaches to Great Questions, to explore interdisciplinary approaches, and to consider ways in which "unexpected connections" can be found between disciplines, leading to a deeper understanding of the questions we seek to answer.

To fulfill the honors curriculum requirements, students must complete 14-17 credit hours as follows:

4.   Honors Great Questions Requirement

This capstone to the Honors coursework (HONRS 320) will provide group and individual instruction in researching and writing the Great Question essay, a multi-disciplinary essay on an approved question of the student's choosing.  Students are expected to incorporate three different and sufficiently disparate disciplinary areas into the essay, usually including the student's home discipline.  This essay is not a second Honors thesis; it is fundamentally different in that it broadens where the honors thesis tends to narrow a topic.

By "Great Questions" we mean the big questions every discipline at the university addresses in some way and no one discipline can fully answer.  Some of these are old, frequently posed questions for which the answer has proven maddeningly elusive (e.g., the question of justice, of human agency and freedom, of our relationships with and obligations toward each other, other forms of life, and the physical world in which we live.)  Others have emerged more recently, often provoked by new discoveries and developments in technology (e.g., questions of medical ethics, use of natural resources, including very powerful ones like nuclear energy, etc.).  Students will explore various aspects of their question, including implications, stakes and context, as they consider ways of thinking and reasoning from various perspectives to better understand their topic.

5.   Honors Experiential Learning Requirement

Typically during their 2nd or 3rd year at the University, Honors students will participate in an approved, substantive, "hands-on" experience that augments their BYU education and expands learning to the world outside the classroom.  To fill the Experiential Learning requirement (HONRS 390), students may serve as an Honors Peer Mentor in HONRS 120, a teaching assistant in a UNIV course, participate in an approved international study or internship experience, or participate in an education-related service initiative. 

6.   Senior Graduation Review

Progress on the thesis and other graduation requirements will be reviewed during the senior interview with an Honors advisor.

7.   Honors Thesis Requirement

The Honors thesis requirement gives students the opportunity to participate in original research or creative work in the discipline of their major. Honors students typically complete the thesis requirement during their junior and senior years after they have obtained sufficient training in their major to conduct original research in a specialized academic field. Generally stated, each student consults with the Department Honors Coordinator to choose a faculty advisor in the department of his or her major and, in consultation with the advisor, chooses a thesis topic.  But this process can work differently in different fields.  For instance, a student who works in a faculty member's lab can work with that faculty member to identify a portion or an extension of the research being conducted that could become the student's thesis.  Another student may fulfill major requirements with a capstone paper or project that could also serve as or become her Honors thesis.  Yet another student produces his thesis from an academic or a creative project he first proposed to a potential faculty mentor to win an ORCA grant.

Students should complete significant course work within the subject area of the thesis (usually at least 30 credit hours, several of which are from 300- or 400-level major courses). The thesis is intended to acquaint students firsthand and in depth with the type of scholarly work that characterizes the field they intend to pursue professionally. For these reasons, only under rare circumstances is an honors thesis topic outside the major area approved. (In most cases students who complete a thesis outside the major do so in fields cognate to their majors.)

Before students begin work on an Honors thesis, they first approach the Department Honors Coordinator to assemble a thesis committee consisting of the student, faculty advisor, and faculty second reader.  Each member of the committee signs a thesis contract that specifies the student's chosen topic and direction.  Second, students submit a formal written thesis proposal to the Honors Program Office that has been approved by all members of the thesis committee and that is now ready for final approval from the Honors Program Office. Guidelines for writing the proposal are available in the Honors Advisement Center (350D MSRB) or electronically at http://honors.byu.edu. Students can request financial support as a part of the thesis proposal. Many honors students obtain competitive undergraduate research grants from BYU's Office of Research and Creative Activities for honors thesis work. Also, many professors and departments have research funding that can be devoted to research on an honors thesis. Personnel in the Honors Program can help students explore the various opportunities available to support their work on an honors thesis.

After completing thesis research and writing the thesis, each student must conduct a thesis defense. The defense committee consists of the thesis advisor, a faculty referee, and a representative of the Honors Program administration. After the thesis defense is completed and all final changes are incorporated into the thesis, the Honors Program will have the thesis bound and add it to the collection of honors theses housed in the Harold B. Lee Library Honors Reading Room (3770 HBLL).

8.   Graduation Portfolio Summarizing the Honors Experiences

The honors portfolio is a record of a student's culminating experiences in each of the three dimensions of the Honors Program.  It is submitted for review when the final thesis draft is due and contains:

Opportunities in Honors

As an open program, Honors at BYU also serves as a core education enhancement opportunity for any undergraduate student, so even the very courses can be seen as co-curricular activities that allow any student to enrich his or her education. In addition, co-curricular activities include the many facilities and opportunities listed below, most of which are available both to those pursuing graduation with honors as well as those just using honors to supplement their core experience. The Honors Program is housed in the historic and restored Maeser Building (1911) on the southwest part of campus. This quiet corner is surrounded by beautiful grounds and wooded areas. Facilities for honors students in the Maeser Building include the Honors Reading Room, with study tables and a small library of reference works and classics; the Honors Student Lounge, where students can meet for informal discussions; an art gallery on the first floor of the Maeser Building, the Honors Advisement Center, where students receive counseling about their honors education; and the Martha Jane Knowlton Coray Lecture Hall, where classes, lectures, and musical concerts are held.

The Honors Program sponsors lectures, concerts, symposia, socials, and a Late Summer Honors program.  It also offers competitive scholarships.  Students can participate in intercampus events with honors students from other universities and colleges, and are invited to participate with the Honors Student Advisory Council, a group of student representatives who assist in policy development, social activities, and academic functions of the Honors Program.  Honors students are recognized during University graduation exercises at the Honors Graduation luncheon, and in the graduation program.

Learning Outcomes

Students who graduate with University Honors should be able to:

Interdisciplinary Approach

Demonstrate the ability to apply the assumptions, methodologies, and practices from a variety of disciplinary perspectives to examine issues and solve problems.

Courses that Contribute: HONRS 320 UNIV 291 UNIV 292 UNIV 293
Linked to BYU Aims: Think soundly, Human knowledge
Independent Research

Apply skills of inquiry to conduct original, relevant, and substantive research.

Courses that Contribute: HONRS 320
Linked to BYU Aims: Think soundly, Competence
Writing & Communication

Articulate concepts and ideas intelligently, clearly, and persuasively through writing and other forms of communication at an exceptional level.

Courses that Contribute: HONRS 320 UNIV 291 UNIV 292 UNIV 293
Linked to BYU Aims: Communicate effectively

Exhibit leadership and influence in a collaborative environment to advance progress and affect constructive change.

Courses that Contribute: None
Linked to BYU Aims: Character, Lifelong service

Evidence of Learning

Direct Measures:

• Course exams and writing assignments

• Great Questions essays (including invited campus faculty reviews)

• Final Experiential Learning Report

• Honors Thesis (including external reviews)


Indirect Measures:

• Surveys as appropriate and useful (Senior Survey, Alumni Survey, etc.)

• Written or orally presented Program observation and evaluation by Honors Student Advisory Council (we may also ask them to do surveys, focus groups, etc.)

• Staff observation and evaluation of student performance, maturity, and disposition

Direct Measures

1. Achievement of learning outcome #1 is assessed directly by evaluation of student performance on writing assignments and exams in HONRS 120 and UNIV 291, 292, and 293 and other Unexpected Connections courses; and especially in Great Question essay (HONRS 320) and the Honors Thesis, which will also include occasional external reviews.

2. Achievement of learning outcome #2 is assessed directly by evaluation of student performance on writing assignments and exams in Honors core curriculum courses and the Honors thesis.

3. Achievement of learning outcome #3 is assessed directly by evaluation of the Great Question Essay, the Honors Thesis and oral defense, thesis poster sessions, and to a lesser extent in written and oral assignments in Unexpected Connections courses.

4. Achievement of learning outcome #4 is assessed directly by evaluation of the Experiential Learning report and reflection, participation in Honors Student Council leadership, collaborative assignments in Honors core courses, and indirectly through peer to peer mentoring opportunities. 

Indirect Measures

1. Surveys will register student satisfaction and self-reporting feelings of confidence and success relative to all 4 learning outcomes.

2. Written evaluations of courses and program by students may give us more detailed information about the students' experience in and confidence produced by the program relative to all 4 learning outcomes.

3. Internal and external evaluation of Great Question Essays and Honors Theses will help us assess the first 3 Learning Outcomes

4. Staff observation and evaluation of individual students' behavior and disposition will help us assess Learning Outcome #4.

Learning and Teaching Assessment and Improvement

All courses offered in the Honors Program are taught by faculty and staff from Undergraduate Education or Alcuin Fellows (faculty who for a 3-year term teach an Unexpected Connections course (HONRS 29x)  in return for salary and research stipends awarded.  All instructors meet in a seminar or retreat setting at least twice a year to review teaching approaches, strategies, and assess  evidence of student achievement of learning of course and program outcomes.  Two assessment specialists facilitate assessment activities in these settings.  In the first year of their term, Alcuin Fellows observe the course-type and plan with a co-instructor the specific course they will co-teach in their 2nd and 3rd years.  The UE Dean, associate deans, and when possible Alcuin Fellows attend annually at least one national conference on teaching and assessment in Higher Education.

Assessment of student performance on the Great Question Essay is the cornerstone of Honors Program assessment.  This essay is the capstone to the Honors Curriculum, and as such, it provides direct evidence of student ability with respect to all program learning outcomes.  The weaknesses these essays reveal about student ability and capacity drive course and program revisions.  Assessing Honors Theses is also crucial to gauging program success, but given our emphasis on theses demonstrating discipline-specific conventions and methodologies, as well as making genuine, original contributions to those disciplines, Honors depends upon department faculty mentors and referees.  However, in this coming academic year we plan to start sending a cross-section of theses out for external review and share those results with deans and department chairs.  We also plan to periodically communicate to colleges and departments the "best practices" we see particular departments and programs enacting that departments may use as they see fit.