Academic journal article Honors in Practice

Mentoring Honors Thesis Students: A Lawyer's Perspective

Academic journal article Honors in Practice

Mentoring Honors Thesis Students: A Lawyer's Perspective

Article excerpt

As a mentor of thesis students in an honors program, I find that students acquire tremendously helpful substantive knowledge through courses they take during college but rarely develop a honed skill set necessary to succeed in graduate or professional education or employment in the real world. These skills range from problem solving to effective communication to analytical thinking. To address these weaknesses, I constructed an approach, borrowed from my law school days, for engaging students in an active, student-centered learning process during the thesis stage of their honors curriculum. My purpose is to provide them the opportunity to cultivate, if not learn, numerous skill-based leadership competencies demanded by today's pragmatic society. My law-school model of pedagogy is experiential, whereby I treat students as though they were colleagues and hold them to professional standards. This model is four-pronged and outcomes-driven. I teach students how to think like a lawyer, build a strong and cogent argument, excel in communication, and act professionally at all times. I also teach them how to have fun journeying through the process.

I practice my approach in an honors program housed in the eighth largest private liberal arts university in the nation. The institution--a multi-campus, diverse, doctoral university--offers more than 600 degree programs and certificates and employs more than 650 full-time faculty members. Total student enrollment currently hovers at 8,500 students. On my campus, the honors program is open to all undergraduate majors, and students may enter any time until their junior year. For the past several years, the honors program has encouraged faculty and students from the health sciences, management, marketing, finance, and diverse majors in what are commonly called the "professional" schools to participate in honors. This multidisciplinary access has opened the entire campus to a program that is tailored to meet a wide variety of student goals. With approximately 500 students in the program, the curriculum emphasizes a liberal balance between traditional and innovative studies with courses divided into those that fulfill core requirements and advanced electives; the program also fulfills the requirement for a mandatory, individually researched tutorial and thesis commitment in the student's major. As in most honors programs, faculty members teach from their respective departments, and honors teaching is part of our regular departmental workload; no dedicated honors faculty exists. Students who undertake the 6-credit tutorial (research) and thesis are eligible to apply for up to $200 toward reference materials, travel supplies, and other support for thesis work. There is an annual prize of $500 to the student who has submitted the best research.

The honors program is successful because of the dedication of the honors director and faculty, its objective of enrichment rather than acceleration, and its focus on the individual student. Moreover, students and faculty recognize that participation in the program means membership in a unique decision-making community that is both academic and social. A diverse group of students, from all disciplines and many countries, join with faculty to choose honors program curricula, course instructors, and extracurricular activities. I am able to enthusiastically implement my law school approach, especially the first prong--think like a lawyer--with the support of this community.

THINK LIKE A LAWYER

Students learn to "think like a lawyer," however cynical or amused people might be by that idea. This concept involves approaching issues and solving problems in a timely manner by identifying and organizing pertinent issues and knowledge, evaluating information with discernment, and using critical and logical analysis to arrive at judgments or conclusions that are sound. It encompasses the ability to assimilate new information quickly, recognize when more information is needed, and connect the dots between and among pieces of information. …

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