Academic journal article Honors in Practice

The Institutional Impact of Honors Though a Campus-Community Common Read

Academic journal article Honors in Practice

The Institutional Impact of Honors Though a Campus-Community Common Read

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

The common reading program at South Dakota State University, coordinated

and spear-headed by the SDSU Honors College, has in just three years of existence had powerful, positive, institution-wide impacts, including significant learning outcomes for both honors and non-honors students. The role that honors can play in the design and execution of a common reading program is one strategy for making an honors college or program an important contributor not only to its own students but to the mission of the institution. The specifics of SDSU's program--its background, goals, approaches to meet those goals, and assessment results--might thus serve as a model for other honors programs seeking to improve the quality of education throughout their institution.

BACKGROUND AND INSTITUTIONAL CONTEXT

South Dakota State University (SDSU) is a public land grant college founded in 1881. Enrollment is nearly 13,000 students (more than 11,000 undergraduates), with more than ninety percent from South Dakota and its neighboring states. Most students are white, and many are low-income, first-generation college students. More than 150 academic options are organized into the Colleges of Arts and Sciences, Agriculture and Biological Sciences, Nursing, Pharmacy, Engineering, and Education and Human Sciences; University College is home to undecided students. The SDSU Honors College, founded in 1999, enrolls approximately 450 students in honors courses each semester; these students represent each of the university's academic colleges.

SDSU has participated in the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) since 2000. Data from this instrument track freshman and senior students' perceptions of key indicators relating to student engagement. NSSE data comparing SDSU to several of its peer institutions have revealed lower scores among SDSU students on indicators that include level of academic challenge, active and collaborative learning, student/faculty interaction, and active and collaborative learning.

PROGRAM GOALS

SDSU's common reading program was designed to have a positive impact on the institution's performance on specific NSSE items. The work of George Kuh, which documented the effectiveness of the "common intellectual experience" at campuses across the country, helped guide the effort. The SDSU Honors College stepped forward to coordinate and launch this new initiative on campus, viewing it as an opportunity to provide leadership for a campus-wide academic endeavor. This role for honors is particularly important at SDSU, where honors is rapidly growing and working to enhance campus awareness and appreciation of its students, faculty, and programs.

Common read program objectives were to: (1) increase student knowledge of contemporary global issues; (2) enhance student awareness of social, economic, and cultural diversity; (3) involve students in meaningful classroom interactions with fellow students and faculty; (4) engage students outside the classroom through a series of enriching educational experiences; and (5) encourage students to become involved in campus and community service.

SDSU's common read also addressed NSSE indicators such as level of academic challenge, active and collaborative learning, student/faculty interaction, and enriching educational experiences. All of these themes resonate with the core values of the SDSU Honors College and the objectives espoused by the National Collegiate Honors Council, many of which were recently articulated by Scott Carnicom in his 2011 essay "Honors Education: Innovation or Conservation."

PROGRAM APPROACHES

South Dakota State University implemented a common reading program for the first time during the fall semester of 2009. More than a thousand students in introductory and orientation courses across campus read Tracy Kidder's Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, A Man Who Would Cure the World. …

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