Academic journal article Honors in Practice

The Cultural Encounters Model: Incorporating Campus Events into the Honors Curriculum

Academic journal article Honors in Practice

The Cultural Encounters Model: Incorporating Campus Events into the Honors Curriculum

Article excerpt


Honors students are, almost by definition, committed to excellence. As a result, they tend to be overextended (Guzy). They also "tend to be more eager, exploratory, and experienced than their non-honors counterparts" (Achterberg 77). They typically take a full load of coursework while at the same time juggling clubs, learning communities, governance bodies, athletics, music, theater activities, and community service (Long and Lange 2002). One also assumes that they cultivate a social life and perhaps hold down a part-time job. Such a conspiracy of curricular, co-curricular, and extracurricular realities can make it difficult for honors students to engage fully in the cultural resources available to them on a college campus.

To provide opportunity and encouragement for honors students to experience Ithaca College's unique culture and identity, we have developed an honors seminar called "Cultural Encounters with Ithaca." In this course, students identify, publicize, attend, discuss, and reflect on a number of campus events. Ultimately, they come away with a deeper understanding of their college's culture and identity as well as a feeling of connection to the campus community. We offer the details of this seminar as a potential low-cost, high-impact model for other honors programs to incorporate into their curriculum the rich mix of cultural events available on most campuses.


Ithaca College is a comprehensive college with about 6,000 students, 93% of whom are undergraduates and most of whom live on campus. Located in upstate New York and featuring strong programs in music, theatre, and communications, the campus hosts hundreds of events each academic year ranging from sports, music, film, and theater to stand-up comedy, fiction readings, and scholarly lectures. Students often feel overwhelmed by the number of events, especially when they are already beleaguered by curricular, co-curricular, and extracurricular obligations. As a result, by the time they earn their diploma they have often attended few campus events and are unaware of the college's unique culture and identity. Our goal for the honors seminar was to make students part of this campus culture, a goal that was aptly summarized by one Ithaca College student's comment that the seminar gave her "reason and motivation" to attend events that she otherwise could or would not make time for: it "helped me with my scheduling and becoming an active member of Ithaca's college community."

Early deliberations about the seminar focused on two strengths and a drawback. one strength was that the majority of our students live on campus, so geographic obstacles would not inhibit our students from attending events. The other strength was having five academically distinct schools within the college so that students could be exposed to a range of artistic, disciplinary, and professional perspectives. At the same time we saw a drawback inherent in that second strength: while the existence of five academically distinct schools bears the potential for cross-curricular exploration, the reality is that students often get entrenched within their own school.

We sought a solution to our problem that would leverage the existing strengths of our institution as a comprehensive residential college and also address one of its most salient shortcomings, the perception of its five schools as silos. Moreover, we wanted a solution that (1) provided a viable and sustainable structure for experiencing Ithaca College's diversity of events; (2) entailed little, if any, additional costs; (3) was attractive and flexible yet engaging and structured; and most importantly (4) compelled our students to question their assumptions, attitudes, and beliefs about Ithaca College.


"Cultural Encounters with Ithaca" was first offered in 2011 as a spring-term, 3-credit extension of the required first-year honors seminar. …

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