Honors Program Becomes More Inclusive

The honors lounge provides a study area for those enrolled in the program designed for students of all majors. Photo by Anna Meassick.

Although students at the University of Rhode Island have been expressing their dislike towards the University Honors Program, believing that the program is lacking in many areas, they may be misunderstanding the program as a whole.  

Students who are entering URI must meet a set of criteria in order to be eligible for the honors program, which includes having certain GPA or SAT scores. Director of the Honors Program, Dr. Lynne Derbyshire, said that the University recognizes that SAT scores are very highly coordinated with family income and are believed to have both a gender and cultural bias.

“We wanted to be sure we are having an inclusive program, we don’t want to be inadvertently discriminating,” Derbyshire said.

These requirements for incoming students have recently changed. The honors program has found that changing the requirements to where student’s SAT scores are not taken into account, has increased the amount of students who are eligible for the program. If a student does not enter into the honors program at the beginning of their freshman year, they can become eligible through obtaining a 3.4 GPA while at URI. According to Derbyshire, this gives students a way to work up to being eligible for the honors program.

Although the eligibility for the honors program has become more inclusive, students still express their discontent with the program. Christie Swanson, a sophomore student who entered into her freshman year as part of the honors program, took a few honors courses that piqued her interests.

Swanson has found that there are not enough classes she is interested in or that pertain to her major, which hindered her from taking any more honors courses.

“My issue is that they have no classes that I can take that are in my major,” Swanson said. “All of the classes seem to be STEM-based and I’m a textile, fashion merchandising and design major. They don’t really seem to offer classes that aren’t science or math based and those don’t help me.”

Another sophomore student who entered URI in the honors program, Emily Waldman, came to a similar conclusion. “I have two majors, human development and family studies and psychology, and neither of them have any honors classes,” Waldman said.

Waldman said she came into her freshman year with the majority of her general education requirements fulfilled and she only continued taking honors courses in order to get early registration and honors housing. These are two of the perks of staying within the honors program.

“There’s no way for me to take classes in the honors program without me having to take another semester to graduate since I’m double majoring and there aren’t any classes for my major, so I’ve lost my stance in the honors program,” Waldman said.

Despite these complaints, Derbyshire explained that the honors program is for the University, not for a particular major and students can participate how they choose.

“Some students take honors courses when it fulfills a particular requirement for them or if it is on a topic that is of particular interest to them and other students commit to getting an honors program degree,” Derbyshire said. “Most honors courses fulfill general education requirements and that’s what we’re looking to do for students [is] to provide that breadth and depth outside of their major for the most part.”

Derbyshire said that it is great when students can find honors classes that fit into their major, but that it has never been the honors program’s intent to have classes for specific majors.

“We do believe that one of the strengths of the honors program and the course students take is that they’re in classes with students from a variety of different majors, so you have students who are committed to academic achievement and come from very different mindsets,” Derbyshire said.

She described an honors course she’s teaching as having students from a variety of majors and perspectives on the class topic.

“I’ll have students who are a philosophy majors, electrical engineering majors and marine biology majors, and they each think very differently and that provides the strength of the course because they’re learning a lot from each other,” Derbyshire said. “They all think very differently and if we get that intellectual diversity in the classroom then it’s much more enriching for everybody in the classroom and that’s what we’re looking for.”

The honors program currently has around 700 students enrolled in honors courses and Derbyshire said that she believes they are meeting the demands of students.

“It really is our goal to be as inclusive as possible and to that end we have walk in advising every day of the week,” Derbyshire said, giving students the ability to come in and talk about their goals and ambitions.