Trevor Sorensen can’t say for certain he would be at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln if it weren’t for the Honors Program. Sorensen, a freshman business administration major, decided to attend UNL after he was accepted into the College of Business Administration Honors Academy, which automatically placed him into the UNL Honors Program.
“I enjoy putting work in if I see how it’s relevant,” Sorensen said. “Being in honors classes, I see why we’re doing more work. I’ve enjoyed it. I guess that’s the best way to say it.”
The goal of the Honors Program, which was established in 1986, is to provide an environment where top students can learn, grow and engage in their education alongside other like-minded students, said Ann Koopmann, the director of advising and student services of the honors program.
“There is an expectation of civic engagement,” Koopmann said. “There is an expectation that you will be involved in your community in some way. You will be involved in research or you will be involved in volunteer work or those kinds of things. That’s a part of the community that you’ve chosen to participate in.”
In the first eight weeks of the honors program, students are placed into a peer mentor program to help give students a sense of community. In the peer mentor program, students are paired with a volunteer upperclassman who introduces them to the Honors Program and to the university and the opportunities to network within it.
Koopmann said students enrolled in the Honors Program enjoy the advantages of having access to the research opportunities of a large university while at the same time being in a small classroom environment with plenty of time to work with professors.
To complete the Honors Program, a student must take a freshman 189H seminar and junior 395H seminar, and accumulate at least 24 honors credits while maintaining a 3.5 GPA.
Honors credits can be earned by taking designated honors classes or contracting a class for honors credit. When contracting, students will work with their professor to agree on what extra work can be completed to earn honors credit.
“We usually just have some light little thing in addition to the course itself that we do to make that an honors contract,” said Wes Peterson, an agricultural economics professor who contracts with honors students. “I don’t like piling on extra work for students. That would be a disincentive for a student. Everybody else has got to do all this stuff for the class and then you have to do all that stuff plus a paper. That just seems like a little too much so it seems useful to do something, but I like to keep it a very light something.”
Sorensen said he feels his professors are more accessible than they would be if he weren’t an honors student. Many students, like Sorensen, agree that the collaborative community is one of the program’s greatest benefits.
“The students that are involved there, you know a lot of them have the same mindset as you and are going to put in the extra work and the extra effort,” said Bailey Williams, a freshman advertising and public relations and journalism major. “That’s really nice to work with people who think like you do.”
After all of this is completed, the only hurdle remaining for a student to graduate from the Honors Program is to complete a senior thesis. The senior thesis is a research-based project guided by a faculty member and designed around the student’s major. Students consult with a faculty member of their choice to choose a topic.
“We’re saying to the student, ‘Find an expert in your area and learn from them. Do something with them so that you have a credential to walk away with,’” Koopmann said.
Thesis projects are very flexible and can include a wide variety of topics and projects. In the past, thesis projects have included stage design, language translations and even writing a novel. The aim of the senior thesis is to give undergraduates experience with doing research.
“I think one could argue, if we had the personnel, that every student should do a thesis,” Peterson said. “I think that would be a good thing. Everybody should do that, but there’s just no way on earth that we would be able to read all that stuff, so I’m sure that’s not going to happen.”
In the end, Koopmann said the Honors Program allows a student’s experience at UNL to be much more than a means to an end toward earning a degree.
“The goal or the vision is to remind (students) of their opportunities here at the university and to give them access and encouragement to pursue not just a degree, but an education,” Koopmann said. “We encourage them to pursue things beyond the degree checkmarks.”