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Drake University Honors: A different way to learn

When coming to college, students have a lot of choices to make. At Drake University, one of those choices students make is how to fulfill their general education requirements. Students can participate in the Areas of Inquiry program or they can participate in the Honors Program.

When students hear Honors Program they may think “overachievers,” but those involved in the program say that’s not necessarily what it’s about.

“The Honors Program here is probably a little different than what you would find at another university,” said Amy O’Shaughnessy, interim assistant director of the Honors Program. “The Honors Program is focused on interdisciplinary education. All the classes are small; they’re capped at 20 students. They’re reading and writing intensive.”

The Honors Program director, Angela Battle, agreed that the program has a more distinctive path for students than other schools’ programs.

“The Honors Program provides an alternative choice to the university’s general education requirements, also known as the Areas of Inquiry,” Battle said. “If a student prefers this kind of learning environment then the program might suit them well.”

To graduate on the Honors Program track, students have to meet several requirements that are the same as those on the AOI track.

Students must take one quantitative course, one artistic experience course and one physical or life science course with a lab. However, instead of fulfilling the other AOI course requirements, students instead take a class called Paths to Knowledge and 15 Honors credits the students get to choose. The courses that students take to fulfill those 15 credits are on a wide variety of subjects.

Next semester the Honors Program will be offering courses on subjects such as human evolutionary psychology, the impact of social media on governments, Nazi and resistance cultures, urban environmental history and even the music of the Beatles. As students approach graduation, they also have the choice to go one step further in the Honors Program and try to graduate with University Honors.

If a student has a 3.5 cumulative GPA and completes an Honors Senior Thesis, that student can have the distinction of graduating with University Honors.

The Honors Program isn’t just about academics though. Throughout the year, the Honors Council plans many social activities.

“We try to make an actual community out of the Honors Program,” said First-Year Representative Jordan Payne. The events, such as Random Night Dinners, speakers and movie screenings, are open to all students, not just Honors students. Payne said the events are open to everyone because the council wants to show that anyone can be a part of the Honors Program.

John August, a Drake University and Honors Program alumnus and screenwriter known for his work on films like “Big Fish,” “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and “Corpse Bride,” said that participating in the Honors Program has helped him in his career.

“My Honors classes were the only ones that asked me to write 30-page papers,” August said. “That was daunting at the time, but as a screenwriter, most of my work now is around 120 pages. The ability to write and structure long documents has proved essential.”

August also suggested that students take classes that “scare” them.

“I took a quantum mechanics class that seemed out of my league,” he said. “I loved it. It wasn’t practical in any classic way.”

August said he writes a lot of science fiction stories, and taking that quantum mechanics class helped him formulate ideas because of all the ‘matrix algebra’ he had to do.

Overall, the Honors Program is an important part of the Drake community that allows students a different way to learn in a way that can positively impact their futures.


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