Honors Department moves

Devon Abler, Staff Writer

The Honors Department is known for its unique approach to education in the classroom. From classes that discuss what it is like to be a new American to what cities will look like in 30 years, the Honors Department encourages its students to expand their knowledge by learning from others and the world around them. Emily Hill, one of the instructors in the department and a Ph. D student here at UND, gave me a tour of the new Honors home in the lower level of Columbia hall. While walking through the new entry, there are spaces for students to study individually and in groups. Moveable whiteboards are scattered throughout the room allowing students to block off corners for privacy.

“I’m amazed at how many students are already using this space for studying, even though our space is unfinished,” Hill said.

As we wandered into the classroom, she described how the new classrooms differed from the old ones. Compared to the format of the previous classroom where couches replaced tables as a way to facilitate open discussion between peers, the new classrooms are filled with tables and chairs that can move around the room, and moveable desk chairs, allowing students to sit in a circle or break off into smaller pods.

Moving back into the main area, Emily and I sat down to discuss how this change has affected the students in the program.

“Even though we have moved, students are still able to find us,” Hill said. “However, it is difficult for students who are on the opposite ends of the campus to make it to class on time.”

Emily proceeded to say that having the psychology department in the same building has made it easier on the psychology students who are in the Honors program, but the location of the building makes getting to class on time difficult for many students. I asked Amanda Boyd, the director of the Honors program, why the building was moved from Robertson Sayer to Columbia Hall.

“The Honors building was old and historic and had a rich history,” Boyd said. “My office in the old building was once a bathroom when Robertson-Sayer was a dormitory. Unfortunately, it was on the University’s list of buildings to be demolished this upcoming fall.”

Diversity within the program adds to its uniqueness. There are many students from different countries taking classes and immersing themselves within the honors community. Atle Alexander Johansen, a student from Drammen, Norway, decided to attend school here at UND after studying with the American College of Norway, a college UND partners with. When Johansen came to UND, he took some honors classes while majoring in accounting.

“One of my favorite parts about the honors program has been the classes, the professors, and the students,” Johansen said. “The discussions are not like your standard lecture bowl. You sit in circles and engage with one another, the professors are humble, always want your opinion, and we learn from each other as we go. The offices of the professors are always open and I feel like you can talk to them about anything. This is something that I appreciate and feel that students appreciate.”

The Honors program is not an elitist program for brilliant students. The Honor program believes that everyone has knowledge to contribute to the world and desires to know who the students in the program are. By seeking diversity and a non-traditional approach to learning, this program aims to produce critical thinkers who are always asking why and how things happen. How does Honors appear to a freshman? For Brelynn, a pre-med/biology major, she has spent a week in the honors classrooms.

“The classes have been filled with discussion and I have learned so much from my peers and the faculty,” Johansen said. “We have a service learning component in my class where we are involved in tutoring new Americans. The relationship with the honors faculty has been amazing. It has only been a few days, but I have already learned so much from them. I have heard about the senior thesis, and that freaks me out a little bit, but aside from that, I have loved the first week so far.”

The program places an emphasis on service learning, or learning by serving the community. Freshmen in the 101 and 102 classes can be found volunteering their time in English Language Learning (ELL) classrooms tutoring new Americans. This builds a deeper understanding on what it may be like to be a new American living in Grand Forks.

Students are also encouraged to volunteer with organizations such as the Circle of Friends Humane society, the Global Friends Coalition, ONE, the North Dakota Museum of Art, and the Honors Service Learning Group (H-SLuG). Taking the knowledge that one has been given and passing it along through acts of service is another key component to the honors program.

The Honors program is a unique learning experience that has opened the minds of many students and has contributed to their education in ways that some would not think was possible. The Honors program is open to all UND students who are interested in joining the program or taking a few classes. All classes count towards essential studies.

Devon Abler is a staff writer for The Dakota Student. She can be reached at [email protected]