University of Vermont

The Honors College

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The Pursuit of Knowledge Is Not What It Used to Be

One of the cornerstones of the philosophy on which we have built the First-Year curriculum in the Honors College has been a belief in the value of a common course. In our experience, there is no better way to grow a dynamic intellectual community in the Honors College (and specifically, in University Heights North) than to have all our first-year students taking small seminars, but reading the same texts and working on the same writing assignments. For the first four years of the Honors College, that common course was called "Ethical Thinking": in both the fall and the spring, students in individual small seminars that met twice or three times a week all shared a curriculum and also came together as a whole group to attend a guest lecture or performance on Thursday evenings in what has fondly come to be known as Plenary. The practice of a common course continued into the next four years in a first-year course called "The Pursuit of Knowledge." The course differed in content from the previous one, but Plenary remained, as did a common syllabus both fall and spring.

This year, however, things have changed a bit. The Class of 2016 all marched to the beat of the same drummer in the Fall of 2012 with the first half of the "Pursuit of Knowledge." But diversity is the name of the game in the Spring of 2013: eight different seminars are being offered to our first-year students under the general theme of "Ways of Knowing," and most of those seminars satisfy one of the University's two Diversity requirements.

The Honors College made the change as a way of both responding to student requests for choice in the first year spring curriculum, and of bringing centrally into our curriculum many of the priorities regarding diversity that we have embraced elsewhere in our mission. Even with the diversity, though, we have managed to maintain some significant common elements across all the sections of the course. Every course began, for instance, with discussions of The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, the powerful first-person story of a nineteenth-century slave who escapes his captivity in Maryland and becomes of the leading voices of the Abolition movement in the years leading up to the Civil War. This very rich narrative has connections to every first-year seminar being taught this spring. As well, we have maintained the Plenary, which showcases a speaker every other week for the first three fourths of the course that has connections to one or more sections of the course. So students have a chance, in a sense, to look in on other sections of the course. In the last four weeks of the semester, the plenary time is given over to students preparing, and then presenting, their research (conducted in groups) at an April 25th First-Year Research Symposium to be held in University Heights North.

Curious about what we're teaching? Descriptions and syllabi for all the Spring '13 First-Year Seminars (HCOL 086).

Last modified March 05 2013 08:59 AM