University of Vermont

The Honors College

First-Year Curriculum

Syllabi and Teaching Schedules

Fall 2014 teaching schedules and the syllabus can be found by clicking these links:

The course descriptions for Spring 2015 semester can be found here:

  • Spring 2015 FY Seminar Course Descriptions - Coming Soon!

Fall 2014/Spring 2015

HCOL 085/086: The Pursuit of Knowledge and Ways of Knowing

The Honors College experience begins with a fall semester course, The Pursuit of Knowledge, taught in the seminar format to classes of 21 students. The seminar's discussion and writing focus on these questions:

  • How do we understand rationalism?  How do we understand empiricism?  And what about a way of thinking that we might call narrative knowledge--a way of constructing the world through the stories we tell about it and ourselves?
  • How do different disciplines and professions (the natural sciences, medicine, literature, etc.) engage in (and sometimes complicate) these different ways of thinking about knowledge--rational, empirical, narrative?
  • How might ways of pursuing knowledge that we take for granted (in North America, for instance) be challenged by the way certain non-Western cultures conceive of knowing?

Students read and discuss challenging and thought-provoking texts such as Descartes' Meditations, Hume's Inquiry Concerning Human Understanding, V.S. Ramachandran's work on neuroscience, Anne Fadiman's The Spirit Catches You, and Mary Shelley's Frankenstein.

In the spring semester, first-year HCOL students take one section of HCOL 086, Ways of Knowing, a selection of special topics courses the majority of which fulfill one course of the University's two-course diversity requirement.  Each of these courses applies some of the foundational knowledge learned in the first semester to particular sets of circumstances, often involving race and culture in the U.S. and beyond.  Among the titles of HCOL 086 courses for Spring '14 are "Reading and Writing the Racialized Self," "Religion and Ways of Knowing," "The Construction of Race in American Politics," and "Happiness."

Through these courses, students become well-acquainted with Honors College faculty and students. By living with fellow honors students in University Heights North, attending plenary lectures, social hours and other events, students share ideas and build an exciting intellectual community.

In addition to meeting twice or three times a week in their individual seminar groups, students also encounter the following aspects of first-year course:

Summer Reading and Writing

Every summer, incoming first-year students read a book that is distributed to the class at June Orientation and complete a two-page essay that is due on the first day of class in the fall.  In the summer of 2014, the students in HCOL 085 will read Michael Pollan's Cooked.  Here is a link to the essay question associated with this book.

Plenary Lecturers

A plenary lecture series, which the entire class attends Thursday evenings and that is open to the entire university community, invites even more discussion about the topics and questions explored in the courses. The lecture series features talks and performances by university faculty and guests, who will discuss their personal experiences and how their areas of inquiry relate to some of the themes of the year's explorations.

Writing-Intensive Study

Faculty teaching the first-year courses expect students not only to defend their opinions verbally but also in writing. The courses are designed to be writing-intensive, and to provide specialized writing instruction and support as students make the transition to college-level writing.

Community-Building Experience

All first-year students take six credits of HCOL in their first year  (three credits each semester). This means that they become well-acquainted with other honors students. And because they also live with them in the Honors College residence hall, they are able to continue their discussions about the place and value of education -- even while they socialize -- long after class has ended for the day.

Last modified August 15 2014 11:01 AM