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Honors programs not available in all colleges

Joe Trombello | Friday, September 19, 2003

In comparison with the College of Arts and Letters, the Colleges of Science, Engineering, Business and Architecture offer few departmental honors programs. However, students – especially in Science and Engineering – are encouraged to participate in undergraduate research projects with faculty members.

Science

Only the Department of Mathematics currently offers a departmental honors program. The curriculum consists of a sequence of specific honors levels of mathematics courses that may begin in the freshman year, although sophomores may switch into the honors sequence with the permission of Frank Connolly, professor of mathematics and the director of the Seminar of Undergraduate Mathematical Research.

Connolly said the department decided to create an honors program to provide more challenges for highly motivated and talented students.

“We felt that we were not doing the best possible job for our students, and we felt that they deserved the opportunity and would rise to the challenge,” he said.

Started in 1989, SUMR is an enhancement of the honors program for the most talented mathematics students. Sophomore Honors Track majors with grades of A or A- in mathematics courses are invited to join the seminar in April.

The summer after the sophomore year is spent engaging in readings relating to general topics in mathematics to prepare them for the junior-year seminar, a full-year course that meets weekly for 135 minutes. Senior students take some graduate-level courses in mathematics and also attend the seminar with juniors.

“The program selects the top honors students and gives them a special seminar on a very high-level topic … these students usually write theses and they tend to be accepted into the first-tier graduate schools in mathematics at an extremely impressive rate,” Connolly said.

Each SUMR student is required to write an honors thesis; a thesis is recommended for honors program students.

“The level of the thesis in recent years has been extremely impressive,” Connolly said.

Other departments within the college of Science provide opportunities for students to work closely on a research project with faculty members.

Engineering

Although departments within the College of Engineering do not offer specific honors tracks, they provide opportunities for close research and further specialization.

Departments such as Electrical Engineering or Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering offer course credit in directed studies and undergraduate research, while the department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering offers specific tracks and certificates for students desiring more specialization in medicine, the environment, materials and biomolecular engineering.

As part of its accreditation requirements, the department of Computer Science and Engineering requires seniors in Computer Engineering to participate in a Capstone Design Experience that introduces them to tools and techniques used in the design of computing systems.

Chris Boehen, a first-year graduate student in the department of Computer Science and Engineering who also completed his undergraduate degree at Notre Dame last year, said that his experience in research and the Capstone Design led to his decision to further his studies.

“My research experience at Notre Dame has certainly been instrumental in my decision to go to graduate school. It has caused me to go to graduate school and helped me remember what got me interested in engineering in the first place,” he said. “The capstone experience was very interesting as well; through it I was able to get a grasp for what real research and development teams [look] like.”

Business

Bill Nichols, associate dean of the Mendoza College of Business, said the college has included mention of an honors program in its strategic plan for a number of years and is behind its creation. However, the lack of faculty resources necessary to create such a program has prevented departmental honors programs thus far. Currently, no department in the college offers an honors program.

“It boils down to resources,” he said. “We have 30 percent of the undergraduates in the college … but we don’t have 30 percent of the faculty. To do a new initiative [for an honors program] we would need more faculty or less students. [An honors program] is a faculty-intensive effort.”

Nichols said students currently may work closely with professors in directed studies to read and discuss topics that go beyond the scope of offered coursework. He said that any potential honors program may include courses on research design and methodology and would help spark an academic interest in students.

“We’re really hoping to spark an interest in students getting PhDs in business,” he said.

Nichols said that faculty would be behind an honors program.

Architecture

Because of the fixed nature of the five-year architecture curriculum, students must complete a prescribed series of coursework that includes a year of study in Italy.

An honors program is therefore not available, although students do complete a thesis in the final semester of their fifth year that requires them to prepare and present an individual architectural project.