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Honors program attracts students

Emily Keebler | Monday, September 17, 2007

The first Glynn Family Honors Program students arrived for freshman orientation only weeks ago but already have immersed themselves in engaging coursework.

Sophomore Katie Woodward, who is in the program, said the honors program added to Notre Dame’s appeal when she looked at colleges.

“It made me more inclined to come. … Not only do I get to be at this great university, but I get to have the small college atmosphere where everyone knows everyone and you get personal attention from the professors,” Woodward said.

Delaney said “the high intensity seminars and the way in which [students are] directed to do serious research” are among the program’s best characteristics.

Despite the unique opportunities, the honors program allows for student participation in university activities – including varsity athletics, band, and study-abroad programs.

“I’m not going to deny that the classes are a lot of work, but everyone I know is so involved with different activities like sports, music, and social service. No one just sits in the library on a Saturday night,” Woodward said.

Alumnus John W. Glynn and his wife, Barbara, donated $10 million to the department, which used to be known as the Arts and Letters and Science Honors Program.

“[The gift] will enable us to guarantee all the students summer research money for at least one year,” program director C.F. Delaney said, adding that the program is now prepared to enroll 100 students annually.

Admission to the honors program follows the university admission process. Selection is based on academic credentials – SAT scores over 1500 and class ranking in the top 1 to 2 percent – and a student essay expressing interest.

“They come in as freshmen…it’s neat to see them grow and go off and do all these fantastic things they do,” program coordinator Wendy Wolfe said.

Program participants study in either the College of Arts and Letters or the College of Science or, in some cases, both. Thus, the honors program creates a bridge between two colleges that many universities already combine.

“[The program] provides students at the high end academically to do small, intensive seminars in all the courses that fall under the university requirement,” Delaney said.

“My honors classes are my favorite because they are so small and the teachers are amazing,” freshman Glynn scholar Maria Antoniak said.

Antoniak also notes that invitation into the honors program eased the pressure of a cross-continental move from Richland, Wash.

“I’m from so far away and didn’t know anyone here so the idea of getting to know people before I came made me feel better about the distance,” Antoniak said.

Wolfe does not think the program excludes its participants “from the regular Notre Dame community in any way but to enhance their educational experience by having small seminars during the freshman year.”

“I really enjoy teaching first-semester freshmen. … We have a year-long honors humanities seminar, and you get the same group of 17 student the whole year reading interesting stuff,” Delaney said.

“… All of the virtues of the Notre Dame community are available to them. … The only really important difference is the intensive seminars and the emphasis on the senior capstone,” Delaney said.

Each honors program student completes a senior project, ranging from the completion of a novel or thesis to empirical work in psychology labs or science research tied to faculty-funded research.

“Getting to work specifically with a professor is going to help in the long run,” Woodward said. “It’s not just something you’re reading about but something you’re actually doing.”

Antoniak agrees that the prospect of conducting funded research is exciting for a college student.

“Even besides the practical advantage of getting into grad school, it’s just exciting that I might get to travel and conduct research in my field as an undergraduate,” Antoniak said.

Students in the program also have the opportunity to participate in sponsored trips, including an annual fall trip to the Stratford Shakespeare Festival.

“Getting to see everyone outside the classroom was great. … The people in the honors program are some of the coolest, most intelligent and most interesting people I’ve ever met,” Woodward said.

In some cases professors also deepen the sense of community. Woodward, for example, and her freshman seminar classmates recently met at their professor’s home.

“Our class really bonded,” Woodward said. “We’ve actually had parties and gone out together. That really made the experience for me. I wouldn’t have had an experience like that if I wasn’t in the honors program.”