The Honors Program at the University of Maine at Presque Isle, redesigned in 1997 by a team of students and faculty advisors, is dedicated to the belief that students must take personal initiative and become active collaborative partners with each other and faculty to receive the greatest benefit from their education.
In the honors learning community at our campus, students work toward high levels of competency in writing as well as critical and creative thinking. Academic training includes inquiry-based methods of research, posing problems of social and intellectual significance, and interdisciplinary thinking. The Honors Program affords an opportunity for students to delve more deeply into individual areas of interest, while providing the framework for a broader, richer understanding of the world and their place in it.
The Honors Program believes that empowerment is the core of an effective education, and thus this is our most fundamental goal. Student empowerment means, basically, that students are active and invested in their education, co-contributors to the learning community in general and to their own learning process in particular. Secondly, student empowerment means educating students so that they want to be responsible for their education- it means overcoming passive reception and providing an environment for students to reach higher levels of motivation so that they become invested in creating, learning, and sharing knowledge.
The Honors Program believes that each of the following qualities are imperative to a challenging, productive, and constructive humanistic education:
- Active learning. Students must be fully involved in their education, taking responsibility not only for their individual learning, but for the content of their classes and direction of the program.
- Student empowerment. Students are represented at every level of the program, most importantly within the Honors Committee, which is comprised of 5 students (each entering class has at least 1 representative) and 3 faculty members, including the Honors Director. Students assist in determining which classes should be designated or encouraged to become "honors" courses, the content of special Honors Seminars, as well as general program policy.
- Connection to the community: academic, local, and international. The Honors Program encourages all of its students to participate in service learning programs (an option for the senior year project) and to take advantage of the National Student Exchange program their sophomore or junior years, which allows students extraordinary educational opportunities both within the US and abroad.
- Interdisciplinarity. The program welcomes students from all disciplines, from teacher education to business to biology to social work. Furthermore, the program supports an interdisciplinary pedagogy that underscores connections between programs. Each semester, for instance, the program offers an Honors Seminar (open to all university students) that examines a particular topic-from Technology to Reinventing the University to Food and Consumption-from a multitude of perspectives. Often over a dozen professors provide support and material for this seminar, which can be taken for 1-3 credits, at the student's discretion.
- Challenge, not Hierarchy. The Honors Program is open to all students. Each year, a group of students are invited to join the program, either through Honors Fellowships or testing results. But any student is welcome to join the program at any time-during their first year or their last. What counts is the quality of the work you do within the program.
Knowledge is not simply power to students within the Honors Program. Rather, we recognize knowledge to be a human construction, something developed rather than merely found or that which students are "instructed in" by professors. For this reason, we ask students to consider how knowledge is "made," not just what something "means." For example, in a recent Honors Introduction to Literature course, entitled "Representing the Holocaust," students were asked to discuss and examine how writers told their stories and why they told their stories in a particular manner, as well as why our society accepts-indeed expects-stories to be told a certain way. These are crucial abilities that help all Honors students in their pursuits during-but especially after-their career at UMPI.
For this reason, the Honors Program believes that all of its courses should promote the following values:
- Problem-posing as a method of pedagogy or philosophy of instruction, as the means by which the class investigates issues and learns to ask critical questions. Paulo Freire defines problem-posing as the "posing of the problems of men [and women] in their relations with the world" -it means asking what relates to what, to see how things go together, and it means students must be active in generating issues for discussion.
- Greater choices for students within the degree program, and possibly the option of creating self-designed concentrations.
- Freedom for students to follow their own interests within and without classes. This in turn means that courses should include projects and investigations relevant to current cultural events and issues.
- Utilization, whenever possible, of written assessments instead of grades (or a choice of grades or both written evaluation and grades). We believe that written assessment removes the focus from the professor or that grade and invests emphasis in learning.
- Maintenance of a pro-active student support system encouraging dialogue between beginning Honors students, experienced students, faculty, committee members, and the Director.
Dialogue between students and faculty
Dialogue is the cornerstone to an education of "liberation" in that it allows for the recognition of the student as an individual with the knowledge of life experiences. Dialogue also positions the professor as a learner, as a "teacher-student" so that she may become the facilitator or director of investigation rather than the banker of facts. Dialogue should occur both inside and outside the classroom for it implies a fundamental relation between student and teacher.
In addition to employing discussion-based, problem-posing teaching and learning methods, the Honors Programs promotes the following methods as means to engender dialogue:
- Student input in program design and revision (post facto and in process).
- Student input as to how course material is covered so that students have the opportunity to select the application of ideas and to be active participants in creating a productive and dialogic classroom atmosphere..
- Collaborative learning (dialogue between students) instead of competition.
- Encouragement of educational interaction between students and professors beyond the classroom.
- Support of round tables and open forums promoting informal discussion among students, faculty, and staff to determine how all constituencies could improve the University.
Critical thinking across the curriculum
An educated person is one who knows how to ask ‘critical' questions, one who is informed and makes decisions knowing, to paraphrase Freire, ‘what is connected to what'. Educating people to be critical thinkers means providing them with the tools to be aware of how their society functions and to think beyond the boundaries of a narrow discipline or occupation. Critical thinking also implies active participation in the process of learning, analyzing rather than passively accepting information, and, finally, questioning one's own and other's opinions and received knowledge.
The Honors Program is dedicated to providing critical thinking across the disciplines-meaning both that students in all classes are given the opportunity practice critical thinking and that students learn to make connections across disciplines. To this end, the Honors Program encourages:
- Interdisciplinary seminars.
- Team-taught courses.
- The University Distinguished Lecture series.
- Discussion-based and other active learning focused classes.
- Relevant and current issues as means to promote political and social awareness (campus and world news--environmental, medical, social, etc., issues).