Honors 101 is a required course for all first-year Honors students that is taken during their first semester at St. Norbert College. It serves as an introduction to the Honors Program paradigm, which requires that at least 6 Honors course credits are taken in order to graduate with distinction by the time they complete their four years at the institution. The goal of Honors 101 is to not only educate students in the coursework itself, but to expand their style of thinking, collaboration, analysis as well as to form closer bonds with their designated Honors professors and fellow classmates from Bergstrom Hall.
Throughout the Honors 101 class, students spend several units learning about different aspects of community, a characteristic unique to both the college and the Honors Program. From the people that live in a community both living and dead, to the small businesses that make up its local economy, to the social ideologies of equality and segregation, Honors students learn what makes up the culture of a community. Classes consist of stimulating lectures, deep analysis of texts, and engaging discussions that activate higher-level thinking like students have never experienced before. Mark Nichols ‘20 feels the class prepared him for his current challenging Honors course, saying Honors 101 was “definitely a good stepping-stone for Honors Philosophy and Theology.” He is echoed by Thomas Mellen ‘20, who added that the course really “opened my mindset.”
Not only is learning conducted in the classroom, but also through experiential opportunities. This includes taking walks along the De Pere sidewalks, conducting interviews with local small business owners, and attending field trips to the cemetery and a tour of the Norbertine Abbey, courtesy of Honors professor Fr. James Neilson. At the Abbey, Honors students are able to learn about the communal lifestyle and history of the Norbertines. They have the rare opportunity to hear the beautiful organs play, observe the stained glass and provocative design of the architecture, view the priests’ communal living and eating areas, and get an up-close look at the many valuable relics preserved in the basement. “I really liked hearing about the Norbertine culture,” says Charles Luoma-Mannisto ‘20 of the eye-opening trip.
Honors 101 culminates with a final presentation in which students present a research poster to their classmates, professors, and Honors upperclassmen mimicking a real research presentation like that of the NCHC, a national conference in which several of our students take part in each year. The Honors 101 students’ task is to create their own Utopia, or ideal community, using concepts taken away from class experiences and texts dissected throughout the semester. The final presentations also serve as a bittersweet end to what is generally found among students to have been an impactful course, as well as goodbyes to many beloved professors. “Fr. Neilson was amazing,” says a sad Victoria Bain-Vrba ‘20, and “Dr. Paul was great! Her discussions were fantastic” says an enthusiastic Michael Houlihan ‘20.
Honors Director and professor Dr. Paul is not surprised that much of the positive feedback from students on Honors 101 dwells highly on these adventures. In fact, she reveals, experiential learning is one of the four primary components of what the makers of course curriculum call “high-impact practices,” which include: experiential learning, collaborative learning, project-based coursework, and interdisciplinary learning. As the designer of the course, Dr. Paul says that one of the many goals of Honors 101 is to “Take a topic and have you study it in different ways… [by] actually doing something.” This not only includes a variety of projects, readings, and field trips in class, but understanding how to adapt to the the living-learning community of Bergstrom Hall outside of class. This approach not only underlies the Norbertine mission of community, but the NCHC’s value of “city as text”- in other words, experiencing learning in ways that are more than just reading a textbook. Dr. Paul challenges her beginning Honors students to think critically, question what what they know to be true, analyze competing opinions to find purpose, and most importantly “Explore… get out into the streets and see how what [you’re] learning in class is demonstrated in the streets!”
Overall, Honors 101 seems to be a very distinct class in the memory of all Honors students. It is a class unlike any other offered at St. Norbert, and one that only Honors students are privileged to have experienced. The St. Norbert College Honors Program Class of 2020 thanks our Director and Professor Dr. Marcie Paul, Honors Office Coordinator Stacey Wanta, and Honors Professors Fr. Neilson, Dr. Harder, and Dr. Chan for a great semester!