Our alumni have spoken, and the word is: research! One-third of the alumni who took our recent online survey emphasized the value of undergraduate research, commenting on this aspect of the honors experience more than any other. The honors thesis, in particular, was singled out as especially valuable in preparing students for a wide range of professional endeavors.
Alumni told us that their research experience gave them an edge in graduate school applications and helped them succeed once they were there. Several commented on the value of having taken on a comprehensive research project, and all of the challenges that entails, as an undergraduate. “Although the thesis experience was a bit trying in ways, it helped me get into graduate school, and also helped me feel prepared for graduate school,” wrote one alumna. Another responder also emphasized the value of sustained effort: “The endless hours of research in my honors experience has given me necessary preparation on professional work ethic, familiarity with evidence-based practice, and viable research techniques.” Several responders noted the value of having published research as a CV builder. Another said, simply: “I learned how to deal with unanswerable questions.”
Responders also emphasized that independent research on the thesis prepared them well for life beyond academe. One alumnus said: “It gives you a taste of what a real-world project might be like in the business world, where you often have to set up and execute with little guidance.” Alumni also emphasized that the one-on-one relationships built with faculty mentors tended to persist, with professors continuing to take an interest in their career long after they left campus.
“Small classes. Good profs.”
Honors classes came in a close second in overall mentions in the survey, and were most frequently mentioned in response to the question, “What did you most value about your honors experience at the University of Arkansas?” Responders emphasized the value of small classes, the intellectual rigor of honors courses, and exceptional teaching by professors who were well established in their careers. One responder “loved … the ability to have authentic conversations with your peers and professors.”
A number of alumni praised the Honors Humanities Program (H2P), both in terms of content and the interdisciplinary community created through sharing four semesters of study. Several singled out Walton College’s Portfolio Management class, with one noting that the relationships built in the course “opened the door to my current career path.” Another responder found the team work requirements of honors courses helpful, post-graduation: “Most of my honors courses had at least one team work project where we had to work with people we didn’t know and maybe even didn’t like. Learning how to work with varied individuals has proven extremely valuable.”
“Having a large amount of support in so many areas”
Another important theme that emerged in the survey responses was the support and community experienced within the Honors College, ranging from the friendships formed by late night study sessions in Pomfret Honors Quarters to the personal attention provided by faculty mentors, honors advisors and Honors College staff. “How can you condense five years of awesome times with the Honors College into this box?!” wrote one responder. “The people made the difference…. I was never a number. I was always an honors student they wanted to see succeed on campus and in life.” Increased opportunities for interaction with honors faculty, particularly faculty mentors, and the high quality of honors teaching and mentoring was mentioned by 27% of those who responded to the question, “What did you most value about your honors experience?” There were numerous shout outs for honors advisors (Jason Blankenship, your ears must be burning), as well as honors staff.
“The freebies! Study abroad money, research grant money, and free candy in Nina’s office”
And yes, the financial support offered by the Honors College did make a difference for many responders, particularly, the grant support that allowed them to study abroad. Alumni noted that grants made it possible to travel to far-flung locales – India, China, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand – that otherwise would have been out of reach. One responder who studied abroad several times credited the Honors College for “the opportunity to examine, explore, and experience cultures across the world.” Many noted that the benefits of study abroad were ongoing: “Having studied abroad gives you a global perspective that is invaluable in the workplace,” said one. Several responders noted that experience in applying for grants proved to be useful later on.
With 41 percent of the responders having received fellowships, it’s not surprising that many responders also mentioned fellowships and scholarships that allowed them to “focus on academics rather than money.” “I graduated without crushing student loan debt,” said one, a common refrain.
Less tangible, but perhaps most important of all, many alumni touched on the overall quality of the education that they received in the Honors College. In response to the question, “What part of your honors experience has proved most beneficial to you since graduation?” a number of alumni mentioned that honors courses honed critical thinking, problem solving, and writing skills that have proved useful in the real world. “I think the experience of being challenged in a number of different areas and skill sets was the most beneficial,” one responder wrote. “My job now has little to do with my major in college, but being required to rise to the challenge of honors courses in college prepared me for rising to meet greater expectations at work.”
We were happy to hear about the things that went right, but we also wanted to learn how we could do better. Our alumni shared a number of specific suggestions to make the honors experience better:
More classes. Alumni would like to see more honors courses offered, including more specialized honors classes, such as investment banking and fine arts courses, for honors students interested in pursuing very competitive careers. Several responders also pointed out that honors colloquia tended to be more rewarding than honors sections in regular courses.
More guidance. Alumni also told us that the advising system needs some work. Many pointed out that all advisors on campus need to be better informed about the differences between departmental and four-year honors and the opportunities afforded by the Honors College. “It’d be great if the student advisers had more knowledge about all [of] the research opportunities … available on campus,” one responder noted. Many alumni would like to see more one-on-one advising with honors staff and professors early on in students’ careers and ongoing contact with honors advisors. “I would like Honors students to have the option of maintaining an Honors College advisor for all four years of study,” noted one responder, who added, “Departmental advisors were not helpful in my experience.” A number of responders emphasized that more guidance and information was needed on the honors thesis “from the get-go.”
Improved facilities. Several responders mentioned that the honors lounge in the Administration building was underused; others pointed out the discrepancy in facilities across colleges. While several alumni fondly recalled the community they experienced in Pomfret Honors Quarters, they were less enthusiastic about living conditions there.
More study abroad. A number of responders thought study abroad should be more emphasized, in all colleges, and several suggested that it should be required for all honors students. “I am probably one of the only honors students [who] did not study abroad because I was worried about graduating engineering in four years …. By far my biggest regret in life was not going to study abroad.”
Alumni also would like to see more events and activities to promote community within the Honors College; more networking and career preparation opportunities; more emphasis on service learning and internships; more research opportunities, earlier; more funding for grants and scholarships; and continued development and growth of honors programs in all colleges on campus.
About the Survey
A link to the survey was sent to 911 Honors College alumni; of these, 262 (29 percent) completed the survey. Almost all of the responders, 93 percent, have graduated in the last five years, and 58 percent were women. Reported occupations were all over the map, ranging from work with governmental agencies such as the U.S. Department of Education to entrepreneurial start-ups. 41 percent are pursuing graduate studies.
And the winner is ….
Congratulations to Elizabeth (St. John) Serven, B.A. degree, magna cum laude in journalism, ’07, proud winner of a new iPad2!
Thanks to all of you who took time to share your thoughts with us. Your feedback is very helpful as we move forward with strategic planning for the Honors College. More information on that process will come at a later date!
Missed the survey but have some feedback to share? Please contact us; we’d love to hear from you.