Honors College Curriculum
Since rolling out our current curriculum in the fall of 2018, students enrolled in the Honors College have had an educational experience that’s more collaborative, more experiential and more focused on making a difference in Richmond.
Our curriculum was created out of a desire to make honors education more outcomes-focused and attract students from disciplines throughout the university. What resulted is a program that takes advantage of VCU’s urban environment and prepares students to graduate with skills in communication, independence, critical thinking, creativity, social awareness, leadership, collaboration and a commitment to community engagement.
Incoming Honors students are placed into cohorts of classmates designed to emphasize diversity of race, religion and gender, as well as diversity of thought, major and perspective. Over their time in the Honors College, students take a series of new and existing courses focused on learning about and engaging with the Richmond community.
The program culminates with capstone projects that address real-world problems facing the city and surrounding localities.
First Year Writing Program
Most Honors students enter college with significant writing experiences. We want to build on those skills, working toward a true understanding of the critical thinking and reflection that must be a part of writing targeted toward professional audiences. Our program consists of two courses that help students reach those goals.
The HONR 200 Rhetoric course helps students understand how professional researchers approach their work. Students learn the fundamentals of scholarly research as well as the critical thinking that must be a part of serious discovery. The HONR 250 Expository Writing course gives students the opportunity to respond to the world around them in thoughtful and critical ways that require them to engage their own ideas with the thinking of others. These courses, in tandem, help Honors students develop their own voices while understanding the professional expectations in a variety of rhetorical situations.
Humans of RVA and VCU
In HONR 170 Humans of RVA and VCU, our city-as-text, experiential learning course, students work in small, diverse cohorts from the time they arrive on campus. Students study Richmond history, current social issues and inequities, and the concepts of community and community engagement. In the style of Humans of New York, cohorts interview Richmond area residents and post stories and photos to social media, with an eye toward better understanding the “danger of the single story” and the many aspects of community. Students will demonstrate an understanding of the relationship among community engagement, social justice, and social change. They will communicate ethically, sensitively, and effectively with members of the campus and RVA communities.
While engaging in the Humans of RVA course, students are introduced to the eight priority areas, or pillars, established by the Capital Region Collaborative. These pillars – Education, Job Creation, Workforce Preparation, Social Stability, Healthy Community, Coordinated Transportation, James River and Quality Place – are particularly relevant, having been established by the greater Richmond community through lengthy engagement with the Collaborative, and will serve as a framework for the students’ capstone projects.
In HONR 171 Investigative Inquiry, our second city-as-text, experiential-learning course, students work in cohorts to experience outings in the RVA community. They are provided with a list of varied activities, such as visiting local parks and historic sites, attending arts events and festivals, hiking trails along the James River, and taking local transportation around the city. In addition, they can “choose their own adventure” to experience RVA as they wish.
In addition, students reflect on their experiences in writing, demonstrate an understanding of the nature of community, and connect their excursions to the Capital Region Collaborative pillars. The cohorts’ engagement in the Richmond region, as well as their reflection about their engagement, earns them several of their yearly required Honors engagement points.
Honors Flourishing: The Applied Science of Wellbeing
College is a time of growth and exploration, but it can also be a time of intense pressure and stress, especially among students committed to high standards of excellence and achievement. Evidence-based theories and practices that promote personal wellbeing form the foundation of this class. Students will read primary research that illuminates the connection between emotional health, physical health, social relationships, mindfulness, and optimal daily functioning. Active exploration and personal application of specific wellbeing techniques and strategies are cornerstones of this experiential class. Students will learn to flourish by cultivating a healthy lifestyle throughout college and beyond.
Honors Mentorship Program
We want our students to find their place in the Honors College and VCU. Started roughly two decades ago and a signature program of the College, the Honors College Mentorship Program pairs incoming first-year students with Honors upperclassman who provide guidance and social support. Over the Fall semester, our student mentors help their mentees learn about campus life and where they fit in in the Honors College, creating a strong connection to our campus.
During their first year in the Honors College, students are introduced to eight priority areas of the Richmond community identified by the Capital Regional Collaborative, a collaboration of local government, business and community stakeholders.
These eight pillars are:
- Job creation
- Workforce preparation
- Social stability
- Healthy communities
- Coordinated transportation
- Quality of place
- The James River
Students begin to hone in on specific interests tied to the priority areas as they explore them in the Humans of RVA and VCU course. In a subsequent course called Investigative Inquiry, students receive “engagement points” by participating in activities in the Richmond community.
Throughout the program, students also take a number of electives that lead them toward, or inform, their capstone projects.
Prior to their senior year, students begin making plans for their capstone project, tackling a problem within one of these priority areas. And in their senior year, they implement the capstone and present it at the end of the year.
Students like the chance to do things. They want to be involved. They want to make change. They want to feel that they've had an opportunity to make a difference.
Instructor and director of writing