Defining: Introduction

The First-Year Writing Program is the foundation of Honors coursework. We also offer freshmen a unique opportunity to explore two specific areas relevant to every student: wellness and community engagement. 

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 student 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, students work in small, diverse cohorts from the time they arrive on campus. Students study the nature of community, Richmond history, community engagement and their role in it. Students will demonstrate an understanding of the relationship among community engagement, social justice and social change, and will communicate ethically, sensitively and effectively with members of the campus and RVA communities. 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 many aspects of community.

While engaging in the Humans of RVA course, students are introduced to the eight priority areas established by the Capital Region Collaborative. These pillars – Education, Job Creation, Workforce Preparation, Social Stability, Healthy Community, Coordinated Transportation, James River and Quality Place – serve as a framework for community engagement. These areas of interest are particularly relevant, having been established by the greater Richmond community through lengthy engagement with the Collaborative. 

Investigative Inquiry

In HONR 171 Investigative Inquiry, our experiential-learning course in community engagement, students work in their cohorts to research and experience activities and events in the RVA community. They receive a list of suggested activities, from volunteering with local non-profits to attending arts events to taking local transportation around the city. In addition, they can choose additional ways to experience RVA as a group.

Students select, schedule and actively participate in engagement activities; keep a detailed reflective journal; demonstrate an understanding of the nature of community; and work collaboratively to construct effective blog entries for the course blog. 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.


College is a time for growth and exploration, but can also be a time of intense pressure and stress. Every student needs to pay attention to self-care. HONR 150: Flourishing, developed by Dr. Danielle Dick (VCU Psychology) and Dr. Bela Sood (VCU Psychiatry), promotes wellness and an environment in which students can thrive.