A Program that Honors Values—Not Just Academics
When you think of an Honors program at a university, you probably think of rigorous academics, overachievement, and loads of extracurricular activities that leave you with no time for a social life. While this works for some, enrichment doesn’t have to be piling on extra responsibilities—especially when so many students are burned out as it is.
At Arcadia, while Honors students still conduct disciplined work, we prioritize something more important: Our shared values, rather than just academic rigor. Arcadia’s Honors program follows nine important tenets in everything we do, spelled out simply on our website:
Empathy: Make understanding others a priority.
Collaboration: Play well with others; there is strength in teams.
Innovation: Problems are just opportunities waiting to be explored.
Integrity: Be who you say you are.
Passions: Follow them.
Communication: Voices heard and understood create a difference.
Connection: Every connection is an opportunity for greater happiness.
Inclusivity: Everyone has a special place within the community; explore yours and use it to change the community for the better.
Shared vulnerability: Be willing to take risks, learn from setbacks, and most of all, ask for and give help. In shared vulnerability, real connections occur and trust is built.
And trust me, this isn’t just something they promise on paper. When I joined the Honors program, I really didn’t know what to expect. All of my exposure to Honors programs in the past involved a lot of extra work and involvement with no benefit. But when a member of the Honors program approached me in Spanish class and asked if I was in the program, I became intrigued.
I wasn’t invited to join Honors when I transferred here from community college, and I hadn’t really heard much about the program at all, but my classmate seemed so enthused that I decided I’d check it out. When I looked at the Honors page on Arcadia’s website, I saw the perks of priority registration, networking, and scholarship opportunities, so I figured I’d give it a shot and fill out the application. Who wouldn’t want priority registration?
Upon enrolling in HN201, The Study of Self and Teams—one of five required courses for the program—I discovered that it was much more than priority registration and extra classes. Each class was dedicated to developing one of the program’s shared values. In one unit, we learned about empathy. I know that probably sounds like some cheesy kind of thing you’d have an assembly about in school, but Helene Klein, director of the Honors Program and professor of the course, made it genuinely fulfilling.
From the get-go, we got to know each other on a personal level. I am extremely introverted, shy, and anxious, but I think we all had a level of anxiety at first, being in a course that was less academic and more relaxed and social. We spent a lot of time talking about our days and our lives, sharing memes in the Zoom chat, and relating Helene’s lectures to our own personal experiences.
We even wrote papers about how we felt about the class, what we were worried about, and who we are as people. It allowed us to get an intimate understanding of each other as not just classmates and colleagues, but as people who weren’t so different from each other. In the empathy unit, we had to do a “secret Santa” type of activity, where we’d randomly be assigned a person to give a gift to based on the essays they wrote about themselves, and anything else they discussed about themselves in class. It was incredibly nerve-wracking at first, but I felt such a sense of accomplishment when I presented my gift to my classmate and explained why I thought he would like it. I still have the gift my assigned gift-giver gave to me: a painted shell that sits on my dresser at home and reminds me that, even though it was an assignment, someone cared enough to paint something for me (thank you, Grace!). Learning about each other and fostering empathy allowed me to be more comfortable in my environment and feel closer to my classmates.
As a junior, I’m now fulfilling my responsibilities as a member of the Honors Council. Students are sorted into “houses” and assigned mentors based on a personality quiz. They meet with mentors on a regular basis at the Hive (the upper level of Blankley Hall, which serves as a comfy lounge space for Honors students—pictured in header) and help plan events (trivia, movie nights, and more). I’ve also had an opportunity to attend the Swarm, a yearly event for Honors students to get together and hang out. This year, we ate Qdoba, made terrariums, listened to music, and all around had a great time.
While I’m not best friends with everyone I had Honors classes with, there’s a sense of camaraderie and familiarity when I see an Honors student on campus. I often spot Aaron trekking across campus in his stylish blazers, Ilija out and about with their friendly disposition, Ryan running about to fulfill his volunteer duties, and more. Even if I don’t know everyone that well, we all have something in common: knowing that connecting to each other is a value that we live.