Skip to main content
Menu Search & Directory
Close

Academic and Extracurricular Updates in the Honors Program

Each year brings new academic and extracurricular opportunities for Honors Program students, faculty and staff. Read below for updates during the 2021-2022 academic year.

Since its founding in 1938, the Saint Louis University Honors Program has evolved from an academic program for junior and senior “honors men” in the College of Arts and Sciences to an all-inclusive academic program for students of all majors across their four years at the University. Along the way, the program has had various curricular structures, student organizations, campus locations, and faculty/staff leadership that have endeared it to generations of honors Billikens. For our loyal alumni leadership, we offer a few important academic and extracurricular updates below to let you know the latest news as we chart our course in the program’s ninth decade.

Academics

For the past thirty years, the Honors Program first-year seminar (Crossroads) has been a defining feature of the honors experience. Taught on a variety of subjects by faculty from across the University, Crossroads is designed to engage first-year students in rich conversation as they discern their intellectual interests and vocational impulses.  This year’s list of course titles includes:

Banned Books: Reading the “Indecent," "Objectionable," and "Obscene" (Brooke Taylor, Honors Program)

In this course, we will read a selection of novels that have been banned and examine what leads to the banning of a book. Is it language, ideas, implications, or a possible misreading of the content? In a culture that values freedom of speech and the exchange of ideas, is there ever a case to be made for banning a book? What does it mean when some of us find value in literature that others find objectionable? Should the aesthetic mitigate the (im)moral? We will move beyond a simplistic debate of whether a book “should” be banned to analyze why certain themes or ideas raise alarms. We will examine texts that have been banned in the United States on political, religious, sexual or social grounds so that we can gain insight into the controversies they started, but also to consider the themes and questions raised by each work of literature and their moral implications. We will explore what, if anything, these novels have in common, and what they may contribute to the study of literature and our understanding of moral concerns and social values.

Civic Engagement, Agenda Setting, and Civil Discourse (Leah Sweetman, Center for Service and Community Engagement)

Elections are an important characteristic of a democracy, as they provide the link between the will of citizens and the policies that are eventually implemented. Elections also raise important issues, including encouraging citizen participation and improving political discourse. In this course, we will introduce agenda setting in public policy. Agenda setting focuses on how and why some issues receive political attention and others do not. This is central both to understanding policy change and political competition. In order to better understand agenda setting, the course will actively engage students in advocacy work related to local, state and national issues.

Equity and Economics in Education: Inequity in American Schools (Cameron Anglum, School of Education)

A robust system of education often is touted as a primary means by which American society may ameliorate longstanding entrenched inequality. The path to achieve this system, however, is much disputed. For example, how much does school funding matter in the production of long-term student outcomes? How do school choice policies seek to improve educational opportunity? Do school accountability and teacher evaluation policies improve student achievement? This seminar will grapple with these questions and more to introduce the subject of equity in education as it is informed by economic thought. No prior background in economics is necessary nor expected. We will survey key economic principles to analyze a wide range of critical questions in contemporary education policy including: 1) equity, adequacy, and effectiveness of school funding; 2) externalities and peer effects; 3) teacher evaluation, pay, and mobility; 4) charter school growth and effectiveness; 5) school accountability practices and academic standards; 6) student debt and degree completion in higher education; and more. In each of these topics, we will consider how economic theory and empirical evidence may inform our understanding of inequality in educational attainment. Students will be expected to think critically about how education policy is informed by research and the fundamental principles of economics. By the end of the course, students will be better equipped to apply economic principles to contemporary issues in education and social policy and to their respective courses of study.

Establishing a Worldview (Dan Finucane, Theological Studies)

In Dr. Daniel Finucane’s course, students will be challenged to examine their presuppositions and perspectives on what it means to be a human being, a leader, and an active moral participant in today’s world. We will consider how the goals and resources of Ignatian education can serve contemporary societies as they grapple with the challenges and riches of diversity and cooperation. Students will be encouraged to deepen their own vocational insights and preparations for leadership positions in the world, on the basis of a conscious, developing, informed view of the world.

Historian’s Craft: Jesuit and Catholic Traditions in the U.S. (David Miros, Jesuit Archives)
Consistent with the mission of Saint Louis University, The Historian’s Craft: Jesuit and Catholic Traditions in the United States examines the social and religious history of American Catholics. The course tracks the experience of Catholics from the colonial period to the twentieth century. The course seeks to educate students from undergraduate programs in a critical discourse with human experience, historical foundations, and historical developments in the United States. The course offers insight into the ethos of the various institutions and the worldview of paradigmatic figures. Attention will be devoted to visits to museums, galleries, churches, and historic sites and discussions about representative persons, groups, and institutions in their particular social, political, and religious contexts. Reading assignments, especially in appropriately chosen primary sources, anchor the investigation. Our critical, careful, and creative questioning hopefully deepens understanding and furthers research of religious history in the United States.
Medicine and Freedom in the USA (Harold Braswell, Health Care Ethics)
This course will examine the relationship between medicine and freedom in the United States. We will consider how developments within medicine both challenged and reinforced dominant understandings of freedom in US politics. We will also examine how the political regulation of “freedom” limited and expanded medical science and practice. In the first half of the semester, students will study the role that debates about medicine and freedom played in major moments in US history, including the Constitutional Convention, the Civil War, World War II, and the Civil Rights movement. We will then examine contemporary debates about medicine and freedom with regard to particular issues—such as abortion and physician-assisted suicide—and social policies such as the War on Drugs and the Affordable Care Act. By the end of the semester, students will have an understanding of the relationship between medicine and freedom that they can apply to future careers in medicine, law, and public policy, as well as to their own lives as patients and citizens.
What Makes a Life Significant? (Robert Pampel, Honors Program)
What makes a life significant? This question, borrowed from the American philosopher William James, is not easily answered. It invites us, first, to wonder what we mean when we describe a person’s life. Do we summarize a person’s life in terms of a career? Family and relationships? The intrinsic values one holds and actualizes over the course of one’s lifetime? Secondly, it compels us to think about the term significance. Is this a worthwhile goal, particularly at such an early stage in your life? How does this differ from a meaningful life, if at all? Over the course of the semester, we will puzzle over these questions in an attempt to clarify these ideas and to think about our own life trajectories. As we think about the term significance, we will examine biographical and autobiographical narratives of various figures - some historically important, some ordinary, some real, some fictional. We will identify what narrative conventions drive compelling life stories, and we will consider the deeper implications of these stories. What do they reveal about their narrators? How can we tell what the storytellers value based on what they include/exclude from the narrative? How do we evaluate the significance of the people who tell them? Are some lives more significant than others? If so, how do we define significance, both for others and for ourselves? These questions resist simple answers, but we will wrestle with them anyway in a spirit of thoughtfulness - an activity we will cultivate throughout the semester that will serve you well throughout your time in the Honors Program. We will not differentiate between “good” and “bad” lives, but we will hopefully come to appreciate why the act of telling stories about ourselves helps us both understand and create meaning in our lives.

Brooke Taylor, Ph.D., Program Manager in the University Honors Program and the instructor for the “Banned Books” section of Crossroads, says she crafted her syllabus with the goal of “inviting students to expand their worldview, while hopefully appealing to a variety of majors and areas of interest.”  She views Crossroads as an important course in promoting awareness of different perspectives and appreciation for societal power structures. “Reading books that have been banned invites conversation about whose voices get centered and who gets silenced or marginalized in our society. Online debates about ‘cancel culture’ and ongoing conversations about what should and shouldn’t be taught in schools makes this topic timely and significant,” Taylor added.  Crossroads has always had an unofficial goal of shepherding students to a broader understanding of the world and their place in it, as Taylor has found in her class: “My favorite moments in class are when students start reflecting on how powerful social messages are often communicated by what we don’t allow children to read.” 

Beginning in Fall 2022, SLU will adopt a new University Core that will provide a common intellectual experience for all undergraduate students. This important University-wide initiative will bring important changes to the Honors Program curriculum, including a change from Crossroads to a new “Honors Ignite” first-year seminar, honors-only “Ultimate Questions” courses in Philosophy and Theology, a new “Scholar in Society” senior-year experience, and a host of special experiences that encourage deep reflection about passion and purpose among honors students.

Extracurricular

The Honors Program has always been about more than rigorous academics. It is also about the strong community bonds that exist between students with a shared purpose and passion for learning. This community has flourished in the Honors Learning Community, as part of our Honors Student Association (HSA)-sponsored events and through the formal and informal mentoring networks that exist across grade levels. 

Last year, the Honors Program launched a peer mentoring and wellness initiative called Path.  The name is a nod to the different ways students experience SLU in terms of their academic, social, spiritual and vocational pathways. The group sponsors routine fellowship events to help first-year students adjust to life at SLU and in honors, and mentor groups collaborate to deliver monthly wellness events that help students maintain balance amidst a hectic academic and social schedule.

Annie Henning, the Honors Program Coordinator, serves as the staff leader for the student-led group and leverages her personal experience in the role: "As a former honors student, I empathize with the pressures of college and demands for excellence in all areas of one's life. I am blessed to serve as the advisor to kind, empathic, and dedicated students who are equally passionate about cura personalis and the development of community. " She marvels at the mentors' "passion and curiosity," which they aim to inspire in their first-year mentees.

Current Path mentor Ellie Heinrichs appreciates the role Path plays in her development and the well-being of first-year students. She recalls how "almost everything in college can be intimidating when you first begin it, so it is important to make students feel welcome and like they belong in the program and have the ability to do something really great with it." Heinrichs considers Path to be "important because it brings some energy and non-academic activity to the Honors Program, which can really allow students to open up and meet new people who are going through similar experiences as they are."

Because the program debuted in Fall 2020, the group’s outreach initiatives were limited mostly to Zoom meetings and an occasional outdoor gathering. Fortunately, with the return of in-person events in Fall 2021, the Path mentors have found new and creative ways to connect with the first-year class. This began with an in-person Fall Welcome, which featured 130 first-year students and a handful of transfer/current student entrants. This is the first in a yearlong effort to foster community, build relationships, and appeal to students’ heads and hearts as they navigate the rich and, at times, rocky terrain of college life.

The Honors Program at Saint Louis University, established in 1938, engages intellectually curious and academically successful students in a community oriented towards the Jesuit ideals of holistic learning, academic rigor, and community engagement. Through a combination of individually tailored curricula, experiential learning opportunities, and developmental guidance and mentorship, the Honors Program prepares students to become citizens who engage in the process of inquiry and apply their knowledge in service to society.