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Undergraduate Studies | Communications

April 15, 2013

 TO: The American University Community
 FROM: Virginia (Lyn) Stallings, Interim Vice Provost for Undergraduate Studies
 SUBJECT: The New American University Honors Program


I am pleased to announce the new structure for the University Honors Program. The revised program will be called the American University Honors Program and will admit its first class of students in Fall 2014. In the meantime, the current University Honors Program will continue to provide its quality academic and co-curricular offerings to its students and will graduate its final class in Spring 2017.

Begun in 1959, the University Honors Program has served the university for over a half century by providing a demanding liberal arts education for the high-achieving student. The current program took shape in 1989 and created several model programs. Honors colloquia have helped inspire the University College and the sophomore seminar of the new General Education program. The nearly decade-old Honors Study/Travel Program has turned the world into a classroom. The freshman mentorship program, Honors 101, has brought peer counseling to new levels and was expanded for transfer students. The Honors Alumni Networking program was one of the first sustained efforts to engage alumni, and the Honors capstone has been replicated in many departments and programs across the university. Honors students win a disproportionate share of university awards and national scholarships and are found in leadership positions across campus.

The new honors program will aid the university in realizing the strategic goal of providing an unsurpassed undergraduate education and experience by being both distinctive and distinctively AU. No honors program in the country looks quite like the American University Honors Program; however, it builds upon best practices from around the country. Rather than promoting excellence in general, the new structure has the specific purpose of creating interdisciplinary thinkers who can tackle contemporary problems and enduring issues using several simultaneous lines of inquiry. Their training will include the development of significant research, creativity, and communication skills. Students in the program will develop advanced quantitative and information literacy and will graduate with the ability to carry out scholarly inquiry and express complex ideas in ordinary language using written, oral, and media modes. Their Honors coursework will include both intensive academic study and hands-on practice, requiring collaboration with leaders in the field.

As part of its initial exploratory structure, the honors program will require five courses and a capstone course. In order to model interdisciplinary inquiry, the first four courses will be team-taught. These courses are designed to include faculty from across the university. The first three explore the arts and humanities, the natural sciences, and the social sciences, and the fourth will be a course designed to encourage risk-taking, creativity, and innovation. A fifth Honors Challenge course will give Honors students hands-on experience as teams tackle real-world problems. A capstone requirement will provide Honors students an opportunity to demonstrate the accumulated skills they have acquired in the program. Students will keep an e-portfolio, and their faculty mentors will join Honors program personnel in engaging students in an intentional program designed to promote personal growth and professional development.

The twelve faculty members teaching these core courses will receive prorated three-year appointments to teach one Honors course each year and be designated Honors Faculty. The Honors Challenge courses will be taught by other AU faculty, and the capstone will be directed by faculty within the student’s major.

The distinctiveness of the new American University Honors Program and the unique opportunities it offers will give high-caliber students an advanced liberal arts curriculum with challenging experiences that define precisely what it means to be Honors students at American University. In its pilot phase, the program will be limited to forty-five incoming students each year, including five from the Frederick Douglass Distinguished Scholars Program (FDDS). Students will apply for the new program at the time of their application for admission to the university and will be required to prepare a supplemental application form and essay.

The new Honors program will be housed in the Office for Honors Programs and over the next 17 months will be seeking to:

  • identify Honors Faculty invested in team-teaching one Honors course per year over a three-year period;
  • engage the new Honors Faculty in designing specific courses to be offered starting in AY 2014-2015;
  • secure an Honors Faculty Chair who will serve as the academic leader of the program; and
  • establish the Faculty Senate’s new Faculty Honors Advisory Committee to review the new curriculum.

Faculty members who are interested in learning more information or how to submit a preliminary proposal for a new Honors core course should contact Michael Manson, the interim director of the University Honors Program, at 202-885-2416 or

Please let me know if you have any questions.

Virginia (Lyn) Stallings
Interim Vice Provost for Undergraduate Studies