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Salem State's Honors Program Gets Revamped

By Amanda Siciliano / Log Staff Writer
On February 16, 2012

The past few years have brought about many changes for Salem State University. Two of the biggest changes include a University title and a new residence hall on Central Campus. However, most students do not know about some of the academic changes that have taken place at Salem State since they're not as immediately noticeable as a status change or a new building. One of those changes is that Salem State recently approved changes to the graduation requirements of students enrolled in the Honors Program.

The Honors Program Advisory Committee members stated, in their memorandum for the adjustment, that it derived "from a program review conducted for the Commonwealth Honors Council this year."

Salem State's Honors Program is also included in the Commonwealth Honors Program (CHP). "It includes programs at all the UMASS campuses, and most of the Massachusetts public state universities and community colleges," said Dr. Joanna Gonsalves, director of the honors program.

Dr. Patricia Markunas, chairperson of the psychology department at Salem State, created the Honors Program more than 20 years ago. In 1998, it became one of the first CHP-approved campuses. The Salem State University webpage explains, "Highly motivated students with superior SAT scores, grade point averages and class rank standings are invited to apply."

There are approximately 190 current Honors Program members. "The Honors Program at Salem State University meets the needs of students seeking a curriculum that is unusually rich and challenging," according to the school webpage, referring to the "courses that stand out not because they are more difficult and time consuming, but rather because they are stimulating and challenging."

During each review session, which takes place every six years, the Commonwealth Honors Council conducts a site-visit. According to Gonsalves, the school also conducts a "year-long selfstudy of the program."

"During the self-study, we talked to honors program students, faculty and alumni to better understand what we are doing well and how we can improve," she said.

Gonsalves said the restoration to the program includes restoring the honors program budget, an addition of three topical courses in philosophy, English and political science, a membership rotation for the advisory committee of the program, senior honors thesis coursework, which varies between three and six credits to be completed with Honors Independent Study, and a college-wide discussion about "team teaching" which is occurring on campus.

The program will continue to require that students maintain a GPA of 3.5 or higher, as stated on the university's website. Seniors are also required to complete a senior honors thesis.

"We have always required the senior honors thesis since the honors program's inception in the 1980s," said Gonsalves. "The changes made last year make sure that everyone gets credit, where credit is due."

She states the change had nothing to do with Salem State's new university status, but it will have a positive effect on students with respect to the directed study requirement. The changes have been made public to the student body through the change in the honors flow sheet, which shows the directed study as a required course, and not an elective.

Gonsalves said that in the 2010 report, the Commonwealth Honors Council "was impressed by the overall level of commitment and enthusiasm of the faculty, students, and administrators alike for the program's growth and success."

The Honors Program at Salem State University is described in detail on the school's website. It explains that the program is open to all majors and is in place to provide students with a more challenging curriculum, and a more interactive hands-on-approach to learning.

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