The Senior Project in Honors
Being an Honors student culminates in the Honors senior project. Ordinarily, the project connects with the student's major and is a capstone to which all the student’s intellectual effort in courses, in discussions with faculty and fellow students outside of class, and in the student's thinking and meditation tends. This capstone is also the culmination of the student's moral development as a student, moral here understood in the expansive and full sense of one's coming to know what is good and to act in accord with it. In effect, the senior project gives the student the opportunity to discover intellectual abilities that they may not have known they had. It is also good preparation for graduate and professional schools, as well entry into the workplace.
Ordinarily, the senior project in Honors entails six hours of study, which are taken sometime during the student's last three semesters. The six hours are usually divided into two three-credit courses, though in the sciences the division may be into two-hours of credit.
In the Honors senior project, the student should follow an independent line of inquiry quite broadly conceived. This often involves a traditional independent study on a topic proposed by the student. It may also entail creative work, an internship, or study abroad. While there are no prescribed models, recent examples have included a study of the novels of Clive Cussler, an investigation of the effect of pastoral care on nursing care, a laboratory experiment on the healing properties of plants, a dramaturgy of campus theatre productions, a business internship at Main Street Fairmont, and a writing internship at the Marion County Convention and Visitors Bureau.
In the early stages of the senior project, the student discusses ideas with the director of Honors and other faculty members. The student then formalizes these discussions by drafting a proposal to define the parameters of the project. The proposal announces a clear line of intellectual inquiry or work. Usually, the proposal begins with a question to be answered or a problem to be solved; it may also lay out a subject or issue to be analyzed, or propose a view or policy to be explained. In traditional independent studies, whether in the humanities or the sciences, this is the research question; creative projects, internships, and study abroad also have a research question, though in these experiences the question is not always distinctly articulated. The student should pose the research question as clearly as possible in terms that any well-educated lay person can grasp.
The proposal should also define the methodology of the project. In the arts, this may involve looking at primary materials, such as literary works, musical scores, or plays, and then consulting secondary sources such as biography, reviews, and criticism that will help the student answer the research question. In the social and behavioral sciences, the methodology may start with a literature review and culminate in an experiment of the student's devising. Similarly, in the so-called hard sciences, the methodology may involve laboratory or field research. Proposals for creative projects, internships, and study abroad experiences should describe in detail the nature of the work to be done.
The proposal should include an initial bibliography of works to be consulted. These works should be suitable to the field and to the project. Where appropriate, print and book-length sources should be included.
The student should state the reason he or she wants to undertake the project. Often students begin with a personal motive, but the proposal should go beyond statements such as, "I have always liked the poems of Emily Dickinson" or "ever since I came out, I've been curious about suicide among gay teens." Personal reasons are often excellent starting points for a senior project in Honors, but neither the proposal nor the project should remain on the level of personal preferences or experiences. Instead, the student should attempt to broaden his or her thinking and frame the project in a wider context, such as, "the poems of Emily Dickinson are full of ambiguities, rebelliousness, and self-assertion that can speak to the experience of young adults" or "the trauma of homophobic teasing and rejection lead to a larger percentage of suicide among gay teenagers than among their straight counterparts". In other words, the proposal should focus on a reason that can be argued.
The proposal also includes a statement of the intellectual, professional, and personal benefits that the student hopes to gain from the project.
Finally, the proposal should mention the faculty mentor with whom the student hopes to work. It is a good idea for the student to sound out the faculty member early on as to her availability and willingness to work with the student on the project. While the senior project in Honors entails independent study, analysis, and writing, the faculty mentor can offer invaluable guidance, direction, and encouragement to the student. The faculty mentor should be a faculty member whom the student has had for class and whom the student knows well and whose work he or she admires.
Once the student has drafted and polished the proposal, he or she submits a copy to the director of the Honors program, who may ask for clarifications or revisions. These are always offered in the interest of focusing the project to make it manageable for the student so that the project can be successfully completed and be a source of satisfaction. Once an acceptable draft has been produced, the director sends a copy to the faculty member, asking him or her to serve as the student’s mentor. The director also places a copy of the proposal in the student's file so that other students and independent reviewers of the Honors Program may have access to them.
The director sets up the course for the project and enrolls the student in it. The student meets with the faculty members to work out a schedule of meetings about the project and to agree on due dates for various stages of the project. A general outline of these due dates can be found at The Senior Project: A Process and a Timeline.
Whether it takes the form of a research project, an internship, or creative work, the senior project in Honors involves a substantial written component. For research projects in the humanities, the senior project should be beyond the ordinary term paper for a class. With internships, the writing includes the student’s reflective analysis of his or her experience with the internship. In creative projects, the writing involves an explanation of the work; when the senior project involves a performance, the writing may take the shape of an expanded and researched program note.
There is no standard length for the written portion of the senior project in Honors. This is a matter of negotiation between the student and the faculty member. Normally, research in the humanities may run between twenty-five and fifty pages, while math and science projects may be shorter, given their density. Reflective analyses usually run five to ten pages. A hardcopy of the final, corrected copy of the written portion of the senior project must be filed with the Honors office in 225 Turley on the last day of classes.