Dr. Jennifer Vitale
Elliott Associate Professor of Psychology
Director of the Honors Program
Chair of the Honors Council
P.O. Box 165
Hampden-Sydney, VA 23943
Office: Bagby 223
Many Hampden-Sydney students are fully occupied during their undergraduate years in meeting the proficiency, distribution, and major requirements that lead to a degree. Some students, however, seek additional challenges and opportunities; they desire more intensive experiences in a particular discipline or in closely related disciplines. One avenue for obtaining such exposure is the College's Departmental Honors Program.
As they approach the end of their college career, some Hampden-Sydney students, including but not limited to the College's honors scholars, may desire to explore more deeply their chosen academic discipline. Other students who have not yet gone beyond the bounds of traditional course work also may wish to carry out a major independent study project before graduation. Both kinds of students are ideal candidates for departmental honors in their junior and/or senior years.
Nearly all of the departments at Hampden-Sydney provide junior/senior departmental honors work. The Honors Council encourages a student interested in pursuing a significant program of independent study to discuss the possibility of departmental honors work with a faculty member in the department of his major or a faculty member with whom the student shares intellectual interests. If a student is pursuing a double major, he may devise a cross-disciplinary Honors project that draws on his work in both disciplines.
Students may be motivated to pursue departmental honors for a number of reasons:
- The opportunity to work work closely with a professor so as to learn how an established scholar approaches research and writing in a particular discipline;
- The desire to bring together in a single project ideas and methods characteristic of two related fields of study;
- The development, pursuit, and mastery of an interest piqued but not satisfied in available course work;
- The satisfaction of conducting and completing a large-scale intellectual investigation;
- The development of scholarly habits essential for success in graduate and professional school.
Essentials of a Successful Honors Project:Years of successfully undertaken and completed honors projects demonstrate that Hampden-Sydney undergraduates can produce honors work of very high quality. However, such honors work is not produced easily or automatically; a student must bring to the task careful planning, rigorous self-discipline, and the habit of perseverance. The Honors Council has derived the following general principles regarding successful honors projects:
- Students must prepare extensively for independent study before the actual project begins. Preparation may include the acquisition of bibliographic skills, laboratory skills, planning skills, and organizational skills appropriate for the particular study or project.
- Students benefit from good advice in choosing and delineating independent study projects. Generally this means that a student should work in an area in which his faculty mentor is already knowledgeable if not expert. The academic calendar being what it is, the time available to a student in a one- or two-semester independent study project does not permit the leisurely pursuit of a project or topic not already carefully delimited; library resources and departmental equipment holdings are not able to support projects that have not been chosen with an eye toward institutional constraints.
- Students need regular interaction with a supervising committee throughout the independent study project. Ordinarily a student should meet with his supervisor at least once a week so as to report on project activities of the previous week, to evaluate the importance of those activities in relation to the overall project goals, and to plan project activities for the next week. In addition, a student will benefit from occasional meetings with other members of his supervisory committee, so that all members of the committee know how the project is developing.
- As stated previously, students undertake honors work in the department of their major. It sometimes happens that a student who is pursuing a double major wishes to undertake honors projects in both departments. Though strictly speaking not forbidden, this course of action is generally not a wise one. The demands of a project in one department are sufficiently rigorous that it would be a rare student indeed with the time and energy to complete two honors projects. It is far preferable for a student pursuing a double major to devise a cross-disciplinary project that combines, say, French and History or Classics and Fine Arts, so that the project becomes a unified exploration drawing on two disciplines.