Honors College Courses

Honors courses are not designed to be “harder” than regular courses; instead they offer an exciting alternative to the standard WCore liberal education program taken by the rest of Westminster’s student body. Each course has a unique, intensive, active, and student-centered learning environment that attracts students who wish to stretch themselves in the classroom.

Five students sitting and talking in class

Course Style and Set-up

Honors courses are team-taught by 2 professors from different academic disciplines. Each course emphasizes deep analysis of primary resources, understanding interdisciplinary perspectives, and developing your individual voice. Distinguishing features of Honors courses include:

  • Interdisciplinary course design that puts different disciplines in dialogue with each other, resulting in more complex conversations
  • Rigorous development of effective writing and communication skills that will help you find success in any field
  • Focus on challenging primary texts that help you develop critical-thinking abilities as you wrestle with crucial ideas from different cultures and historical periods
  • Conversation-based classroom environments that challenge you to ask interesting questions that lead to a new understanding

"In the Honors College, success is in how you can collaborate with other people, admit when you make mistakes, and bounce ideas off your team to find the right answer. Honors pushes you to find your own voice."

Nicole ('20)

Nicole was born and raised in Peru. Being a woman was one of the biggest disadvantages she faced within the education system there, as women aren’t encouraged or supported in joining STEM fields. For Nicole, a woman who has loved science since she was a little girl, that was a major setback. She began researching schools in the United States and, when she stumbled upon liberal arts colleges, she fell in love with the idea of combining arts and sciences. The liberal arts experience that Westminster offers made the college an obvious choice for Nicole.

Nicole is continuing her love of studying science as a PhD candidate in physics at Washington University in St. Louis.

Course Descriptions

The gateway course to the Honors College, this two-semester seminar is taken by all first-year Honors students. It guides students through the transition to college-level work by engaging primary texts in literature, history, and philosophy from around the world and across epochs. Organized each year by a theme—e.g., authority and freedom, other worlds, friendship, crossing borders—the class helps students learn to develop their own views of the works assigned through deep analysis, and to write about their thinking in reasoned, mature prose (through short weekly writings, longer essays, and lots of feedback). The course is conceived as a conversation among students and the two professors about provocative ideas and disciplines in dialogue. Overall, students learn the foundational thinking, writing, and speaking skills for future Honors seminars, the rest of college, and life outside the classroom.

In this interdisciplinary seminar, students discuss the special status often given to scientific knowledge relative to other forms of knowledge, and explore the ways in which that status might help or hinder our ability to understand our universe. The class will build on this discussion, critically evaluating the notions of certainty, authority, and progress that are often intertwined with scientific knowledge, as well as the degree to which scientific knowledge reflects the culture that develops it.

This second science seminar explores the relationship between scientific knowledge and power, and how it intersects with issues of diversity. Students will engage with major ideas and texts from the last century in the contemporary philosophy of science, science and cultural studies, and the natural and physical sciences. Epistemological and ethical issues in the production and dissemination of science knowledge are discussed, as are issues of race, gender, culture, and justice pertaining to science in society. Students will gain critical perspectives on popular contemporary scientific discourse by analyzing ideas from primary source texts, critical accounts of science, and scientific journalism.

Economic inequality continues to increase throughout the world, putting more human beings in poverty. The 21st century poses a significant challenge, therefore, to political and economic institutions to deal effectively and justly with this increasing economic inequality-as-poverty. This course explores the political and economic literature on distributive and economic justice, from classical sources to more contemporary sources such as liberalism, Marxism, feminism, and cosmopolitanism, to better understand how we might eradicate poverty and economic inequalities through just institutional changes in the 21st century.

Why do people do the things they do as individuals, groups, or as a society? How does our culture and society shape human behavior? How does our behavior shape society? Are the answers to be found in genetics, socioeconomic status, gender, culture, and/or elsewhere? This seminar explores the intersection of human culture and behavior via the methods and perspectives of a variety of social science disciplines. The course examines topics as diverse as violence, law and crime, sexuality and sexual identity, and gender and racial injustice.

Using a multi-disciplinary approach that emphasizes direct artistic experiences, this course explores the "what" and the "why" of both arts and performance. As in the creation of art itself, this seminar engenders curiosity, considers context, welcomes risk-taking, and fosters an environment that leads to openness and depth of connection. Primary sources include the specific artistic interests of individuals within the class, as well as a variety of arts events within the Westminster and Salt Lake communities. Firmly committed to the idea that being an educated, active, and fully alive individual requires engaging with and critically/creatively responding to the arts, students will examine a wide variety of artistic works in the visual arts, music, dance/movement, drama/theatre, and explore essential questions related to the arts and creation. Students develop a sense of openness to unexpected possibilities through the recognition of the place for the arts in their lives.

This seminar investigates the intersection of art and the environment across a broad understanding of each sphere. Faculty and students will explore primary texts and experiences that lend an understanding to our place within the arts (visual, literary, sound, performative) and environment (natural, constructed, scientific). Topics might include, for example, unexpected nature, ecosystems and creativity, environmental and cultural changes, and the collateral ideas formed between art and nature. The state of Utah and the surrounding regions provide a remarkable backdrop for exploring these topics through field trips and study. Other learning activities—writing, conversation, and reflection—will offer students myriad ways to appreciate our place in environments and the space of art.

We are surrounded by data. Even when we're unaware of it, data informs key systems upon which we rely: transportation, politics, computing, medicine, and commerce, just to name a few. In this course, we seek to develop an understanding of the nature of data: what it is, how it is gathered and stored, what it purports to measure, and what it actually measures. Quantitative tools are developed to analyze data while simultaneously exploring the value and limitations of such analysis. The ultimate goal is to connect data to the process of making decisions, with examples from a variety of fields used to illustrate its successes and failures.

This course for Honors degree students provides a capstone experience that challenges students to reflect on the process of creating independent scholarship in an interdisciplinary learning context. Faculty and students will examine the diverse set of skills required to produce high quality, independent scholarship from the generation of project ideas to project planning and implementation, to the presentation of their work in a variety of potential formats. In particular, cross-disciplinary conversations will encourage students to draw inspiration from colleagues in other fields and see how their research might have applicability to those fields.

The entire first-year Honors class comes together once a week on Tuesday evenings to have a conversation about a targeted topic. These topics are wide-ranging and include things like diversity and leadership, positioning yourself for graduate school, and succeeding in college. Other topics are more light-hearted, like Zumba, how to read a film, and how the brain learns. This program helps round out and deepen students' Honors experience. It also helps increase first-year engagement through alternative learning community activities that give Honors students a chance to interact outside the formal classroom. Sessions are hosted by Honors peer mentors and are open, in some cases, to upper-class students. First-year Honors students receive credit for attending these sessions, as it makes up a portion of their grade. Topics change from year to year based on feedback on each session from students.

High School AP Course Credit

While the Honors College encourages students to engage in AP work in high school, the Honors College does not award course credit for that work. AP courses focus on single disciplines and all Honors courses are interdisciplinary—there is no equivalency. Nevertheless, most Honors students enter the program with a significant amount of AP credit on their transcripts and AP work often helps students prepare for the rigor of the Honors experience.

While you won’t receive Honors credit for AP exams, all Westminster students receive Westminster general-credit hours toward graduation for satisfactory scores on AP exams; which will also accelerate a student's path to upper-class status, eventually giving them priority in registering for courses. And, individual majors often give elective credit, which can be found in the undergraduate academic catalog. For students interested in graduate study in fields like medicine, it is important to know that AP credits in particular academic fields often don't satisfy entrance requirements.