Thursday, September 23, 2021

Honors Program takes interactive approach

Headquartered in Hawkins Hall, Plattsburgh State’s Honors Program currently has about 375 student enrollees from a variety of majors who take part in interactive, seminar-based classes geared to provide a perspective that is unique from traditional classroom learning.

The program, headed by director James Armstrong, seeks students looking to learn beyond the normal classroom atmosphere.

“You’re drilling down into material more than most general education courses, which tend to be surveys. This is more of a penetrating look — a look that’s critical,” Armstrong said.

The honors program is available to students of all majors and academic levels, although Armstrong said the first two years of the program are the most critical, and the acceptance requirements are stringent.

Students looking to enter the program as freshmen are required to have an SAT score of at least 1200 and enter college with a 92 average or higher. Although these are the guidelines, Armstrong said he has made exceptions for students he feels “might respond well to the atmosphere,” and are very close to meeting the other requirements.

Victoria Mason, a sophomore marketing and entrepreneurship major in her third semester of taking honors seminars, said that although her SAT score was a few points too low, she was allowed to enter the program.

Her experience in the program thus far has taught her the importance of coming to seminars fully prepared.

“There are fewer people in the classes, so you can’t rely on them to answer all the questions which isn’t necessarily a bad thing,” Mason said.

Although the honors program is designed in a way that eliminates traditional testing methods and replaces them with intensive, reading-based discussion, some honors students feel an added pressure to live up to higher expectations.

“There is always that pressure to graduate with honors,” PSUC freshman honors student Arwa Abuwala said.

When he first became involved in the honors program, Armstrong said that he felt pressure as well, though it was a different kind than students in the program experience. Armstrong, who began his career at PSUC teaching anthropology in 1981, said that he was resistant at first when approached about teaching in the honors program.

“I had a kind of perception of the honors program as being exclusionary,” Armstrong said.

Because he had previously been the chairman of the general education committee and served on the committee during the majority of PSUC’s general education revisions, the previous honors program director Dave Mowry urged him to sign on as the assistant director in order to “get my foot in the door.”

In 2011, Armstrong took over as director.

“One of the things that we were able to do in the anthropology program was build a community of students, and that was something we always strived for — to break down the barrier between the faculty and students to give them more of stake in their education,” Armstrong said. “And in the honors program, I could see the same thing happening.”

Although he is not particularly fond of the social obligations he has as director, Armstrong said his favorite aspect of the position is teaching students.

“My favorite thing to do is teach classes, whether they’re honors classes or not.”

The atmosphere created by professors and students in PSUC’s honors program, while challenging, is one that many students find to be a welcome change from some of their traditional courses.

“In (the program), you always have other people around you who want to learn,” Abuwala said.

Above all, Armstrong said he sees honors program as providing a strong base for students to build off in their collegiate and professional careers.

“I think the classes give them confidence because they’re focused on discussion and participation,” Armstrong said. “Students learn quickly in honors courses that they have something to say, and they can say it.”

Email Thomas Marble at

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