As Matthew Fee, Ph.D., addressed his class, hands shot up. The students in Fee’s interdisciplinary honors seminar on Irish storytelling were discussing writer-director Neil Jordan’s 1992 Academy Award-winning film, The Crying Game, which tackles issues of national, racial, gender and sexual identities against the backdrop of The Troubles in Northern Ireland. There was a lot to unpack, including themes, images and patterns, and to learn, as Fee introduced the undergraduates to cinematic terms such as mise-en-scène. Fee urged the students to examine what the film conveyed, and how it conveyed that cinematically. What are its various meanings? What does it say about what it means to be Irish?
“Every time I see the film, it reveals something new to me,” Fee told the class. “I hope you’ll have the same experience.”
Like all courses in the College’s Honors Program, this interdisciplinary seminar on Irish storytelling is characterized by a rigor that captures the imaginations of Le Moyne’s most passionate, curious and driven students. Honors courses are among the most visible and dynamic on The Heights. Even a single day in one of these classes “can change your perspective on something in a way that you couldn’t imagine,” noted Emma Discenza ’20, a communications and English major from Phoenix, N.Y., and one of the students in Fee’s course. What’s more, they serve as labs for faculty members to develop new and innovative courses that quickly become models for others across campus. They are taught for scholars, by scholars, with the aim of providing students with an educational experience that is full of discovery – and transformation. More than anything else, though, the Honors Program is an academic community that challenges and supports students as they grow and connect to the College’s Jesuit mission of service.
“The Honors Program can best be described as a small, tight-knit community of students with a passion for learning,” said Karleigh Volk ’18, an honors student from East Aurora, N.Y., who is majoring in biochemistry. “I don’t believe that the program is necessarily made up of the ‘smartest’ students at the College, but I do believe to be successful in the program, you must have a real drive to put in extra effort to participate and really enjoy an interdisciplinary take on learning.”
This is a critical time in the history of the Honors Program. In recent years Le Moyne students have earned numerous prestigious awards, including Fulbright and Boren scholarships and Newman Civic Fellowships, and have been admitted to top-tier graduate programs at institutions such as Northwestern University, Cornell University, Boston College and the University of California at Santa Barbara. Among the key components of the College’s strategic plan, Sempre Avanti, is to build upon those successes by providing students with even more innovative, forward-looking educational opportunities. As the College continues to build its academic reputation, it is making strategic investments in programming, particularly in the Honors Program. With a doctorate in cinema studies from New York University and more than 20 years in higher education administration, Fee recently began work as the first full-time director in the program’s history. This summer the College redesigned the honors suite in order to provide students with a space that is conducive to building the sense of community that exemplifies the Honors Program.
In many ways Le Moyne’s Honors Program is a microcosm of Sempre Avanti, embodying its four tenets of academic excellence, meaningful success, community and sustainability. The program provides students with the opportunity to investigate the wider world in ways that help them better connect to it, to see the world from a different perspective, and to engage in issues of social justice. For example, a group of students, the majority of them in the Honors Program, recently returned from a trip to Guatemala, where they studied issues of inequality, exploitation and oppression. In addition, each honors student completes a thesis on the topic of his or her choice that can be a catalyst for innovation. Past projects have addressed subjects such as the presidential election of 1800, patterns of bird migration in a changing climate, and unmanned aerial systems. Those experiences help graduates of the honors program become better-informed agents of change, explained Kate Costello-Sullivan, Ph.D., dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.
“The honors program is meant to be an even more intensive, high-octane version of the experience we provide to all of our students,” she said. “It reaches into all aspects of our students’ experiences here, and is part of a four-year experience in the life of the mind.”
Honors programs have existed for decades, but demand for them surged after World War II. Today, many Le Moyne students are attracted to its Honors Program because they want to learn alongside similarly dedicated students under the direction of caring faculty mentors. This fall each of the honors students took part in a common reading – How to See the World by Nicholas Mirzoeff – and then participated in a daylong seminar in which they discussed the complex ways that we rely on images, from maps that show us the impact of war on communities, to “selfies” sent to us by friends and family, to photos documenting political and environmental change. With a different topic each year, these seminars are cross-class, cross-disciplinary forums that dynamically explore how people engage with the world around them.
More than anything else, what sets Le Moyne’s Integral Honors Program apart from others is its interdisciplinary nature. Philosophy and biology faculty teach alongside one another, as do their peers in English and history. Not only do students tackle challenging topics such as racism, nationalism and genocide in these courses, but they also develop collaborative skills, learn to find creative solutions to problems, and embrace new ideas, thanks to this interdisciplinary approach. Meghan Burrows ’20, a biochemistry major from Syracuse, N.Y., said that, in addition to providing tremendous training in listening, thinking and writing critically, her honors program classes have pushed her and her classmates “to look beyond our own lives and look to places, people, and issues around the world.”
“Nobody is alike in the program,” Burrows said. “Many different majors are represented in our class and the discussions we have are heated debates between differing opinions that all the while remain respected and heard. Our class is a small family, a pod of dolphins, and it is reassuring to know I have so many intelligent and kind people to whom I can turn.”
What makes the Honors Program not just interdisciplinary and rigorous, but Jesuit, are the connections that its students form with the world around them. The impact of their education can be seen in everything from the volunteer work they choose to undertake, to the various leadership roles they play on campus, to the questions they ask of themselves and others. The program’s intellectual rigor serves as the foundation upon which students can better understand themselves – an example of cura personalis; its emphasis on engagement with the wider world – an example of becoming men and women for others; and its commitment to advancing knowledge – an example of magis.
In the future, College leaders hope to grow the Honors Program from 65 to approximately 80 students, and to provide those scholars with even more occasions to engage in meaningful interactions with both ideas and with one another, regardless of the discipline they are studying. They are also looking to provide students with more opportunities to travel, for instance by taking part in a short-term study abroad program, or to conduct research or attend academic conferences off campus. Fee emphasized that the essential aim is to extend learning beyond the classroom while continuing to provide students with an outlet to share ideas and values while forming community.
“Simply put, we want our students to be intellectually engaged with the world around them,” Fee concluded.
The updates to the Honors Program are part of the College's $100 million Always Forward campaign, which was publicly announced in June of 2018.
Honors at Le Moyne