Themed Clusters

By Danielle Clark

During the course-enrollment period of New Student Orientation, a professor handed two packets of honors course information to me. I was required to select a First Year Seminar and an Honors In Action course. Being a new student, I was eager to find my place in the program and get started earning Honors credit. Flipping through the pages, my eyes were drawn to the Dr. Carson’s Prison Reform class as well as Dr. Sexton’s 1000 Years of Outlaws Honors seminar. I made my choices and excitedly awaited the start of fall semester.

Upon arriving to BSU, I learned that the one-credit Honors in Action and the FYS were a part of a new Honors themed clusters program on social inequality. The primary goal of the Honors FYS experience was to increase interdisciplinary thinking and build community among first year honors students. Using an interdisciplinary problem-based learning approach, we freshmen worked in groups to research a particular problem related to social inequality. Later, we presented our research on topics such as women’s health, the minimum wage debate, prison reform, and more at the Mid-Year Symposium. Large-group meetings every other Friday were extensions of the lessons conducted in the Honors In Action course. One large-group meeting was a service day, where honors students devoted time to helping out organizations like Sharing the Harvest at The Dartmouth YMCA, The Table at Father Bill’s, My Brother’s Keeper, Gift to Give, Easton’s Children’s Museum, and more. This experience served as a way to connect with communities beyond BSU.

In the 1000 Years of Outlaws class, I saw how social injustices throughout history have forced individuals into a life of crime. Bonnie and Clyde, Anonymous, Grettir the Strong, and Robin Hood were some of the real and fictitious people we studied. The class specifically looked at what categorizes an outlaw, as well as the notoriety that surrounds noble robbers.

The issue of crime and social injustice in the world carried into the prison reform class. My peers and I read about the prison industrial complex, viewed a documentary on solitary confinement, and discussed the harsh conditions of incarceration. When it came time to pick presentations topics, I researched the collateral damage that imprisonment causes families. I have a close friend whose father was a prison guard, which negatively affected my friend’s upbringing. I wanted to incorporate this into my presentation, giving my work a personal perspective. The integral research process made the whole learning and presenting experience more worthwhile. Applying lessons in an honors course to something so close to me was enriching. I was able to effectively carry out the themed cluster’s learning objectives: understand how knowledge is built, sharpen critical thinking, build connections among different course, collaborate with others, and confront real-world problems.

The biweekly large-group meetings and special events were educational insights. Many of the meetings connected back to the common reader for the Honors Program, Charlie LeDuff’s Detroit: An America Autopsy. During the Honors Fall Book Club, I met and talked extensively with Charlie LeDuff. He even gave me some advice about writing. If it weren’t for the Honors Program and the new themed cluster courses I wouldn’t have had so many inspiring, valuable experiences.

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