A Memorable Start: Honors 110

Billy Ferguson/Fourth Estate


I was walking into the classroom, the fluorescent lights stung my eyes as they replaced the warm sunlight. I was slightly panting, although it was from nerves, not from climbing the stairs two at a time.

This was my first college course, and I was terrified.

I smelled lemon-scented Clorox wipes and freshly sharpened pencils. An Expo marker squealed excitedly as it created rich dark lines on the whiteboard. It knows within a month its luster will diminish to a mere whisper of a line — if it even survives that far and doesn’t disappear into the depths of backpack doom.

The marker’s handler turned to face the class, and as we read “Welcome to Honors 110,” I felt anything but welcome. I’ll never forget the drop in my stomach as my professor informed us we would be spending the semester developing a 12-page research paper.

Welcome to college, baby.

Honors 110 is the first required course in the Honors College curriculum, which is an alternative to the Mason Core. If I knew I’d have to write an extensive research paper my first semester, I might have happily skipped down the Mason Core path. However, despite the pain, I now appreciate the gain.

Honors College and the Mason Core are different approaches to general education, but it doesn’t have to be that way. The Mason Core can take a page out of the Honors College book and create a more memorable general education.

And trust me, Honors 110 was memorable.

At first, it was memorable for the wrong reasons. A 12-page research paper. I remember scrambling to even develop a topic! But I wasn’t alone in my panic. In fact I made lots of great friends during midnight brainstorming sessions in the echoey and strangely lit dorm bathrooms. (Nerds, I know). But, now I can say, “Remember when we met in Honors 110?”

Despite our complaining and constant whining, the paper was useful — but not in the way we expected. Of course, we all deserve a pat on the back for researching and writing an extended essay. My friend and I gasped when our professor, Dr. Woolsey, announced that the paper didn’t really matter.

I skipped episodes of “The Good Place” to work on this paper and now you’re telling me it didn’t matter?

The paper wasn’t the class’ main goal, he explained, but rather the goal was twofold: One, help us freshmen ease into university life together, and two, teach us how to research and write on this scale.

And that’s only between Honors College students — imagine how much stronger the Mason community would be if every freshman had a project or class to bond over like this.

Of course, the class was frustrating, and learning that the paper was not that big of a deal was disappointing, but my frown has since turned upside down. I got so much out of the class, and I’ll never forget it.

Everyone, not just the Honors College, should have a class to act as the glue between the students and the university and between students themselves.

So, when someone hears you go to George Mason University, the grandest research university in the land, they should be able to ask, “Hey, what was your Mason Core freshman project?” And every Mason student and alumni should be able to answer. That’s memorable. That’s gen ed.

This essay is part of Fourth Estate’s special opinion section on the Mason Core curriculum from the Feb. 24, 2020 issue. Check out the lead essay here, which includes links to all the other essays.