An Honors College Approach to Gen Ed


As a member of the Honors College Recruitment Team at Mason, I have been taught to tell prospective students that one of the biggest appeals of the Honors College is its curriculum, in that they get to “skip” taking their Mason Core or general education credits.

In reflection, this is great for us honors students, but suggests that gen ed classes are inherently unappealing.

But why are students being forced to take — and pay for — classes that are so unmemorable and uninteresting that getting to not take them is a huge selling point?

This is a question that inevitably stems from the currently uninspiring Mason Core system.

The Mason Core website states that a Mason graduate is “an engaged citizen and well-rounded scholar who is prepared to act.” The website further explains that the Mason Core is “Mason’s general education program that builds the foundation for The Mason Graduate.”

However, as the courses currently stand, this mission statement appears to be failing. The Mason Core claims to provide a “breadth of liberal education courses, complementing the depth of knowledge and skills they build in their majors and minors.” Instead, it provides a random scatter of courses lumped into broad and meaningless categories.

The Mason Core is divided into three sections: foundation, exploration and integration. These categories include classes that feel all too familiar for students who thought they left high school behind.

On the other hand, in the Honors College, you will find requirements like Reading the Arts, Contemporary Social Issues and Reading the Past, with class sections that vary every semester. All of these classes are multidisciplinary and can complement any major. They are standalone classes and are not merely stepping stones to other major classes.

“With our program, you’ll be able to choose seminars and classes that align with your interests and specializations,” states the Honors College website.

Through the Honors College, I have been able to take classes like Theater and Major Social Shifts, Gender in American Culture, Culture and Social Inequality, and Science of Cities. These classes, while not specific to my major, are classes I was interested in taking. They also allowed me to become a more informed and well-rounded student and citizen.

While honors students do get to pick what classes they take and when they take them, one core requirement of the Honors College curriculum is Honors 110. While this course is a requirement for all Honors College freshmen, it does not feel like a requirement thanks to its multidisciplinary approach to research and its opportunity for diverse exploration. Plus, it does not hurt to have hundreds of your peers going through the same exact experience.

In Honors 110, I was able to research the factors behind the perpetuation of white supremacy in modern-day America. My classmates explored topics from information security to generational trauma.

Many honors students, including some of my friends, take their 110 projects to the Office of Student Scholarship, Creative Activities, and Research (OSCAR) and continue research throughout their time here at Mason.

At an R1 research university, you would think that a class like this should be a requirement for all students, not just to teach them how to research but to perhaps inspire a continuing research project.

Modeling the new Mason Core curriculum after that of the Honors College would not only help create worthwhile, engaging and memorable classes for the general student body, but would help create truly engaged and well-rounded graduates.

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.