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Honors Semesters and Faculty Institutes

NCHC’s Honors Semesters Committee has generated more than twenty full Semesters that feature experiential learning through a combination of interrelated courses integrated by a focus on the specific setting of each project. Semesters are offered regularly to invite Honors students nationally into a learning experience away from their own campus to sites abroad and in the United States. Students earn transferable college credit as they combine field studies, research, internships, seminars, and a living-learning immersion that taps the resources of a Semester’s location as it builds a community of inquiry.

The Honors Semester Committee also sponsors Faculty Institutes. These Institutes provide professional development opportunities for faculty interested in understanding the underlying design and assessment principles of this form of active learning The Institutes are exercises in site-specific, place-based learning, and offer workshops to participants who want to design adaptations of NCHC’s projects for their own campus or for foreign-study sites.

Past Honors Semesters have been in Washington, D.C., the Grand Canyon, New York City, El Paso, Appalachia, the Maine Coast, Iowa, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Greece, the Czech Republic, Spain, and the Southeast coast of the United States, on topics ranging from local culture to global concerns.

A listing of past Honors Semesters participants is available here.

NCHC’s Honors Semesters Committee undertakes several related projects throughout the year. Primary among them are:

City as Text™
Sometimes called CAT, and broadened into Place as Text to encourage applications of this approach to active learning in various settings, City as Text™ refers to structured explorations of environments and ecosystems. Designed as on-going laboratories through which small teams investigate contested areas and issues in urban environments, or competing forces in natural ones, these exercises foster critical inquiry and integrative learning across disciplines. A mini-version of this approach is included at NCHC’s national conferences.

Site-specific educational projects in which students earn upper-division honors credit that applies to their graduation requirements at home, NCHC has offered 29 of these since l976, at both national and international locations. These are theme-based clusters of courses drawn from several disciplines. They include an extended field laboratory based on CAT designs, as well as term-long directed research projects on problems better analyzed at this specific site than elsewhere. The projects are presented in a public symposium at term’s end. All aspects of NCHC’s Honors Semesters are experiential, from living/learning arrangements in which students  function as a community to fieldwork immersion into local culture.

Faculty who want to acquire greater familiarity with design elements of CAT as a learning strategy, and who are considering applying these field explorations either to their own campus courses/programs or for use in international study, are invited to participate in a “short course” on CAT. Several Institutes are offered each year. Articles on the concept and uses of this methodology have appeared in JNCHC and other publications. Most recently two monographs have been published: PLACE AS TEXT (2000) and SHATTER THE GLASSY STARE (2008). For information on these and other printed materials please visit the Pub Board table at the Idea Exchange (Saturday) or the Pub Board book sales station.

 2014 Projects

June 29-July 4, 2014

New Old England Brochure

July 14-20, 2014

Lyons Brochure

For information on continuing projects (CAT, Semesters, Institutes) and for these Faculty Institutes, please contact

May 2013 Preserving Place and Conserving Culture: The Challenges of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem


Yellowstone Brochure

June 2013 City Squares and Coastal Ports of Greater Boston: (Re)Configuring Public Spaces

Boston Brochure

2011-12 Winterim: Living on the Edge of a Rainforest Frontier – the Peruvian Amazon

Memory and Monuments: Ground Zero and Lower Manhattan — June 20-24, 2012

New York Institute brochure

Grand Canyon Semester – August 20 – December 8, 2012

Arts, Musics, Literatures: Cultures and Identity in Albuquerque and Santa Fe – July 20-24, 2011
New Mexico is an unusually beautiful, complex, and unique space. Home to a variety of cultures and peoples, the state reflects myriad identities and qualities that have resulted from centuries of its people resisting, clashing, blending and negotiating. The area in and around Albuquerque and Santa Fe exemplifies some of the characteristics that distinguish this large geographical region. From July 20-24, 2011, 21 NCHC Faculty Institute participants explored Albuquerque, Santa Fe, and the Acoma Pueblo, investigating neighborhoods, markets, parks, plazas, cultural centers and historic sites as a way to consider the histories, economics, languages, and artistic expressions that help to define the uniqueness of place. With a home base at the historic Hotel Andaluz, built by New Mexico native Conrad Hilton in 1939, participants had easy access to Albuquerque and its environs, including public transportation and the train to Santa Fe. (more)

Santa Fe Brochure

Seeing Beneath the Surface: Kentucky Cave Country – June 7-12, 2011

From June 7th through 12th the NCHC’s Semester’s Committee and the Honors College at WKU sponsored Seeing Beneath the Surface: Kentucky Cave Country, a Faculty Institute held at Mammoth Cave National Park. The Institute was designed for honors faculty and administrators who wish to experience first hand City as Text pedagogy and learn how to incorporate interdisciplinary and field-based elements into their courses and programs. (more)

Kentucky Brochure

Las Vegas/Death Valley: Death and Desire in the American West
In March 2010, the Honors Semesters Committee sponsored an institute in the Las Vegas/Death Valley area. Participants in the Las Vegas/Death Valley: Death and Desire in the American West Institute explored the built and natural environments of Las Vegas and Death Valley, contrasting the image and reality of these visually rich yet seemingly empty locations. In these superb venues for social, cultural, and natural exploration, participants experienced on-site exploration, readings of natural history, and analyses of literature and film. These experiences, combined with reflective and analytical writings and discussions, provided a sense of the ecological and social conflicts characteristic of extreme landscapes.

For more details, please see the booklet produced by participant Sara Quay.

Las Vegas/Death Valley: Death and Desire in the American West

Las Vegas Brochure

City as Text™, Jungle as Text: Iquitos and the Amazon
The NCHC Semesters Committee meets twice a year (May/June and at the annual national convention at the end of October) and plans and implements Semesters programs for students, as well as Faculty Institutes. Following a successful Faculty Institute which took place in Iquitos, Peru and the surrounding jungle in March 2009, committee members voted at the June 2009 meeting in St. Louis, MO, to hold the summer 2010 meeting in Iquitos, Peru. One objective of holding the meeting at this location was that members of the committee might have the opportunity to participate in a mini-version of a Faculty Institute prior to the regular business meetings. The mini-institute gave committee members the opportunity to apply experiential learning techniques to novel locations and experiences, and to explore how to better implement this methodology in the activities of the committee as well as at the committee member’s home institutions. (more)

Neighborhoods, Niches and Community Needs
The “Bean,” the “Eye,” the neighborhoods.  So much to do, so little time.  At the NCHC Honors Semesters Faculty Institute “Chicago:  Community (Re)Organizing,” twenty-eight participants convened for a dynamic workshop complete with field explorations, written reflections and thought-provoking seminars.  The institute, co-sponsored by Roosevelt University and facilitated by Bernice Braid (Long Island University), William Daniel (Winthrop University), Kathy Lyon (Winthrop University) and Robert Strikwerda (St. Louis University), was held July 28 – August 1.  Colleagues from eighteen institutions from thirteen states attended, with thirteen of those schools sending representatives for the first time to an Honors Semesters Institute.  The geographic spread of the attendees ranged from California to New Hampshire, Texas to Illinois.  Everyone enjoyed the experiences using City as Text™ experiential learning pedagogy, mapping the exciting city of Chicago on foot, bus, subway and “L.”  During the daily afternoon seminar discussions enthusiastic conversations abounded about the participants’ walkabouts and explorations throughout the city, looking below the surface life of Chicago.  Their written essays catalogued their journeys through public spaces, and many reported awareness during these assignments that reflected seeing a new, or in some instances old, place through a different lens.  In the participants’ turning point essays, many reported insights where a specific scene, moment or discussion changed their perceptions on how they view their worlds often citing “I learned something about myself,” or “. . . this allowed me to move beyond my comfort zone.”   These comments truly reflect the value of experiential pedagogy the participants plan to pass on to their students.  It is noteworthy to report the attendants’ anecdotal accounts of the camaraderie, friendship and collegiality they experienced during the 3-1/2 day institute that culminated in a delicious final banquet at a popular local Asian restaurant.

For more details, please see the booklet assembled by Kathy Lyon.

Chicago: Neighborhoods, Niches, and Community Needs

Chicago Brochure

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National Collegiate Honors Council
1100 Neihardt Residence Center
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
540 North 16th St.
Lincoln, Nebraska

Tel: 402-472-9150
Fax: 402-472-9152


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