By Deanna I. Howes, Director of Communications, AJCU

(L-R): Hana O'Hagan (Creighton University), Rebecca Vincent (Loyola University Maryland), Kaitlin Carlson (Creighton University), Qiana Anderson (Guest Speaker), Deanna Howes (AJCU), Dr. Naomi Yavneh Klos (Loyola University New Orleans), Gail Rabasc…    

(L-R): Hana O’Hagan (Creighton University), Rebecca Vincent (Loyola University Maryland), Kaitlin Carlson (Creighton University), Qiana Anderson (Guest Speaker), Deanna Howes (AJCU), Dr. Naomi Yavneh Klos (Loyola University New Orleans), Gail Rabasca (Loyola University Maryland)



Of the more than 30 conferences within the AJCU network, only one serves both faculty and students from Jesuit colleges and universities in the United States. Now in its eleventh year, the AJCU Honors Consortium has grown from small conversations held in conjunction with annual meetings of the National Collegiate Honors Council (NCHC) to full-fledged gatherings centered on the Jesuit values of academic excellence, cura personalis, social justice, and service to others.

At Jesuit colleges and universities, Honors directors not only challenge their students academically through intensive seminars and specialized coursework, they encourage them to seek the Magis (the more universal good) by giving back to their local communities and finding ways to engage in the mission of their institutions. In May 2012, the AJCU Honors directors articulated these shared essential characteristics in a Statement that continues to affect their work five years later.

Earlier this month, more than 70 faculty and students from 17 Jesuit institutions gathered at Loyola University New Orleans for the annual meeting of the AJCU Honors Consortium. For Dr. Naomi Yavneh Klos (who serves as the Consortium chair and directs Loyola’s University Honors Program), the conference provided an opportunity to uphold and reinforce the Statement to her students from Loyola as well as the many students who attended the conference for the first time.

For two days, participants engaged in conversations about diversity and inclusion in Honors programs, discussed new means of collaboration, and participated in a teach-in concerning restorative justice with formerly incarcerated men and women. The teach-in was a highlight of the conference, and was made possible through Klos’ long-standing partnership with the Jesuit Social Research Institute, and with financial support from Loyola’s Office of Mission and Ministry.

Klos’ desire to educate Honors students on social justice is a reflection of her commitment to Jesuit education. She says, “When I first came to Loyola, I was very passionate about Honors and about opportunities for community-engaged research, but I really didn’t know that much about how the Ignatian charism applied to Honors. I was thus privileged, at my first AJCU Honors Conference [held at Fordham University in February 2012], to participate in the articulation of the ‘Essential Characteristics of a Jesuit Honors Program.’

“Because we were in the process of revising the Honors curriculum at Loyola, we were able to place the Essential Characteristics at the heart of that revision process, as a foundational document. We identified specific ‘Ignatian values’ learning outcomes, and, as my project for our new in-house version of the Ignatian Colleagues Program (the ‘Ignatian Faculty Fellows’), I designed a 1-credit Ignatian Colloquium required of all first-year Honors students, that includes a mentoring component as well as an introduction to social justice and Catholic social teaching.”

The commitment to service can be seen in Jesuit Honors programs across the country. Every semester at Saint Louis University (SLU), nearly 50 Honors students participate in the International Partnership (IP) program, through which they mentor students in the University’s English as a Second Language (ESL) or English for Academic Purposes (EAP) programs. While the students receive credit for participating in IP, many describe it as among their most meaningful experiences of the Honors program.

Dr. Jessica Perolio, director of SLU’s University Honors program, says, “Our outcomes related to [this program] are always really positive. Students improve their cross-cultural communication and have an increased respect for other peoples’ perspectives and worldviews. They see firsthand the importance and impact of diversity on campus, and the extent to which culture informs your own worldview, and your biases and your assumptions.” Several Honors students recently shared what they learned through their conversations with the students with whom they were paired in the IP program in a new video produced by SLU (click here to view on YouTube).

Similar experiences are occurring in Buffalo, NY, where a group of Honors students at Canisius University volunteer with the ENERGY After School Program, helping tutor and teach English to children of refugee families who have recently resettled in Buffalo. Canisius sophomores David Krasinski and Matthew Pernick presented at the AJCU Honors Conference at Loyola, and described their volunteer experiences as “priceless” opportunities to see cura personalis in action.

Pernick says, “Priceless really is the word for it. Just the sheer joy that comes on [the kids’] faces when they pronounce a long word correctly—it’s little things like that. Of course it comes with patience on the tutor’s side, and being able to work and put the hours in with all of the kids so that they can get from point A to point B, and really start to see some results. But at the end of the day, just to see all of them grow so much over such a short period of time, and to grow close to them as well and look up to them—there’s really nothing like it.”

In addition to providing opportunities for service, Jesuit Honors programs foster community among the small groups of students who generally comprise the programs. One example is at Gonzaga University, where Rev. Timothy Clancy, S.J. is in his 14th year directing the Honors program. Historically, Gonzaga’s Honors program has been small: An average class in the 1950s, when the program was founded, had only 20-25 students, and the numbers have slowly increased since then. But with the University’s total student population now nearly five times larger than it was sixty years ago, Fr. Clancy is working to double the Honors program, while retaining its cohort model and designated “Honors house” where students have always found a sense of community with each other.

According to Fr. Clancy, “To form character, you have to have a communal setting. Forming community is really important and that takes intentionality, and it takes infrastructure, and it takes creativity. I really think that the ‘value-added’ for a Jesuit Honors program both for [Gonzaga] but then also compared to other Honors programs, is character formation—it’s the formative part. It’s the ‘educating the whole person’ part. And that involves social justice. That also involves spirituality. That also involves psycho-social development—it involves all these different things beyond the academics.”

Alfredo Y. Hernández, a sophomore political science major at Loyola Marymount University (LMU), agrees. After attending this year’s Honors Conference at Loyola (where he gave a presentation on Attic Salt, the interdisciplinary journal of LMU’s Honors program), he reflected on the multiple personal benefits that have come from being an Honors student at LMU. He says, “To me, to be a student at a Jesuit Honors program involves a recognition of my privilege and my potential. The Jesuit aspect of LMU has ingrained within me the belief that a meaningful life comes through serving others. LMU has provided me abundant opportunities to engage in meaningful service; service which has allowed me to reflect [on] how I got to where I am today, and how I can utilize my particular path to empower others.”

Service and reflection are integral hallmarks of Jesuit Honors programs. For Mary Colleen Dulle, a senior majoring in journalism and French at Loyola University New Orleans, these have been a part of her formation as a student and as a budding journalist. She says, “The Jesuits here have taught me Ignatian discernment, a practice I’ve been able to get better at through retreats and conversations with the Jesuits. I try to use discernment a lot in my journalism work, making ethical calls as an editor or deciding how to tell a story. I think that also ties into doing journalism ‘for the greater glory of God,’ which, yes, can mean doing religion reporting like I want to do, but, more than that, it means seeing my reporting as a service to the community and approaching it that way.”

The sense of community fostered by individual Honors programs has been extended to the Jesuit network through the AJCU Honors Consortium. In the years to come, directors and students plan to collaborate more with each other, through listservs and even shared publications: Beginning in 2018, LMU’s Attic Salt will accept submissions from Honors students at all U.S Jesuit colleges and universities. Plans are already underway for the next AJCU Honors Conference at Creighton University in spring 2018; visit the AJCU Honors Consortium webpage to learn more.

 Loyola University New Orleans President Rev. Kevin Wm. Wildes, S.J. greets conference participants.

Loyola University New Orleans President Rev. Kevin Wm. Wildes, S.J. greets conference participants.

           70 students and staff from 17 Jesuit institutions attended the 2017 AJCU Honors Conference at Loyola University New Orleans.

70 students and staff from 17 Jesuit institutions attended the 2017 AJCU Honors Conference at Loyola University New Orleans.

           Students participated in a unique form of the Examen on the first day of the conference.

Students participated in a unique form of the Examen on the first day of the conference.

           Canisius University Honors students

Canisius University Honors students

           Introduction to the Teach-In on Restorative Justice

Introduction to the Teach-In on Restorative Justice

           Guest speaker Danielle Metz at the Teach-In on Restorative Justice.

Guest speaker Danielle Metz at the Teach-In on Restorative Justice.

           Fordham University and Santa Clara University students with guest speaker at Teach-In on Restorative Justice.

Fordham University and Santa Clara University students with guest speaker at Teach-In on Restorative Justice.

           Loyola Marymount University students and faculty on campus at Loyola University New Orleans.

Loyola Marymount University students and faculty on campus at Loyola University New Orleans.

           Diversity panel featuring students from Saint Peter's University.

Diversity panel featuring students from Saint Peter’s University.

           Attic Salt: Loyola Marymount University's Interdisciplinary Honors Journal

Attic Salt: Loyola Marymount University’s Interdisciplinary Honors Journal

                   Loyola University New Orleans President Rev. Kevin Wm. Wildes, S.J. greets conference participants.  70 students and staff from 17 Jesuit institutions attended the 2017 AJCU Honors Conference at Loyola University New Orleans.  Students participated in a unique form of the Examen on the first day of the conference.  Canisius University Honors students  Introduction to the Teach-In on Restorative Justice  Guest speaker Danielle Metz at the Teach-In on Restorative Justice.  Fordham University and Santa Clara University students with guest speaker at Teach-In on Restorative Justice.  Loyola Marymount University students and faculty on campus at Loyola University New Orleans.  Diversity panel featuring students from Saint Peter's University.  Attic Salt: Loyola Marymount University's Interdisciplinary Honors Journal  

By Cynthia Littlefield, Vice President for Federal Relations, AJCU



FY18 Budget is Not a Higher Education Budget

Traditionally, a President’s first budget provides a snapshot of the Administration’s priorities (or lack thereof). The first “skinny budget” released by President Trump barely supports Federal student aid programs for deserving students and establishes an uncertain future for higher education in years to come. AJCU was so taken aback by the FY18 budget, that we were compelled to release a Statement of Concern. To access this statement online, please click here.

The Administration proposed a $3.9 billion reduction from a $10.6 billion Pell grant surplus; Pell grants have long been considered a foundational Federal student aid program. This rescission from the Pell grant surplus will be used for other programs yet to be announced. We hope that a portion of the Pell grant surplus could still be used to reinstitute a year-round Pell grant program that would allow students to obtain an annual Pell grant (this would be particularly helpful for students taking summer classes in an effort to graduate from college on time).

Severe eliminations and cuts were also suggested for campus-based aid programs. The Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant program (SEOG) is a campus-based aid program that gives Federal funding to campus financial aid officers for distribution to deserving students. This highly successful grant program targets the neediest of students whose annual family incomes are $19,000 or less. SEOG has also been helpful to students whose Pell grant funding is insufficient, or whose families have had such serious complications as job loss or medical challenges for one or two parents, divorce, etc.

At AJCU institutions, the SEOG program totals $21 million and provides assistance to approximately 13,000 students. The Administration‘s FY18 budget proposed total elimination of this program. Congress should consider this proposal as they prepare for reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA) as Congress has the authority to debate the continuation of the program and should emphasize the value it brings to so many students across the United States. Over one million students could lose this funding, many of whom will either have to take out more loans or drop out of college.

The Administration has proposed substantial cuts to the popular and bi-partisan Federal Work Study (FWS) program, although no specific amount was listed in the budget. FWS is a campus-based aid program that provides students an opportunity to work their way through college, often in academic areas that are career-oriented. On an average year, up to 18,000 students at AJCU institutions receive funding through FWS (the program totals $31 million at AJCU institutions every year).

Since this is the first year of the Trump Administration, the final proposed budget was delayed and the “skinny budget” was proposed as an outline. The final budget for FY18 will be released at some time in May.

Another hurdle in the consideration process is the Continuing Resolution (CR), which is set to expire on April 28th but could be extended until the end of FY17, September 30th (or some time before then). An omnibus bill could also emerge to resolve the FY17 CR (so far, this has not been pushed).

AJCU will continue to work on preserving Pell grants and campus-based aid programs with the hope of working with the Administration and Congress to continue to provide access to education for our nation’s students.

By Kristin E. Etu, Associate Director of College Communication, Canisius University

Adam Zyglis (Photo by Canisius University)    

Adam Zyglis (Photo by Canisius University)



Adam Zyglis ’04 carefully ponders current events before he picks the topics for his political cartoons in The Buffalo News. That’s because readers count on the Pulitzer Prize winner’s creative visual commentary on topics ranging from President Donald Trump’s controversial new policies to the often lackluster performance of the Buffalo Bills football team.

“When I was as a student at Canisius University, I never thought that I would draw political cartoons for a living,” says Zyglis. “I planned to pursue a more traditional job as a computer programmer. Cartooning would be a hobby.”

Today, Zyglis’ cartoons are nationally syndicated through Cagle Cartoons and appear in such papers as The Washington Post, USA Today, The New York Times and Los Angeles Times. In 2015, he received a Pulitzer Prize for editorial cartooning. 

Zyglis says the Canisius All-College Honors Program changed the trajectory of his career. The late Tom Joyce, who taught English, recognized his talent and encouraged Zyglis to hone his skills by drawing political cartoons for the school newspaper, The Griffin.

As a result of his outstanding work, Zyglis was honored with a first-place national award from the Associated Collegiate Press and the Universal Press Syndicate.

“The mentorship and encouragement of my Honors professors inspired me to explore my artistic abilities,” says the summa cum laude computer science graduate who minored in mathematics and fine arts. “The rigorous academic program and the opportunity to collaborate with other motivated students also helped me to grow exponentially.”

With 250 students currently enrolled, the Canisius All-College Honors Program continues to expand. Enrichment programs encourage deeper thought and the newly-formed Honors Student Association enables students to create their own Honors-based programming.  

Zyglis believes such experiences helped to shape him as a person.

“The Jesuit ideals of cura personalis or ‘care for the individual,’ and Magis or ‘more,’ are clearly exemplified in the All-College Honors Program,” says Robert J. Butler, Ph.D., professor of English and the first full-time director of the program. “Honors-related activities, such as guest speakers or trips, directly connect to the curriculum but also bring students and faculty together as a learning community.”

As with all Honors students, Zyglis’ experience culminated with an Honors thesis, a semester-long intensive research project.

“For my thesis, I had the opportunity to interview my favorite political cartoonists, including Steve Sack, Clay Bennett and Mike Ritter, and learn in-depth about their processes,” says Zyglis. “In doing that, the idea began to solidify for me that this was something I wanted to do after graduation.”

At the end of the semester, students present their theses in front of professors, students and members of the College community during Honors Thesis Defense Week. Zyglis argued successfully that editorial cartooning is primarily an art form.

“The purpose of the thesis is to provide evidence that our students know how to write, think and research,” says Bruce J. Dierenfield, Ph.D., current director of the Honors program. “But the bottom line is that we expect them to present themselves in a confident, public way and produce evidence to support their arguments.”

Honors science students have presented topics including “Trying to Neutralize Carbon Monoxide in the Atmosphere” and “Zoo Management.” One Honors English student wrote a 400-page novel. But a thesis does not have to relate to a student’s major. Dierenfield notes that a biology major and English minor recently compared the music of John Lennon and Jim Morrison and how their songs were used by the anti-war movement.

“The biggest question is, ‘Did the student generate new knowledge,’” says Dierenfield, who reads all Honors theses. And he is impressed by what he sees.

Zyglis is no exception. He earned an “A” for his thesis.

“The skills and information our students acquire during the thesis process are transferrable into whatever area of life they go into, and Adam Zyglis is living proof of that, ” adds Dierenfield.

Zyglis believed his thesis so strongly illustrated his knowledge about political cartooning, that he took it to his job interview for an internship with The Buffalo News. That, along with his clear talent for art, set Zyglis apart. He later landed a full-time job with the paper.

“Because of the All-College Honors Program, I have my current job and I have a Pulitzer Prize,” says Zyglis. “My Jesuit education taught me to think critically and to find my voice as an artist, and for that I am grateful.”

'Nation of Immigrants' Cartoon courtesy of Adam Zyglis for The Buffalo News    

Nation of Immigrants‘ Cartoon courtesy of Adam Zyglis for The Buffalo News



To view more of Adam Zyglis’ cartoons for The Buffalo News, please click here.

By Rita Buettner, Director of Marketing and Communications, Loyola University Maryland

Calix O'Hara (Photo by Loyola University Maryland)    

Calix O’Hara (Photo by Loyola University Maryland)



Last summer, while Calix O’Hara was studying in Rome, he visited the Ara Pacis, an ancient monumental altar. Inside, the Loyola University Maryland student saw the Boucrania relief sculptures: portrayals of Roman-sacrificed oxen, now ox skulls with gilded horns, draped in wreaths of flowers.

The image stayed in O’Hara’s mind as he began his senior year at Loyola. O’Hara is majoring in history and classical civilization with a minor in medieval studies, but as a student in Loyola’s Honors Program, O’Hara is required to take seminar courses outside his major. So he enrolled in a biology seminar and found himself delving into the history of the development of forensic technology.

In that class, taught by David Rivers, Ph.D., professor of biology at Loyola, O’Hara learned about sarcophagus beetles, which eat the flesh off of dead animals.

“That sparked an idea,” said O’Hara, who started thinking about the slaughterhouse his family owns in Oregon. “That day I texted my uncle and asked if he could send us some beef heads. And he said he could, but the cows that they get are usually without horns for the safety of the people working with them.”

So O’Hara put that idea on hold. After all, he had plenty to focus on during his senior year, especially as he planned out his studies after graduation. And senior year has brought its own challenges, particularly with the dynamic courses offered by the Honors program.

When O’Hara came to Loyola from Bellarmine College Preparatory in San Jose, CA, he thought he might major in engineering. But he knew that he wanted to benefit from a Jesuit education, and wanted a program that allowed him to explore multiple disciplines.

O’Hara was accepted into the Honors Program, which is designed to accommodate the requirements of all majors, but offers a distinctive curriculum and activities to students with superior academic records.

“The core for Loyola Honors students is no larger than the regular core, really,” said Joseph Walsh, Ph.D., professor of classics. “But it is a different path, one with particular emphasis on discussion and intense engagement with important and powerful texts.”

Walsh co-directs the Loyola Honors Program with Gayla McGlamery, Ph.D., professor of English.

Embracing the Jesuit ideal of cura personalis, care for the whole person, the Honors Program helps and challenges students as they work to refine and deepen the ability to think critically, to discern the true and the good, to respond to the beautiful, and to explore the intersection of faith and reason.

“The Program aims to help our students raise their game, intellectually and personally, and to have the tools to be a force for reason and decency in their later lives,” said Walsh. “A good deal of fun is had on the way, though.”

Around 5 percent of Loyola University Maryland’s 4,000 undergraduate students are enrolled in the Honors Program, benefiting from an enriched extracurricular student experience. They participate in an extensive program of cultural events, discussions, social occasions, and excursions within and beyond the Baltimore-Washington area.

But it’s the intellectual engagement that sets the Honors Program apart and makes it so appealing to incoming first-year students. Participating in small classes that emphasize effective speaking and writing, Honors students engage in dialogue with great thinkers, writers, and artists—from ancient to modern—in order to understand how ideas have shaped, and continue to shape, the world in which we live.

“Students get a sense of the development of our civilization, but also what that development can tell us about who we are today,” said Walsh. “The goal is to make sense of both the past and the present, and how they interconnect.”

Through their classes, Honors Program students gain a strong foundation in the liberal arts and discern their individual vocations as they learn across disciplines.

“I’ve always had very diverse interests. The sciences have interested me and continue to interest me,” said O’Hara, whose trip to Rome was sponsored by Loyola’s Center for the Humanities; he also earned one of Loyola’s prestigious Hauber Summer Research Fellowships. He worked alongside an engineering major in Loyola’s Donnelly Science Center conducting research on the efficacy of Greek linen armor. “I’ve always sort of worked between the two. I came in knowing I’d probably at least minor in history, and I found that my home was in the humanities.”

Ox Head Prepared by Calix O’Hara (Photo by Loyola University Maryland)



As O’Hara continued his studies, his uncle on the West Coast was doing some research. Somehow he managed to find two bull’s heads with their horns still attached. On the last Friday in January 2017, O’Hara received a text message saying he had a package waiting for him in the campus mailroom. In fact, he had two packages—each about 3 feet wide, 3 feet tall, and 3 feet deep. Each held an ox head.

“The people behind the counter asked me, ‘What exactly did you order?’ I looked at them, and I said, ‘Cow heads.’”

O’Hara carried the packages one at a time to the classics department, where he opened them and found two large freezer bags. He took them across campus to the biology department where Rivers helped him to set them up with the sarcophagus beetles.

“He’s completely on board,” O’Hara said of the entomologist. The beetles will work on the skulls for at least a month.

“Apparently the bugs don’t like fat very much [because] there’s no protein in it, there’s no nutrition for them. The fat will be largely untouched,” O’Hara said. “Then we’ll wash it in some diluted ascetic acid just to scatter the remains off. And then we’ll place it outside in the sun for a couple weeks. This will let it bleach a little bit, and that will also air it out so the bones won’t start rotting. Once it’s aired out, we’ll apply a shellac, and we’ll gild the horns with some gold foil.”

Then the skulls will hang in the classics department lounge, which a group of classics students recently repainted with murals that evoke antiquity as well as the contemporary life of the department.

That will be a proud day for O’Hara. And his family back in San Jose? They will be proud, too.

“They’re kind of used to my antics. I really like recreating things from the past,” said O’Hara, whose twin sister attends Gonzaga University. Back at home, he’s a hobbyist blacksmith who has dabbled in carpentry and leatherwork—and has treated goat skin to make a sheet of paper. “You can learn so much about the objects of the past by recreating them.”

By Angeline Boyer, Assistant Director of Media Relations, Saint Peter’s University

(L-R): Thomas Hrabal ’17, Patrick Caoile ’19, Alexis O’Callahan ’19, Susan Ragheb ’16, Dr. Daniel Murphy, Thu Anh Ly ’19, Dr. Rachel Wifall and Shereen AbdelJaber ’17.    

(L-R): Thomas Hrabal ’17, Patrick Caoile ’19, Alexis O’Callahan ’19, Susan Ragheb ’16, Dr. Daniel Murphy, Thu Anh Ly ’19, Dr. Rachel Wifall and Shereen AbdelJaber ’17.



Susan Ragheb ’16, senior policy advisor to New Jersey Assemblyman Nicholas Chiaravalloti, has accomplished quite a bit in her short professional career since her recent graduation from Saint Peter’s University. Prior to her role as a policy advisor, she served as a campaign organizer and traveled the country working on presidential and congressional campaigns. In the future, she hopes to pursue a career in international politics.

While there are many factors that have played a role in Ragheb’s success thus far, one that she specifically credits is her participation in the Honors program at Saint Peter’s. In fact, it was one of the main reasons she chose to attend the University!

Ragheb had always been an Honors student throughout high school and while she was accepted to a number of universities, the high cost of attending many of them affected her decision. Fortunately, Ragheb was accepted to Saint Peter’s with a generous financial aid package, and when she learned about the University’s extensive Honors program, that sealed the deal. She never questioned her decision and continues to recommend the Honors program for the high level of support it provides to eligible students.

Beyond the support, one of the things that Ragheb appreciated the most about the Saint Peter’s Honors program was the ethnic diversity of its students. In fact, when she attended the 2016 AJCU Honors Conference at Gonzaga University, she joined a group of Saint Peter’s Honors students on a panel to discuss that very subject.

“By nature of the Saint Peter’s community, diversity becomes a part of everything we do,” said Ragheb. “Many schools boast about their commitment to diversity, but at Saint Peter’s, we don’t just talk about it: we live it!”

Shereen AbdelJaber ’17, a double major in elementary education and American studies, was also a member on the diversity panel at the 2016 AJCU Honors Conference and shared similar sentiments about the benefits of the group’s diversity.

“Being such a standout group at the conference felt incredibly special to me,” said AbdelJaber. “The diversity of the students in our program truly helped us to build mutual respect for each other’s cultures in both a personal and academic sense.”

Daniel Murphy, Ph.D., director of the Honors program at Saint Peter’s, takes great pride in the diversity of his students. Incidentally, he did not realize how uniquely diverse the group was until he began to compare it to other Honors programs across the country. In order to be in the program, students must have had a 3.4 GPA or higher in high school and maintain that throughout college. They must take eight Honors-designated courses and/or special study experiences; complete an Honors thesis in their senior year; and publicly defend the thesis in the spring before graduation.

While the program can be incredibly demanding, many of the students believe that the benefits are worthwhile. These include a well-funded research assistantship program, a growing alumni network, a designated honors house, and opportunities for travel.

As a senior who has been in the Honors program since she began her college career, AbdelJaber certainly does not take the Dr. James V. Bastek ’67 Honors House for granted. It has served as a sanctuary throughout her time at Saint Peter’s. It was a place for her to study or hang out with fellow Honors students and share resources with each other. She especially enjoyed when they had leftover pizza from events on campus!

But it wasn’t just the Honors house that made a positive impact on AbdelJaber; it was the people involved with the program. “In a word, my experience in the program has been awesome,” she said. “The former director of the program, Dr. Rachel Wifall, was there for me every step of the way, along with Dr. Murphy and Lois Borroum, the administrative assistant of the Honors program. The individualized support made all of the hard work for the program worthwhile.”

AbdelJaber’s experience is not uncommon, which is why the Honors program continues to grow. There are currently 183 students involved, but Dr. Murphy expects there to be well over 200 within the next two years. The current student breakdown is 71 freshmen, 52 sophomores, 23 juniors and 37 seniors, all of whom come from a wide variety of programs. While many Honors students are in fields such as biology and biochemistry, there are also substantial numbers of students in business management, marketing, political science, mathematics, computer science and English, among other majors.

Earlier this month, a new group of Saint Peter’s Honors students attended the 2017 AJCU Honors Conference at Loyola University New Orleans where they shared their experiences in the Saint Peter’s program and enjoyed learning about other Jesuit Honors programs across the country.

To learn more about the Saint Peter’s University Honors program, please click here.

By Sean H. McDowell, Director, University Honors Program, Seattle University

Sean H. McDowell (Photo by Seattle University)    

Sean H. McDowell (Photo by Seattle University)



Many students attend Jesuit colleges and universities because they wish to make a difference in the world. In the summer of 2015, during a study abroad course in Ireland, one student, Will, regularly stopped to pick up litter wherever he went. His habit was to properly dispose of at least ten pieces of trash per day. “Every day,” he said, “I want to leave the world a better place than I found it when I woke up.”

Many of his fellow students at Jesuit institutions feel the same way—and not just about the environment but about poverty, social justice and tolerance in every facet of life. How should an Honors program prepare students to fulfill this desire in a variety of professions? And how should a globally sensitive liberal arts education look in the 21st century?

Five years ago, the University Honors Program at Seattle University (SU) began to engage these questions head-on as part of its most comprehensive curriculum revision in 58 years. The stakes were high. Critiques of liberal arts education were at a fever pitch in the national media. Loud voices questioned its value, and admissions evidence suggested parents were listening, especially with regard to the humanities.

Since its founding in 1959, the University Honors Program at SU has always been a great books program, similar to those at Columbia University, the University of Chicago and St. John’s College, but with two important differences. First, rather than treat the great books as ahistorical, we arranged our interdisciplinary curriculum chronologically. As a cohort, students began with seminars on the ancient world and over the next two years, progressed through time to conclude with the 20th century. Second, in keeping with the Jesuit tradition, the program started not with Western Europe but with ancient India, with the close study of Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita, and Hindu mathematics. From the beginning, we recognized that a “great book” could come from any culture at any time.

Over the years, our faculty revised the curriculum twelve times. After each revision, key elements persisted: a great books/major figures emphasis; a preference for Socratic seminars; a chronological arrangement of seminars; a cohort model; and oral instead of written exams at the end of every term. These signature features, as labor intensive as they are, have nevertheless proved successful in helping Honors students win prestigious fellowships and excel in their majors and beyond.

But none of the previous curricular revisions was as extensive or far-reaching as the latest one. Previously, we always maintained a small program: just one cohort (20-25 students) in each of the program’s two years. This time, however, we were asked to triple the program size to provide more spots for Honors-capable students. We also needed to consider carefully how more and more, incoming students tend to define “relevance” strictly in present-tense terms: for many, “relevant” is that which applies directly and immediately to pressing socio-political concerns today. 

In the end, thirty-three faculty members from SU’s College of Arts and Sciences, the College of Science and Engineering, and the Albers School of Business contributed to writing the revision proposal and its seminar descriptions, in consultation with student and alumni representatives and other campus constituents. The process was collaborative, collegial and truly exploratory. 

It began with a rigorous interrogation of our own history. We were both surprised and emboldened to discover that several of our concerns mirrored those of our program’s founders more than half a century earlier. In a letter dated October 1960, Rev. Thomas L. O’Brien, S.J., the program’s first director, described the then newly-implemented Honors program as an “answer” to six problems “facing us all in education in America today”:

  1. Lack of challenge for the gifted student.
  2. Over-fragmentation in the present curriculum.
  3. Inefficient teaching techniques, usually identified with the lecture method alone.
  4. Lack of a stimulating atmosphere.
  5. Waste of time in both high school and college.
  6. Lack of appreciation for the corporate learning process in which students learn from teachers and each other, and teachers learn from students.

Many of these problems still confront higher education. We also realized that the cohort model, the Socratic seminar teaching style, the historicized track structure, and the oral exams expressly addressed the problems that Fr. O’Brien enumerated – and they worked. 

Our revision took more than two years and culminated in the creation of two new tracks. The existing Honors curriculum, revised to include two new science seminars (“The Rise of Science” and “Electricity, Energy and Evolution”), new social science seminars (“Capitalism and Its Discontents,” “Human Rights in the Modern World” and “Modern Selves and Global Society”) and a new statistics course, became the “Intellectual Traditions” track. 

Next, we added a new three-year track, called “Innovations,” for those students with credit-intensive majors or those who simply want a more attenuated Honors experience. It shares some seminars with “Intellectual Traditions” and offers new ones on such subjects as “Catholicism and Its Global Reach,” “History of Revolutions” and “Major Ethical Debates of the Modern World.”

Finally, we added a second two-year track, “Society, Policy & Citizenship.” This track begins with the same strong humanities focus as “Intellectual Traditions” in the first year but moves at a faster pace. The second year then provides a greater concentration on the social sciences, with new seminars on “18th- and 19th-Century Social Theory,” “Ethics and Moral Philosophy,” “Modern Political Theory” and “The Evolution of Economics.” The track concludes with a capstone quarter, during which students work collaboratively to create a policy response that reflects the content of the track as a whole and addresses a prominent question of social concern.

Last fall, we launched the “Intellectual Traditions” and “Innovations” tracks; “Society, Policy & Citizenship” will launch in Fall 2017. Altogether, these three tracks allow students to choose the liberal arts foundation that best matches their interests and aspirations. We continue to believe, as our predecessors did half a century ago, that only through a grounding in history and the development of ideas, movements, discoveries and other phenomena over time can students truly understand the deep-rootedness of 21st-century problems, a necessary prelude to addressing them; but more important, this belief does not absolve us of the responsibility to speak to our students in terms they understand, even as they learn new ways to consider the world.

By Daniel Haggerty, Ph.D., Professor of Philosophy & Director, Special Jesuit Liberal Arts Honors Program, The University of Scranton

Daniel Haggerty, Ph.D. (Photo by The University of Scranton)    

Daniel Haggerty, Ph.D. (Photo by The University of Scranton)



The University of Scranton established the Special Jesuit Liberal Arts (SJLA) Honors Program in the 1970s as a response to the proliferation of majors and major course requirements that seemed to threaten a hallmark of Jesuit education, namely, a robust education in the humanities with an emphasis on philosophy. The guiding principle was that such an education, and the habits of mind acquired through it, would serve students well in all career paths, and distinguish them as products of Jesuit education. Based on the results of a comprehensive program review and assessment completed in 2016, the traits targeted are needed across a spectrum of professional fields. Moreover, the SJLA Honors Program successfully develops these traits.

SJLA was established as an alternate way of fulfilling general education requirements at Scranton, making it possible for students to pursue a variety of majors while still receiving the kind of focused education in the humanities characteristic of Jesuit education for nearly five centuries. Invited freshmen students in SJLA typically fall among the top five percent of a given incoming class, as these students tend to have the self-motivation, academic aptitude, and broad intellectual curiosity necessary to thrive in the program. Efforts are also made to identify students of exceptional potential who, though not originally invited, would benefit from, and make meaningful contributions to, SJLA.

Though there have been changes to the curriculum over the past 40 years, the SJLA Honors Program develops bespoke courses designed to meet the following objectives: (1) Comprehension of the history of and major texts in Western philosophy, theology, and literature; (2) Eloquentia perfecta in speech and writing, stemming from a mastery of the elements of critical thinking, reading, and listening; (3) Personal formation – a thoughtful sense of students’ relationship to themselves, to others, and to God – and of the role of cultivated community in personal growth, discernment, and lifelong learning; and (4) The ideal of being men and women for others.

SJLA students take 13 required courses as a cohort over four years: eight in philosophy, two in theology, two in literature, and a course titled The Jesuit Magis, wherein juniors identify unmet needs in the local community, and then organize a Fall Revue to raise funds for a service project they develop, implement, and assess.

Students participating in The Trivium Exercise (Photo by The University of Scranton)



In Ethics, first-year students pursue a meaningful vision of happiness in the light of such thinkers as Plato, Aristotle, Seneca, Cicero, Augustine, Aquinas, Mill and Kant. The Trivium, required of all sophomores, comprises a study of grammar, logic and rhetoric, demanding eloquentia perfecta in written and oral communication. The course ends with students delivering a speech on Plato’s Phaedrus, from memory, in a public space on campus, wearing togas. Success here generally means the end of all debilitating nervous inhibition associated with public speaking. In Metaphysics, students explore arguments for and against the existence of God, including considerations based on the purported fine-tuning of the physical constants of our universe. The course also requires public disputationes based on Aquinas’ so-called third way of demonstrating the existence of God. Additional select courses in the program include philosophy, politics and economics, art and metaphysics, and classics of Western literature, among others.

The SJLA Honors Program aspires to bring out the best in our students without raising unnecessary anxiety, or to simply demand unreasonable amounts of work from students who, in many cases, are already overworked. We make space for contemplation and friendship. The program includes overnight retreats for sophomores and seniors, as well as multiple social events.

One of the best aspects of the SJLA community is summarized in a senior’s comment made on a recent retreat: “When I started college, I would walk into a new classroom and think, ‘Who is my competition? Who do I have to do better than?’ That was my mentality through high school. I just assumed it was how I had to think to do well in school. I soon realized that I was surrounded by a number of very talented people, and that there was no way I could do better than all of them in anything. But then I realized something else. It didn’t matter. It wasn’t a competition. I was surrounded by so many people with so many talents, and we were all learning from one another. It just took the pressure off. As a result, I have learned more and made deeper friendships than I ever could have imagined.”

Students participating in The Trivium Exercise (Photo by The University of Scranton)



As part of a comprehensive review and assessment of the SJLA Honors Program, surveys were sent to alumni going back to 1980. We had an astonishing 40 percent response rate, receiving 1,240 comments composed of 45,000 words. The result is a lot of useful data confirming the good work that the program does. When asked what beneficial career skills SJLA helped them to develop, 94 percent of respondents said writing; 94 percent said critical thinking; and 91 percent said public speaking. We learned that 70 percent graduated with double or triple majors, such as Biochemistry and Philosophy, Accounting and Theology, or Occupational Therapy and English Literature, with 81 percent going on to earn doctorates or other professional degrees.

A sample of comments from SJLA Honors Program graduates reinforces best what we had hoped the program would achieve:

  • “SJLA is one of the best parts of The University of Scranton. You’ll make incredible friends, have the best professors, have a learning community throughout college, and learn to live well.”
  • “I still think about my SJLA experience with many of my life decisions… I would not be where I am today without The University of Scranton, and more importantly, I wouldn’t be who I am today without SJLA.”
  • “The Program is about learning, seeking truth, and engaging with ideas that have shaped and continue to shape our world. I am truly grateful for having had the opportunity to be part of the SJLA community, and to learn from and with scholars. The standard of excellence of the faculty is quite remarkable.”
  • “The SJLA Program and the people in it made it possible for me to truly understand Ignatian values, and to get the very most out of my Jesuit education.

To learn more about the University of Scranton’s Special Jesuit Liberal Arts Honors Program, please click here.