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Utah State University Honors Program


Utah State University Honors Program

USU Honors students visit the Spiral Jetty in the Great Salt Lake as part of their honors class.
The Utah State University Honors Program is an academic program within Utah State University. Established in 1964, the Honors Program offers a wide range of courses designed to enhance the learning experience for motivated students in all of the University’s colleges.[1] Honors allows students more personal contact with their professors and greater opportunities for research at the undergraduate level.

The Honors Program is also the home to major fellowship advising. That is, students who wish to apply for the Barry M. Goldwater, Harry S Truman, Gates Cambridge, or Rhodes Scholarships do so through the Honors office.


  • History 1
  • Academics 2
  • Benefits 3
  • Fellowships 4
  • Student Life 5
  • Last Lecture 6
  • Distinguished Alumni 7
  • References 8


In 1962, a committee established to determine the feasibility of an honors program at Utah State University determined that “justice requires of the university not that it treat all of its students identically, but that it provide an equal opportunity for each student to live a personally enriched and a socially useful life; and that an Honors Program for exceptional students…enables the university to implement this principle.” This led to the establishment of the program in 1964.

The Honors Program was given a home in the Merrill Library in 1969, having spent the previous five years in the Biology and Natural Resources Building. The next 30 years would see remarkable growth. Undergraduate Research and Creative Opportunity (URCO) grants were established in 1975, helping students finance their research, and making USU home of the 2nd oldest undergraduate research program in the nation, behind only MIT. Student Showcase, an annual symposium for students’ research projects, was begun in 1986 (originally called “Scholars Day”). Departmental Honors, which allows upper-division classes to be taken for honors credit, was initiated in 1987. In 2005, Honors made its most recent move by taking up physical residence in historic Old Main.


Utah State University offers two types of Honors courses: university and departmental.[2] University Honors courses are general education courses taught by Honors faculty with fewer students admitted. This theoretically allows for greater classroom participation and more one-on-one contact with professors. Besides these HONR-designated courses, several lower-division English, math, business, and language courses are also given the Honors designation.

Departmental Honors differs from Honors in University Studies in that specific courses are not designated. To receive Departmental Honors, the student approaches the professor of an upper-division course and sets up an Honors contract. This contract is a project the student completes in addition to regular coursework and usually takes up to 30 hours of work outside the classroom. A contract is a research opportunity allowing the student to gain greater understanding of the subject material.[3] Honors contracts frequently become resume-enhancers and points of pride among Honors students.

To graduate with full Honors, a student must complete at least 12 credits of Honors in University Studies and 15 credits of Departmental Honors (the equivalent of four department contracts and a thesis.)[2][3] A student may also graduate with Departmental Honors only by completing the 15 credits. For those students who have multidisciplinary majors, there is an option for University Honors, in which the 15 credits of contracts are replaced with 15 credits of upper-division Honors work chosen by the student and approved by the program director.[4] All theses are published as scholarly works by the university.[5]


The most immediate benefits of being part of the Honors Program are academic. In addition to the distinction of graduating with honors, during their studies, Honors students enjoy smaller class sizes, priority registration for classes, more professor interaction, and greater opportunities to pursue research.[6] There are also financial rewards to being in Honors. Honors students are eligible for several scholarships not available to the campus at-large, including the Douglas D. Alder Scholarship, the Morse Scholarship, and the Lawrence O. and Helen B. Cannon Awards.[7] Honors students are also encouraged to use the Honors Research Fund, which provides students up to $400 to help offset costs of presenting papers and posters at conferences, and may also be used to fund research projects.[8] Honors students may also apply to the Honors Study Abroad Scholarship or to the Research Fund to help support study or volunteering abroad.


Honors also sponsors applications for major fellowships, including but not limited to, the Goldwater Scholarship for students in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) disciplines; the Truman Scholarship for students interested in public service; the Jacob K. Javits Fellowship for graduate students in the humanities and social sciences; the Gates Cambridge Scholarship; and the Rhodes Scholarship.

As fellowship advising fell under the direction of the Honors Program, the numbers of applicants to major fellowships increased dramatically.[7] Since 2003, USU students have received 11 Goldwater Scholarships and 4 Honorable Mentions; USU’s first James Madison scholarship;[9] and many more semi-finalists for the Rhodes, Udall, and Marshall Scholarships.

Students who apply for nationally prestigious fellowships are provided with intensive one-on-one advising, and if they are selected for an interview, mock interviews with a faculty panel. Students considering an application may elect to take the Applying to Graduate School and Fellowships course, which includes mock interviews and a “mocktail” party reminiscent of the Rhodes cocktail party.

Student Life

USU Honors students enjoy a hike in Logan Canyon.

One of the great myths about Honors is that honors courses require more time and effort than non-honors courses. Because of the smaller class sizes and emphasis on student discussion, the opposite is often the case: Honors classes routinely have less homework than their regular university counterparts.[6] Additionally, Honors advertises that the more intimate settings of their courses makes them more relaxed and fun.

Honors students form a close-knit community at USU. The Honors Program has several socials and service opportunities throughout the year, and Honors courses often have activities associated with the them. In recent years, Honors has even started offering outdoor-based courses that take advantage of USU’s unique natural setting. The most popular of these is Honors Hiking, which allows Honors students to explore the local canyons on the weekends. Another option is a field-based geology course that combines short stints in the classroom with longer outdoor time, and includes a class field trip to the Spiral Jetty.[10]

Last Lecture

The Honors Program is also home to USU’s Last Lecture, a tradition dating to 1976.[11] Each Last Lecturer is nominated and chosen by an all-Honors-student committee. Lecture topics and professors have come from across the university, from music to physics to English.[12]

Students may nominate a professor at any time. The selection committee begins its deliberations at the end of the fall semester, and the lecture itself takes place in March or April each year.

One of the most notable Last Lectures occurred in 1997, when Utah Poet Laureate Ken Brewer spoke on “The Beautiful Changes: Poetry at the End of the Century”. Video and transcripts of the more recent Last Lectures are available here: [1].

Distinguished Alumni

  • Greg Carr,’81, History
  • Janet Bennion, ’86, Journalism
  • Nate Alder, ’91, History


  1. ^ Honors Program Annual Report 2008-2009 
  2. ^ a b "How Honors Works". Retrieved 20 Jun 2010. 
  3. ^ a b "Departmental Honors". Retrieved 20 Jun 2010. 
  4. ^ "Honors Degree Options". Retrieved 20 Jun 2010. 
  5. ^ "The Digital Commons". 
  6. ^ a b "Benefits of Honors". Retrieved 21 Jun 2010. 
  7. ^ a b "Scholarships for Honors Students". Retrieved 21 Jun 2010. 
  8. ^ "Honors Research Fund". Retrieved 21 Jun 2010. 
  9. ^ "2006 James Madison Scholarship Winners". 
  10. ^ "Honors Courses". Retrieved 20 Jun 2010. 
  11. ^ "Last Lecture". 
  12. ^ "Past Last Lectures". 
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