A New Look at Honors

Who We Are

Rutgers University – Newark (RU-N) is an exceptionally diverse, urban, public research university of 12,000 students that embraces its role as an anchor institution in a city with all of the challenges facing urban America, and all of the assets to address them. A pivotal element of confronting those challenges is taking on questions such as: How do we define merit? Whose talents do we as a nation need to cultivate?

Revolutionizing Honors

Rutgers University –Newark is addressing these questions through a new RU-N Honors Living-Learning Community (HLLC). The HLLC is an innovative initiative that is revolutionizing honors, cultivating talent, and engaging communities. The HLLC is redefining the notion of “honors” by creating intergenerational and interdisciplinary learning communities comprised of students, faculty, and community partners focused on tackling some of the nation’s most pressing social issues. Dynamic students are selected to join a living-learning community and intergenerational network across all intersections of identity focused on cultivating knowledge, fostering understanding across and within groups, and activating social, institutional, and cultural change.

The HLLC engages notions of merit and who is “deserving” head on, framing them as a challenge to identify and cultivate the academic and intellectual talent in our nation’s increasingly diverse new generations, some of which may be missed by relying solely on narrow metrics such as the SAT. Given the integral role that educational attainment plays in upward mobility within the United States, expanding notions of merit holds the key to progress on issues related to poverty, inequality, and economic growth. When we hold up a mirror to look at how colleges and universities traditionally select and educate students, we see that our models are not up to the task, allowing far too many young people of promise to slip through the cracks. Realizing that none of us can afford such a loss of knowledge and talent, RU-N is taking on this challenge by revolutionizing “honors.” We are elevating the concept by not only intensifying the admissions process to look much deeper into student potential than is possible using only blunt instruments such as standardized test scores, but by offering a curriculum honoring the wide array of talents, skills, and knowledge that students such as those from Newark and its metropolitan area have to offer.  Our communities desperately need innovative solutions to some of our most complex social issues. Diverse students with multiple intelligences, and a myriad of identities and experiences are uniquely and perfectly situated to offer such solutions.

Cultivating Talent

To expand the traditional admissions process, we start by reaching out to advisors at high schools and two-year institutions, as well as to community leaders, to help identify talented students and encourage them to apply for admission to RU-N. Then, in addition to gleaning information about applicants from the Rutgers University application form, the HLLC team conducts in-person interviews as part of the application process, including group simulations through which a range of talents and characteristics associated with academic success are evaluated. “We engage applicants to see how they employ multiple intelligences in collaborative problem solving,” says Executive Vice Chancellor and Chief Operating Officer Shirley Collado, who is leading development of the HLLC. “This kind of engagement is invaluable in revealing who students really are, what their talents are, and what they can bring to an incredibly diverse and challenging learning environment like Rutgers University – Newark. We don’t ask students to check their identities at the door, but to build on them by growing intellectually and developmentally in a community.” Our commitment is not only based in a belief that admitting these students will benefit their lives, but will immensely benefit our college community, and our world. There is no one better equipped to help solve both local and global problems than students who may have experienced the impact of these issues first hand. These students’ keen insight and critical analysis, as a result of their experiences, make them invaluable assets to the future of society.

Local Citizenship in a Global World: Dynamic Curricula In and Out of the Classroom

We are committed to providing HLLC students with the resources and opportunities necessary to be the thought leaders within their fields, positive collaborators within their communities, and change agents in our world. Students progress through their studies as a cohort, sharing core learning experiences under the guidance of a specially selected team of faculty who are trained to mentor and advise students in an immersive environment with an innovative curriculum centered on themes of “Local Citizenship in a Global World.” To build organically on their own knowledge and lived experiences, the HLLC curriculum increases cultural competence and teaches students to approach local challenges that resonate globally from historical, philosophical, legal, and comparative perspectives. Through HLLC courses, students participate in meaningful work and partnerships in the City of Newark, dynamic internships, and varied forms of community engaged learning. The innovative curriculum provides the students the flexibility to focus on issues ranging from civil rights, race and ethnicity, gender and sexuality, religion, domestic and international violence, environmental justice, health inequities, and questions related to democracy and citizenship. Key elements of the HLLC curriculum include a foundational course and a research-based internship in an academic or social policy setting. HLLC courses might include: Survey of Social Justice; Negotiating Space, Place, and Identities; Voice, Citizenship, and Community Engagement at RU-N; Local Citizenship in a Global World; Race, Gender and Justice in the Time of Ferguson; Women, the Environment and Social Justice; The Politics of Public and Private Life; Gender, Ethnicity and Migration: Sexuality, Citizenship, and Work; and Environmental Conflict and Collaboration.

Inclusive by Design

Currently, HLLC cohorts live together in selected areas of RU-N’s residence halls—an arrangement that significantly enhances opportunities for out-of-class learning and fostering relationships. As of 2018, HLLC cohorts will be housed in a new, state-of-the-art facility designed specifically to support the HLLC’s innovative academic and extracurricular practices aimed at activating social, institutional, and cultural change and to facilitate engagement with the people and places of Newark, New Jersey’s largest city and cultural capital.

Access and Affordability

Keeping the HLLC affordable is one of the central goals of the program. RU-N does this by optimizing access to all sources of tuition aid, and regardless of financial need, will provide a residential scholarship to selected students which covers housing and meals. In addition, HLLC students from the City of Newark or who graduated from a New Jersey County College and whose adjusted gross family income is $60,000 or less are eligible for a specific financial support program the RU-N Talent and Opportunity Pathways (RU-N to the TOP) program, which guarantees financial support that covers in-state tuition and student fees after all federal, state, and internal/external scholarships/grants have been applied.