George Mason University
George Mason University Mason
George Mason University

Associate Dean Jan Allbeck speaks on the occasion of the Honors College's tenth anniversary

February 27, 2020

What makes the Honors College program unique?

It’s what I call the “HC [Honors College] Big Three”:

The first part of the HC Big Three is inquiry-based learning. A lot of times in high school, there’s a lot of “just let me memorize this and then give it back to the teacher.” This first part is trying to get students to think, to truly be curious about things, and to want to explore.

The second part of the HC Big Three would be evidence-based reasoning. When you are exploring things, what evidence do you have? Is it valid evidence? Where did it come from?

And then the third one is evaluating multiple perspectives in context. This can be about disciplinary perspectives or something else entirely: you also bring perspectives from your background and overall life experience. I come from computer science, so I look at things a little differently than a lot of my colleagues in the Honors College, and I see students in my class as well, coming at things from different angles, which I think is just awesome.

Bringing all those three things together is pretty special. Also, “HC Big Three” just rolls off the tongue.

 

What was the been the biggest change in the Honors College since you started?

The curriculum. I’ve only been in the Honors College since summer of ’17, so it hasn’t been that long for me, but the biggest thing would be the curriculum change.

We always talked about creating a better narrative about the curriculum because saying you have a requirement one, requirement two, and requirement three doesn’t really say what those are. Now we have inquiry, civic engagement, and multidisciplinary class requirements for our students. That was a big change and a positive change. Everything should change over time. 

 

What can we look forward to in the Honors College’s future?

Even with the new curriculum that we have now, we’re always looking at ‘is this best serving our students?’ We are headed in a good direction with the curriculum. There might need to be a few tweaks here and there, but that’s good.

There’s always opportunity for community-building. We try to do that with some of the LLC events and things of that nature, and we are always looking to create and support community-building opportunities for students who live off campus.

They kind of start as a community in Honors 110, Principles of Research and Inquiry, because everyone has to take it. Then as you kind of go through, you’re taking your honors classes, but you’re also taking your major classes. There is still part of the Honors community, but [you] might not think about it as much. We want to really emphasize that sense of community in the upper division in the next ten years. I’d also like to offer more opportunities to bring the alumni in. Now that we’ve been here for ten years, we have some alumni. So, we’ll be bringing them in and getting them involved in the community as well.

 

Honors College students talk about being inspired by the Honors College and the faculty. What about the students inspire you?

All of their backgrounds and points of view. We talked about multiple perspectives earlier, and diversity comes in there as well. I grew up on a farm in Pennsylvania and had a limited experience until I got to grad school. But still, I kind of had a limited range of knowledge, and as I go through life, it builds and builds and builds. Honors College students come from all over the place and all different disciplines and perspectives and have different knowledge bases. What they’re really excited about is inspiring.

 

What is one thing about you that may surprise people?

Most people who are my advisees know, but [for] other people who haven’t been in my office: I have a bit of a Lego collection. I’m running out of room for some of them. I brought it over when I came over from computer science, and I add to it. The series most of these are a part of come out once a year on January 1st. So, I get very excited about New Years, just because I can go to a Lego store and get the next set to add to my collection. The biggest set is just over 4,000 pieces. It does get distracting for some of my advisees!