Political Science Honors Program to Change

Lianna Brown ’22, News Editor

The Political Science department has created a new course that will require completion from majors pursuing honors.

The new class will be a research class without political science content and will end with a colloquium displaying the work of students in the class. The pilot class is projected to be offered in the Spring 2020 semester. 

This summer a group of five professors, Assistant Professor of Political Science and Latin American Studies Santiago Anria, Instructor of Political Science Kathyrn Heard, Assistant Professor of Political Science Sarah Niebler, Assistant Professor of Political Science Katie Marchetti, and Associate Professor of Political Science Toby Reiner examined the systems of several other departments “to propose an alternative way of doing Political Science honors,” Marchetti explained. The new honors program is “modeled on what other departments at this college do, so it’s a change for us but it’s based on a combination of models that we consulted as part of the group and made it our own,” Marchetti said. 

Marchetti explained that the problems with the old honors system date back to reviews from 2005, and that changing this system had been considered previously. Marchetti explained that students worked independently in the old system and were not benefitting from collaborating with other students, and there was a GPA limit that excluded a number of students. Marchetti continued that the old system overworked department faculty because students chose their thesis supervisors, so the workload was not spread evenly throughout the department. “If you have three independent studies each of which you meet for an hour each week, by definition Dickinson defines a course as three hours per week so they’re essentially teaching an additional course but not being paid for it,” Marchetti said.

According to the Dickinson College website, the old system of acquiring honors in Political Science required being a declared Political Science major on track to graduate in the coming spring, a minimum GPA of 3.5 in Political Science coursework and an overall GPA of 3.25 or above. Majors pursing honors must have taken a research methods course and have contacted at least one member of the department who have advised a student on a research project to determine if the project would merit honors consideration. Finally, the research would be circulated among a small committee of faculty and then the department as a whole. Marchetti explained that “these were all kind of stopping points, then if the students got through those stopping points, they would then defend their research in front of the department for honors, potentially.”

The new pilot course will be a research seminar held in the spring and will focus mainly on research and writing. Marchetti explained that like applying for honors research, students would apply with a proposal in the fall to get into the seminar, but there will not be a minimum GPA requirement. “The focus of the course is not on honors first and foremost, the focus is doing research, so it makes the ability to do research available to more students,” Marchetti said. In the course there will be one professor who reads everything students write, and students will be able to consult with professors on specific subjects. At the end of the semester students will present their research at a colloquium and then some of the projects will be invited to present their work for review for honors. 

Marchetti said, “I am glad that this opens up the ability of more people to potentially be doing original research […] and so I’m optimistic that this will provide a better experience for students as well as faculty.” 

David Strand, professor of political science and chair of the political science department, said that the class “will provide support for students by way of advanced instruction in research methodology, opportunities to consult with faculty whose expertise applies to specific topics, and the camaraderie that comes from the entire class discussing and critiquing individual projects under the guidance of the course’s instructor.” 

The class must be approved by the Academic Program and Standards Committee (APSC) to run as a pilot in the spring of 2020.

Information about the class was sent to current Political Science majors in an email from Maria Ritchie, the academic department coordinator of political science, on Wednesday, Sept. 18

Students have reacted positively to the change. “I think the changes are positive. They’ll offer more structure and support to students pursuing an honors project,” Cailey Cummins ’20 said.  Gaby Torres ’20, however, thought little of the change. “I never thought of doing the honors program for polisci [political science] so this change didn’t really mean anything to me.”