History of the URI Honors Program

A panel discussion on The State of Education in Rhode Island, during the 2013 Honors Colloquium: Scott McKay and Elisabeth Harrison of Rhode Island National Public Radio, Nancy Carriuolo, former President, Rhode Island College; and David M. Dooley, President, University of Rhode Island.

The earliest documentation of the URI Honors Program occurs in 1969. A flyer focuses on how the Honors Program: “departs from the regular academic curriculum approach and content [to] invite a select number of undergraduates to participate with … faculty and visiting scholars of distinction in an academic inquiry.”

That academic inquiry was the Honors Colloquium. Back then the colloquium was a year-long, six-credit course that allowed students to meet with faculty and outside researchers and scholars in an extended think tank focused on critical analysis. The lecture series attached to the Colloquium has been open to the public since 1970, but those accepted into the Honors Program were upper-class undergraduates who had a cumulative GPA of at least 3.0 for juniors and 3.2 for seniors. Eligible upperclassmen had to apply for both the Honors Program and Colloquium by soliciting letters of recommendation from their department chair and academic dean.

Once accepted, honors students completed the colloquium and a separate, independent project under the purview of their major professor. Until AY 1980-81, the Honors Program was smaller, less programmatic, and without a central mission. In the fall of 1980, the Honors Program staff developed a mission, expanded the program’s offerings, and offered courses, including the colloquium, for the general education requirement. These changes meant honors eligible students could take Honors Program courses in their freshmen year. Additionally, the Honors Colloquium became a general education honors course. In the fall of 1981, Professor Stephen Wood, Political Science, was named the first director of the Honors Program. And in 1983, the first five URI undergraduate students graduated with a completion of the Honors Program notation on their transcripts.

Throughout the 1980s, the Honors Program grew, but there were no more than 100 students at any time in the program.

In the late 1990s, under the direction of Philosophy Professor Galen Johnson, the Honors Program course offerings were diversified through three-year shared appointments for interested faculty members. This shift added courses, raised the Honors Program’s profile across campus, and increased Honors eligible student participation. Additionally, URI’s Honors Program became the central resource for undergraduates interested in national and international scholarship opportunities through the work of Associate Director Cheryl Foster.

In the fall of 2023, the Honors Program celebrates the sixtieth anniversary of URI’s Honors Colloquium. The Honors Program has grown enormously from one course focused on the Colloquium. Today, the program offers over fifty courses a semester and our faculty and staff advise students across the curriculum at every stage of their undergraduate career. Additionally, the Honors Program houses both the Office of National Fellowships and Pre-Health Professions Advising Program.