Department of English

Departmental Honors Spotlight

Gary Handwerk

Gary Handwerk

Chair of English

Honors classes are vital in allowing our best students to reach their full intellectual potential. By working in small classes with fellow honors students and pursuing focused lines of reading and research, they prepare themselves for the kind of independent and creative work that the most challenging careers will demand of them.

Gillian Harkins

Associate Professor
Director English Undergraduate Programs

Gillian Harkins

The English Department Honors Program gives our majors a unique opportunity to define and puzzle through a research problem from start to finish. We bring together a cohort of highly motivated and intellectually curious students and give them a chance to work closely with faculty mentors across a full academic year. The program begins with a sequence of two small seminars, each focused on a specific research field in English studies. These seminars may focus on extremely diverse topics, from "Shakespeare: History, Tragedy, and the Future of Illusion," or "Héloise and Abélar to "Hardboiled, Noir and the Politics of Style" or "Neo-Slave Narratives: Gender, Genre, and the Question of Freedom." What they have in common is their focus on student-centered, research-based inquiry. This means the students work together to enter into complex critical discussions and to develop advanced research and writing skills on their chosen topics. In the Spring quarter, students take a final, writing-focused seminar where they share research outlines, essay abstracts, annotated bibliographies, and rough drafts of their 25-30 page Honors Thesis. By the end of their third quarter, English Honors students have experienced the challenges and rewards of pursuing advanced academic research in the company of peers and faculty who value their ideas and push them to work to the very best of their abilities.

Mel Wensel

Mel Wensel

Director of Academic Services

In 2005, along with other sweeping changes to the structure of the English major, English Honors received a dramatic make-over, shifting to a senior-year cohort model. One of our big aims was creating conditions in which a learning community could take root and flourish. I am happy to say that English Honors has consistently produced vibrant, authentic learning communities for the past 6 years. Learning communities aren't created simply by putting students into the same courses, but by engaging them in the process of becoming practitioners in a discipline. English Honors students learn the discourse, the mental habits, and critical practices of literary and cultural study and develop extremely strong, confident intellectual identities. They do this through sustained and focused conversation with texts, with faculty, and with each other. The program creates a strong sense of camaraderie and collaboration. By the end of the year, students not only regard each other with affection as good friends, but with respect and collegiality as fellow scholars. One year at departmental graduation, student after student had listed under "honors" the curious notation of "College Inn Society." We later discovered that these were our Honors students who had, after every seminar meeting, adjourned to the College Inn to continue the day's discussion or debate!

Brian Hardison

Current English Honors Student
English/Literature, Evening Degree

Brian Hardison

Joining the English Department Honors program has had a significant impact upon my educational experience at the University of Washington. Although the benefits of taking part in the program are many, there are two aspects, in particular, which stand out to me as the most meaningful: the community and the intellectual challenge.

While the courses that I've taken at the University of Washington have been interesting, participating in English Honors has afforded me the opportunity to stretch myself intellectually and make the transition from "student" to "scholar." The pedagogical approach of the English Honors courses is vastly different from the typical undergraduate lecture course in order to encourage and facilitate this transition. Unlike the typical class in which information and ideas are communicated by lecture, the English Honors courses are seminars. Thus, the professor functions less as a fount of wisdom during the seminar and more as a facilitator, guide - one who need not necessarily have the answers, but is there to take part in the exploration - and mentor. Consequently, the participants engage the course topics in an entirely different manner by actively questioning, exploring their own ideas or those of colleagues, and by participating in thoughtful arguments.

It is through these intense, vibrant arguments that a community is forged. Instead of being just classmates, over the course of two quarters, your peers in English Honors quickly become colleagues and often friends. Our discipline embraces an exceptionally wide range of diverse interests many of which are represented in the English Honors program. In an English Honors cohort, you may find authors of speculative fiction, or mediaevalists, or someone who is entranced by the study of prosody, or another person whose curiosity is piqued by the elements of syntax, and postmodernists concerned with theories of embodiment. The admixture of such wildly varied interests results in an unparalleled opportunity for exchange of ideas and perspectives. As many of us share similar aspirations, the camaraderie, insight, and encouragement provided by the English Honors community is priceless.

Haidn Foster

Haidn Foster

B.A. 2008, UW English/Creative Writing
M.A. 2009, UW English

Coming from Bellevue College's Running Start program, I had to decide the course of my education before many of my peers. As I've always aimed high academically and professionally, when I decided to major in English with a writing emphasis I knew I would also be applying to UW's English Honors program.

It's funny the way life takes you - I had always planned on being a novelist, but in the time following my graduation from UW's tremendous English Honors and English Master's programs. I haven't written one short story, let alone a novel. Instead over the past few years I've worked for Seattle Magazine, launched a popular leadership blog, started a company, and have thrown myself headlong into the world of online marketing. I've even begun dabbling in computer programming.

People inevitably ask how I use my education when my work spans so many different disciplines. I tell them not a day goes by that I don't use the principles I learned completing my English degrees. Whether writing marketing copy, communicating effectively with coworkers and partners, or thinking up solutions to seemingly impossible problems, the writing and critical thinking skills gained in English Honors have proven invaluable in every aspect of my professional life.

Montreux Rotholtz

B.A. 2009, UW English/Creative Writing
Current M.F.A. Student at University of Iowa Writer's Workshop

Montreux Rotholtz

My time in the English Honors program was the perfect cap to my UW experience. The English Department was a warm and welcoming place from the very first moment I arrived, as a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed transfer student, but I'd always wished I could spend longer with each class--with the community I'd worked to build with my classmates, and the discussion we'd begun.

In the Honors program, I didn't have to leave that community behind at the end of each quarter. We were given the chance to work for a year with the same classmates, while we delved into the complexities and nuances of the discipline. Our classes were both challenging and captivating, demanding professional work while ensuring that we never lost our delight in literature or the writing process. Our professors were kind, generous with their time and their assistance, and willing to go above and beyond to make sure each student got the most he or she could out of the class. My fellow Honors students were smart, considerate, and thoroughly invested. They were exactly the support network I needed--I finished my degree feeling energized, completely prepared for the challenges of my chosen graduate program.

Now, I'm about to complete my M.F.A. in Creative Writing at another fine institution, where I've had the opportunity to teach undergraduate Creative Writing courses for the past year. Teaching has made me reflect more closely on my time as an undergraduate. I look for inspiration from the professors and courses that most influenced me, and I've tried to recreate as much as I can of the UW Honors program in my own classroom. I want my students to feel the reassuring presence of academic and social community, encounter challenging assignments that build toward a worthwhile and tangible goal, and know that every student is invested in a thoughtful discussion. Participating in Honors has certainly made me a better graduate student, and a better teacher. The English Honors program's combination of academic rigor and social support was the ideal way to end my undergraduate education, and to prepare myself for my future.

A unit within Undergraduate Academic Affairs
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