National Collegiate Honors Council


Date of this Version



Honors in Practice, Volume 8.


Copyright © 2012 National Collegiate Honors Council


The National Collegiate Honors Council has long recognized that collaboration among institutions is important to honors education. Since its inception over five decades ago, NCHC has promoted the mutual exchange of ideas about honors in order to disseminate the best of these ideas as potential prototypes (Andrews). In addition to its annual NCHC conferences, which offer a large forum for sharing ideas, NCHC has fostered and supported a variety of collaborative programs such as Honors Semesters and Faculty Institutes, the most recent of which is the Partners in the Parks Program (PITP), which—like its predecessor programs—is designed not only to provide educational opportunities for students and faculty in honors but to inspire educational innovations within honors programs and colleges across the country. PITP has already begun to spin off such innovations. The adaptation of the PITP program “Fire Island to Ellis Island” in a college course called “Honoring the Parks” demonstrates the way that colleges and universities can use NCHC resources to inspire new educational opportunities on their campuses.

Partners in the Parks became an NCHC experiential learning program in 2008. Designed to inspire commitment to America’s national parks, PITP is “predicated on a three-fold purpose: to educate students about the national parks, to engage them in recreational activities that are the essence of park experiences, and ultimately to urge stewardship of these treasured spaces through a lifetime of involvement” (Digby). In only four years the program already has more than three hundred alumni and an expanding number of national park venues (see Appendix). These week-long immersion seminars, in which students and faculty along with National Park Service (NPS) park rangers study a park from multiple perspectives, were not initially designed as creditbearing courses, yet within a few years of the pilot program at Bryce Canyon, colleges started offering such experiences for credit. Heather-Thiessen Reily, Director of Honors at Western State College of Colorado, developed a PITP week at Black Canyon of the Gunnison as a rigorous three-credit course open to students from all NCHC programs and colleges; she describes the evolution and content of this course in Partners in the Parks: Field Guide to an Experiential Program in the National Parks (Digby, ch.3). In addition to courses specifically structured for credit, some member institutions that send students to PITP programs offer their participants credit based on journals, papers, or creative projects presented as evidence of learning outcomes worthy of academic credit.

In the adaptation we discuss below, a PITP program became the model for a course at a local college. The PITP host institution for “Fire Island to Ellis Island” is LIU, a mid-size private university with an urban (Brooklyn) and suburban (Post) campus in close proximity to a variety of NPS sites. Dormitory housing on both campuses allows the program to move students from Long Island to New York City over the course of a week. St. Francis College, by contrast, is a small, private institution housed in a single building in Brooklyn with no dormitory facilities. Despite the differences in host institutions, the variety and density of NPS sites in close proximity inspired the shaping of a course for commuter students at St. Francis. Particularly in view of the current emphasis on environmental issues and field-based leaning, participating in PITP programs might help faculty develop new courses well-adapted to their home campuses.