National Collegiate Honors Council


Date of this Version



Honors in Practice 16 (2020)


© Copyright 2020 by the National Collegiate Honors Council


The first-year seminar Why Are We Here? Student Culture and the Problem of College (WAWH) helps high-achieving students become motivated agents in their education by changing attitudes toward themselves, college, and their roles as students. The author presents the intentional design, execution, analysis, and results of the WAWH seminar, a curriculum that combines content and methods from the discipline of Critical University Studies, layered high-impact practices, studentcurated and student-led discussions, and explicit instruction on metacognition in teaching and learning. The decennial study (2008–2018) involves eighteen sections and over 300 students, all with similar written assignments, reflections, and final course evaluations. Results indicate that students gain clarity in the understanding of their own values, opinions on issues, and sense of self as learners; of the purpose of college and liberal education; and of issues involving the U.S. education system and the academy. The author posits the WAWH model as a means for synthesizing theory and practice in education; securing honors programs’ impact and relevance within institutions; and maximizing institutional investment in high-achieving student populations. Learning outcomes and implications for scalability are discussed.