National Collegiate Honors Council


Date of this Version


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In: Place, Self, Community: City as Text™ in the Twenty-First Century, Edited by Bernice Braid and Sara E. Quay. National Collegiate Honors Council, 2021.


© 2021 NCHC.


Grand Canyon Semester (GCS) presents an excellent test case for exploring the success of Honors Semesters in meeting the goals articulated in this contribution to the NCHC Monograph Series: the transferability of skills and the interrelation of integrated learning, experiential education, and civic engagement. GCS began in 1978 as a partnership of Northern Arizona University (NAU), Grand Canyon National Park (GCNP), and the National Collegiate Honors Council (NCHC) that would offer a place-based, experiential, immersive Honors Semester program. Students came from across the country to live onsite at Grand Canyon and NAU and to take interdisciplinary courses taught by NAU faculty, GCNP staff, and NCHC facilitators. From its start, GCS was organized around an applied core of courses that were team taught, featured integrated assignments, and used both classroom and field-based learning in ways designed to break down disciplinary silos and to ground learning in authentic, real-world applications. GCS embodied many of the key pedagogical tenets of integrative learning identified by Carolyn Haynes: team teaching and planning, clustered courses, learning communities, interdisciplinary core seminars, inquiryand discovery-based teaching, multicultural pedagogy, thematic focus, and collaborative learning projects. Forty years on, GCS is now the longest-running semester program associated with NCHC, a persistence that no doubt owes a great deal to the immensity and complexity of the subject. Indeed, perhaps only an integrated approach can provide an authentic learning experience for an object of the magnitude and complexity of Grand Canyon. The central question posed by the present volume is whether the experiential, integrative learning practiced by GCS does lead to an increase in analytical skills, greater interest in and levels of civic engagement, and the desire for careers that make a difference. This essay begins by considering the distinct opportunities Grand Canyon offers for considering and practicing civic engagement. We then look at the changing landscape of integrative pedagogy in GCS. The essay concludes with discussion of a recent survey of GCS alumni that offers some qualitative assessment of the program’s success in meeting the goals articulated by this volume.