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It’s an ‘honor’: Engineering students can enroll in customized, enrichment-focused program

August 30, 2012

NIU’s College of Engineering & Engineering Technology (CEET) and the University Honors Program teamed up to implement a new, customized honors program for engineering students.

CEET faculty member Nick Pohlman set the idea in motion by securing a University Honors Summer Improvement Grant.

“I originally applied for the grant because I was an honors student as an undergraduate and felt there was a need for our engineering students to get more involved in NIU’s University Honors Program,” Pohlman said.

From left: Jes Cisneros, Promod Vohra, Nicholas Pohlman, Omar Ghrayeb and Chris Jones

From left: Jes Cisneros, Promod Vohra, Nicholas Pohlman, Omar Ghrayeb and Chris Jones

With the support of CEET Dean Promod Vohra and Associate Dean Omar Ghrayeb, Pohlman developed proposed guidelines and requirements for the program, which he then took to Christopher Jones, NIU’s associate vice provost for University Honors and Jes Cisneros, assistant director of the program.

Pohlman, Jones and Cisneros crafted the final details, which were approved by CEET administrators, including the chairs of the college’s four academic departments.

The focus of the CEET honors curriculum will be a cadre of Honors mini-sections in which students complete regular course requirements, Pohlman said, but also are exposed to value-added learning opportunities.

“The goal is not do extra work, but rather to learn material in an enriching way that extends beyond the basic lecture and textbook. The real benefit of the mini-section approach is that the instructor can create an individual plan centered around the interests of specific students,” Pohlman said.

“Ideally, what we want to do is have engineering students collaborate so that they aren’t simply stuck within their major, he added. “Our hope is that we have a cohesive group of Honors students working together in design projects. That way, in the real world when they have to work on projects with people who have different specializations, it won’t be such a culture shock.”

A photo of the Engineering Building in autumnJones said he is enthusiastic about the collaboration with CEET.

“I am very pleased because this is a true curricular collaboration,” Jones said.

“During their freshman and sophomore years, engineering students will concentrate their Honors coursework at the university level in 100- and 200-level courses to satisfy general education and core competency requirements. As juniors and seniors, the focus of their Honors study will be specialized engineering classes offered by CEET.”

The new initiative allows the University Honors Program to welcome academically motivated CEET students to NIU and get them off to a healthy start. They will have access to small classes, the ability to enjoy the Honors Program’s many benefits, and the option of immersing themselves in an active and engaging community.

After a student’s first two years, CEET’s faculty take the lead in determining what technical content in the engineering displine is appropriate for honors education. However, CEET Honors students are still able to take full advantage of all the resources available to University Honors students.

“They will simultaneously be CEET Honors students and University Honors students,” Jones said.

Nick Pohlman


Jones believes being an NIU Honors graduate is also an important mark of distinction that will help CEET students compete for graduate school admission and jobs. “It’s another way for bright students to separate themselves from the rest of the pack. It signals a student has made a strong commitment to pursue excellence during their college years,” he said.

“An active partnership between the College of Engineering and Engineering Technology and the University Honors Program is the right thing to do because I think our students come with the highest patience, they are willing to work hard and they are pretty ambitious in terms of academic goals,” Vohra said.

“To me, this makes perfect sense that the students who are pursuing programs in engineering pursue the honors program as well.”

Jones credits the CEET administration and particularly Pohlman for moving NIU closer to President John Peters’ Vision 2020 goal of increasing the number of honors graduates on campus by 50 percent by the year 2020.

“Engineering students who normally would not have graduated with honors due to the curricular constraints of their demanding programs of study will now do so,” he said. “CEET’s new program potentially provides an appealing model for other NIU colleges with professionally focused curricula. Hopefully, this is just the beginning.”