In her senior thesis, Bellarmine Honors student Molly Phelps analyzed themes of gender and spiritual possession in The Tale of Genji, an obscure medieval novel written by a Japanese lady-in-waiting. Then, like many other Honors Program students, she submitted
the thesis to ScholarWorks, a digital collection that preserves intellectual research and lets the public download it.
And download it the public did—more than 6,700 times.
“My mind is blown thinking about it,” said Dr. Jon Blandford, who oversees Bellarmine’s Honors Program as interim assistant provost. “Our students are contributing to knowledge out there in the world with their undergraduate projects
here at Bellarmine. That's something I'm super proud of.”
"Honors students are curious about the world, care about their work, and are excited about learning. They are active participants in their own education.”
For the 2023-24 academic year, 14 percent of Bellarmine’s undergraduate students are enrolled in the Honors Program, more than double the national average of 6 percent.
Honors students take specialized versions of core curriculum classes that are limited to 15 students each and focus more on discussion than lecture. They are required to take a minimum of five Honors courses but are encouraged to take more. The capstone
of the program is the senior thesis.
“The biggest advantage of the Honors Program is that it puts students on a path of growth, discovery and distinction,” said Dr. Zackary Ross, the program’s director. “This program is designed to equip students with the tools they
need to excel at the highest level, fostering the kind of critical thinking and leadership qualities that set them apart as they transition from undergraduate studies to graduate school and the competitive professional landscape.”
Because Honors students represent more than 40 majors—computer engineering, biology, environmental science and business administration among them—their research covers a wide spectrum. It’s also often more advanced than one might expect
at the undergraduate level.
Honors students have focused on finding a genetic marker for polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS); the effect of warming ocean temperatures on a bellwether species; online communities for adults with ADHD; and how drinking more non-fluoridated bottled water
affects dental health, among other topics.
“These are projects that are driven by the students’ own passions, their own interests,” Blandford said. “They are going to transform these students into the types of people they want to be next.”
In addition to research, the Honors Program provides small, discussion-based interdisciplinary seminars, experiential learning opportunities and short-term study-abroad courses in places such as Peru, Belize, London and Rome—where students gave
an Honors Program T-shirt to Pope Francis a few years ago. (We hear he wears it every day.)
They also have the chance to attend conferences with Honors students from other universities.
Aditya “Adi” Singh ’22, a Biochemistry & Molecular Biology major with a minor in English, presented his research on how cultural differences transform Western films remade in Bollywood at the Southern Regional Honors Council
conference in Birmingham, Ala.
“Knowing that my research and hard work would eventually reach eyes and ears outside of the Bellarmine community in such a concrete way was been a driving factor in my putting the best effort into every minute I spent on my project,” Singh
said. He is now research program coordinator for Hematological Malignancies at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.
For each incoming Honors class, Bellarmine gives five full-ride Bellarmine Scholars Awards and five full-tuition Bellarmine Fellows Awards. Recipients are chosen during a weekend competition involving a faculty interview, an essay and a roundtable discussion.
Not all incoming students see themselves as Honors Program material, though, so every spring, the program asks faculty and deans for the names of high-achieving first-year students and then recruits as many sophomores into the program as possible.
The Honors Program also relies on faculty across the university to provide Honors class content and to serve as advisors for students’ senior theses.
Faculty say they enjoy working with Honors students. “They go above and beyond to learn as much as possible, simply for the sake of learning,” said Dr. Carrie Doyle, assistant professor of Biology.
Dr. Jennifer Barker, a professor of English, echoed that. “I enjoy working with Honors students because they are curious about the world, care about their work, and are excited about learning,” she said. “They are active participants
in their own education.”
PHOTOS: Honors Program students and faculty enjoy the program's annual fall picnic at Progress Park