Honors colleges have become very effective in attracting and recruiting highly motivated and talented students to institutions of higher education [1, 2]. The Honors Path allows students to earn an Honors Diploma and provides them with unique educational opportunities, which facilitates strong personal and academic growth . At Western Carolina University (WCU), two ways to earn Honors credit include taking an honors course (often a general education course) or to fulfill an Honors contract through a required major course in order to complete the 24 credit hours required to receive the Honors Diploma . With engineering curriculum requiring 17-18 credit hours per semester, engineering students have little to no capacity for completing the Honors Path through extra course work and typically couple Honors contract projects with their engineering courses. Honors contract projects are mentored by sponsoring faculty mentors and are closely related to the faculty members’ engineering practice and/or research efforts. The Honors contract projects are often (although optionally) presented orally to the entire class, which is not only beneficial to the students who conduct them, but also inspirational for their classmates. More importantly, these contracts can be a part of a research project to help advance the faculty member’s scholarship, or a response to industry or community needs, which help solve real-world problems . Benefits of Honors contracts to the student include working closely with a faculty mentor, tailoring their education based on their interests and take a greater responsibility in their education .The impact of the Honors contacts in undergraduate engineering research at WCU has been far-reaching and significant.
In this paper, the motivations, practices, and impact of the Honors contracts are examined. Student perceptions and the applications of Honors contracts, in developing an undergraduate engineering research experience, is thoroughly analyzed. Several past projects in electrical engineering, engineering-mechanical, and engineering technology programs are presented, which were developed from the students’ daily life, research needs, and industry/community needs. Honors projects that integrate multiple contracts and courses across the curriculum and grade levels are discussed. Suggestions for improving the Honors contracts pathway are also presented. This paper aims to serve as a reference to inspire more ideas from the faculty who have mentored honors students.
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