An Honorable Education

USD student Sydney Pidgeon


Sydney Pidgeon’s initial perception of the University of San Diego Honors Program was flat-out wrong.

“Friends who were in other schools’ honors programs told me not to apply, saying it would just add too much to my plate. It made me fearful of the workload, the extra requirements and, honestly, because I wanted to be the cool girl,” Pidgeon says.

Now a 2019 USD graduate with degrees in psychology and theology and religious studies, Pidgeon (pictured above), who changed her mind and was a midyear transfer into the Honors Program, knows she made the right decision.

“I quickly realized the Honors Program makes the workload worth it, makes the extra requirements something you’d choose to do anyway and being invested in your college experience is exactly what the cool girls do. My Honors Program experience was the cornerstone of my time at USD. It was a place of exploration, innovation and creativity. I was able to engage my passion for social justice, mission-driven thinking and academia.”

To USD professor Susannah Stern, PhD, and Erin Fornelli, USD’s Honors Program director and coordinator, such praise validates working with students like Pidgeon, who received the Anne Catherine Swanke Award for exceptional contributions to the Honors Program and the university at the 2019 Honors Convocation.

Stern, a communication studies professor, says the typical Honors Program student “is curious, processes ideas with others in a collegial way, is collaborative and enjoys learning for the sake of learning.”

Starting in 1979 within the College of Arts and Sciences, the Honors Program attracts top-rate students with team-taught courses, small class sizes, undergraduate research and faculty who appreciate teaching highly inquisitive students.

Stern, director since 2018, completed a comprehensive academic program review to install a strategic five-year plan. Fornelli has been with the program for eight years. The duo works well together because they see the same traits in the students.

“Curiosity, creativity and conscientiousness,” says Fornelli. “What I hope we cultivate is not just achievement, but students who have a love of learning. They’re not just about being a scholar, but really being a good person. Humility, honesty and kindness, to me, are equal to intellect.”

Stern’s recent program review helped shape the program’s future. Changes included adding a Spring 2019 Honors Program Colloquium; revising the application process, which made USD’s Fall 2019 first-year student class its most diverse; and piloting the first linked Honors classes.

Honors Program students are interested in pre-health, STEM, humanities, social sciences and business disciplines, but most of all, Stern says, they raise USD’s caliber.

“They bring their interest and curiosity and willingness to engage into all of their classes, not just Honors Program courses, so they enrich and enliven every discussion in every classroom in meaningful ways,” she says. “Our students are campus leaders, on our sports teams, are volunteers, organize events, movements and protests. They bring vibrancy and leadership to campus to move the whole university in a positive direction.” — Ryan T. Blystone

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