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External Examiners to Lift Honors Program, Students

Flowers grow on a branch

At Swarthmore, Sarah Wolfolds ’09 didn’t fully appreciate the opportunity to engage with external Honors examiners.

“I knew how much I loved Honors seminars, but was too busy being nervous by the time of exams to take a step back and consider how unique that part of the experience is,” says the assistant professor of applied economics and management at Cornell’s SC Johnson School of Business.

Wolfolds is, then, “thrilled” to take another crack at the exams — this time from the other side of the table. She joins the more than 130 experts coming to campus this weekend to interact with Honors students and evaluate oral and written examinations.

The examiners hail from all around the U.S. and beyond, from Haverford and Harvard to Stanford and Barcelona’s Institut d’Estudis Internacionals. They are authorities in a vast array of disciplines, among them art, computer science, engineering, and sociology and anthropology.

"The external examinations introduce our students to the broader academic and professional community, and show that community how much our students have accomplished as dedicated and independent thinkers,” says Grace Ledbetter, director of the Honors Program and professor of classics and philosophy. “The students feel external exams are an exhilarating intellectual experience that builds confidence and prepares them to pursue positions of leadership after graduation."

The only undergraduate program of its kind in the U.S., the Honors Program is modeled on the tutorial system at Oxford University, where Swarthmore's seventh president, Frank Aydelotte, was a Rhodes Scholar. Since 1922, the program has embodied the College's commitment to dedicated learning and the life of the mind.

alt text "The students feel external exams are an exhilarating intellectual experience that builds confidence and prepares them to pursue positions of leadership after graduation," says Honors Program Director Grace Ledbetter.

This year, 90 senior Honors students will participate in examinations to determine whether they receive highest honors, high honors, or honors. But beyond that, they get to demonstrate that they have mastered a subject.

“Not only do they work conscientiously on assignments throughout the semester, they need to demonstrate that they truly grasped the material to an expert in the field,” adds Wolfords, citing her Honors experience as a key step toward pursuing a doctorate.

There are 16 other Swarthmore alumni serving as Honors examiners this year, representing class years 1979 through 2012. Among the more recent graduates is Abby Kluchin '03, professor of philosophy and religious studies at Ursinus College, who will examine two students from Asian Studies and three from the Religion Department.

Aside from her familiarity with the process, Kluchin brings “personal grace, intellectual openness, and passionate scholarly engagement,” says Steven Hopkins, professor of religion, who invited her to campus and touts her experience crossing disciplines and cultures.

“She is a friend and one of the finest students we’ve graduated in the Department of Religion,” adds Hopkins. “And that’s saying a lot.”

Ken Short ’82, provost of the US Army Engineering Graduate School and research scientist in neuroscience and experimental psychology, joins seven other experts from the field of psychology. Together they will bolster the objectivity of the Honors program while pushing its students to new heights.

“Engaging with external examiners allows our students to recognize that their studies have prepared them to make significant contributions to the intellectual life of their chosen discipline,” says Andrew Ward, professor of psychology and chair of the Psychology Department. “In essence, the Honors Program enables students to see all the ways in which they have matured as scholars and scientists during their four years at the College.”

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