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Spotlight on Departmental Honors

There are many ways for UW students to earn distinction and challenge themselves to live up to their own full potential—the Honors Program is proud to be among them. To support and inspire a wide range of UW undergrads, we offer both Interdisciplinary Honors, a general education pathway for incoming freshmen, and Departmental Honors, a focused, deep exploration of a student’s chosen major, usually accomplished through advanced coursework or a research or thesis project. Departmental Honors is usually begun in the junior or senior year and, while requirements vary across campus, most involve both independent work and the opportunity to work closely with faculty on an area of interest. 

We spoke with Kevan Kidder, a double major in Psychology and Biology, to learn more about his experience in Departmental Honors in Psychology.

Tell us a bit about your academic journey before you came to UW—where did you go to school, and what led you to transfer to the UW?

My academic journey began with many hurdles. In 2008 I graduated high school and began at Washington State University. I returned home later that year, realizing I wasn’t focused on school. I began at Pierce Community College (PCC), but again, found myself unfocused and eventually withdrew. I worked full time at Target to pay off some of the loans I had already accumulated and to allow time to search my soul for my ultimate passions. I knew that I loved science and that I wanted to help the world discover the unknown, so with that in mind, and knowing that UW was a school with tremendous resources for undergraduate research, I set my sights on being a Husky. I starting by returning to PCC. Now on my third attempt at college, I was more focused than ever and excelled at PCC. I worked full-time while going to school, got my AA in Psychology, and I was accepted into the UW as a transfer student for the summer of 2013.

How did you choose your major(s)?

In my time away from and during school I became absolutely fascinated with the brain. There’s so much we don’t know about it and it’s one of things at the core of everyone's existence. I chose to work towards a B.A. in psychology and a B.S. in biology, hoping that the two would complement each other nicely so that I could eventually study neuroscience.

Why did you decide to participate in Departmental Honors (DH)? What was the application process like?

While exploring UW’s psychology website during my preparations for attending UW, I stumbled across the Psychology Honors program. What sold me on this program was having the opportunity to work in a research lab and eventually conduct your own research as an undergraduate. The application process was a little intimidating, as many people warned that I would be extremely busy in this program and that only the truly committed should enter into it. I thought long and hard about the program and eventually came to the conclusion that this was an amazing opportunity that I needed to take advantage of.

In your own words, what does Departmental Honors in your major entail (ie, what are the various requirements)?

Students are required to first write a research proposal with the help of a mentor and then to conduct that research and eventually write your own full length scientific research paper. Research takes time and patience, to succeed in this program you have to be ready to dedicate a substantial amount of your time.  The program also requires that students complete their degree with at least a cumulative 3.5 GPA.

What has Departmental Honors added to your education?

Without the Departmental Honors program my experience at UW would be nowhere near the same. It has added hands-on research experience that classes could never offer me and allowed me to dig deep into current scientific topics, accelerating my learning in neuroscience.  

Tell us about your favorite part of Departmental Honors so far. What made it so great?

By far the greatest aspect of the Departmental Honors program is the amazing opportunities that it has opened for me. I owe a big thanks to my mentors Dr. Sheri Mizumori and Dr. Phillip Baker who have helped foster my skills and not hesitated to include me in lab meetings, events, and scientific conventions. I’ve already presented my research at multiple events and now I have the honor of going to Chicago to present research at the largest neuroscience conference in the nation, called SFN 2015. I know my chances of getting into graduate school have been greatly increased because of the experience I’ve gotten from this program.    

What is a piece of advice that you would give to incoming transfer students (about Departmental Honors or anything else!)?

The amount of time that one must put into this program is no joke! There were quarters where I believed I spent more time on research and scientific events then I did on my classes. To succeed in this program, dedication is key. I suggest you think long and hard about what your passions are and where you want to be in the future. As an incoming transfer student you don’t have the time to slowly learn about opportunities that the University can offer. Instead, you have to be prepared to jump straight into studies, focused in the direction you want to go. Explore and inform youself on all the options you have at UW and I’m sure you’ll find something that complements you nicely. As my old soccer coach used to say, “Fortune favors preparation.”

Anything else you want to add?

Overall, I am humbled by the opportunities that this program has offered me and by the attention and guidance that my mentors have given me. Because of the Departmental Honors program I feel confident and prepared to enter into graduate school and to continue pursuing my dreams. The work that I have put into this program has been worth every bit. Go Dawgs!

Transfer students interested in exploring this opportunity to accelerate and deepen their own studies through Honors can browse the requirements for their major’s Departmental Honors program on our website and meet with a departmental adviser to discuss the details. You may also be interested in additional reading through our Departmental Honors Spotlight series, which has previously highlighted Departmental Honors programs in Architecture; Bioengineering; Chemistry; Computer Science & Engineering; Dance; Earth & Space Sciences; English; and International Studies.

—Laura Harrington, Adviser, University Honors Program