Program Leadership

Building an Engineering Honors Curriculum: Collegiate Consistency with Individual Flexibility

  • Amy Brewster (University of Iowa)
  • Robert Kirby (University of Iowa)
  • Art Spisak (University of Iowa)
  • Holly Blosser Yoder (University of Iowa)


Recently, Honors at Iowa developed a curriculum that all student members must complete to graduate with University Honors. The curriculum has two primary components; the first is building knowledge through course work and the second is the application of knowledge through hands on learning experiences. Because, however, the engineering undergraduate curriculum is more structured and sequential in nature than the curriculum of the other undergraduate colleges, a distinct honors engineering curriculum was developed collaboratively between the College of Engineering and the University Honors Program. This engineering-specific honors curriculum maintained the key features of course work and experience-based learning valued by engineering and honors, but allowed for unique out-of-class experiences available to University of Iowa engineering students to be woven into the curriculum.

The standard Honors curriculum for undergraduates at Iowa is 12 credit hours of honors coursework and 12 credit hours of experience-based learning. The 12 credits of coursework are commonly completed early in the students’ education through honors offerings of general education courses. In contrast, the experiential component is most commonly pursued by upper class students and includes opportunities such as Honors in the major, research, study abroad, internships, and a variety of types of courses such as teaching practica, service learning, and graduate courses. This standard 12/12 Honors curriculum is still available to engineering honors students, but many engineering students’ schedules are limited in flexibility, and the number of honors offerings that fit their needs is also limited. To maintain consistency in University Honors across the colleges and also accommodate the emphasis in engineering on applied learning, the College of Engineering and Honors Program agreed to reduce the required number of hours of honors coursework and increase proportionately the amount of experience-based learning in the honors curriculum. This has become known as the Engineering Alternative and highlights more out-of-class opportunities that provide discipline-specific learning. For example, engineering students can count leadership positions in engineering student organizations for honors credit because these organizations incorporate a project with faculty oversight. Engineering honors students may also deepen their knowledge and help other students by serving as tutors or by participating in other service roles in the College of Engineering. These opportunities are in addition to the standard experiential learning options of honors in the major, research, study abroad, and internships. Together, the varied options of the Honors Engineering Alternative curriculum allow students great flexibility in completing University Honors that is of equivalent depth to the 12/12 standard Honors Curriculum.

The result of the collaboration between Honors and the College of Engineering is an honors curriculum that meets the general requirements of the Honors curriculum but also is flexible enough to accommodate the more structured and sequential nature of the engineering curriculum.

How to Cite:

Brewster, A. & Kirby, R. & Spisak, A. & Yoder, H. B., (2014) “Building an Engineering Honors Curriculum: Collegiate Consistency with Individual Flexibility”, 2014 ASEE North Midwest Section Conference 2014(1), 1-7. doi:

Rights: Copyright © 2014, Amy Brewster, Robert Kirby, Art Spisak, Holly Blosser Yoder

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Published on
17 Oct 2014
Peer Reviewed