Honors Program Built on Rigor & Community Engagement

A student is raising her hand during the GELAB Orientation.

September 14, 2023
Lucy Klebeck (‘23)

For over 50 years, the Gonzaga Honors program has fueled the development of the whole person through rigorous and demanding academic opportunities for students seeking that additional intensity of scholarship. When the program began, honors students could not take an elective or major-related class until their fourth year; now, curriculum has shifted to ensure that students in high credit majors, such as nursing and engineering, can participate in honors. At Gonzaga, the program’s goals are an active commitment to social justice, global awareness and engagement, and interdisciplinary approaches to critical questions, collaboration and academic excellence.

It is this commitment to the whole person and emphasis on key values that sets Gonzaga’s Honors Program apart from other collegiate honors programs. Karen Petruska, assistant director, emphasizes this distinction: “Members of Gonzaga honors are not students that are smarter than other students,” they are students who share honors program values.

Students raising their hands during the GELAB Orientation.

Shown above: A new experience in the Honors Program is "GELAB," an opportunity to gather with international students to explore the city, do service projects together and build community and intercultural competence. 


Students experience the values of the program – community, interdisciplinarity, collaboration and service – in their first-year honors seminar course titled Spokane as Text. Director Linda Tredennick, professor of Spokane as Text, remarks that “to think of the city as a text is to understand it not as a series of random and arbitrary events and locations, but rather the result of a nearly infinite series of choices, plans, intentions and assumptions.” The class is team-taught to allow for interdisciplinary learning and includes Community Engaged Learning (CEL). Students find placements, such as Logan Elementary or Campus Kitchens, that allow them to engage in the local Spokane community to understand and become a part of the Spokane community, rather than observe and discuss from afar.

CEL engagement continues throughout Gonzaga honors students’ collegiate careers. Alyssa Bienfang ’23, a graduate of the honors program, tutored students at Logan Elementary for her CEL placement, working in English language development classes with elementary students from a variety of backgrounds.

Bienfang majored in biology and minored in French, ran cross-country and track and field for Gonzaga, received President’s List honors six times, and received a West Coast Conference Academic Honorable Mention for Cross Country in 2022. Now, she is applying to medical school while teaching English through the Teaching Assistant Program in France (TAPIF) in Normandy, France.

When asked about her experience in Spokane as Text, Bienfang reminisces on how she learned about Spokane and its current political and social issues. Bienfang, who entered the honors program as a first-year student in 2019, speaks of the affordable rent issue facing members of the Logan neighborhood. By learning about issues in the community, students become aware of the impact they have and are encouraged to engage locally.

Building off the values learned in the first-year seminar course, students take honors colloquia courses focused on issues in a global context and finish with a capstone project during their senior year. The student’s capstones are developed within their area of expertise and require a public facing component, which may look different for every student.

“The goal is to figure out what community you are trying to enter and how you can transform your research into something visual and tangible,” says Petruska.

Bienfang conducted research on mental wellbeing in men’s rowing and men’s cross-country and presented her results to Rian Oliver, senior associate athletic director at Gonzaga for her senior capstone.

The capstone project serves as a completion point for honors students at Gonzaga. Throughout their CEL placements, classes, and community building honors students develop not only academic skills, but cultivate their whole person and learn to be that person for others in both their local and global communities.

Discover the unique edge of Gonzaga's Honors Program. Dive into rigorous academics & service.