SJSU’s New HonorsX Program Prepares Students to Solve Societies’ Greatest Challenges

by | Mar 18, 2022 | Academics

SJSU’s new HonorsX program, which launches summer 2022, will engage student teams across academic disciplines to address the most difficult planetary challenges..

This summer, San José State University will launch a one-year pilot of HonorsX, a new interdisciplinary program designed to engage students from diverse majors and backgrounds in collaborative analysis and problem solving of critical societal issues.

The program welcomes currently enrolled rising juniors from all fields of study who are inspired to develop their expertise in integrated thinking and applied learning to tackle challenging problems in their communities and the world — and want to do so in meaningful ways.

HonorsX is uniquely designed with an emphasis on the intersection of justice and sustainability — environmental, economic and social — and will rotate the topics students study each academic year. The curriculum is aligned with the university’s legacy commitment to equity and social justice.

The first topic, “Developing Sustainable Societies,” grapples with how advances in science and technology create some of our greatest moral dilemmas.

According to San José State Provost and Senior Vice President of Academic Affairs Vincent Del Casino, “HonorsX is designed by faculty to engage students in addressing some of our world’s most wicked problems.

“The students in HonorsX have to break the mold of how we think and approach everyday practical and intellectual questions. Working together, students and faculty will establish a cohort of leaders, thinkers, and doers, who can both contextualize the challenge and bring a fresh, interdisciplinary perspective to whatever question they collectively face.”

To that end, HonorsX students will work in teams, leveraging their interests, academic training and diverse perspectives to ask big questions, conduct research into pressing problems and propose innovative solutions. 

The HonorsX experience

Students conducting different projects touching on water pollution, technology and communications.

Participating students will be part of a cohort, a group that enters at the same time and remains together during the program. Implementing this model intentionally with students of diverse backgrounds and programs will help encourage students to build relationships with peers across disciplines, while simultaneously supporting HonorsX’s integrative approach to problem solving.

The first cohort will include 25-30 students and kick off with a three-week hybrid course this summer — including a fully-paid, three-day residential component on SJSU’s campus to encourage student collaboration.

The inaugural cohort will then complete two consecutive HonorsX courses, one in fall 2022 and the second in spring 2023.

Through experiential learning experiences inside and outside of the classroom, HonorsX students will have unique opportunities to work closely with peers they may not otherwise meet, build relationships with faculty experts outside of their disciplines, and receive mentorship from industry experts and thought leaders.

Co-founder Sarika Pruthi, a professor of entrepreneurship in the Lucas College and Graduate School of Business, will be one of the first HonorsX faculty members to teach this summer. She is excited to engage with students from a variety of disciplines outside of the business school.

“The prospect of challenging convention to stimulate curious minds and make a real difference is truly inspiring,” said Pruthi.

Forming HonorsX

Students in a classroom studying together as one student adds a post it note to a whiteboard.The concept of HonorsX began as a yearlong group exercise among tenured and tenure track faculty and lecturers, student affairs professionals and students from across all of San José State’s colleges in 2020.

Their goal: create a true cross-disciplinary program designed to equip students with the practical problem solving, teamwork and collaboration skills necessary to positively impact and engage ethically in today’s interconnected world. 

The HonorsX model smashes the silos that are persistent in higher education environments, which often stifle the intersectional collaboration of faculty across disciplines. Those are exactly the types of opportunities that the HonorsX program intentionally will increase — and which can offer the most significant learning experiences for students. 

“Working on designing this program has allowed us as faculty to dream a lot, dare a lot and learn a lot,” said Professor Nidhi Mahendra, co-founder of the HonorsX program and chair of communicative disorders and sciences at SJSU. “We imagine the same will happen for students.” 

According to Mahendra, “We will be among the few interdisciplinary, student-led, problem-based learning models of an Honors program at a minority-serving institution.*

“We have designed the program to help foster inclusion, belonging, and the success of many students we typically leave behind in most Honors programs — and to center critical societal/global issues.” 

Assistant Professor of Biological Sciences Walter Adams, an additional cofounder of the program, said he believes “this program will benefit SJSU because it will reinforce our institution’s role as a leader in solving today’s most pressing problems through an equity and community-focused lens.

“HonorsX provides a unique opportunity for students to radically reimagine the Honors experience by synergizing their incredible strengths with SJSU’s core values.”

San José State is well positioned in the heart of Silicon Valley to provide access to interprofessional education, training, and cutting-edge technologies to students. In turn, student insights from the problem-centered research they conduct in HonorsX will impact and enrich not only the surrounding community but also the world.

Learn more about SJSU’s HonorsX program.

*San José State University is a designated Hispanic Serving Institution and Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander Serving Institution.