Alex Zimmerman

Coming from a small Quaker school in center city Philadelphia where class sizes never exceeded twenty students, I wasn’t sure I would find the same kind of close-knit community within a large research university like Pitt.  I thought research universities were places where undergraduate education came second to graduate and professional research.  This couldn’t be further from a description of the experiences I’ve had at Pitt—experiences that have been facilitated by the University Honors College (UHC).

As a politics and philosophy (P&P) major—a degree option offered and advised through the UHC—I have had the flexibility to take mostly seminar-style courses with professors who are passionate about undergraduate education.  Because P&P emphasizes breadth of study through interdisciplinary coursework, I have fulfilled degree requirements in courses ranging from problems in the philosophy of religion to transatlantic security.  The UHC transformed my experience at Pitt into the small liberal arts environment I wanted but with hundreds of courses from which to choose.

Through a seminar on global justice, I built a relationship with a faculty member who got me interested in thinking about what obligations the affluent have to those who suffer from human rights violations.  Based on this interest, I pursued independent and original research with the guidance of Michael Goodhart, a leading thinker in the field.  The UHC facilitated this research through a Brackenridge fellowship, a program that encourages students from all disciplines to participate in a research community in which no one can hide behind disciplinary jargon.  A student interested in the therapeutic value of Wittgensteinian philosophy must defend his research against the student interested in the neurobiology of vomiting in musk shrews.  In the words of Nate Hillberg (director of the program) defending your research to Brackenridge fellows is one of the most challenging presentations you will ever give because it is in front of a room full of smart people who have no idea what you are talking about.

The UHC is not just an academic institution; it is a place for anyone who is genuinely curious.  Whether your interest is writing for a publication like Pitt Political Review or participating in a reading group like Pizza and Plays, there is room for any interest or new program you want to create.  Most importantly, these opportunities are not reserved for students who have merely done well on standardized tests or have high GPAs, because no one is excluded from the Honors College. In the words of our founding dean, Alec Stewart, "Bright, incurious people—bless 'em, high SAT scores and all—do not make a worthy university. People with an animated reverence for curiosity do."