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History & Vision


The University Honors Program was established in 1969 by the State Board of Higher Education on the recommendation of Portland State University’s Faculty Senate and administration. Its purpose was two-fold: to provide a demanding and rigorous alternative general education track for students who planned to pursue graduate or professional school, and to serve as a “laboratory” for the development of innovative and interdisciplinary coursework.

Learning Outcomes

The Urban Honors curriculum’s rich, varied, and robust approach to general undergraduate education – the lower-division core, upper-division seminars, internships, and the baccalaureate thesis – provides an integrated framework of cumulative intellectual and practical experiences that enable students to achieve key learning outcomes. Within the department, these learning objectives focus on:

  • describing how academic knowledge is organized in the social sciences, the sciences and the humanities; 
  • preparing students to write a comprehensive and well-researched thesis in their individual majors;
  • comparing texts and placing them in their historical, intellectual, and cultural context.

Fulfillment of the University's Mission

The mission of Portland State University is to enhance the intellectual, social, cultural, and economic qualities of urban life by providing access throughout the life span to a quality liberal education for undergraduates and an appropriate array of professional and graduate programs especially relevant to metropolitan areas. Successful realization of this mission rests on five values:


The Urban Honors College promotes learning and discovery at every stage of its curriculum. In particular, the commitment by Honors College faculty to mentor and advise students through all four years of their education, support students’ post-graduate plans (for example, through letters of recommendation), and direct students to research, publication, scholarship, and other professional opportunities both within and beyond PSU demonstrates the College's commitment to this core element of the University’s mission. Our students hail from regions as diverse as the Middle East, South Asia, and Eastern Europe, while the scholarly production of our faculty explores medieval and modern Europe, Asia, and the transnational ethnic and immigrant communities of the United States.


The Urban Honors College is a key avenue of access and equity for PSU students. On the basis of most indicators (other than quality of high school coursework and performance on standardized college entrance exams), students in the Honors College are representative of PSU’s population: they are frequently first-generation college students and often experience economic restrictions or family obligations that restrict their choices in undergraduate education. The Honors College makes available to these students a rigorous and demanding curriculum that enables them to construct highly competitive portfolios for application to prestigious graduate and professional schools.


Students in the Urban Honors College form a learning community that persists through several years of shared coursework. As such, their scholarly work is subject to both peer and faculty review, in individual as well as group projects and presentations. Both positive and negative models of such review are examined in coursework. Classroom discussion, while vigorous, thus adheres to strict evidentiary requirements and standards of mutual respect; it is expected that all student work will be addressed in a spirit of sincere collegiality and that critiques will be framed constructively. Issues of ethical obligation and civic responsibility underpin the College's curriculum, from the first-year inspection of the premises of experimental science to the critical encounter in upper-division courses with modes of observation, representation, and difference.


The Honors College has evolved over the past forty years through a transparent process of reflection, assessment, and change. Our approach to both the College's structure and curriculum thus adheres to the model of critique and revision that we teach to our students. Within our curriculum, we reflect with our students on the social construction of knowledge, how professional discourse is organized and framed, and the ways in which disciplinary knowledge both shapes its agents in particular ways and also represents interests allied with underlying social forces.


Through its integrated curriculum, particularly its program of coursework and the internship, the Honors College shapes students into reflective, informed, civically engaged knowledge professionals prepared to serve and shape the city. The Visiting Scholars Project brings international scholars to campus for both public talks, which benefit the community at large, and in-depth discussion with upper-division seminar students.