The Virginia Tech Honors College – inspired by the Virginia Tech Destination Areas – has collaborated with multiple disciplinary departments to offer Honors students optional focus areas to individualize and enhance their Honors Laureate Diploma. Students who pursue a focus area follow the same four-element structure and thirty-honors-credit requirement of the Honors Laureate Diploma. However, the checksheets for the focus areas establish a transdisciplinary theme to the courses through which they earn Honors credit to complete diploma requirements. Creativity + Innovation and Neuroscience, Medicine, and Culture are the first two focus areas.

Three years in the making, the creation of the Creativity + Innovation focus area joined together faculty from four colleges and dozens of disciplines. By cross-pollinating the arts, business, design, humanities, and technology, this focus area has established a space where students can create freely and innovate together. “Creativity and Innovation is the transdisciplinary ground zero, a place beyond boundaries – unlike any other at Virginia Tech,” said Dr. Ivica Ico Bukvic, the director of the Virginia Tech Creativity + Innovation team. “Here, students are given an opportunity to explore their passion projects that go well beyond their primary area of study.”

Photo of Ivica Ico Bukvic
Dr. Ivica Ico Bukvic, the director of the Virginia Tech Creativity + Innovation team. Photo was taken pre-COVID.

From an engineer designing a new musical instrument to an artist exploring the limits of machine learning and computer vision, the Creativity + Innovation focus area allows students to pave their own curricular path and gain the interdisciplinary knowledge necessary to make their passion projects a reality. “Students who choose this focus area will grow as both creatives and innovators in ways they never imagined,” explained Dr. Bukvic. “They are given an opportunity to join a likeminded community of brilliant minds to create and innovate, and to do so while fulfilling both their core degree requirements and those of the Honors Laureate Diploma.”

No problem can be properly addressed or solved through any single discipline. By having students immerse themselves in this rich, transdisciplinary space, they will fundamentally transform the way they view the world. “We cannot wait to experience firsthand all the creative and innovative outcomes and impacts of the students’ work on themselves, on our community, and the world,” said Dr. Bukvic.

The Neuroscience, Medicine, and Culture focus area emphasizes the importance of incorporating neuroscience across disciplines. “It is human nature to be curious; to wonder how we see, feel, think, learn, remember, and reason. The information that we learn from neuroscience can be applied to a wide range of fields outside of medicine and research,” explained Dr. Kristin Phillips, assistant professor and director of undergraduate programs for the School of Neuroscience at Virginia Tech. For example, major business leaders use neuroscience to gain insight into consumer motivations and decisions, which can help advise marketing directions. Lawmakers and policy makers also rely on neuroscience to inform legislation. Changes in educational practices are being built on what scientists have discovered about the way the brain learns, forms memories, and develops skills. “To effect social change, one needs to understand how the brain drives emotion and reason,” said Dr. Phillips.

Photo of Kristin Phillips, assistant professor and director of undergraduate programs for the School of Neuroscience at Virginia Tech, standing outside
Dr. Kristin Phillips, assistant professor and director of undergraduate programs for the School of Neuroscience at Virginia Tech. Photo was taken pre-COVID.

The addition of a focus area in Neuroscience, Medicine, and Culture gives Honors students the unique opportunity to integrate neuroscience within their current field of study. “Honors students enjoy thinking outside the box,” said Dr. Phillips. “With a little creativity, they can best appreciate the role that neuroscience plays in society.” Since Virginia Tech doesn’t offer a minor in neuroscience, this focus area is the only chance VT students have to learn about the brain in detail without committing to a full degree in neuroscience. “Students in this focus area will see first-hand how rapidly the field of neuroscience is advancing. They will see how little we know about the most complex organ in the human body, while also seeing how much we have learned in just the last few decades,” said Dr. Phillips. “Students will be asked to think broadly about the application of neuroscience and how insights from the field can be applied to the world outside the confines of a laboratory or hospital.”

In sum, choosing to pursue a focus area for their Honors Laureate Diploma allows students to craft an even more innovative and specialized undergraduate education.  

Interested in learning more about the Honors Laureate Diploma and its focus areas? Visit our website to get started.

Written by Michelle Fleury