The Honors Difference by Willow Pedersen

What is the Honors difference? How does being an Honors student impact or benefit you as a student at Virginia Tech? Willow Pedersen, a 2020 Honors graduate and business major, reflects on her own Honors experience on her personal blog. “Honors has made such a difference in my life,” she said. Read Pedersen’s story below.

After freshman year, my summer internship manager asked me the difference between being in Honors and not being in Honors. At the time, I didn’t have a strong answer: the Honors experience can be difficult to articulate, especially in less research-oriented fields like business. Now that I can look back on all of my four years in Honors, I’d like to offer my considered opinion on the true value of being an Honors student.

Honors students are tasked with independent learning; this is one of the keys to success in any field. To identify what is important to learn and to find ways to learn it without the help of a teacher or the structure of a classroom setting are important career and life skills. This is especially important for business, as developing expertise is the primary way employees bring value. An Honors student designs his or her own learning experiences, setting and achieving personal academic goals.

For many, these are the first educational goals that are entirely student-driven, not set by a teacher or professor. There’s a lot of freedom, and there’s no rote memorization to study for a test. While the student could opt to learn from a textbook, Honors Colleges often require experiential learning in the form of an internship or co-op, a study abroad, or applied research.

Willow Pedersen
Willow Pedersen posing outside Norfolk Southern Corporation in Midtown, Atlanta, where she interned over the summer.

Experiential learning requires planning for and reflecting upon the experience. Reflection allows students to conceptualize what they’ve learned into impactful lessons that influence their behavior in the future. As an Honors student, I had to demonstrate an ability to learn from my internship; contrast this with simply learning skills in the classroom and implementing them at work. Learning from experience is a skill that will make any employee more valuable over time. An Honors designation shows that the student has this capability.

Another valuable trait of most Honors students is a transdisciplinary nature. In my Honors housing, I was surrounded by double and even triple majors, and among Honors Colleges, there is an emphasis on collaborating with people in other fields. Being in Honors helps students see connections among “unrelated” fields, which can lead to new ideas and disruption. While I would be remiss not to acknowledge that Honors is a helpful resume differentiator, I would not even consider this one of the primary benefits. By virtue of being in Honors, I was able to connect with other people who think differently but value independent learning in the same way. My peers presented me with encouragement, challenges, mentorship, and growth.

After my summer internship ended, I submitted a paper on my experience for Honors credit, which led me to reflect on my manager’s question about what Honors means. I find it significant that what I couldn’t articulate at the end of my freshman year, I could at the end of my senior year because of the experiential learning and deep thought required in an Honors College. Honors students set their own goals, design their own experiences, and then process and synthesize those experiences into unique takeaways and lessons learned. Honors students have the ability to curate and carry out independent learning experiences, allowing them to build even more meaningful careers and fulfilling lives.