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About the Program

The Honor Scholar Program is open to DePauw students of any major who show unusual promise and commitment to the development of the life of the mind. Each year a small number of carefully selected first-year students are invited to participate in the program and the special opportunities it presents.


Honors seminars

In their first year, Honor Scholars take two special Honor Scholar First-Year Seminar courses. During their remaining three years, students take three interdisciplinary seminar courses. These seminars focus on a wide variety of topics, and allow students to investigate topics in the natural sciences, socials sciences, and humanities. These seminars allow Honor Scholars to read, discuss, and write about both classic and cutting edge sources in a small group setting, working closely with professors.

Sample Seminars
Why? The Quest for Meaning (First-Year Seminar)

“Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question,” wrote Albert Camus, the Nobel Prize winning Algerian author. In this course Ancient Greek and Roman writers such as Plato, Aristotle, and Lucretius launch the exploration of that fundamental question. That exploration, the quest for meaning, hinges upon the inescapable questions that these artists and philosophers pose again and again: What is a good life? What is happiness? What is the relationship between life’s worth and the meaning of life?

The Ethics of Stories

Humans are storytelling animals. Perhaps because of the centrality of storytelling to our identities and relationships, the ways in which we share stories have generated a range of fascinating ethical dilemmas, which this interdisciplinary course will explore, drawing on the resources of philosophy, literary analysis, political theory, and psychology. Is it legitimate to criticize a work of fiction for the moral values it imparts? Who is entitled to tell stories originating from a particular culture or ethnicity?  Can the sharing of stories result in healing from personal and collective trauma, or do stories themselves traumatize?

Evolution and Human Nature

The Philosopher Daniel Dennett once called evolution “the single best idea anyone ever had.” If this claim has any merit, then surely evolutionary perspectives can shed light on important questions about human nature in general, and issues like cooperation, aggression, sex and gender, aesthetics, emotion, cognition, moral judgments, and environmental concerns in particular. We will look at current and historical attempts to develop scientific accounts of human nature, and examine their strengths, weaknesses, and motivations. The course offers an opportunity to explore how the “single best idea anyone ever had” can be applied human nature and important contemporary concerns.

Mind, Consciousness & Machines
(First-Year Seminar)

In this seminar we will explore topics having to do with consciousness and intelligence in humans and machines, focusing in particular on the question of whether a computer could ever match the power and flexibility of the human brain. We will examine these issues from various perspectives including philosophy, biology, psychology, and computer science.The goal of the seminar is for everyone in the seminar (students and teacher alike) to wrestle with the philosophical issues surrounding the topic of computers and consciousness, understand the technical dimensions of the topic, and come to appreciate humankind's role in the grand scheme of things. 

The Senior Thesis

Being an Honor Scholar implies more than formal academic study. There are opportunities for Honor Scholars to mix socially and informally with one another and with members of the faculty. Above all, the program provides an opportunity to be part of a group that seeks especially to find in its college education an intensive and stimulating intellectual experience.

During their final year at DePauw, Honor Scholars pursue independent work under the direction of a faculty thesis advisor and a committee of two or more additional faculty members, culminating in an Honors thesis.

Recent Thesis Topics
A Five Million Year Old Experiment: The Evolutionary Dynamics of a Cave Environment
Tyler Bussian '15, Biology

From Caped Crusader to Dark Knight: An Application of Robert Ray's Official/Outlaw Hero Framework to Batman
Daniel Cetina '12, Political Science and English (Writing)

Moving to the Beat: Musical rhythm as a Cipher for Priming, Synchronizing, and Entrainment in the Dorsal Premotor Cortex
Michael Padilla '13, Biochemistry and Music (Performance)

Heritable Health: An Exploration of Parental Epigenetics and their Impact on Individual and Public Health
Brittany Hayes '14, Biology 

Seeing Candidates Through a Gendered Lens: How Differential Media Coverage Serves as a Barrier to Women's Political Participation
Shelby Bremer '13 Communication 

The Impact of Arranged Marital Customs on Women’s Autonomy in Rural India
Tazree Kadam '15, Economics