A Community of Scholars
on a Campus Full of Opportunities
Commonwealth Honors College is designed for motivated students with creative ideas, intellectual curiosity, and a desire for academic excellence. Our community will support you in identifying your passions as you develop unique ways of applying your knowledge.
As a UMass Amherst student, you will have access to all the resources of a major research university including 100 majors, more than 30 certificate programs, Division I athletics, intramural sports, and numerous opportunities for students to join and lead campus groups.
As a member of the Commonwealth Honors College, you will benefit from a tight-knit community, close ties with faculty, small honors classes, expanded honors advising, and access to special programs, merit scholarships, and research grants.
Our faculty come from disciplines all across campus and develop small, discussion-based honors courses that enrich the content of standard courses and include opportunities for in-depth or independent work.
“My family and I moved from Cambodia when I was 12. My mother survived the genocides there. My parents never said that I have to do well, but I want to because it is my responsibility and because of my own ambitions.
UMass is an amazing school. The quality of education is top-notch. There are so many opportunities academically, socially, professionally, culturally—you name it. It’s such a great community, with good professors, good classes, and good food. I’ve tried to squeeze out every last drop.”
—SOUN HEANG LEE ’16, Biochemistry & Molecular Biology
Commonwealth Honors College is committed to providing resources that will help you think critically and develop a passion for lifelong learning, in addition to helping you prepare for success in a changing world.
The honors curriculum encourages students to develop broad perspectives while engaging in critical analysis and investigation.
“Be excited and passionate about your major, but also be awed to have the opportunity to learn about topics outside of your academic wheelhouse. Take advantage of the many opportunities the university and the Honors College have to offer. Take academic chances and try something new. It is in those experiences that you have the opportunity to truly learn.”
—KIM TREMBLAY, Associate Professor of Veterinary & Animal Science and Commonwealth Honors College Council Chair
The Honors general education portion of the curriculum requires students to reach beyond the boundaries of their academic majors and join in scholarly conversation with students and faculty from disciplines other than their own. You will begin to build the skills and knowledge to grapple with both current issues and those that will impact generations to come.
This interdisciplinary, discussion-based, seminar marks the beginning of a student’s journey in the Honors College. Students examine innovative thinkers, groundbreaking ideas, and the strategies that transform these ideas into effective actions. The connection between past and present is explored through the life and works of historical figures such as W.E.B. Du Bois and Rachel Carson, along with present-day innovators on social thought and civic engagement.
The advanced scholarship segment of the curriculum affords students the opportunity to delve deeply into their departmental major or multidisciplinary studies, examine topics of personal interest, and connect with professors who are doing groundbreaking research in their respective fields.
This is your chance to immerse yourself in a topic or an area of study that you are passionate about. At the start of your senior year, you can work with professors—individually or with other scholars in an honors thesis seminar—to conduct in-depth research or investigative study. The conclusion of your experience is marked by the production of a body of work that showcases what you have learned and how you would like to apply that knowledge.
Hadiya Williams ’18, an anthropology and psychology major, came to the University of Massachusetts to prepare for medical school but found a different path. During the research process for her Honors thesis, which examined health inequalities among African-Americans, Williams realized she was more interested in health policy. After completing her thesis, she applied and was accepted to the accelerated MPP program in the UMass School of Public Policy. Learn more about Hadiya’s Honors thesis journey.
Jasmine Goodspeed ’19, a theater and English major, drew upon her passion for performing and her heritage as a member of the Nipmuc tribe for her Commonwealth Honors College thesis. Goodspeed wrote the script and lyrics and directed and performed a leading role in the play, 1675—a musical about King Philip’s War, centering on the tragedy of Deer Island, where hundreds of Native Americans were sent, with most eventually perishing. Read More
The Honors Thesis experience allows you to contribute to existing research, uncover innovative solutions to challenges, and often helps students discover—and make a professional imprint on—their career or life’s work.
Cornelius Taabazuing conducted research on generating biological processes to hinder the development of drug-resistant bacteria for his Honors Thesis. After graduation, he spent the summer in Colorado conducting potentially groundbreaking cancer research with a Nobel prize winner in chemistry. Cornelius came back to UMass and received his PhD in biological chemistry in 2015. He is currently Postdoctorate Fellow at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. Read More
“In a lab you get to implement scientific research techniques, not just read about them. And you’re creating new knowledge—that’s the biggest appeal to me."
-- Cornelius Taabazuing ’09
The ability to produce an undergraduate thesis often provides CHC graduates with a competitive edge, whether they choose to go to graduate school or into the work force.
Jenny McKeon ’13 : A linguistics and Japanese joint major, Jenny McKeon was not sure what to do when it came time for her Honors Thesis. ”I’m not much of a research person. But then I had the idea of presenting my research in comic form. A comic thesis was totally uncharted territory for Japanese—or probably any other non-art major, really—but my professors and advisors were encouraging.” To see more of Jenny McKeon’s work, including her thesis, visit www.jlmkart.com
Jennifer Olins ’17 researched the effect of natural genetic diversity on cell wall properties for her Honors Thesis, in an effort to inform how to more effectively breed plant-based biofuels. “The research we do in the Hazen lab all fits into the context of finding renewable sources of energy, and as an environmentally conscious human, I’m thrilled that my Honors thesis can contribute to this broader cause.”
Study and Research beyond the Boundaries of the UMass Amherst Campus.
Each year, Commonwealth Honors College students travel as near as neighboring Amherst College and as far as Israel, Brazil, and Taiwan to expand their academic and cultural horizons.
"I knew I had to make studying abroad part of my UMass journey. There was something compelling about living in a non-tourist location with an unfamiliar family I would grow to call my own, surrounded by strangers who would become friends. Bilbao, Spain and the University Studies Abroad Consortium (USAC) program gave me the opportunity to foster new relationships while completing academically challenging courses that met my major requirements. One of my most rewarding experiences while studying in Bilbao was teaching English to elementary school students, after completing a seminar in developing effective teaching skills. I am grateful I had the opportunity to give back to a country that gave so much to me. The beautiful places I visited, the special people I met, and the meaningful lessons I learned while in Bilbao are things I will forever be thankful for."
—STEPHANIE LOPEZ ’18, Operations and Information Management, International Scholars Program Certificate
Students often find that course-related discussions continue outside of the classroom and shared living spaces make it easier to study and work on projects with classmates. As an Honors student, you have the opportunity to live among peers with similar academic interests.
First-year students can choose to join a Residential Academic Program (RAP). In a RAP, hall-mates take courses related to a common major or topic, making it easy to form study groups and collaborate on class projects right outside your bedroom door.
“The engineers on my floor get together in the common room. We don’t have meeting times, we just show up. We all enjoy each other’s company while getting our work done. That constant companionship is one of my favorite things about being here. I was afraid that in the Honors College, specifically in engineering, everyone would be the same, with the same interests, but everyone’s had a very different life than I’ve had. It’s been so cool to meet people outside of my hometown bubble. I miss my parents, but this is now home.” —AHNYA DAGUE ’19, Engineering
Centrally located near the Recreation Center, the main library, and the Student Union, the CHC Residential Community (CHCRC) opened in 2013 to combine honors residential, academic, and administrative spaces. The CHCRC provides a place for all CHC students to interact and serves as one of the many social hubs that welcome all UMass students.
The CHCRC includes:
From talks by distinguished faculty to visits from accomplished alumni, you will have access to engaging activities designed to enhance your UMass and honors experience.
Pizza & Prof Nights: Enjoy a slice from an Amherst pizzeria with a UMass professor. You will have a chance to learn about their current research, ask questions, and connect with students who share your interest in the topic.
The CHC Advising team of full-time professional advisors, graduate student advisors, and undergraduate peer advisors is located in the Bloom Honors Advising Center.
While we primarily assist Commonwealth Honors College students with fulfilling honors graduation requirements and with learning about honors opportunities, we are committed to providing ongoing support and connecting students to other campus resources.
Information and collaboration sessions help students understand and prepare for the Honors Signature Thesis/Project—from development of an idea through submission of the final paperwork.
Commonwealth Honors College students can make an appointment to work one-to-one with an experienced writing coach. A writing coach assists with the process, structure, and style of papers and writing assignments from any Honors course or sections of a student’s Honors Signature Thesis.
“For any student who is serious about a career aimed at making a difference in the world—whether it be in communications, politics, science, or any other field—Commonwealth Honors College is for you. It’s a community where you’ll thrive and find caring people who will mentor you, an environment where curious students can be comfortable, happy, and encouraged to do their very best work—where you can always be yourself yet continually be challenged to be better than you ever thought you could be.”
—WILMORE WEBLEY, Associate Professor of Microbiology