Orientation

Two students smiling and laughing at each other standing outside

The Honors College Orientation is held twice a year: once in late August for students joining the Honors College for the fall term and again in late January for new Honors students for the spring term. Honors Orientation is a required program designed to introduce incoming students to the foundations of undergraduate honors education at Towson University. Honors Orientation provides new students and students transferring from other institutions opportunities to:

Fall Orientation for Honors students admitted for the fall is typically held on the Wednesday and Thursday prior to the start of the fall term. Spring Orientation for students admitted for the spring term is typically held during the first week of classes.

Honors Orientation is free and separate from campus-wide Orientation overseen by the office of New Student and Family Programs. That orientation is mandatory for all students and incurs a fee. Please contact New Student and Family Programs with any questions regarding Orientation.

Fall 2018 Orientation

Fall Honors Orientation is required for incoming freshmen and students transferring from other institutions. There is no cost to attend. Enrolled incoming students are required to register online to confirm their attendance at Honors Orientation.

  • Honors Orientation was the evening of Wednesday, August 22 and all day on Thursday, August 23. Confirmed dates and times, schedule details, and additional information regarding Honors Orientation was provided to incoming students overthe summer.
  • Incoming Honors students who elect to live on-campus were scheduled to move in early to their assignments on Wednesday, August 22, one day earlier than incoming TU students who are not members of the Honors College. Details on move in were provided to students in August. Returning Honors students, and all incoming students living in Douglass House but admitted to the Honors College, have separate move-in dates and times. All students must follow the move-in timeline provided to them by Housing & Residence Life.

HONORS COLLEGE READ

A common read is a required part of the Honors Orientation experience in August. This program provides an opportunity for Honors students to read and explore issues that contribute to broad intellectual development while also fostering intellectual ties between Honors students, faculty and staff. Incoming students can purchase this book on Amazon or other online resellers, at local retail stores, or borrow it from the local library. 

The 2018 Honors College Read is Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy by Cathy O'Neil.

“O’Neil’s book offers a frightening look at how algorithms are increasingly regulating people… Her knowledge of the power and risks of mathematical models, coupled with a gift for analogy, makes her one of the most valuable observers of the continuing weaponization of big data… [She] does a masterly job explaining the pervasiveness and risks of the algorithms that regulate our lives.” ”

New York Times Book Review

Incoming students must prepare a written, typed response to the a series of question prompts provided after the Honors College read is announced. Please write as much as you'd like. Some questions may only require a sentence or two while others may need a longer response. Responses will be collected, so be sure to include your full name.

The goals of the Honors College Read are:

  • Provide incoming students a chance to connect with other students
  • Provide incoming students simulated classroom discussion experience led by faculty
  • Provide students with a learning opportunity that relates to the academic expectations of the Honors College
  • Create an opportunity for critical thinking and ethical engagement
Honors Read Questions
  1. Consider the author’s use of the phrases “WMD” and “Weapons of Math Destruction” as rhetorical devices. By selectively applying these pejoratives, the author is trying to establish her point of view. Can you identify other examples of this rhetorical technique in current use?
  2. The author states that one of the key characteristics of a WMD is a lack of transparency, and gives as an example systems that are used to predict recidivism rates (Chapter 1). One such tool is being developed by the Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing. They have held several public hearings and released reports that describe the proposed algorithm. Would a model developed under these conditions be considered a “WMD”? [For background, see https://slate.com/technology/2018/07/pennsylvania-commission-on-sentencing-is-trying-to-make-its-algorithm-transparent.html]
  3. The author writes “As insurance companies learn more about us, they’ll be able to pinpoint those who appear to be the riskiest customers and then either drive their rates to the stratosphere or, where legal, deny them coverage. This is a far cry from insurance’s original purpose, which is to help society balance its risk. In a targeted world, we no longer pay the average.” (p. 171) Should the riskiest customers be charged more for insurance than the safest customers? Suppose that the difference in risk between customers is due to decisions and behavior, e.g. buying a house in a
    flood plain or smoking. Suppose that the difference in risk between customers is out of the customer’s control, e.g. pre-existing medical conditions. What would be the fairest approach to pricing insurance?
  4. The author writes: “Forget, at least for the next decade or two, about building tools to measure the effectiveness of a teacher. It’s too complex to model, and the only available data are crude proxies. The model is simply not good enough yet to inform important decisions about the people we trust to teach our children. That’s a job that requires subtlety and context.” (pp. 208-209) How would you identify the best and worst teachers that you had as a student in high school? How would you identify the best and worst teachers in your entire high school? How would you identify the best and worst teachers in all of the high schools in your county? Would we be better off as a country if we waited a decade or two to build tools that measure the effectiveness of a teacher?
  5. The author describes the use of mathematical models for political messaging and microtargeting (Chapter 10). Do you think that these models played a role in the 2016 election? Why/why not?
  6. The author provides an oath from Emanuel Derman and Paul Wilmott for mathematical modelers (pp. 205-206). What would you add or subtract from that oath? The author provides several examples of problematic mathematical models, but in many cases the problems stem from unscrupulous users of the model rather than inherent characteristics of the model. Consider the story of Sarah Wysocki (Introduction), where the problem may have been artificially inflated starting scores for her student. What moral obligations, if any, do the users of a mathematical
    model have?
    Questions prepared by Professor Michael O’Leary, Towson University, Dept. of Mathematics

If you have any questions about Honors Orientation programs, please feel free to contact us at 410-704-4677 or at .