The University of Massachusetts Amherst

A Message from Dean Castañeda: Commonwealth Honors College Fall 2020 Planning

Deans Message Fall 2020
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Commonwealth Honors Dean Mari Castañeda issued the following announcement on the upcoming fall semester on July 8, 2020.

In her message, Castañeda expressed her gratitude toward the Commonwealth Honors community for its effort in transitioning to remote learning last semester. She also announced that this year’s Honors College induction ceremony will be held virtually in August. She ensured current and new-coming students that the Honors College will do everything in its power to provide a fully immersed experience inside and outside the classroom, including increased support for Honors theses projects and enriching virtual programming. For instance, chemistry professor Scott Auerbach will deliver a virtual Plenary Lecture on September 21.

Castañeda assured students of her dedication to racial and social justice, noting the commitment the Honors College has to equity, inclusion, and belonging. She challenged the Honors College students, faculty, and staff to develop intersectional, antiracist practices that create a better environment for all community members. The Student Advisory Board will be reinstituted to help reach this goal.

Lastly, Castañeda invited students to submit questions and concerns via the planning feedback form on the Honors College website.

You can read the entirety of Dean Castañeda’s message below:


July 8, 2020

Dear Honors College Student/Staff,

I am honored to have been selected to lead Commonwealth Honors College and excited to support its commitment to academic excellence.

I would also like to express my deepest gratitude to each member of the Honors College community; students and families, faculty, staff, alumni, and friends. Your partnership and support were central in responding to the abrupt interruption of our academic routine in the spring, and you continue to be a guiding force in our collective efforts to embody the Honors experience as we move forward during these tenuous times.

By now, you may have reviewed the campus reopening plan shared by Chancellor Subbaswamy that outlines how the university, including the Honors College, plans to operate during the fall semester. I want to reassure you that safety and the integrity of our students’ academic experience are driving the Honors College approach to teaching, research, and learning. We are working with schools and colleges across the UMass campus to ensure that students can complete their Honors requirements and achieve their Honors College distinction. This includes revising timelines for the submission, evaluation, and approval of proposals for Honors Theses and Honors Independent Study courses in light of new research and learning guidelines for fall. Information about these updates was sent in a separate message and is available on PATHS.

Outside of the classroom, we are in the process of developing co-curricular programming that enriches our living and learning community. The first opportunity to connect with UMass faculty from across campus is the fall Commonwealth Honors College Plenary lecture. This year, Professor Scott Auerbach (professor of chemistry and chemical engineering, and director of iCons) will deliver a virtual talk and Q&A on September 21 at 6:30 pm. If you are new to our community, the Plenary lecture is an opportunity to immerse yourself in a topic that may be outside of your major that connects with our commitment to academic exploration as it relates to pressing, real-world issues. We are excited for you to participate in this event.

Although we are limited in our ability to physically gather, we are working to build our virtual community and continue to observe the milestones that celebrate the Honors journey. To that end, we will be welcoming the newest Honors students with a virtual Commonwealth Honors College Induction Ceremony in August (invitation forthcoming). This joyous celebration will mark the beginning of what we hope will be a wonderful Honors journey. As a community, we are strongest when we remain connected and engaged, and we hope you will share in all Honors online celebrations and events.  

Lastly, I want to note that the Commonwealth Honors College is steadfast in its commitment to racial and social justice, Black Lives Matter, and working together to ensure equity, inclusion, and belonging across the college. We are also challenging ourselves to develop intersectional and antiracist practices and college culture so that we can create a better environment for all community members. Faculty and staff are reconvening around identifying social justice pedagogies that will increase our ability to support each other and our students. We are also enthusiastic about reinstituting the Student Advisory Board, which provides a consistent opportunity to hear directly from Honors students and gives us a chance to learn from each other as we develop shared goals and activities that enhance the Honors College experience.

We are a college that deeply appreciates our students’ desire to participate in meaningful research that serves the common good and to engage in community building that creates a more collaborative and just world. This year we are also embarking on a curricular review and a strategic planning process to ensure that our UMass values of excellence, diversity, equity, inclusiveness, openness, integrity, stewardship, innovation, and impact are centered in all the work that we do, as well as guiding our future vision. We look forward to engaging you in the process and sharing the outcomes.

Your involvement is critical to the success of our planning for the fall semester, so I would like to invite you to take a moment and submit your questions or concerns related to the Honors College using our planning feedback form by July 24. We will update the Honors College website with information to address the feedback we receive.

Thank you again for your patience as we finalize the details of the campus reopening plan and the adjustments for fall.

Best wishes for a healthy and restful summer.

Warm regards, 

Mari Castañeda, Ph.D.
Dean, Commonwealth Honors College
Professor, Department of Communication