That checkbox on the St. Joseph’s College undergraduate application is something often overlooked by high school seniors. Some will think that “honors” means more work or hard classes, and will skip over the box without giving it a second thought. Others will check it emphatically, prepared to continue their tradition of high school honors or Advanced Placement (AP) coursework.
For a student to qualify for the honors program, he or she must first be accepted into the College. The student must also have a minimum 1200 SAT score (math and verbal sections) or 26 ACT score. His or her high school GPA must be 90 or higher unweighted, and there is a required essay expressing interest in the program that is reviewed by the committee.
The honors program on the Long Island Campus is a community that creates an environment primed for higher-level learning. “[It] provides students with a supportive and nurturing environment from the start of their college experience,” said Noelle Eichenlaub ’16.
The program is a three-semester sequence that is open only to freshmen (transfer students are not eligible to participate at this time). The rationale behind this is not to be exclusive; it is so accepted students can complete their core classes for freshmen while simultaneously building relationships among the participants.
“The goal of the honors program is to bring together like-minded individuals, and in doing this, we all become friends and grow together, both academically and socially, as a learning community,” said Emma Tapada ’15.
Students have a built-in support system in each other as they take courses together during the program. “When preparing for our exams, the other honors students and I would edit each other’s papers. We wanted to help each other succeed,” Eichenlaub said. “There is nothing more exciting than being encouraged by a group of like-minded individuals.”
WHAT IT TAKES
The first semester of the program acts as the basis for bonding the participants and providing them with the opportunity to get to know each other. “It’s like gaining 10 or so best friends right off the bat,” said Anthony Sementilli ’15.
All of the courses in the honors program are designed so that they do not overlap with high school AP classes. They are in different core areas and are not necessarily more difficult than any other college course; the honors designation is indicative of the quality of learning and the community in which it occurs.
Honors freshmen take three courses together their first semester. One is the required Freshman Seminar, of which there are two sections led by honors program faculty members. The other two classes could be in English, philosophy, art, history or political science.
In the second semester, when students are beginning classes geared toward their majors, there are only two required honors classes. One of these courses may be an interdisciplinary class with more than one professor, such as Food in the Global Community or The Ancient World. The courses continue to engage the students in dynamic learning activities and expand their knowledge across disciplines.
The third and final semester of the honors program, the fall of sophomore year, is one of the most exciting for honors students. This is when they take a capstone class that is related to an optional study abroad trip in the following spring semester. The capstone class is a series of lectures the students attend during common hour related to the culture of their trip location. It allows students to learn about where they will be going and what they can expect once abroad.
Past honors trips have taken students to Washington, D.C., or abroad to European destinations including France, Ireland, the Czech Republic, Poland and Italy. The trip is a highly recommended aspect of the program, and to make it easier for students to attend, the College covers 50 percent of the cost. In the spring of sophomore year, students pack their bags and depart for their trip abroad. This opportunity cements friendships and lets the students explore the world together. Honors faculty members lead the trip, and students are taken to museums and historical places of interest. There is also time for students to go off in small groups after their tours so they can experience the culture on their own. “My trip to Italy was the greatest experience of my life, and I would give anything to do it again,” Tapada said. After returning home from the trip, the students prepare a presentation about their travel experience to share with other honors students and the larger campus community.
WHERE IT LEADS
Even after the trip is over and the program officially ends, honors students never fully “finish” the program. All of the friendships that have formed over these two years stay with the students.
“Even after our capstone trip to Rome and Florence, we make sure that we find each other on campus, despite our hectic schedules and different majors,” Sementilli said. “I don’t think many other programs instill the same level of solidarity among its members.”
In addition to maintaining the friendships facilitated by the honors program, honors students take their time to share their love of the program with potential incoming students. Honors students can be found volunteering at open houses and the annual admitted student reception, where they spend time with philosophy professor and Honors Program Coordinator Wendy Turgeon, Ph.D., answering questions about the benefits of the program and its requirements.
Two years ago, some of the honors students had an idea about creating a support system for incoming honors freshmen to offer them guidance and answer any last-minute questions before they begin classes. This idea developed into a Big Brother/Big Sister program that pairs an upperclassman honors student with an incoming honors freshman. The upperclassman contacts his or her freshman before orientation and helps the student throughout the semester.
The Long Island honors program is a meaningful experience for all of its participants. Though it is only a two year program now, optional opportunities are in the works to expand the program beyond sophomore year, including 1-credit seminars on a range of topics, an honors program thesis presentation program, among other ideas.
A WORLD OF OPPORTUNITIES
Students on the Brooklyn Campus experience the honors program in a vastly different manner. Requirements to be accepted into the program are similar to those on the Long Island Campus, and include a combined SAT score of at least 1100, a minimum GPA of 90, a personal essay and a letter of recommendation. Once in the program, students must maintain a GPA of 3.5 or higher.
The program spans all four years instead of just two, and students are required to take four honors courses over this time. Two of the four must be honors courses specifically designed for honors students, one of which is an honors section of the freshman seminar, SJC 100.
Another course that may satisfy this requirement is Art and Architecture in Western Europe, which is available to students in their junior and senior years. This course has an optional travel component, to which the College contributes half the cost.
“This summer, as part of the honors program, I was able to study art in France,” Rose Aime ’14 said. “It was, by far, one of the most unforgettable times of my life. I gained the rare opportunity to truly immerse myself in another culture and appreciate all it had to offer.”
The majority of honors courses are 1-credit seminars that meet for eight weeks during the semester. The other two courses may be honors options added to any liberal arts course. If a student chooses to do an honors option, he or she must submit an honors project that is equivalent to 14 classroom hours.
“SJC’s honors program not only recognizes the importance of academic excellence; it also recognizes the importance of diversity and cultural awareness,” Aime said. “For that, I am truly grateful.”
Each semester, honors students are required to attend three events: two academic and one cultural. The academic events may be on-campus lectures by professors, student-run debates, or a Brooklyn Voices event. Cultural events take advantage of the College’s proximity to New York City. “I joined the honors program because I wanted the extra challenge in college, and the free trips around the city did not hurt, either,” Kevin Pruna ’15 said.
Past cultural trips have taken students to Dialogue in the Dark, the Tenement Museum, and guided tours of the Bronx Zoo, the Coney Island Aquarium and the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. “Although I have lived in New York for my whole life, there are places I’ve never seen and many things I’ve never experienced in this great city,” Aime said.
“The honors program afforded me the opportunity to engage in unique experiences that I would have otherwise never gone to on my own.”
At the end of the semester, the students must submit an essay about one of the three events he or she attended.
The Brooklyn honors program provides students with the opportunity to take a leadership role in the program. There are four students who become honors officers each year to help select and organize events. They also coordinate meetings and maintain communication with honors faculty and students.
At the end of the program, the students are required to present their senior thesis at an honors symposium. They prepare a poster board about their topic and make a three to four minute presentation in front of their peers. For students whose majors do not require a thesis, they are still required to present thesis-level work at the symposium.
New developments are in the works for Brooklyn honors students. An annual honors seminar for program freshmen has been started, in which the students choose a location, do research on a variety of its historical and culturual aspects, and travel together for a weekend. “This year the honors program sponsored a freshman honors trip to Washington, D.C., in which the students organized the trip themselves, and it was by far my favorite experience being in the program,” Victoria Benalcazar ’17 said.
“After stressful planning, it was rewarding to be immersed in all the culture and history that D.C. has to offer … I don’t know when I would have had this type of opportunity otherwise.”
Soon there will also be a required service component to the program, in which honors students will have the opportunity to team up with organizations in Brooklyn to engage in different community service projects. The new additions to the program are the work of the honors committees headed by philosophy professor and Honors Program Coordinator Michael Burke, Ph.D.
“The honors program is superbly run with the help of Dr. Burke, and he has really been on the forefront of further improving the program,” Pruna said. “The school is going in a better direction as it is utilizing its honors students and pushing them to their full potential.”