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Roxbury Community College’s honors program enhances student scholarship

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Ted Thomas
Roxbury Community College’s honors program enhances student scholarship
Roxbury Community College Professor Rhonda Gray, front row and fourth from right, is joined by Honors Program faculty and students. (Photo: Phuong Tang)

Say that you are a student at Roxbury Community College enrolled in one of the college’s excellent course offerings. You enjoy your knowledgeable professor, find the subject matter very engaging, and treasure the time you spend with your classmates discussing what you have learned. The classroom experience has whetted your academic appetite, and left you wanting to learn even more about the subject you are studying.

Where to turn? The answer is found in Roxbury Community College’s Honors Program. Rhonda Gray is associate professor of English at Roxbury Community College and coordinator of the Honors Program. In a recent interview at her RCC office, she discussed the Honors Program.

“Primarily we offer students who are academically motivated the opportunity to deepen their engagement of the curriculum,” she explained, “by creating research-based projects where critical thinking, innovation, and hands-on application of the topics are explored and framed in various formats.”

The research, according to Gray, may “be presented within a formal academic paper, an art portfolio, or laboratory report, just to name a few.” The benefits that students who are enrolled in the Honors Program include the opportunity to academically “engage on a more profound level than students taking mainstream courses,” Gray noted.

“The student’s work furthers faculty scholarship as they have the opportunity to update their own studies through the student’s interaction with the literature and research methodologies within a given discipline,” Gray said.

Also, the student’s work has staying power in the classroom as it may contribute to a revision of the faculty member’s curriculum.

Another wonderful opportunity for Honors Program students is to share their research process with a larger community of RCC faculty, students, and staff. The research-sharing part of the program occurs during Honors presentations, where a diverse audience listens as the student explains the student-faculty collaboration on the project, the nature of the research, and invites audience feedback.

Prior to the actual presentations, Honors Program students receive feedback on their research from members of the Honors Program Committee, made up of RCC faculty. Gray sees this as a crucial part of the students’ experience as they have a opportunity to get valuable feedback from RCC’s community of scholars.

“I think that it is important not only to the students, but to the instructors because it is a way for all of us to sit down and discuss ideas,” she said.

The scope of the Honors Projects covers of broad spectrum of topics. Below are three examples:

Free blacks in Liberia

The project is a painting series that reflects the experiences of freed slaves who migrated to Liberia in 1816 to seek a less racially oppressive environment.

Biomanufacturing and phospholipase D signaling

The student performed a literature review to understand the biological and therapeutic potential of phospholipase D and proposed a protocol to examine the enzyme using Roxbury Community College’s bioreactor.

Mass incarceration and the caste system

The project examines Roxbury Community College’s views on author Michelle Alexander’s argument that mass incarceration constitutes a new form of a caste system implemented during the Jim Crow Era. Alexander is the author of the best-selling book “The New Jim Crow.”

As program coordinator, the Honors Program has provided Gray the golden opportunity to see first-hand what other professors in their respective disciplines are doing.

“It’s a way for me and all of us to get a broader picture of the fantastic talent and minds that are here at RCC,” she said.

There are two basic ways for RCC students to enter the Honors Program.

“They can either take one of the three standard required Honors courses, English Composition 1 Honors, English Composition 2 Honors, or a 200-level course called the Honors Colloquium,” Gray explained. She added that the colloquium “is really an opportunity for an instructor to design a course based on the instructor’s interest and expertise.”

The other way in which a student could enter the Honors Program is at the beginning of the semester when “most students in 100-level and 200-level courses could apply to do an Honors Project for that course. Interested students work along with their instructor to complete an Honors Project application in which they propose a project. The Honors Committee gathers the applications — which must be completed by a deadline date — and reviews them.

“We very rarely turn down an application,” Gray said. “Oftentimes we encourage the student and instructor to revise and strengthen their application.”

At the end of the semester students, in order to receive honors credit designated on their transcripts, must submit a formal written report of their projects and also present their work through a ten-minute Power Point presentation.

Gray beams when she describes the skills students in the Honors Program gain.

“I would say that students who thrive in the Honors Program are self-starters. They take the initiative to go after what they want … they really take full responsibility in terms of steering their projects. They become leaders,” she said.