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How the Honors Program Honors its Students

By Eva Ziegler
Honors Student Villalpando

All students, upon enrolling in Estrella Mountain Community College (EMCC), have had to take that nerve-wracking test that determines what level of classes they are assigned. One student, Hyacinth Villalpando, still remembers that day she took the EMCC placement test.

Walking into that dim room with its tiny computers, she did not have the highest expectations, except to make classes at the one hundred level. However, to her surprise, that was the day she discovered that she had made it into Honors.

Villalpando says, “I remember thinking, why would I want to be in Honors? It just sounds like more unnecessary work than college has to be.” To her surprise, the Honors Program offered her things such as a loving staff, scholarships, events and a taste of the culture of competition - this year's Honors study topic.

In fact, a lot of students have this same negative view at first. When given the prospect of joining the Honors Program, many students might automatically assume that it means lengthy homework, difficult classes and strict teachers. Those same students would be correct, but not in the way that they think. Villalpando herself used to be one of those skeptical students. However, being in the Honors Program has changed her mind completely.

She said, “Yes, the Honors Program gives lengthy work because it is made to challenge the students. The classes are difficult, but only to prepare students for their future. Finally, while the instructors may be strict, they are the most caring and encouraging people I have ever encountered.”

Besides these benefits, the Honors Program offers many rewards students are unaware of. So what exactly are those perks and how can students gain access to the program?

The first pathway into the program is the Presidents’ Scholarship, which can be obtained by either testing into Honors, or by being in the top 15 percent of one’s high school graduating class and receiving high placement test scores. This two-year scholarship covers tuition for up to 15 credits every semester.

However, students who have not met these qualifications should not fret. There is also the Honors Achievement Award given to current EMCC students. Students who obtain a cumulative G.P.A of a 3.25 qualify for this scholarship and are rewarded at the end of every semester for their hard work. Even if students do not qualify for Honors at enrollment, they are still presented with an opportunity to join every semester.

Villalpando says, “Not only is the program helping me to adjust to a more challenging learning experience to prepare me for a university, but it’s ensuring that it’s more affordable and possible.”

Having tuition covered is just one of several pluses. Alexander Andrews, Honors Program Director, went over some of the other Honors Program goodies. Andrews said, "Being a part of the Honors Program enables students to maximize their academic success.  Students who graduate with Honors or Honors Distinction are more likely to receive future scholarships at the University level."

In fact, upon admittance to Honors, students are automatically invited to join Phi Theta Kappa. Phi Theta Kappa is the international Honor society of two-year colleges and academic programs. It offers scholarships for several Arizona universities including University of Arizona, Arizona State University, and Northern Arizona University. Phi Theta Kappa also offers an entire website that allows students to search and apply for multiple scholarships and being an Honors student gives them an edge for each one.

Andrews says, “Along with scholarships, Honors makes students more eligible for internships and future jobs.” There are even specific scholarships that students can only get if they are in Honors. Andrews says, “Students prove to be hardworking and dedicated in their professional life if they mention that they are in Honors."

Honors graduates are actually more likely to obtain a higher paying job. In a statistical study done by Arizona State University, researchers found that students who graduated in Honors with a G.P.A of 3.5 or higher, received a higher annual salary overall than those who did not. Students can also present scholarly research at the Honors Expo every Fall semester.

When students are not in an Honors only cohort class, they must complete an Honors project and this is what they present. If a student's presentation ranks in the top categories, students are able to attend the Western Regional Honors Conference, which builds confidence and helps develop leadership skills.

This event is also favorable to University Honors programs for students planning to transfer. It is also another way that the program is always looking to help their students achieve more because it allows students to put on display the hard work they have been striving for, regardless if they win or not.

Andrews said, “In a way, we are building a community for the students. There are exclusive things that they get to go to, such as the symphony. They learn to be in a group together and obtain a better global perspective.” Villalpando herself raved about the symphony.

She said, “I just recently went to the symphony. It was a beautiful experience that I did not expect. I think it’s something that everyone would enjoy, if given the chance. The Honors office gives me the tickets for free so I will definitely be going again!”

Besides listening to the soothing music of the symphony, students can attend the Honors Forum lectures. These lectures always have an inspirational message to offer and are an intellectually stimulating experience for the students. At this year’s forum, Dr. Luis Fernandez gave a speech about the ideologies of a free market, while bestselling author Victor Villasenor gave a speech about dedication to family, education, and the harmony of the written word.

The teachers in the program also revel in their jobs and find it rewarding to teach the Honors students. When asked why she enjoyed teaching Honors, Communications teacher Roselyn Turner said, "I love teaching Honors because students come with highly responsible behavior.  I like to build on that foundation for future opportunities such as Service Learning projects, and encourage and support the students."

Because staff members like Turner enjoy the experience, it makes the classes all the more enjoyable for the students. In fact, in a study conducted by Palm Beach State University, they found that on average, Honors professors rated a 4.28 for overall quality and helpfulness while normal professors rated a 3.57.

Turner teaches some of the Honors Only cohort classes. These classes consist entirely of Honors students. While the classes may seem intimidating at first, they actually do not contain as much rigorous work as students fear.

Turner says of the classes, "Yes, there is a lot of work.  The work is not necessarily more difficult, it is just different.  It's not about writing a longer paper, but a more advanced paper or speech.  It's about the content that reflects their learning from the Service Learning project." Turner is just one of the many teachers in the Honors program at EMCC. However, it seems as if every staff member involved wants to keep Honors students on the right track.

Sitting in the waiting room in the Honors office, one can find many encouraging posters and pictures of Honors students' achievements and essays framed for their excellence. Colorful encouragements serve as a reminder to students that they are the ones setting their limits.

Turner says, "The Honors personnel are good people.  They keep close tabs on each student because they want every student to be successful."

It seemed as if Villalpando had the same view, “Felipa is perhaps the most helpful person I have ever encountered while on campus. Alex is very organized and always willing to help and encourage me.”

This year’s theme of the Honors Program is The Culture of Competition. The idea of this theme is that students will recognize what it means to be competitive. It doesn’t mean that they race to the top of the chart, or beat the other student’s grade point averages, but it is what they do to challenge themselves. Only when students are achieving their own personal goals, do they become a part of the competitive culture. This is why the Honors Program encourages students not to be afraid.

Joining might be scary and intimidating, but to stand up to this fear and go beyond expectations is what makes a true Honors student.