Honors Capstone: The Hardship of Achieving Full Honors

Being an honors student at Passaic County Community College (PCCC) has been a well-earned journey. However, out of the many hardships I faced in my academic path to graduate, one class, in particular, makes me question what it takes to graduate with "Full Honors."

Last Fall semester of 2019, I had to take a class known as the Honors Capstone course. The course itself is a small class exclusively for honors students of PCCC in which they learn leadership skills, new forms of leadership, as well as completing a group research project and an individual research paper. The course is taught only by human services professor Jennifer Gasparino, who is also the program coordinator for Phi Theta Kappa (PTK).

The Honors Capstone course is a requirement to take if a student is planning on graduating with "Full Honors" on their Associate Degree upon graduating. This title is a distinguished honor to any honors student who strives for the best they can earn in their degree. On the surface, the course is standard, being worth two credits and with only two significant assignments.

Unfortunately, the course itself may not be an enjoyable experience, even for honors students, who are used to advance workload. To disclaim, this is not because of the instructor, Professor Gasparino, but rather the structure of the course itself.

Honors Capstone can be an incredible challenge for some honors students, mainly because of the dynamic the course is laid out. Writing an individual research paper and a group project to an honors student may seem reasonable, including weekly homework assignments as well. The course content revolves around the idea of leadership.

About 75% of the semester in the course is learning all about leadership, different styles of leading, and the significance of being a good leader. At first, the content can be somewhat enlightening to some. However, learning about leadership can get mundane and almost unnecessary after a specific time.

While this is a minor problem that can be remediated with more hands-on activities and group exercises, the major fault of the course is the group project and individual paper. Since the course is comprised of honors students, which most are already proven they can lead, conflicts may form within the group portion of the course.

The first qualm I had with the course was that the group project was loosely based on a PTK research initiative called "Honors in Action." The project itself was to focus on an overarching theme of new frontiers. The students were given a pamphlet, divided into two groups (which they were randomly chosen and to remain in that group for the entire semester), and arrange a theme to base the group project.

Some examples of these themes were frontiers in fields like medicine, space exploration, or international policy. A group full of leaders must come to a consensus on the many topics the group will work on the entire semester. The reason this is a significant fault is that there are different students with different majors and interests in the group.

This concept meant that if the group was comprised of six students and if four students who may be heavily knowledgeable about one topic with majors to match their interest in the theme, the other two may struggle to find any interest or initiative to pursue the subject. The decision to choose the topic alone may result in conflict amongst group members, as some may feel threatened or offended if a simple disagreement in opinion may occur.

As for doing the group project, you have to do an individual research paper on it. The assignment may be a struggle because it is based on the group project. Not only do you have to do group research of a PowerPoint and a tri-fold presentation on a topic you might not be interested in, but you also have to write a minimum of an eight-page research paper as well.

As far as the course being a requirement to graduate with "Full Honors," it is unfair to dictate a two-credit course that is a struggle to get through if you are unlucky. While some may argue that a true leader can get through any group dynamic, it is hard to lead when the group is full of leaders themselves. Perhaps if the course had a change in the content, a shift in the whole group concept, or maybe multiple professors rather than just one, then it can be safe to say it should be a requirement to graduate with "Full Honors."

As a student who has taken 47 credits so far, half of them being honors credits and maintained a 4.0-grade point average, I would advise honors students to be wary of the course. As of now, there is no workaround in taking the course if you want to achieve "Full Honors" upon graduation. Personally, if a student should show exceptional promise in his/her academics, the title of "Full Honors" should be deserved.

It should not be dependent on a two-credit course of misery and frustration due to the course structure and soft-willed group members.

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