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Summer 2001

Honors College Readies for Fall Premiere

 

 

alma Ragoonath, Tiffany Gonsalves, and Michael Schwemmer will be members of the outstanding inaugural CUNY Honors College class this fall, and they couldn't be happier.

Salma, an immigrant from Trinidad, who graduated in June from Townsend Harris High School, believes life is too short to waste. She wants to become a doctor and do something important with her life by helping others. Excited at being accepted as a University Scholar at City College, she explains, "I know that City College has a wide variety of programs whose quality is equal to that of Ivy League institutions."

Chancellor Goldstein addressing prospective Honors College matriculants at the NYPL.

Michael, who graduated from St. Francis Prep this year, pursues interests ranging from jazz and rock guitar to softball and astronomy. Very interested in calculus, he does not rule out a mathematics career. The son of a Queens College alumnus, he rates acceptance to the Honors College at Queens College as "one of the greatest things to happen to me. It shows me that the hard work really pays off." Tiffany, a graduate of the Academy of Mount Saint Ursula in the Bronx, intends to pursue a career in education at the Hunter Honors College. Volunteer work with young children has fueled her wish to study child psychology and pre-school education. Thanks to the Cultural Passport perquisite, she is also looking forward to free access to her favorite museum exhibits. Strong in math, English, and foreign languages, she says, "I knew I would get scholarships, but they wouldn't be enough to pay for college. I'm thrilled about the Honors College."

Several hundred students recently informed of their admission to CUNY's new Honors College (and their parents) attended a reception organized by Chancellor Goldstein and Executive Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Louise Mirrer on April 5 at the New York Public Library. The event's setting and speakers were all planned to show what CUNY had to offer. It must have been persuasive, for more than 200 students-double the number the University had expected-signed up for the first Honors College class.

From its conception, the Honors College has been greeted enthusiastically by students, parents, teachers and guidance counselors. Approximately 1,500 applications were received for a class that was originally planned to have 100 students. The decision to double its size may have caused a bit of a scramble, but in the end the participating colleges-Baruch, Brooklyn, CCNY, Hunter, and Queens-are delighted to welcome this cohort of talented, academically accomplished young people.

For many of them, opting to become CUNY matriculants was not an easy choice. Selected on the basis of GPA, standardized test scores, a written essay, and teacher recommendations, these top students had a wide range of possibilities following high school graduation. At CUNY, though, they would be designated University Scholars and would receive full tuition and a stipend for books and fees. In addition, the Honors College offered a number of special opportunities. Students receive a laptop computer and a Cultural Passport that will provide access to a wide range of institutions and cultural activities in the city.

They will also have, over the course of their college careers, an academic expense account that may be used for study abroad, living expenses during unpaid internships, travel to scholarly conferences, and other educational enhancements. These enticements constituted an offer that even potential Ivy Leaguers found difficult to refuse.

In addition to participating in the Honors College, University Scholars will attend classes and other activities as members of the honors programs at their first-choice CUNY college. They will also participate in a special Honors College Seminar designed by prominent faculty from the five colleges.

These Seminars will serve to nurture a common experience for all Honors College students and will be the basis for cross-campus projects that teams of students from the five campuses will complete each semester. The Seminars include experiences associated with the Cultural Passport and will introduce students to the opportunities and challenges of becoming active, involved citizens of this cultural capital of the world. The first Seminar is an introduction to the visual, performing and literary arts in New York City, and the second will focus on New York City's patterns of immigration and migration. Development of these seminars, under the guidance of Honors College Director Dr. Roberta Matthews, has been a special experience for the faculty involved. As Anne Swartz, Professor of Music and Director of Graduate Studies at Baruch College, observed: "The first Honors College Seminar has given me the opportunity to help design a course with talented colleagues from across the five campuses. As a result, I have significantly broadened my own learning experience. I have been deeply moved by the generosity of the New York cultural institutions that have donated freely of their time and expertise."

Other faculty involved in teaching and/or designing the first seminar include: Paula Berggren at Baruch, Roni Natov and Dan Gurskis at Brooklyn, Harriet Senie at City College, Michael Griffel at Hunter, Amy Tucker and Carrie Hintz at Queens College. Faculty from across CUNY have also begun conversations about curriculum development for additional seminars that will explore the role of science and technology in the city and the urban political economy.

Students will be introduced to the program and to each other at a day-long experience in July. In August, a four-day orientation will include a day with Outward Bound, two days working with theater companies and studying plays, and a day-long introduction to the technology that will facilitate learning and communication in class and between campuses.

Technology will, in fact, play an important role in the Honors College. Faculty have already undergone their own technology training, including an introduction to Blackboard, which will be the platform for Seminar management and cross-campus communication, and an exploration of the tremendous potential of Web resources. To support the use of technology by faculty and students, the University has created an Honors College Technology Fellows program. The Technology Fellows are students at the CUNY Graduate Center who have an interest in interdisciplinary studies and background and experience with technology in the classroom.

As the September launch approaches, new linkages with cultural institutions are being created daily. The Honors College students are promised free admission to the Metropolitan Museum, the Studio Museum of Harlem, the Brooklyn Museum of Art, the Asia Society, the Guggenheim Museum, the Jewish Museum, the Museum of the Barrio, and dozens of others. Theaters, concert halls and other performance venues are offering special discounts. Cultural Passport Coordinator, Dr. Sharon Dunn, is working to create further linkages.

The Honors College has created a sense of anticipation far beyond the CUNY campus, and indeed the first class will include a smattering of students from other cities and states. Unsurprisingly, student inquiries for 2002-2003-when two additional colleges, Lehman College, and the College of Staten Island, will participate-have begun pouring in.