Redefining the Community College Experience

Alex Nuyda shares her experience about attending the Lone Star College Honors College and how it led to her academic success.

What made you decide to attend Lone Star College?
I initially had plans to attend the University of Houston with scholarships covering my full undergraduate tuition, but I ended up choosing Lone Star college because of the opportunities that came with being a student enrolled at The Honors College: specifically, the independent research and study abroad experiences that would typically be offered to students in their last two years of undergrad at other institutions. At The Honors College, I was encouraged to pursue these opportunities starting my first semester freshman year, which was a little bit daunting, but super exciting.

I also wanted to stay close to my family, and I had some familiarity with Lone Star College through dual credit courses I had taken in high school -- the professors who I had previously taken classes with were knowledgeable and really dedicated to the success of their students, and I knew that that was the kind of environment I wanted to be in when I started college as a first generation college student in the U.S.

How did you learn about the Honors College at Lone Star College?
I attended an information session at my high school about the program and their Chancellor's Fellows scholarship. A few of the students from my high school had already made decisions to attend prior to my attendance at the event, so they also gave me more information about what the program was going to be like and why they wanted to attend.

What kind of academic activities did you participate in while enrolled in the Honors College?
During my two years at The Honors College, I took at least one Honors level course each semester, so classes like Honors English, Honors Psychology, and Honors Biology, but also classes that were specialized independent research seminars or study abroad capstones. The curriculum in Honors level classes typically surround a semester-long independent research project that a student presents on at the term's end. It was from some of these Honors courses that I was selected to present my independent research at local, regional, and national conferences, like the Great Plains Honors Council and the National Conference on Undergraduate Research.

I was also involved in Model United Nations, where I traveled to New York to participate in an international collegiate United Nations simulation. I traveled to China as an emissary in the Sheila Jackson Lee--China-U.S. Exchange Foundation Program as well as Washington, D.C. for my second year capstone trip to conduct research in the Library of Congress. I also served as a peer mentor at The Honors College where I would work with first year students to help them cultivate their research projects and hone in their research skills.

How did your experience at the Honors College prepare you for your studies at Rice University?
Like I said above, my plans from the start of my collegiate career was to attend the University of Houston, and I had every intention to complete my Bachelor's degree there after I completed my education at The Honors College. While I was a student at Lone Star college though, I was encouraged by Professor Brian Kyser, the Lead Director of The Honors College, to set my aims higher and pursue transferring to Rice after my graduation from Lone Star College. I had absolutely no intentions of attending Rice and doubted if I would even be accepted, but here I am now as a LSC and Rice alumni! 

Coming from The Honors College, a lot of professors at Rice were surprised by the aptitudes and experience I had making interdisciplinary connections between course concepts, analyzing data, or conducting and directing independent research. Those kinds of skills are usually refined in the latter years of undergrad -- typically towards senior year -- so I was on par or ahead of my peers at Rice in that regard upon transferring.

I would definitely attribute developing those skills to the academic rigor and curriculum of The Honors College; the expectation to produce higher-caliber work and to think like a researcher -- identifying gaps in literature and making connections between disciplines -- is not something that students are necessarily tasked to do in their first two years at any college or University, let alone Rice. I was grateful for the exposure and opportunity to do so from the start of my baccalaureate career, it helped my academic transition a lot in feeling like I "belonged" at the school or in navigating talking to professors and other faculty about pursuing research and graduate school.

What career do you hope to obtain after you finish your studies?
So I've graduated from Rice this past December with a B.A. in Sociology and am currently taking a year and a half gap where I'm working as a project assistant for Represented Collective, a media company located here in Houston driven by a commitment to racial and gender equity in STEM. After my gap year-ish or two, I'm planning to attend a doctoral program for Sociology to study the sociology of science, race, and medicine. My goal after earning my Ph.D. is to be a professor of sociology or to help manage or direct a nonprofit addressing educational inequities specifically in STEM.

What would you say to someone considering enrolling at Lone Star College and joining the Honors College?
I would say, if you're considering going, just go. I had my hesitations at first because of the stigma surrounding community college; it's not something that students who graduate in the top one percent of their class or top ten percent of their class do, or at least did when I graduated from high school in 2017 (I ranked 13th out of a class of about 800+ students). 

But I think that stigma is outdated. From the conversations I've had with faculty at Rice and faculty at peer institutions, community colleges, and especially programs like The Honors College, produce students who are driven to succeed and possess the grit and resilience that's necessary to get through the challenges that undergraduate educations can present. The Honors College offers a world-class education with opportunities for personal and academic growth you can't really find anywhere else. 

Is there anything else you would like to add?
I just want to emphasize that Lone Star College and The Honors College really embodies what a community college is supposed to look like -- an institution with a strong emphasis on bringing resources and great educational opportunities to members of its community; making education accessible and affordable for the community. Lone Star College and The Honors College are doing great things inspiring and empowering people from all walks of life to pursue higher education, and I'm proud to be an aluma.

Visit LoneStar.edu/HonorsCollege to learn more about the wide range of opportunities for those seeking an engaging and challenging education.

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