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Jamail Khan is Off-and-Running with Lessons from CCP’s Honors Program to Swarthmore College

It’s hard to deter Jamail Khan.

The 20-year-old student at Community College of Philadelphia (CCP) has excelled, channeling his passionate and competitive spirit into both running for the College's track and field team, and academic studies in the Honors program. Graduating from CCP this past May with an associate degree in Liberal Arts – Honors, Khan received All-America honors for the 2019 NJCAA Division III Outdoor Track & Field season and gained admittance into Swarthmore College.

Kahn explained the augmentation of athletics and academics exemplifies the Honors program’s interdisciplinary structure.

“Humans are holistic creatures. We are not made of one thing, but we are an amalgamation of things,” Khan stated. “And so when we do one practice in one department of life, it always seeps into the other.”

While Khan is now a proponent of interdisciplinary education, the practice was not something he fully understood when initially entering the Honors program. On his first day of college, Khan recalled asking if the lecture he had just left was sociology or philosophy. Everyone laughed and said, ‘‘’Don’t worry about that. It's all just one thing.'”

“Over the course of teaching Honors, what we found was it wasn't so much about the material that the students were reading, but how they were approaching the academic work,” said  Dr. Brian D. Seymour, an associate professor in the Art Department and coordinator of the Honors curriculum. “We’re giving them the moves, and basic academic decorum, such that any situation they go into, any major, they'll be better prepared to read, write and speak at a higher level.”

Coordinated by a team of faculty members of varying disciplines, the honors program is a two-semester curriculum within the four semesters for an associate degree. Focused on a holistic process to learning, Seymour explained that Honors program at the College is unique in that students are admitted based on potential, not on past academic performance. The Honors faculty evaluate an individual student’s future promise in the program through an in-person interview.

“The original idea of a community college education is to offer an opportunity, right, an access to education for those who would not otherwise have a pathway to do so,” Seymour explained. “Historically, then, if it is an open-access college, which is what we are, it's antithetical to the idea of an Honors curriculum. [Since], an Honors program already suggests that you're evaluating someone based on their past academic record.”

At any given time, between 150 and 200 students are enrolled in the Honors program at the College.

Through a widened interdisciplinary lens, Khan was able to gain new insights on varying fields, including religion, which he plans to major in at Swarthmore College. Up until CCP, Khan explained his understanding of religion had been limited to an “emic view,” an anthropological term for someone from within the culture.

A Pakistani immigrant, Khan came to America at 14 years old after his father Muhammad Khan, an assistant professor in CCP’s English Department, was accepted as a Fulbright Scholar at University of Pennsylvania.

“When I entered the Honors program, they looked at religion from a completely different perspective,” said Khan, who speaks Urdu as his first language. “It revealed a lot more depth that exists in religion.”

Wrestling with two contrasting cultures—his native Islamic Republic of Pakistan and his current secular country of America—Khan internalized the lessons taught in the classes and applied them to his own life.

“It really shook me up, in my own spiritual journey and beliefs as well as my outward, intellectual understanding of it,” said Khan. “I think what Honors unlocked was my potential to make sense of two very contrasting worlds and societies, and what I could learn from my experiences in both.”

Khan explained that his revelations not only enriched his academic experience, but also his peers’. In group studies, Khan would be quick to provide an Eastern-based perspective to create a more nuanced discourse.

“[Khan] is one of our pride and joys,” said Seymour. “He's really a wonderful model for the other students.”

Khan attributed athletics and its emphasis on teamwork with his ability to work with other students. Concurrently, sports has allowed him to cultivate and harness a competitive spirit that drives him to continuously strive and improve in his academics.

“The competitive nature that I had in running really seeped into my academics, and it pushed me to do better,” Khan said.

At times, Khan explained it was challenging to juggle the Honors course-load of five classes and an athletic schedule of two-hour practices, four times a week. Khan also incurred a number of injuries during his time at the College, such as pulling his IT band during cross country practice, injuring his lower lumbar while dead lifting and suffering from debilitating sports-induced headaches. However, Khan affirmed that athletics ultimately provided him with the balance he needed to be a well-rounded student and a grounding force to refocus after discussing highly abstract concepts and ideas in the Honors program.

In addition to majoring in Religious Studies, Khan plans to minor in Linguistics and participate in athletics at Swarthmore College. Feeling “intellectually, physically and socially prepared,” Khan will enter the top college in the fall with fellow CCP Honors program graduate and Jack Kent Cooke recipient, Anyssa El Manfaa.

“The fact that you have two students going out of the Honors program and, in the bigger picture, Community College of Philadelphia to Swarthmore College, is no small thing,” explained Khan, who received a scholarship to Swarthmore College. “It just speaks to the fact that this really is the path to possibility, the school’s motto.”

Khan’s brother also graduated CCP in May with an associate degree in English and will return in the fall to earn an associate degree in Sound Recording and Music Technology. Khan’s sister, a rising senior at his alma mater of Jenkintown High School, plans on attending CCP after graduation.