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A Community College Honors Curriculum that Prepares Students for the Elite Institutions of the World

In the six years after graduating from Community College of Philadelphia, L. Larry Liu has gone from Northeast Philadelphia, to an Ivy League university, to the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom.
This astonishing journey has only just begun. After earning two scholarships—one to help pay for his bachelor’s degree in Sociology and Economic Policy from the University of Pennsylvania, and the second for his master’s work at the University of Oxford—Liu is on his way to completing a Ph.D. in Sociology at Princeton University.
He attributes much of his recent academic success to the solid foundation he received from the College’s Liberal Arts – Honors curriculum. The robust culture of learning in the Honors program has prepared him to compete at some of the world’s elite academic institutions.
“I wouldn’t be where I am today without the Honors program. My intellectual trajectory would not have been made possible without that experience,” Liu said in an interview via phone from Princeton University.
The Honors option curriculum, which is entering its 40th year and 79th consecutive semester at the College, is an interdisciplinary program that includes a dozen faculty members who teach from their related disciplines, including Philosophy, English, Sociology, Art History, History and Earth Science.
“In the classroom, the disciplines blend, and, in a sense, yield to process and community building. By not foregrounding the disciplines, faculty remain focused on student development. It has been clear over the years that Honors makes better students and better teachers,” said Brian Seymour, coordinator of the College’s Honors program.
Liu describes the Honors curriculum as an intimate setting where students attend seminars and lectures discussing subject matter related to humanities and social sciences.
“In high school I’ve read lots of books to a shallow extent. In Honors, I had to think harder. Number one: I had a better understanding of the content—of the reading—and two: I was able to think in context and have feelings about a subject, and debate with other people, which is what academic life is about,” said Liu.
The Honors program is designed especially for students who plan to advance into a professional life through demanding undergraduate and graduate programs in competitive colleges and universities, like Liu.
“Our interdisciplinary approach is based on the idea that big questions demand wide-ranging scrutiny, but more importantly, our meta-theoretical approach is focused on preparing students to compete when they transfer,” said Seymour. “Day in, day out, they are learning to recognize how knowledge is made and how academics work. In this sense, they learn how to deal with disciplines rather than delving too deeply in any one discipline in this first-year college experience.”
Liu said his that his interest in sociology stemmed from his interactions with Dr. Ralph Faris, co-coordinator of the Honors curriculum and professor of Sociology.
“Dr. Faris motivated me to think about social problems and issues,” said Liu. “All the professors provided an intellectually stimulating environment.”
Liu, who returned from the University of Oxford in the summer of 2016, is currently in his second year at Princeton. He is working on his studies and teaching classes to undergraduate students. He said he plans to stay in academia and is interested in research.