‘It has been the best school experience I have ever had’
High-achieving students at Central Lakes College, completing the first semester of a new Honors Associate in Arts program, are enjoying the journey.
The students in this groundbreaking mission range in age from a home-schooled 15-year-old to a 46-year-old. Their common goal: A transfer degree for established academics, status that says they qualify for intellectual engagement at their next institution.
History instructor Bob Brekken is the coordinator of the program that offers advanced courses in several disciplines. Most courses will be on a two-year cycle and all the courses will be available to students in a two-year period.
Honors composition, which included 12 students, featured “The Great Books,” taught by Matthew Fort, and honors theater experience, taught by Dennis Lamberson. Comp I is a four-credit course, theater is three credits. Both are part of a 16-credit honors core in the 60-credit associates of art degree.
To be accepted for the honors experience, they tested higher, submitted essays and letters of recommendation and agreed to take a leadership development course.
Home-schooled Margaret Tiede of Brainerd, 15, is one of the critical thinkers to benefit from small class size, optimal instructor contact and problem-solving studies centered on investigation and analysis.
“I have very special memories of all the things we’ve been through together,” she said, adding that her last institutional schooling was as a kindergartner. “Especially in theater class, and it’s been only a semester.”
English class has been especially rewarding.
“I’ve never had the opportunity to really talk about books with people” she said. “Our discussions are all over the map, from ethics to challenges with drafting to an author’s particular voice and style, and everyone contributes something. That’s the class that excites me for next semester.”
In the spring, when she finally has a driver’s license, Tiede will study Honors Comp II taught by Leann Flynn. The other spring honors course is Introduction to Sociology with Gary Payne. Other subjects will be added next year.
Fort estimates that his honor students spent three hours outside of class for each hour in it. They read eight great works of literature, said Fort, who like Lamberson teaches non-honors courses at CLC. Students then wrote narrative essays and discussed each of the books.
Fort said the books are thematically connected, moving the students to examine age-old questions such as “What does it mean to live a good life?” and “What does it mean to be heroic?” and “When are self and society in conflict?”
“We established a peer-review process where students read and commented on their peers’ writings,” Fort said. “Their capstone project is to create a literary journal that contains their best writings.”
The theater experience course required students to attend stage performances at three Twin Cities venues, one in St. Cloud and two at CLC.
“The course gives students an opportunity to attend theater productions, not just at the college but in different parts of the state,” Lamberson said. “Students explore productions of different genres in different types of theater space with an analytical eye.”
Experiencing productions from the page to the stage, students read scripts, researched each play and, after witnessing live performances, wrote reports critiquing the production. They examined the human diversity and social and economic backgrounds, race, religion and gender built into each show.
“This examination develops critical thinking and writing skills,” Lamberson said.
At the Jungle Theater, they attended “The Glass Menagerie.” At the Penumbra, they attended “Sleep Deprivation Chamber.” At the Children’s Theatre, they attended “The Christmas Story.” At Pioneer Place in St. Cloud, they attended “A Streetcar Named Desire.”
Student Tim Lee, 30, of Wadena said he was prepared for “the depth of the material and faster pace, but there’s something more personal about the experience. Deeper connections are made. It has been the best school experience I have ever had.”
Julie Jo Larson, 46, of Brainerd said, “Honors classes keep my mind, heart and soul young. It isn’t easy; the class work is more challenging than my other classes, and the college is still trying to work out the kinks, but getting in on the ground floor is an adventure.”
Said Nick Heinecke, 21, of Aitkin: “I couldn’t sit in a classroom if I didn’t feel like I was learning anything.”
Other students in the honors program are Eddie Oldenburg, 19, Fort Ripley; Mitchel Collins, 20, Aitkin; Jesse Grieger, 19, Pequot Lakes; Joseph Anderson, 19, Baxter; Robert Andrys, 27, Aitkin; Nicholas Mohr, Little Falls; and Hannah Dilley, 17, and Nicolas LaQuier, 33, Brainerd.
Administrators approved the honors proposal because it fits the CLC mission statement of “We build futures.”