Tyler Junior College is helping its honors students learn the complexities of scholarly research — and paving the way for other community colleges to follow suit.
Through the TJC Honors Learning Frameworks course, students spend a semester on a research project of their choosing, create a hypothesis, identify research methods, gather and analyze data, and then form a conclusion.
Recently, 90 students participated in the Fall Research Symposium, where they presented their findings in front of an audience of several TJC educators, administrators and guests.
“For many students, this is their first time coming up with and presenting a scholarly research topic — and it’s 50 percent of their grade for the class — so it can be a nerve-wracking experience,” said David Funk, TJC Honors Program director.
“But many of them will go on to graduate school and beyond, where they will be required to do master’s theses, doctoral dissertations and other research projects; so, this is a great way for them to get acquainted with the process.”
Funk said there are also tangible benefits to the exercise, such as being able to put the project on their academic résumés. The project can also serve as a springboard into the TJC Honors Capstone Research course, where students implement the project they outlined in Learning Frameworks.
Students presented projects on a variety of topics, including: near-death experiences; memory and its association to the five senses; self-perception issues among dancers; and trophic cascade, which is an ecological event that involves changes to the structure of an ecosystem resulting from changes to animals or plants at one or more levels of the food chain.
Funk said students who complete the TJC Capstone will either present at an undergraduate research conference or publish in a student journal.
“By having this presentation on their résumé, students can leverage that experience to earn internships with future university professors, who then might put them in charge of distilling and aggregating data on their research projects,” he said. “The confidence they gain, and the way the come into awareness of their own ability is remarkable.”
It can also add up to scholarship application material, which could differentiate them from other high-achieving students.
“At the honors level, everyone is a high achiever,” he said, “so this is a way to sort of put some ‘polish on the apple’ and set them apart from the others.”
The TJC program also grabbed the attention of honors educators at Weatherford College, who reached out for more information on how TJC built their program.
“To my knowledge, TJC is the only two-year honors program doing a project at this level right now,” said Dr. Andrea Hathcote, TJC education professor and honors faculty member. “Other programs are looking to increase their students’ research skills; and Weatherford College reached out to Director Funk, who graciously included me in the conversation. Representatives from Weatherford College attended our Fall Research Symposium to learn more about how students showed their work.”
Funk added, “We gave them a good sense of a practical timeline for how to do it, how often they need to meet with students and what the expectations are. Hopefully, it provided a vision for them to take back to their institution, to show how it can be done at a two-year college. Perhaps by utilizing our information, they can then invest their energy into the quality of it instead of the mechanics.”
Apparently, the Weatherford group found the experience — and the TJC students — inspiring.
Hathcote said, “The primary question I got from them was, ‘How did you do this in one semester?’ Truly, it is remarkable what our honors students are able to accomplish. It is a rigorous course. I asked a couple of our sophomores to speak with the Weatherford College group briefly. One student said that she carries herself differently now that she knows she can do this. Another said that once she completed all this, she knows she can finish her education strong.”
She added, “The Weatherford representatives kept walking up to me, shaking their heads, and saying things like: ‘They are so impressive. Our TJC students made us very proud. I stood off to the side several times during their presentations and had a ‘proud mama’ moment.”