Empowering lives for 90 years!

Honors Program offers challenging opportunities, delivers exceptional results

As Berkeley College celebrates its 90th year, flexibility and adaptability have been among the keys to the institution’s success. Berkeley’s programs of study have constantly evolved to meet the changing demands of the professional market and the needs of an extremely diverse student body. And along with the career-focused brand of education and close, personal attention and support for which the College has become known, the Berkeley College Honors Program has offered high-achieving students the chance to excel by undertaking a rigorous combination of interdisciplinary theme-based seminars, intense research, and community service.

A rigorous, theme-based program

Honors Program at Chart House

Seminar themes in the Honors Program change each year and are chosen to reflect topics that are timely and relevant, such as a recent social justice theme for first-year participants. Honors seminars are conducted by senior faculty teams chosen for their subject expertise, their ability to engage students in sustained discussions, and their use of innovative teaching methods and technology. The program also involves field trips, plenary sessions, co-curricular activities, and special events. Honors scholars at Berkeley are eligible for full- or half-tuition scholarships, based on their grade point average (GPA). Students must maintain GPA and other requirements to renew scholarships each semester.

A tight-knit group of students with common goals

El Mehdi and Byron Hargrove at the Chart HouseByron Hargrove, Ph.D., a Social Sciences professor at Berkeley College, became the director of the Honors Program in 2012. “Obviously, we recruit high-achieving students, but we also look for highly motivated individuals with the potential to rise to the challenge,” said Dr. Hargrove. “The structure of the Honors Program here at Berkeley College is also unique. We limit the number of students accepted into the program, typically to 75-100 incoming first-year students. Interest in the program has been tremendous. The students are grouped in small cohorts and go through the program together. As a result, they form an incredibly close bond—academically and personally. They also benefit from close connections with their professors.” He added, “Students are not grouped by major, so they also benefit from the perspectives of peers who are studying a range of disciplines. So, in addition to learning from an exceptional faculty, they help each other grow.”

Close attention from a carefully chosen faculty

Being mentored by engaging, award-winning faculty is an important aspect of the program’s success, according to Dr. Hargrove. One such example is Michael Frew, a full-time member of the English faculty at Berkeley since 1994, who has been teaching first-year Honors students for 10 years. Professor Frew spoke of the Honors Program’s rigorous interdisciplinary approach. “I believe that for high-level learning to occur, students need to be able to make connections between different academic subjects and ideas,” he commented. “Becoming ‘educated’ entails the ability to go beyond a limited perspective to see a ‘bigger picture.’”

“Students are challenged from the very first class, and it is very satisfying seeing them rise to the challenge, in some cases, producing work that would pass muster at the graduate level,” Professor Frew continued. “Berkeley Honors students come from a wide range of social and cultural backgrounds. Some are the first in their family to ever attend college. But they are uniformly engaging, challenging me at times as much as I challenge them. It’s also heartening to see the extra effort made by students in the face of very strong adversity. Many of them work full-time and have pressing family obligations. But I have never seen an Honors student use this adversity as an excuse not to achieve. Indeed, some of the finest papers and presentations have been produced by the most challenged students.”

A diverse learning environment

Honors Program Professor Doris White, who has taught at Berkeley for 18 years, also commented on the diversity of the students. “Students have the opportunity to learn and work with others from not only different backgrounds, but different countries and cultures as well,” she said. “They’re very supportive of each other and the experience of being in such an environment is very beneficial, particularly in the global market we live in today.”

Developing skills for a changing world

“The skills developed in the Berkeley Honors Program will benefit students throughout their careers,” according to Professor White. “The research skills, as well as the confidence they build in writing and public speaking are critical. A librarian is assigned to each Honors class and they are incredibly supportive during the research process. Numerous other support resources—like Berkeley’s Center for Academic Success (CAS)—really make a difference. Students are also able to choose topics they are passionate about,” Professor White emphasized. “They really go above and beyond the requirements of the program and stand out.”

Maintaining high standards—even during a pandemic

“While we temporarily switched to all online classes, we were all thankful for the early and consistent emphasis that Berkeley College has placed on online learning, going back to a time before online programs became popular,” Professor Frew noted. “I feel well-trained and very ‘literate’ in this modality compared to some of my contemporaries at other institutions.”

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Professor Pattie Cowan saw the dedication of her Honors students. “When we temporarily moved to strictly online classes, it was a new reality. They [the students] have been very supportive of each other,” she said. “We met, as a group and individually, on Zoom every week, sometimes several times a week. During one session, we realized that we had been on Zoom for about two and a half hours, and they wanted to stay. I had another engagement, so I left the Zoom room open for them, and they kept going for another hour! That's dedication.”

Camaraderie that forms lasting bonds

Professor Cowan also commented on the enthusiasm of the Honors Program students. “These students form a bond, quite literally, on the first day of class, and it lasts. Many have kept in touch with me, long beyond their final symposium day and graduation!”

Giving back through community service

Along with the academic requirements of the program, Berkeley College Honors students must complete 30 community service hours each year. “Community service shows students that individual achievement is not enough; an educated person must give back to others, too,” Professor Frew pointed out. “Anything that builds empathy and fosters a sense of responsibility to one's fellow human beings is especially important in these times.”

Instilling academic—and emotional—confidence

Many professors agree that the Honors Program often brings shy or reserved students “out of their shells” and helps to build their confidence. One such student is Nallely Inoa, a Graphic Design major at Berkeley’s Woodland Park campus. “My sister had attended Berkeley and I was definitely interested. But it was my advisor who really encouraged me to apply to the Honors Program,” recalled Nallely. “The staff and professors were very helpful. I loved the campus and the idea of small classes where everyone can really get to know each other. We’re like a family. So, I was thrilled when I was accepted into the Honors Program!”

Now in her second year, Nallely also loves being able to incorporate themes from the Honors Program into her Graphic Design projects.

An academic—and personal—journey

El-Mehdi Bendriss, a graduate of the Berkeley Honors program, described his experience, “I began to appreciate the value that knowledge and an education can provide,” said El-Mehdi. “My confidence rose, my ability to think and rationalize developed, and my maturity exceeded my age. All in all, Berkeley truly changed me for the better.”

The Honors Program molded the way I think and the way I present myself and my ideas,” he elaborated. “I feel as though this program elevated my level of thinking to a level which would have been unattainable anywhere else. I've also learned to advocate for myself in matters that are important to me. I've learned to be unbiased and to be rationale in my thinking, to accept that I may be wrong, and to never stop changing.”

During his time in the Honors Program, El-Mehdi received the first-place award for his poster at the annual Honors Symposium and received the Honors MVP award for Community Service. He now works in local government and remains active in the Berkeley College Alumni Association. He also plans to continue his education at the graduate level.

Seeing the benefits of the Honors Program in action

Shamira Drakeford is not only a proud graduate of the Berkeley Honors Program, she now works for the College in the Government Relations department. Ms. Drakeford had previously attended another college when a co-worker told her about Berkeley. She completed an accelerated program at Berkeley, earning her Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration in just three years. She entered the Honors Program in her second year at Berkeley.

“The Honors Program was an invaluable experience,” said Ms. Drakeford. “I really found my purpose in life. It prepared me for the challenges of the world. I would never be where I am today without Berkeley College and the Honors Program.”

After earning her Bachelor’s degree from Berkeley College, Ms. Drakeford was chosen as the student speaker for the 2016 commencement ceremony at the Prudential Center in Newark. The experience, and her professors, also inspired her to pursue a Master’s degree. She now has her Master’s in Project Management. She also credits the Honors Program with helping her gain confidence and the ability to take on new challenges. “Anyone who knows me now would never believe that I was once very shy,” she commented. “But the faculty and staff have seen me through.”

Inspired to be the change in the world

In addition to her role as Government Relations Coordinator at Berkeley, where she works with legislators and other elected officials at the federal, state, and local level, Ms. Drakeford devotes time to numerous causes. She serves on the Board of Trustees for a Clifton, NJ charter school and works with Big Brothers and Sisters of Essex, Hudson, and Union Counties. She also runs her own business, Cohesive Connextion LLC, which is dedicated to helping individuals grow professionally and personally. The business plan came to her while working on a thesis project in the Honors Program. “My thesis paper was on financial literacy,” she remembered. “Then, when the pandemic hit, there was such an outcry for help. I began creating workshops and events to help young people develop economic and soft skills. I was inspired by my mentors and it’s important for me to give back.”

Setting an example for others

Her Honors Program experience also instilled the idea of lifelong learning in Ms. Drakeford, who now plans to pursue her doctorate degree. She regularly speaks to Berkeley College classes and encourages her fellow alums to do the same. As the first in her family to graduate from college, she’s inspired her family members as well. Her mother returned to college and her two brothers, who are twins, expect to graduate from Berkeley College this year with degrees in Criminal Justice.

A transformational experience

Brittany Ramsaran, a Business major who graduated from Berkeley’s Honors Program this past December, also felt an immediate connection with Berkeley. “I was so nervous when I first started college,” Brittany remembered. “I knew it was going to be very different from high school! But I’ve transformed from this quiet, shy girl into an intelligent, confident woman who’s not afraid to speak her mind.”

Brittany took online classes in addition to studying at Berkeley’s New York City campus. “Even in my online classes, my professors were very helpful—they responded very quickly whenever I reached out,” she noted. “And being part of such a diverse student body was a great experience. I’ve made friends from so many different places, backgrounds, and cultures and I’m sure that will benefit me in my career.” Brittany completed a virtual internship in research and marketing development for a health and wellness firm in New York by working with a Berkeley College Career Counselor and hopes to work in Human Resources management, perhaps in the airline industry to combine a career with her love of travel.

Adapting through innovation and creativity

During the annual Honors Symposium in the spring semester, students have presented posters and papers to the Berkeley College community. This past spring, however, the COVID-19 pandemic prevented the traditional presentations. “Presenting online was a very new and  different experience,” said Jason Gulya, Ph.D., one of the newer professors in the program. “But the students responded in inventive, creative ways and really went above and beyond.”

“Being able to adapt is extremely important. We’re very open to new and different ways of teaching and learning. We encourage students to use innovation and explore new approaches to present their ideas,” Dr. Gulya went on. “These changes and skills will continue to be part of the way we teach, learn, and work and will definitely benefit the students in their careers.”

Recognition for their achievements

In addition to the Honors Symposium, Berkeley’s Commencement Ceremony is an important milestone for the Honors Scholars. “It’s quite an achievement,” Dr. Hargrove pointed out. “The students wear Honors cords at graduation and receive distinctive recognition on their diplomas and transcripts. They’re now prepared for the next steps—whether it be in a professional capacity, pursuing graduate-level education, and hopefully becoming civically-minded leaders.”

A bond that continues

“It’s wonderful to see students transform from simply being high achievers to genuine Honors Scholars,” Dr. Hargrove said. “And our Honors Scholars have continued to remain close with classmates and faculty even beyond graduation. We encourage them to remain active in the Berkeley community and to return to inspire future scholars. They, in turn, become an inspiration to the next generation.”

The views and/or opinions in this article are those of the individuals interviewed. The academic achievements and/or employment outcomes described in this article are specific to each individual, and are not a guarantee of similar results for past or current students. For up-to-date and detailed information, please visit BerkeleyCollege.edu and view our catalogs at BerkeleyCollege.edu/publications

Empowering lives for 90 years!