As a child growing up in Pakistan, MCC alumna Rimsha Khan was introduced to Rochester while visiting family during summer vacations. Her parents had always told her they would move to the United States when she was ready to begin college. That move happened in the summer of 2009, making Monroe Community College her first educational experience in America.
Even though Khan was already somewhat familiar with the area, living in Rochester would prove to be a very different experience. While the thought of starting school in a new environment was a little frightening, she used her first semester at MCC to get adjusted to the changes. Eventually, Khan got involved with campus clubs and organizations, such as Student Government, which helped her meet people and make friends.
Khan was introduced to the Honors Institute by an MCC student and family friend. This friend helped her with class selections and introduced her to student government. "I was excited about the unique classes that the regular sections didn't offer," said Khan. "I was really happy I found out about the honors program in time."
Khan, who was quickly drawn to the honors courses because the professors made her think outside the box, spent three of her four semesters at MCC in the honors program. "The teachers were really nice," she said. "We interacted with them more than in regular courses and the material provided the opportunity to talk to them more and get greater insight. The classes also gave us a chance to get to know the other students better."
According to Khan, her professors helped students relate to them by bringing more information about their personal life and education into the classroom. Because the learning process was more comfortable, students found it easier to share their experiences more.
Khan particularly enjoyed the research projects that focused on hydrofracking and the religion of Hinduism. "Working on these projects provided hands-on experience and opened our eyes to what is going on in the world," she said. "It was more than just gaining experience on the subject matter; it also allowed us to challenge our presentation skills as we had to present our findings to classmates."
When asked about the advice she would pass along to prospective students, Khan said she would tell them that it will challenge them more and encourage conversations that don't occur in the course of everyday life. She added that the research projects are valuable and that the entire experience will make students look good as transfer applicants.
Khan spent the summer taking a course at Harvard. She credits the Honors Institute with giving her the courage and motivation to even apply. When the fall semester begins, she will continue her classes at the University of Rochester where she is majoring in political science. After earning her undergraduate degree Khan wants to go to law school and eventually become a corporate lawyer.
Mackenzie Malia, a Rochester native and a graduate of the honors program at Monroe Community College, first ventured into anthropology on the streets of La Paz, Bolivia, where she interviewed people to learn how their lives differed from hers.
She was not even 10 years old.
But her passion for understanding other people and cultures was already emerging. "I interviewed shoeshine boys and mothers selling vegetables even as they cared for their kids," she recalled. "I was surprised by what I learned about children's lives there. They started working very young. That confused me; I didn't understand why that would happen."
Mackenzie's continued quest for knowledge reflects an upbringing that always emphasized education and knowledge. "Since I was a child, I have loved to learn," said Malia. "My mother is from Bolivia, and from a very early age, she always encouraged me to have as many experiences as possible. Especially with regards to education—to continually push myself and learn beyond the textbook."
So while her contemporaries pecked out endless text messages to BFFs, Mackenzie, who was home-schooled since first grade, devoured books and absorbed knowledge. She earned her high school diploma at the age of 15. Prompted in part by a career counselor's advice, she enrolled at MCC to take its honors courses. To acclimate herself to the unfamiliar learning environment of the organized classroom, she started slowly – by enrolling in a single anthropology course.
"I knew immediately that the Honors Institute was where I belonged," she said. "I'll never forget sitting in class during some of my first Honors Courses and realizing that I was surrounded by fellow students and professors who were just as serious and passionate about learning as I was. "The Honors Institute classes brought out the best in me and my fellow students," she said. "Each and every student was there to learn at the highest levels. Nobody was working for the grade, we were all working to learn."
She recalls with special delight her first instructor in anthropology. "He pushed us to our limits. He'd give us anthropology lectures – and then urge us to be the best we could be. His words stayed with me. He inspires me even now."
Mackenzie's memorable and challenging educational experiences at the Honors Institute not only prepared her for excellence at MCC, but also for the next step in her quest for educational excellence. After graduating from MCC, she transferred to Cornell University to study anthropology.
Today, she speaks about a desire to go into business – so she can continue learning anything and everything. Wherever her career takes her, her commitment to excellence in learning, and to pushing her limits, will not waver. As Mackenzie puts it: "The worst I can do is my best."
When Josh Torcello first considered his college options, he envisioned earning a bachelor's degree at Cornell or the University of Rochester. Beginning that journey at Monroe Community College just made sense. In making his college choice, Josh decided MCC's Honors Institute would offer precisely the challenges he craved. He was right.
"MCC's Honors Institute offered the more demanding path that I'd wanted," he said. "Classes are small. The pace of learning is fast. And the need to be fully engaged in course discussions and in the entire learning process made the demands and the rewards even more intense."
Josh especially appreciated the high-energy learning environment and the commitment of MCC's professors who teach Honors Institute courses. According to Josh, in classes even smaller than MCC's norm, professors focused attention on the strengths and needs of individual students. These courses also emphasized demanding writing assignments which, Josh said, helped him reach a deeper level of comprehension.
In this intense and personal environment, Josh says he grew close to his professors as they worked hard to get to know him. Their commitment to students was clear. These professors shared specific areas of knowledge and, in the process, worked to prepare students fully for even more rigorous challenges in their continuing studies and careers.
One Honors Institute experience that stood out for Josh was an honors seminar on critical analysis that taught logic and reasoning through a focused examination of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Josh and his fellow students profiled Lee Harvey Oswald, analyzed the aftermath of his slaying, and debated how that historic event unfolded. In the process, they learned a great deal about how to frame and argument and use logic to test it.
Josh, now an MCC alumnus, is a student at Cornell University, studying applied economics and management. MCC's Honors Institute experience played a major role in his decision to apply there because the demanding honors courses prepared him well for the rigors of Cornell. Josh is confident his Honors Institute experience will pay dividends even after Cornell. Upon graduation, he expects to work for a few years before pursuing a Master's in Business Administration and a law degree.
"MCC is such a great stepping stone," he said. "You can get a great education and go on to something even bigger – without the huge financial burden."
Since he was 16, Timothy Gaura has traveled around the world on mission trips. He ran children’s camps in American Samoa and New Zealand and spent time with orphans in Haiti. Back in the U.S., he helped build a traditional home with Navajo families. Through his many travels over the years, he developed a keen curiosity about the interplay of different cultures in contemporary society.
At MCC, where he held a 3.9 GPA, he trod paths less taken by his peers to seek opportunities to enhance his understanding of cultures. For example, in his first semester, he participated in Doorway to Success, a student retention program targeted at incoming African-American and Hispanic males. "It allowed me to further develop cultural awareness," he said of his experience.
Now with an A.A. degree in Liberal Arts and Sciences-Humanities and Social Science and a certificate in Advanced Studies, Timothy of Penfield is a step closer to achieving his dream of becoming a cultural anthropologist. He is the recipient of several national and regional honors, including a Jack Kent Cooke Foundation scholarship. He is one of only 60 students across the country to receive the award, which provides up to $30,000 each year toward a bachelor’s degree. In the fall, he will attend Amherst College to study anthropology.
As he begins the next chapter of his life, MCC will continue to hold a special place in his heart. Timothy is the fourth member of his family to graduate from MCC. The family tradition goes back to his grandfather, Frederick Allen, who earned a degree in fire protection technology in 1980. His grandmother, Lois Allen, followed, with a certificate in audio visual technology in 1989. Both are Walworth residents. His brother, John Gaura, who lives in Penfield, graduated in 2007 with a radiologic technology degree.
After completing his undergraduate education, Timothy hopes to participate in the United Nations Young Professionals Programme, a highly competitive initiative designed for people interested in becoming an international civil servant. In addition, he intends to pursue a master’s degree through the Peace Corps Master’s International program and ultimately obtain a doctoral degree.