Enhancing Honors with Service-Learning

By Lisa Randall and Noa Golan


Boston Map by NU Alum Helen Shroeder
Graphic by Northeastern Alum and former S-LTA, Helen Schroeder

The Honors Program at Northeastern University, according to their website, connects its students “to an active community of thinkers committed to making a difference.” That community, in addition to including a highly talented and motivated group of students, faculty, peer mentors, and staff, also includes the communities surrounding Northeastern- an element of their program that is being bolstered by Service-Learning at Northeastern.

“It’s important to not only familiarize themselves with the surrounding communities but to learn about their history,” Assistant Director of the Northeastern University Honors Program Colleen Cronin said about honors students. “And for the students to understand they are now amongst these communities and begin to contextualize their own role within the neighborhoods.”

The program accomplishes this, first and foremost, by offering a variety of service-learning courses. This fall semester saw the addition of three new courses within the program’s seminar series: The Mathematics of Tricks and Puzzles with Professor Stanley Eigen, Seeing Theatre with an Enlightened Eye with Professor Nancy Kindelan, and Contemporary Issues in Healthcare with Professor Lorna Hayward. This spring, Professor Serena Parekh will be teaching Human Rights in the 21st Century as part of the same series.

“What I saw this year with the interaction between Honors and Service-Learning was very impressive,” Honors Program Senior Mentor Catherine Erdelyi said. “Students as well as mentors are learning information they don’t normally receive in their classes. “

In addition to on-going support provided for the aforementioned courses through the semester, the Service-Learning Program also helped to facilitate a training for the one-credit Enhancing Honors course at the start of the fall semester.

“The course focus is to build community and to have students learn about and explore the Boston community,” Cronin said. “This collaboration evolved from our partnership during the Honors Welcome Week as a way to expose students to surrounding neighborhoods as well as the community partners in the area with an asset-based lens.”

Honors students enjoy treats outside Haley House while on a walking tour of Roxbury.

Honors mentors are trained by both programs on how to lead community tours and deliver historical and current information about the South End, Fenway, Mission Hill, and Roxbury neighborhoods.

“The Honors Program has a long-standing collaboration with the Center of Community Service and Service-Learning at Northeastern,” Cronin said, “which began with Honors Outreach Programs throughout the semesters, and Honors Welcome Week.”

Cronin said that with the Honors Program growing in size, it became important to find new ways to connect the program’s students to the surrounding communities and community partners.

Most recently, the Enhancing Honors course incorporated an interactive lecture from the Service-Learning Program that all first-year honors students attended prior to the community tours.  During the lecture, titled “Place and Opportunity: Interactive Walking Tours of our Communities,” students were able to learn about asset-based community development, what to expect on the tours, as well as answer trivia about the neighborhoods they would soon be entering.

Vice President of City and Community Affairs John Tobin opened this event by engaging students with his own experiences of working and living in Boston neighborhoods.

“Based on feedback from the students and mentors this is a highlight of the Enhancing Honors course,” Cronin said. “Not only because they are engaging with the surrounding communities, but we also arrange it so they can stop at a local vendor and have a snack.”

Cronin added that the training the mentors receive prior to leading first-year students on these tours is a “crucial part to this success.”

“The Service-Learning Program welcomes the opportunity to work with student leaders across campus who are engaging in service or with the communities surrounding Northeastern,” Service-Learning Program Assistant Brooke Schober said. “It was great to share in re-framing the narrative of community engagement with these student leaders.”

Honors students pose in front of a mural at United South End Settlements, a Northeastern community partner, in the South End

The hope is that first-year students leave the tours having been able to familiarize themselves with the communities that surround their new home at Northeastern, and also how to navigate them.

“Learning about where they are living is an important part of understanding the new culture they have chosen,” Erdeyli said. “It allows them to right away learn about opportunities nearby– partners in the community they may volunteer with, work for, or become otherwise involved with.”

Both programs hope to continue their collaboration into future semesters, connecting some of Northeastern’s best and brightest with the communities from which the institution draws its roots.

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