By: Dr. Andrew Yox, NTCC Honors Director
Disruptions amidst the pandemic of this last spring not only closed campuses, but in many cases decimated standards. At the University of California at Berkeley an “A-Only” petition gathered 9,000 signatures. The struggle with the chaos at supermarkets left many students frustrated. It was “unreasonable,” noted a prominent student association president “to expect students to do their best during this crisis.” Even universities deemed especially rigorous such as Carnegie Mellon, and Smith College allowed for a letdown in expectation with new grade-policy directives.1
At Northeast Texas Community College this last spring, many students without a laptop, or audio-cam felt stranded. But there were also cases of students who not only performed above and beyond the expected norm, they completed assignments that were exemplary. For the first time in the history of NTCC, three students outside of the honors program completed article-length essays of over 3,000 words, earned honors credit in addition to their regular grade, and placed within the top-twelve places of the annual poster contest.
Jennika Appelberg, from Vantaa, Finland, Madison McComasky from Sydney, Australia, and Rebecca Yaws from Harleton, Texas, in Harrison County, all completed promising works of scholarship, now displayed on the college website under the 2020 contest at www.ntcc.edu/honorsposters.
Thanks to contributions from Edward Florey, and Mark Lesher of Mount Pleasant, the three students will each receive a special new Tribute Award of $100 each to recognize their special scholarly achievements during a difficult time for students.
In some respects, the pandemic itself may have even spurred these achievements. Appelberg, and McComasky, already top-tier students, came to NTCC to play soccer. When the rest their season was canceled, the two re-channeled their athletic energies into their essays. Appelberg, who is fluent in Finnish, and capable of getting by in German and Russian, at first, wondered if she could write such a long essay in English. She found that the challenge taught her that once she got her “idea out there,” her “thoughts and writing could flow nicely.” “Something very positive for me was to learn and understand how easy it is to support . . . [one’s] idea with evidence . . . this made my points even stronger.”
Dr. Andrew P. Yox, Honors Director, noted, “after knowing many of our honors students at NTCC who have won national and regional awards for their scholarship, I was amazed at the originality and analytical depth that Jennika, Madison, and Rebecca attained with their essays this past spring. The centrality of their creative ideas, the thrust of their primary-source-based evidence, and their assiduous work habits were extraordinary.”
In addition to the posters of Appelberg, and McComasky, and the videos of McComasky and Yaws, all three of the student essays appear on the 2020 site of NTCC’s annual McGraw Hill poster contest: www.ntcc.edu/honorsposters. Appelberg, surprised by the dissensions she has found in American politics, wrote the “Hitler Rubric: A Consensual Way to Evaluate American Political Leaders.” Her essay underlined the continued importance of Hitler as an Anti-American symbol, and evaluated the German dictator’s quotes on racism, democracy, and free enterprise in comparison with Presidents Roosevelt, Nixon, and Trump.
Madison McComasky also touched on international themes. She began with what Marxists once called ‘American Exceptionalism’, the baffling tendency of the United States to resist socialism. She traced the boomeranging paths of American and Australian intellectuals in the middle decades of the twentieth century. At first drawn to Communism, Americans, such as Lincoln Steffens, John Dos Passos, and Australians, such as Dorothy Hewett, Jean Devanny, and John Anderson, repudiated what they saw as the destruction of individual rights in leftist regimes. The parallel paths of intellectuals in both nations shows that America was not that exceptional nor its resistance to socialism so baffling.
Finally, Rebecca Yaws in the “Emotions of Prohibition” stumbled on a bank of silent-films that have appeared on YouTube from the Prohibition era. Yaws notes the powerful emotional appeal of these films, with their revolutionary insight that one sees is more powerful than what one hears. Yaws’ work revealed an interesting phenomenon of how the rise of the internet has sometimes dwarfed scholarly efforts to keep up with it. Even the most definitive recent account of Prohibition, Daniel Okrent’s Last Call, fails to explore the significance that the new cinematic medium had on the movement’s success.
All three young scholars, now finishing their time at NTCC, found the college personable and nicely-scaled for what they needed. Yaws notes that NTCC’s reputation for engaging students brought her to the campus. Appelberg and McComasky found the quasi-rural campus unique, but as McComasky noted, a place “so unlike Sydney” presented me with a “gift” allowing her to see how others lived. Appelberg and McComasky have major scholarships to return to the United States in the fall, in both honors and soccer. Appelberg will transfer to Concord University in West Virginia, and McComasky to the University of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio. Yaws, who attended a Christian Academy in Ore City, plans another semester at NTCC before transferring to Texas A&M, College Station.
1“A’s for All: Universities Debate how to Grade during a Pandemic.” ABC 10 Sacramento <https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2020/05/28/live-updates-latest-news-coronavirus-and-higher-education> [Accessed 28 May 2020]. “To Grade or Not to Grade,” Edsurge <https://www.edsurge.com/news/2020-03-19-to-grade-or-not-to-grade-during-coronavirus-that-is-the-question> [Accessed 28 May 2020].