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The Chronicle

CLC Scholars Program uncorks on pop culture

Rhea Hechanova
Me, the other CLC scholars, and the instructors.

The College of Lake County (CLC) has a special opportunity for high-achieving students called CLC Scholars, commonly referred to as the Scholars Program. It is designed to be rigorous, as it hopes to help them succeed in their academic endeavors as they are taught by a diverse range of instructors.

“What I look for is someone that has leadership potential, both inside and outside the classroom,” said Dr. Nick Schevera, the faculty coordinator for the Scholars Program, in regard to the type of student who is best suited for its capabilities.

He later added that it would also be individuals who like to “probe, discuss, and are curious about things.”

Schevera explained those qualifications because, while all of the applicants have high grades, what makes one distinguish themselves from the crowd are those who are intellectually curious.

One of the things that makes CLC’s Scholars Program a unique learning experience from the usual college learning environment is that it is centered around a theme throughout the academic year. In Fall 2023 and Spring 2024, popular culture was selected to be a reoccurring motif and split into four different sections that lasted for 4 weeks.

Leilani Zapata, a first-year student majoring in psychology, said that on a personal level, the Scholars Program has been a sense of community to her.

“It’s a community college,” she said. “There’s not a ton of people to meet because people are always rushing out. [The Scholars Program] is just a class where I can discuss and learn about interesting topics.”

She shared that, before joining the seminar, she wasn’t well-versed in the topics of the theme, but because of the opportunities that the Scholars Program gave her, she was able to learn a lot by being exposed to many forms of media, such as watching films or reading comic books.

“My favorite thing about the Scholars Program is that sense of community,” she emphasized. “Everyone is able to relate since we’re all hardworking students who have similar goals in mind.”

Zapata then added that the weekly seminar has helped her out financially and was able to ease the stress that she felt during the academic year.

“I would definitely recommend this [the Scholars Program] to anyone and everyone,” Zapata said. “If they’re willing to put in the work, it is totally worth it.”

On the other hand, it is not only the students who enjoy the distinct set-up. The instructors themselves also share a level of fondness for the Scholars Program and its recent theme.

Shanti Chu, a philosophy professor, the co-chair of the philosophy department at CLC, and one of the instructors for the Scholars program, said that pop culture was the chosen topic because it was something that she and other faculty members had picked together.

“I wanted to think about aspects of pop culture that I am knowledgeable about and invested in,” Chu said when it came to her section of the program. “And also interested in making the experience fun for everyone involved.”

In the first semester, fall 2023, Chu selected the subjects of music, film, social media, and reality television for the students to interact with, reflect on their experiences, and discuss new ideas and current events.

“All of these components are topics that I think about a lot through a philosophical lens [which] I have done some work on in my other classes that I teach,” Chu said.

She emphasized that social media and reality television are emerging concepts that haven’t been fully fleshed out yet because they are new, especially in the realm of philosophy.

She also added that students have a lot of wisdom about these matters because they have experienced them all their lives, making them relevant to them. On the other hand, she brought up the fact that both music and film are changing rapidly due to the intersection of technology.

“I wanted to talk about these components because no matter what genre of film or music one likes, it’s not sort of a niche thing,” Chu said.

A brochure of the CLC Honors and Scholars Program.

Meanwhile, in spring 2024, she picked out concepts that weren’t showcased in the previous semester but that she felt knowledgeable about.

“Food is something that I have done research on and [have] written [about],” Chu said. “I thought that would be a fun aspect of pop culture to discuss as well, because I think that food has become a much more prevalent and present cultural commodity than it was before.”

She pointed out that there has been a rise in food-related entertainment with cooking shows, celebrity chefs, and similar activities such as taking photos of one’s food on social media.

Chu shared that fashion was also selected to be a part of her section because it is an important aspect of pop culture, as there have been numerous trends that have been recycled in the recent past.

“I thought it would be interesting to do it and conjunct it with bodies,” she said. “It’s something that I am always curious to hear the students’ thoughts on.”

She stated that, due to the increased popularity of social media and reality television, fashion is important because of how it impacts the perception of one’s own body and of other people.

Faith and religion were another chosen topic in her respective module, as Chu believes that it is something relevant to the students.

“I teach world religions class, and I am always thinking about how religions have manifested in pop culture,” she said.

Chu said that all of these topics are beneficial for the students to learn about because they are relevant.

“It’s not something only one or two students might be into,” she said. “I think students from so many walks of life would be interested in these topics.”

She also said that with technology, it is important for students to reflect on what their relationship is like with social media and how it impacts their identity, because it is something they are not always conscious of.

“Music, food, and film—I think of these things as rapidly changing because the mediums from which we consume them are changing.” She spoke.

She added that it can be fun for students to think about their connections to it and how these mediums impact their understanding of the concepts of food, music, and fashion.

On the other hand, Dr. Patrick Gonder, an English and Humanities professor at CLC, admitted that he was excited about the selected topic, as that is one of his areas of study and one of his passions.

His own module focused on the significance of holidays in one’s personal life and culture and on a reading of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen.

“Since I was a kid, I grew up reading a lot of sci-fi, horror, and fantasy, which often falls into the pop culture realm,” he said. “I [also] grew up reading comic books and loving horror films, so these topics have always been not just intellectually interesting to me but very dear to me.”

Gonder said that it was important for students to know about it because he believes that works of high art should be studied.

“Those works of high art during their time, such as Shakespeare, were popular,” he said. “So, by expanding that canon and looking at popular culture, we are breaking the classist idea that only high art is worth studying.”

He then added that these topics can also be extremely meaningful to students since they are something that is in their everyday lives.

One aspect that makes the Scholars Program stand out from the usual structure of a college course is that each section of the seminar has its own individual activities throughout the course of the semester.

When asked about their favorite activity or assignment, Gonder stated that it was during the fall semester when students were asked to write a short paper about holidays.

“I have never done that before, ever, in any class,” Gonder said. “I never thought about the study of holidays; I found it to be fascinating, and I think that the students wrote incredible papers.”

Meanwhile, Chu shared that her favorite activity was the final project day presentation of her module because it was the culmination of the topics they discussed, how the students came up with their own individual assignments, and how they generated those ideas based on the conversations in class, readings, and other media consumed during the course of four weeks.

“I especially loved that because I really get to see how they have processed the material and what is particularly interesting for them as students and as people who exist in this society,” she said.

Chu also added that when students share that vulnerability, it is an amazing personal experience for her as an instructor because it becomes a learning process.

Afterwards, each offered a piece of advice for both former and future students of the Scholars Program.

The requirements for the CLC Scholars Program.

“There’s a lot of prejudice against community colleges,” Gonder said. “And it’s a ridiculous prejudice. It’s an unearned bias. The College of Lake County is a wonderful place.”

He emphasized that one of the important aspects of the Scholars program is that it lets students know it is an opportunity to push themselves.

“[This is] where your ideas matter, where your opinions matter, where can you learn to sharpen those opinions,” he said. “Having a program that emphasizes academic excellence is important.”

Meanwhile, Chu said that she hopes that students don’t just think about their careers but also about what it means to live as human beings, applying authenticity and fulfillment.

“Reflecting on what they’re doing throughout their lives, what they’re doing every day, not through life in a robotic manner,” she said. “But really assessing the idea of flourishing, fulfillment, and life is something that I really hope they can take away.”

Finally, Schevera said that he hopes that people in the program will network and form friendships, as it is good to have those contacts and connections in the future.

“There are many advantages to being in the Scholars financially,” he said. “But we also offer paid on-campus jobs and two colleges, Lake Forest College and Elmhurst University, for full-ride scholarships as they admire and appreciate the program.”

The CLC Scholars Program has a selective admissions policy. If you are interested in joining, fill out the application form, write a personal essay, and undergo a scheduled interview. The deadline for priority consideration is Friday, May 10.

You may also contact Dr. Nick Schevera by email at [email protected] or by calling (847) 543-2959 if you have any questions.

Best of luck to all applicants!

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About the Contributor
Rhea Hechanova
Rhea Hechanova, Editor-In Chief
Rhea was one of the editors-in-chief and served in the academic term 2023-2024.