Sidra Arshad, an English graduate, shares her experiences at Penn State Altoona and with the Schreyer Honors program.
The Schreyer Honors College is Penn State’s University-wide honors program. It comprises a broad set of opportunities for study, research, travel, and scholarly exploration in the arts, humanities, and sciences. The program’s hallmark is an honors thesis that allows students to showcase their diverse intellectual interests in the form of a substantial, independently inspired research or creative project.
Seven Penn State Altoona students graduated this spring from the Schreyer Honors College including Sidra Arshad who earned her degree in English with minors in professional writing and women’s studies. We caught up with Arshad to ask a few questions about her experiences.
What made you choose Penn State Altoona?
After graduating high school, I wasn’t ready to leave home yet. I wanted to be by my family, and Penn State Altoona was the best choice financially. When I first applied, I had yet to choose if I was going to stay at Altoona all four years, as I initially believed I was going to go for secondary education. However, after experiencing the English curriculum at Penn State Altoona, and getting to know some of the faculty, completing my degree at Altoona was an easy choice.
Why did you become involved in the Honors College?
Dr. Laura Rotunno, the honors adviser for Penn State Altoona, told me that Schreyer’s might be a good option for me since I was already in the Altoona honors program and because I was also considering graduate school. She explained that it would be a good chance to experience research. Such an opportunity, in tandem with my want for a challenge, motivated me to pursue the Schreyer's experience.
What were the advantages of being a Schreyer Honors College student while at Penn State Altoona?
Being a part of Schreyer allowed me to expand different projects by turning classes into honors options, which allowed me to get a deeper and more comprehensive understanding of the content presented in class. I took Comparative Literature 143 in fall 2020 as an honors option. The class focused on human rights and world literature, and the expanded project I chose to do under the honor’s option was both an academic pursuit and a personal one. I chose to research the Indo-Pak partition of 1947 from a human rights perspective, as it pertained to the class content and because my grandparents lived through the partition as well. I obtained a better understanding of the historical context of the partition and came to know my own family’s journey during such a pivotal and volatile moment in South Asian history. I never would have had the opportunity nor the guidance to complete such a project in undergrad without Schreyer.
Overall, how was your experience, and do you feel prepared for the next steps in your education/career?
Schreyer did a great job in preparing me for the research experiences I will have in graduate school. The undergraduate research I did at Penn State Altoona separate from the honor’s college also exposed me to different types of research on different subjects, helping me to better understand what I’d like to study in the future. The experiences I will take with me from working in the campus Writing Commons will extend to my further education and beyond, as I learned how to work as a part of a team and how to engage and collaborate with my professors and peers on projects.
What is your advice for others considering combining Penn State Altoona and Schreyer Honors College?
I think that the smaller campus environment works well for students wanting to engage with specific professors on honors projects. Such an atmosphere made focusing on research much easier for me, especially when I needed guidance on my thesis.
What is the next step for you?
I’m taking a gap year to take a break from academics and involve myself in community service. I feel like experiencing the pandemic changed my perspective on wanting to continue onto graduate school immediately because I want to take some time to figure out the person that I am outside of academia. Hopefully, I can take whatever experiences I obtain throughout the next year with me whenever I choose to continue my education, but for now, I’m interested in figuring out the ways in which I can engage with community outreach, specifically through educational programs or child-focused organizations.
Arshad worked as a research assistant under Dr. Sandra Petrulionis on The Almanacks of Mary Moody Emerson: A Scholarly Digital Edition beginning her first year. Her honors thesis, “They Spoke Up, They Spoke Back: Examining bell hooks, Audre Lorde, and Gloria Anzaldúa in Their Response to Marginalized Erasure During the Second Wave,” was completed under the direction of Dr. Kyle King. It focuses on female theorists of color who outlined the exclusivity of second-wave feminism and offered solutions to this issue.
“Sidra is the total package,” states King. “I have never had a student with the range of interests and professionalization experiences that she has had as an independent thinker, undergraduate researcher, and writing consultant. There will be a grad program in the near future that will be very happy they accepted her. I think I speak on behalf of everyone in the English program and Penn State Altoona when I say that we're excited to see where she ends up next."
More than 4,000 of the Schreyer Honors College medallions have been presented to Penn State graduates over the years. They are inscribed with “scholarly achievement, integrity of purpose, and intellectual curiosity.” These medals are tangible symbols of the outstanding accomplishments and dedication of these students.