Many students come to Rhodes interested in pursuing a career in medicine, and the fellowship with St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital is a huge pull. Evans Falgoust told us that “connections throughout Memphis with hospitals and research facilities” help make the sciences some of Rhodes’ strongest programs. As Rhodes explains, the fellowship offers “students an intensive research experience that pairs students with St. Jude scientists and places them into the hospital’s professional laboratories for a period of two semesters and the intervening academic year.” The fellowship covers a wide range of research interests, including genetics, immunology, oncology, infectious disease, and developmental neurobiology, with “state-of-the-art research technologies and brilliant scientists from all over the world,” according to one former fellow. Recent research collaborations with St. Jude scientists include a study of avian flu and development of new anticancer drugs, as well as studies that examine the “importance of cultural factors in reducing medication errors” and ways of improving Clinical Decision support in the Electronic Health Record. And there is no need to worry about a summer job or apartment. Fellows are paid a stipend for the forty hours a week they work during the summers and provided with housing on the Rhodes campus. After two semesters and two summers, students have the option to extend their research into an Honors Research credit. But the St. Jude Fellowship experience often bleeds into other classes as well. Dr. Elizabeth Thomas, professor of psychology and director of the Memphis Center, told us about several students, in her senior seminar in urban studies, who were integrating research that they had conducted as interns and fellows during previous semesters into their senior capstone research project.
Service is a strong part of the Rhodes culture, and it is even codified in the school’s educational vision: “to inspire and involve our students in meaningful study, research and service . . . to graduate students with a life-long passion for learning, a compassion for others, and the ability to translate academic study and personal concern into effective leadership and action in their communities and the world.” When Alison Lundergan Grimes, now the Kentucky Secretary of State, was looking at colleges, it was the Rhodes tradition of service learning that most appealed to her. As she put it, “Rhodes Colleges is a community that cares.”
Fellowship programs like the Rhodes Learning Corridor, the Community Development Fellowship, and the Summer Service Fellowship, which partner with nearby public schools, encourage students to engage with local government and to address poverty, health and environmental issues in the Memphis community. These programs help connect students to the community, but they also help students connect with one another. Alumnus Evans Falgoust told us that this sense of service and community impacted nearly every interaction: “I found it nearly impossible to walk across campus and not run into someone I knew well enough to have a 10 minute conversation. . . . At Rhodes, we worked hard but we always supported one another. I learned as much outside of the classroom as within it and I developed social skills and worldly perspectives that will serve me for the rest of my life. Rhodes was as much about interpersonal development as it was intellectual growth and the two became one in the same.” Every member of the faculty we spoke to talked about the importance of service or community development in the educational ethos of Rhodes.
At the end of every school year, Rhodes College showcases its stellar reputation for connecting students with internship and fellowship experiences when over 200 students wake up early on a Friday to present their year’s research to the campus. The Undergraduate Research and Creative Activity Symposium, or URCAS, as the event is known, displays some of the best research opportunities, fellowships, and global study that Rhodes has to offer. In the morning, guests may hear from students conducting research at the Memphis Center describe “the human experience of the Memphis and Mid-South region, from the Civil War to civil rights,” and in the afternoon watch Fellows at St. Jude Children’s Hospital present the new cancer treatments and stem cell therapies they’ve been helping develop at the renowned hospital.
But the URCAS presentations do more than showcase student research accomplishments; they demonstrate a key component of the Rhodes educational mission: to produce skilled written and oral communicators. Evans Falgoust, a business major from the Class of 2011 who now works as a Strategy Manager at Dr Pepper Snapple Group, told us that, even among majors that typically involve less writing, Rhodes students are known for their writing skills. Rhodes students hardly ever see a multiple choice test, Falgoust explains, and even classes like accounting require papers. Dr. Mary E. Miller, professor of biology and director of the Interdisciplinary Program in biochemistry and molecular biology, echoed the sentiments of many of her colleagues when she told us that after four years of study, “the difference [in their communication skills] is remarkable, and we know that our students stand ready to articulate well their intentions and passions to the world after graduation.” Secretary Grimes, too, credits Rhodes with setting her up for success when she went on to graduate study. She explained, “I learned to communicate there—both in writing and extemporaneously—which prepared me extremely well for law school at American University. Studying at Rhodes helped me know how to connect with others.”
The cliché of the lonely professor whiling away solitary office hours is unknown at Rhodes. Whether it is in their office, at a coffee shop, or in the lab, when they are not in the classroom Rhodes professors are usually found with their students. Dr. Timothy Huebner, chair of the history department, told us, “Relationships between students and faculty are what Rhodes is all about. I interact with students every single day of the week. Whether it is advising them about classes, answering questions about the requirements of the history major, discussing internship opportunities with students, or just helping students who are struggling with my class or who are studying for one of my exams, being with students is a huge part of what I do. It is what our institution does best. We direct and mentor students closely and continuously—through research projects, essay writing, internships, and co-curricular activities.” And all of this individualized attention gives professors a chance to really figure out what makes their students tick, and to develop individualized teaching strategies that will help their students most. Dr. David McCarthy, professor of fine art, explained, “I get to know my students really well. I know what I can say to them to motivate them; I know what their strengths and interests are, so I can tailor the examples that I use in the classroom or in office hours to what I know is of interest to them and that will hold their attention. That way I can make my point and we can continue to move forward together.”
When we asked professors at Rhodes how they balanced the demands of teaching and conducting scholarly research, they all had the same answer: we combine them. Which makes sense because, as Dr. Miller explained, “Bringing students into [our] research and research into the classroom brings valued perspective to both worlds . . . Faculty are actively engaged in their field and therefore able to integrate students into that work. In my experience, faculty interactions with students outside of the classroom take the form of one-on-one mentored research in the laboratory setting. I have mentored students in my research lab who have moved on to prestigious graduate programs and I have published multiple collaborative works with student authors. Mentored research is one example of how our faculty are able to provide perspective for our students that will prepare them to become the independent thinkers. Faculty understand that opportunities for independent thought and action on the part of our students will best prepare them for the challenges that they will face after graduation.”