Creating a future day by day
By Jack Rhodes
Honors Program graduates from The Citadel often go on to highly competitive and exalted places: service in the Navy’s Nuclear Program; graduate study at institutions like Harvard, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Stanford University; law school at the likes of Duke and the University of Virginia; medical school at Johns Hopkins. Sometimes they are supported by prestigious fellowship awards from the Truman Foundation or the Fulbright.
When they matriculate at The Citadel that hot August day, however, they are just knobs, like everybody else. During the first days and weeks when these new cadet-recruits have just arrived, many things are on their minds. Fearing failure, they struggle to measure up to the physical demands of their new environment, along with the seemingly endless number of rules, regulations and expectations. This demanding process, plus the new college-level academic demands they face, absorbs all the energy they can muster—and then some. Throw a growing concern for honor and the Honor Court into the mix, and you have a young man or woman who is overwhelmed. Before you know it, The Citadel is the cadet’s whole world. For four years, that world demands all the attention cadets can give it, and the intensity of that total enterprise produces graduates we can be proud of.
There’s another piece of the puzzle, though. The Citadel’s mission is to produce the citizen-soldier: someone prepared to serve our country either through the armed services or through contributions made in civilian professional life. Those students who aspire to a particularly competitive path after graduation need to start thinking about that as soon as they enter college or, in some cases, sooner. And, they need to keep thinking about it. They need to do more than just think, too. They need to do something about it.
This is a lot to ask of 18-year-old students with a plate already full. Just a few months before, their biggest concern was whom to take to the senior prom or what dress to wear to it. Getting out of high school was a huge step. Entering college was a momentous event. Then, coping with the fourth-class system is a struggle, one that theytackle on a daily basis. All the forces of their lives converge upon the daily struggle to make it just one more day. They miss Mom. Sometimes, it feels as if the weight of the world—and by the world, I mean their first sergeant—is pressing down upon them.
In the midst of all this, the future can get lost. And yet, the future is precisely what they’re here for. To use the admittedly histrionic language of a character from Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie, “the future becomes the present, the present the past, and the past turns into everlasting regret if you don’t plan for it.”
So, how does the Honors Program help our students to plan for the future? We begin even before they become our students. Prospective Citadel Scholars are counseled when they come for their on-campus visit before they have graduated from high school to keep their eyes on the time after they finish college, to
"Prospective Citadel Scholars are counseled when they come for their on-campus visit before they have graduated from high schoool....These young high school students are encouraged to see their future summers as an opportunity to do something that will set them apart when they are college seniors applying for a job, a graduate school or a fellowship. Lifeguarding, they are told, is probably not their best option. "
Thus advised, incoming Honors Program freshmen find themselves in the Honors section of CIT 101, a one-hour course of orientation to college. Here, we pick up the thread again in those early days that set the pattern of ideas and behavior for the next four years. We take our cue from René Descartes (famous for his dictum “I think; therefore, I am.”), who speaks of the moral “law that obliges us to procure as best we can the common good of all.” Students are asked to begin developing some ideas, as well as some specific plans, about their future contribution to our society. The world doesn’t need just another doctor or just another lawyer or just another anything. We assume in The Citadel’s Honors Program that our students will make a meaningful contribution to the needs of our world in whatever field they pursue—we assume that they will be leaders. Doing this, our students envision a dream. Next, we push them to form concrete and written plans to realize that dream by laying out a plan for how they plan to prepare themselves to do whatever it is they want to do. At the very least, it should include a strategy for how they will use the next three summers, though school year plans should be included as well. For advice, students are sent to Brent Stewart, director of The Citadel’s Career Services office, who does an excellent job of matching our cadets with meaningful work experience, both in their undergraduate summers and post-graduate. Too many students wait until senior year to visit his office.
Finally, as an appendix to this assignment, a résumé is attached. This document should contain nothing from high school. Well, almost nothing. If a high school achievement may legitimately serve them in a professional environment—being a valedictorian, say, or an Eagle Scout—then it should be included, but otherwise, nothing from high school. Students turn in mainly blank sheets of paper with some topic headings. Their job, they are told when they get the assignment back, is to fill in the white spaces before they graduate. One more thing: we spend significant time in CIT 101 discussing national-level post-graduate scholarships and fellowships, such as the Rhodes, Fulbright, Marshall, Truman, Goldwater and Udall, as well as encouraging students to consider spending a semester in Washington, D.C. Regardless of academic major or intended career, if you rise high enough in your field, you’ll eventually have some interests in the dealings of our federal government.
|Jack Rhodes joined The Citadel faculty in 1980. He is a professor of English and founding director of the Honors Program.|
In the sophomore, junior and senior years, Honors students enroll in Personal and Professional Development. In this three-hour course, students come to my office about every other week each fall semester to engage in research, writing and discussion about their future. What we do varies with each student, depending upon that person’s needs. Seeing the students individually this way gives me the opportunity to build upon what we achieved in the freshman year. I always ask what their summer plans are and encourage them to pursue career-related experiences.
One student a few years ago, Cadet James Dunlap (Tripp) Leitner III, ’00, aspired to become a dentist. With some encouragement, and with some help from his hometown dentist with whom he had previously interned, Leitner developed summer plans to shadow a dental supply representative throughout Europe and to spend two weeks in one of the dental practices there. When the time came for him to apply to dental school, this experience served him well. He was accepted at the University of the North Carolina School of Dentistry, one of the top in the country in the area he wanted to pursue. His interviewer there told him the reason they wanted to meet him, among so many qualified applicants, was because of his experience in Germany. Leitner reports that his familiarity with German dentistry also played a significant role in landing his post-doctoral residency in orthodontics.
Leitner’s summer study in Europe was made possible by funding from the Star of the West Association. Through this competitive program, every year a dozen or so students win scholarships to travel to foreign countries for summer study. When they return, they are almost always changed. Perhaps nowhere is this program more important than in our endeavors to prepare students to win Fulbright Fellowships, which require that applicants develop a study project in a foreign country that uses resources unique to that country. These summer study grants enable our students to travel to foreign countries to discover those unique resources and to come back with letters in hand from the appropriate people, certifying that they will have access to those resources. Hats off, here, to Professor Al Gurganus of the Modern Languages Department, who has been instrumental in guiding students repeatedly to successful Fulbright applications for study in Germany. The Citadel competes about as well as any college in the nation at producing Fulbright winners.
In a similar way, this summer study program was instrumental in Cadet Doug Schmid’s winning the prestigious Truman Scholarship, which seeks to identify and reward the next generation of America’s leaders in the area of public policy. With this funding, Schmid studied French at the École Eiffel in Paris. This summer, again with Star of the West backing, he’s studying international policy at the Australian National University. He’s applying for the Rhodes Scholarship in the fall. Keep your fingers crossed.
"We encourage all our students to consider graduate school. Increasingly, a college diploma on the job market means about what a high school diploma used to mean."
Not all our Honors students win national-level scholarships, though. Typically, they want to become doctors, lawyers, engineers or soldiers, with a few pursuing other avenues. Personal and Professional Development prepares them for that pursuit. Take our pre-meds, for example. They are counseled in this course to obtain hospital experience that involves patient contact before their senior year, as well as to engage in some kind of scientific research—both experiences valued by medical school admissions committees.
The reading we do frequently begins with some chapters from Frederic W. Hafferty and John B. McKinlay’s The Changing Medical Profession: An International Perspective. This book raises the significant issue of the change in physician autonomy in an age of increasing health care interdependence among the players in the health industry, such as hospitals, insurance companies and health maintenance organizations. It also provides information about health care systems in Canada, France, the United Kingdom, Greece and other countries. Then we might move on to Kenneth M. Ludmerer’s Time to Heal, focusing, for example, on the chapter entitled “Academic Health Centers Under Stress: External Dilemmas,” which discusses the effect of suburbanization on teaching hospitals.
When people of means began to flee to the suburbs in the 1970s, teaching hospitals, usually located downtown, were left in decaying neighborhoods with a flood of nonpaying patients. The consequences of this pose serious problems for today’s teaching hospitals. Or, we might turn to Melvin Konner’s Medicine at the Crossroads, which examines the difficulties of our doctors, stressed by practice in corporate-owned hospitals, a controlling insurance industry and broken malpractice procedures. Students read works such as these, write reports on what they read and come in to discuss what they have learned. This discussion is important. In a sense, what we’re doing is rehearsing for the time when they will be called upon to discuss the medical profession intelligently in an admissions interview, which is an increasingly important part of getting into medical school. Having discussed these issues for three years, they are more poised and confident.
The effort the Honors Program puts into post-graduate planning is important for a couple of reasons. We encourage all our students to consider graduate school. Increasingly, a college diploma on the job market means about what a high school diploma used to mean. In the 1940s, about 25 percent of Americans completed high school. Now, about 80 percent do. By the 1990s, the percentage of Americans with college degrees was 25 percent (Funk & Wagnalls New Encyclopedia). In terms of income, someone with a bachelor’s degree earns roughly $59,000 a year. With a master’s degree, that jumps to $68,000. With a professional degree, $92,000 (U.S. Census Bureau). Beyond that, however, we believe that reading, writing and discussing the area in which you plan to make your contribution to society will make you a more thoughtful and more effective person in your professional life. To quote the leadership guru Peter Drucker, “Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.” And figuring out what’s right—for you and for your country—requires some reading and some thinking. Talking it over helps, too.
Copyright The Citadel magazine 2006