By Alaina Perdon
Elm Staff Writer
Washington College is offering an entirely new version of their Presidential Fellows program to the incoming freshman class. The new program emphasizes the necessity of close faculty-student relationships and the benefits of out-of-classroom learning experiences tailored toward students’ academic interests.
The Presidential Fellows program offers select students access to leadership events, networking opportunities, and career guidance as part of the College’s commitment to creating strong student leaders, according to the application for the Presidential Fellows program. It is offered to early-action applicants and advertises priority class enrollment and scholarship opportunities.
Under the new programming, first-year students select a track that appeals to their passions and are then paired with faculty from corresponding departments who act as mentors throughout the Fellows’ college careers, according to Assistant Dean for Curricular Enrichment Tya Pope.
The track system allows students the opportunity to gain skills and form connections within their own areas of interest, such as Ethics and Innovation in Science, Investigating Environmental News, and the Literary Life.
One such track is “The Great Questions,” directed by Associate Professor of Political Science and Burton Family Chair in Religion, Politics, and Culture Dr. Joseph Prud’homme; Associate Professor of Philosophy and Religion Dr. Peter Weigel; and Chair of Economics and Everett E. Nuttle Associate Professor in Economics Dr. Adalbert Mayer.
The track “exposes Presidential Fellows to the major theoretical questions in the fields of political science, philosophy, and economics,” according to Dr. Prud’homme. “The track emphasizes both an appreciation for the answers to the big questions given by great thinkers — past and present — and deepening skills of critical analysis.”
According to the Presidential Fellows website, “each track is unique, but all share three common factors: dedicated faculty, a team of like-minded fellow students, and powerful beyond-the-classroom learning experiences.”
Within their tracks, students will participate in relevant discussions, trips, and service projects through which they will gain self-understanding and encounter network-building opportunities, according to Pope.
“Presidential Fellows develop a sense of intellectual camaraderie as they meet to engage in a variety of activities that explore the themes associated with their track,” Dr. Prud’homme said.
This new track system is a major change to the previous functions of the Presidential Fellows program, which upperclassman Fellows described as minimal.
“I have had no involvement or even offer of involvement with the Presidential Fellows program since my freshman year, where they had a limited number of events,” senior Will Rotsch said. “It was a big selling point for me coming [to WC], but it has given me little more than a scholarship.”
The revamped program seeks to carry momentum beyond the participants’ first year at the College.
“The Presidential Fellows got a revamp that started with the first-year experience and then builds from there. [Interim Provost and Dean of the College] Dr. Michael Harvey and I spent a great deal of time thinking this through and hoping to create a much better experience for all Fellows in the program, not just the first-year Fellows,” Pope said.
While the first-year students are working within their tracks, second years will meet with leaders in the WC and Chestertown communities.
“The goal here is to see how leadership plays out in our Chestertown community. How did the President or Vice President of the Student Government Association get to their positions and what motivated them to get there? [We want] real conversations with real leaders,” Pope said.
Third-years will have a similar experience on a larger scale. They will connect with WC alumni working across the world via Zoom panels to learn how the values of leadership manifest in different communities.
Finally, fourth-year students will utilize their leadership skills to give back to the Presidential Fellows program.
“Fourth year fellows have so much knowledge about how things work at WC and could share tips and tricks to help the first-years. Fourth-year fellows will get training on what it means to be a mentor,” Pope said. “I know many of the first-year fellows would appreciate the support and fourth-year fellows would value the experience.
Fourth-year and first-year students will be matched together in a relationship akin to peer mentors and their mentees. The seasoned Fellows will guide freshmen through their first year of college with particular attention to the values of Presidential Fellows, which are integrity, determination, curiosity, civility, leadership, and moral courage, according to the Presidential Fellows website.
Ultimately, the new program seeks to create cohesion between the four class levels and maintain students’ involvement throughout their time as Presidential Fellows.
“This program is nothing without the Fellows,” Pope said. “If they are not happy with the program, the solution is to make changes. We are not going to get it perfect, but closer to the goal is a great start.”