Going to bat for research: Joel Schwartz talks the Charles Center, baseball with children

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February 27, 2017

11:48 PM

The College of William and Mary is now often marketed as a university dedicated to its student-faculty research and engagements. However, in the mid-1990s, more than half of freshmen students didn’t write a research paper during their first year. Within a few years, every first-year student was required to write a research paper.

This developing commitment to research is important to Charles Center Director and government professor Joel Schwartz, who said that his academic background has helped him find the unique beauty of the College and motivated him to create new opportunities for students.

Once an undergraduate and a doctoral student at the University of California, Berkeley, and a faculty member at Oberlin College, Schwartz has experienced the life of both large state universities and small, private liberal arts colleges.

In his mind, each model carries its own advantages: he said that big state universities like U.C., Berkeley provide students with highly specialized faculty whereas small, private colleges like Oberlin give their students close connections with the professors. He said they each have their own flaws, however, as access to professors is limited in big state schools, and faculty in small colleges may not able to direct their students to the specific projects on which they work.

I was always impressed that William and Mary is such a nice blend of the strengths of both places,” Schwartz said. “The balance of undergraduate teaching and research here at William and Mary is pretty unique among all the institutions in the United States.”

“I was always impressed that William and Mary is such a nice blend of the strengths of both places,” Schwartz said. “The balance of undergraduate teaching and research here at William and Mary is pretty unique among all the institutions in the United States.”

Schwartz said that he dedicated himself to bringing this connection between teaching and research one step closer by working at the Charles Center. According to him, it functions as a hub of academic support for both students and faculty on campus.

“We help students find their research projects when they come in and provide them with all necessary supports to success, like funding and academic advice,” Schwartz said. “Meanwhile, the Charles Center also functions as the teaching center for the faculties as we hold programs under which faculties rethink their teaching methods and learning from each other.”

The Charles Center provides other services to students — more than 400 student researchers will stay on campus with free housing this summer with funds provided by the Charles Center. Meanwhile, for students who are looking to apply for scholarships like the Rhodes and Marshall scholarships, the Charles Center helps them prepare their applications step by step.

“If you are taking a course in European Politics and run into your instructor 10 years from now, what will he or she expect you to remember?” Professor Schwartz said. “Probably not the little bits of facts, knowledge, dates … there are some things more important like critical thinking, problem-solving, group work and the ability to listen to different sides of arguments. It is those things that serve you well no matter what you do, and it turns out all those qualities are prominent in the process of doing research.”

Unlike universities that only provide research opportunities to top students, Schwartz said that the College truly merges teaching and research into one body so that all students have access to research.

“Is there a course where students are not required to write a paper?” Schwartz said. “There are not many of those at William and Mary, and it makes a huge difference … through the process of writing papers, students are actively engaging in the process of learning and criticizing as writing and thinking always go hand in hand.”

Schwartz doesn’t just offer help to students and faculty members on campus; his passion and involvement also extend into the Williamsburg community. He grew up in suburban San Francisco, where he worked as a baseball umpire for a local league. Since then, Schwartz has dedicated his free time to the sport.

On one hand, I am providing help to both groups, but on the other hand, they are quite different,” Schwartz said. “On campus, I tend to work with some of the most capable students and outside of it, I help children who faces challenges in their life like kids in wheelchairs. I simply enjoyed doing both.”

“On one hand, I am providing help to both groups, but on the other hand, they are quite different,” Schwartz said. “On campus, I tend to work with some of the most capable students and outside of it, I help children who faces challenges in their life like kids in wheelchairs. I simply enjoyed doing both.”

10 years ago, Schwartz started a baseball league called “Buddy Ball” that provides children with disabilities in Williamsburg opportunities to play sports. The league participates in two seasons per year and provides uniforms and baseball equipment to all of the players. It is made up of players ranging from five years old to young adulthood and meets weekly.

“Some children have physical and intellectual disabilities, and they don’t have the opportunities to participate in sports on their own,” Schwartz said. “I’d like to provide these opportunities to these kids, and I think it is a really valuable thing to spend some time with.”

Schwartz’s community involvements don’t take away from his on-campus achievements, however. In recent years, Schwartz has also helped the College establish some of its interdisciplinary programs like the gender, sexuality and women’s studies program and film and media studies. Schwartz said those programs are what make the College stand out.

“Those interdisciplinary programs [are] set outside the course structure,” Schwartz said. “There are a lot of faculties here who are interested in the role of one topic in different areas like politicism, history and sociology, and these programs have allowed us to bring all those together for the benefits of students in one-degree program[s].”

Schwartz now is working on an undergraduate research project, the Weingartner Initiative on Deliberative Democracy, with a group of students. He said that it is a collaborative effort that brings the teaching of political philosophy to a collaborative effort that applies the teaching of political philosophy to the real world.

“Political philosophers talked in abstract [about] what democracy is and how it should be, and the social scientists on the other end see what happens when we actually put people into groups,” Schwartz said. “The study of group dynamic is part of thinking of democracy, and this program provides students an exceptional opportunity to see how this whole process works.”

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  • Alfred Ouyang