For Monroe Scholars, opportunities abound

    Although most people have heard of Monroe Scholars, many outside of the program are unsure as to what it entails.

    p. Monroe Scholars represent the top of their class. Requirements for Monroe scholarships include high GPA and standardized test scores.

    p. “[Scholars must also have] concern for community, intellectual depth, curiosity and demonstrated devotion to learning for learning’s sake,” the website of the Charles Center, which regulates the program, said.

    p. Those selected as Monroe scholars have the option to live in Monroe Hall for their freshman year and to register early for their first semester. They also are expected to complete an extensive research project the summer after their freshman year. They are given a $3000 grant for the project. The projects vary depending on their personal interests.

    p. “I’m going to compare samurai films and the classic American western film,” freshman Mike Erickson said. “[The project] isn’t just an excuse to watch movies,” the potential film studies major added.

    p. Freshman Dan Villarreal said that he will be visiting drugstores in New York City and interviewing clerks, “to determine the association between certain speech features and the prestige of the neighborhood.”

    p. Some Monroe scholars also have the option to conduct research after their freshman year. Senior John Bell said that for his freshman project he purchased a sitar and studied Hindustani classical music. His upperclass grant was used for his history honors thesis about authenticity in music subculture.

    p. “I wrote a paper analyzing the interplay between national and international level governments,” said senior Ryan Scofield. He added that he got to do hands-on work in Washington, D.C., with Virginia Sen. John Warner and with the NATO in Belgium.

    p. Junior Devin DeBacker’s upperclass project involves, “revisiting Machiavelli’s ‘The Discourse’ in its original Italian and trying to consistently resolve it with his ‘The Prince,’ as the former advocates a republican government and the latter … a totalitarian government.” DeBacker has also received the Batten Pre-Honors Research Grant from the Charles Center, an award which he credits in part to his Monroe connections.

    p. According to many Monroe scholars, however, most of the time there is little work, if any, involved.

    p. “Drawing up a proposal for my summer project is the only thing I’ve actually done,” Erickson said. “There are Monroe lunches, but I haven’t attended any.”

    p. Akins agrees.

    p. “It’s no more [work] than you want it to be,” Akins said. “I have yet to be mandated to do anything as a Monroe scholar. All of the programs are optional. I think you could even opt not to use your research money, if you wanted to.”

    p. Scofield said his experience was similar to this year’s Monroes’.

    p. “I know people who put a lot of work into their summer research, conducting a post-freshman year project as well,” Scofield said. “I know others who didn’t put much work into it at all, aside from the mandated time during the actual summer.”

    p. Many Monroe scholars feel they have a stigma of being nerdy or receiving special treatment.

    p. “Contrary to what some may believe, it’s not different than being any other student,” Villarreal said.

    p. Others believe there is a stereotypical social stigma that comes with being a Monroe.

    p. “It’s funny because most people do not realize I am in the program, so they will occasionally make comments about it,” freshman Eric Newman said, who opted to live in Fauquier instead of Monroe. “Just stuff like, ‘those smart kids are ruining my curve’ or ‘[they’re] always working’ or something. Depending on who I am around, it is a positive thing or a negative thing.”

    p. Despite the stereotype, Monroe scholars believe they know how to have a good time.

    p. “My favorite Monroe scholars-related memory would have to be the aggregate sum of our freshman hall experiences,” Scofield said. “There were ‘block parties’ in the lobby, dance parties in the first floor bathroom, bets placed on Yankees-Red Sox series, and lots more. I had a very memorable freshman year with those people.”

    p. Bell described the block parties. “We typically just sat around, listened to music, and ate snack mix. It was very low-key.” He also described the antics of fellow scholar Scofield.

    p. “[His] exploits are numerous,” he said. “He drank a gallon of milk in under an hour, he went to Wawa wearing only a Speedo, boots and a cowboy hat, [and] he frequently inflated condoms over his head. I could go on and on.”

    p. For DeBacker, his story — “the classic Monroe story” — is one of love. He decided to live in Monroe his freshman year.

    p. “During that time I casually met Rachel Florek, a non-Monroe who was a gentle combination of sweet and firecracker. Come sophomore year, I’m sitting in my dorm room in Madison basement, and out of nowhere Rachel walked in. It turned out she was trying to look at how someone else arranged their wardrobes, and she recognized me from Monroe. A year and a half ago, we started dating, and now she’s my soon-to-be fiancée. It’s funny how something as little as choosing to live in Monroe affects the rest of your life — or should I say, lives.”

    p. According to many “Monrovians,” the scholarship provided an extra incentive to attend the College but only sometimes was it the deciding factor.

    p. “It was a major factor in my decision,” Erickson said.

    p. “The College as a whole impressed me, and I would probably be here as a non-Monroe,” Belanger said. “There are enough research opportunities available to the whole College body that one program wouldn’t have made or broken my decision.”

    p. For others, Monroe was just an added bonus.

    p. “I received over $500,000 in grants and scholarships to attend a number of universities, but realized that none of those universities offered me a program where I could further my academic interests and challenge myself with new scholastic opportunities,” DeBacker said. “William and Mary’s Monroe Scholars program provided me with those opportunities.”

    p. For Monroe Scholars, the associated opportunities sometimes have even more value than the research grants.

    p. For Scofield, networking with fellow scholars was a major plus.
    “It was wonderful being a Monroe Scholar. Aside from the fact that it enabled me to spend a summer abroad in Europe traveling and learning a lot, it was great to be able to live in Monroe and develop relationships with all of the other [students] who lived there. We became really close as a group, and we still are today,” he said.
    Other students had similar stories.

    p. “Being a Monroe Scholar allowed me to pursue some academic interests [and] curiosities, and I am grateful to the Charles Center for providing me the funds to make those inquiries. I also got to live in Monroe Hall, which was great, and I’ve enjoyed the occasional Monroe lunch,” Bell said. “Many schools’ honors programs are more in the ivory tower mold, and I didn’t want something like that.”

    p. After graduation, Bell plans on working with Teach For America, teaching high school social studies in rural North Carolina. Scofield plans on attending Duke Law School.

    p. The students all agreed Monroe was a positive experience they would take part in again.

    p. “Definitely,” Erickson said. “It’s not a bad experience at all.”


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