Classic for Tomorrow

Building on momentum, Roanoke College debuts more accurate view of its offerings

Yet again, Roanoke College set a record with the number of students who graduated in May.

For years now, the student body has been growing as more would-be Maroons are drawn to campus. Those here are appreciative of the College and its outstanding offerings, but that's not enough for an institution on the move. Through a sophisticated approach, Roanoke has set out to bring its reputation more in line with its impressive reality. The focus remains on providing an accurate representation of the College - but one that depicts the strong, exciting and vibrant options available now to students through such a classic College experience.

Called "Classic for Tomorrow," this new approach shows how an improving institution is using its most honorable and thoughtful accomplishments to update the public face of the College.

"We heard that Roanoke's 'classic experience' is why our graduates are better able to conquer challenges, solve problems and be successful," explains Blair Garland, director of marketing. "It comes from the strong personal connections that are the norm at Roanoke combined with valuable firsthand learning, which provides a real edge in the job market."

That's what Brenda Poggendorf '81 found when she first arrived. "I loved it - the setting and the people; I just found my niche," she recalls. Today, as the new vice president for enrollment management, she shares the College's new approach with prospective students. "Classic for Tomorrow" takes in the appearance of Roanoke's campus, the style of teaching, the curriculum, the authentic relationships between faculty and students and the valuable hands-on learning. It is based on the strengths that already exist, says Garland, and not something that the College has to manufacture. Although the pieces of the puzzle aren't unique, they come together in a different way to create an exceptional environment, explains Poggendorf. "This is not the type of education where students go inside a classroom with 300 other people," she says. "This is the learning that takes place beyond the classroom - in having the classroom spill over into other parts of life."

The College has found that the classic experience is appealing to students as well as cherished by alumni. The prospective students are focused more on outcomes - jobs and grad schools and the ability to "test drive careers or research," Poggendorf adds. The opportunities for hands-on learning through internships and research give Maroons an advantage rare among undergraduates at other schools. Employers sit up and take notice. And alumni link those experiences to their admission into graduate schools or successful job placements.

Personal Connections

Dr. Jared Herr '04 is on his way to the University of California at San Francisco for the residency program, where he will go into internal medicine and specialize in cardiology. He attributes his success to his close working relationship with the Thornhill Professor and chair of the biology department, Dr. Darwin Jorgensen.

"I think what has made me excel in med school is the foundation I got at Roanoke College," Herr says. "There is such a personal connection you get at that school, and the professors make you feel that the work you are doing is so important. I don't know if I would have had the same direction or motivation to become a doctor without this. It's those people who shaped my perspective of the whole thing - who made me understand why I want to be a doctor."

Herr worked for three years in Jorgensen's research lab, concluding his majors in biology and biochemistry with an honors thesis developed from his research. "We still talk every month," he says of Jorgensen. "He was a lot of my inspiration for where I am now. He cared about my understanding, and that has carried through here, in med school."

Jorgensen says that an important part of what he does as a faculty member is to establish personal connections with students, which he sees as a benefit of working at a small liberal arts institution. "Over a three- to four-year period, my research students and I work on experimental problems that are difficult," he says. "We struggle together and spend much time talking not only about the science they are doing, but also about many other things, including career goals and aspirations. These connections that are formed often last for years beyond Roanoke." And while they are his students, he may "push them sometimes to consider career paths that they may not have thought they were capable of."

That scenario was experienced by Lauren Renee Harrison '07, who is now earning a master's degree in journalism at Columbia University - on a full-tuition scholarship. Dr. Virginia Stewart, Dr. Melanie Almeder and Dr. Dana-Linn Whiteside all urged Harrison to apply to Columbia, which she calls her "dream school." The faculty told her she was a great student. "They were my major support system," says Harrison. With their encouragement, she won the Joseph Pulitzer II and Edith Pulitzer Moore fellowship and gained admittance into one of the most renowned journalism schools in the country. Since then, she was selected by the Chicago Tribune for a two-year training program on reporting that has terrific salary and benefits.

"Virginia Stewart was a driving force in everything I've done," recalls Harrison. The associate professor of English advised Harrison on genealogical research she did about her family, even traveling down dirt roads in Appomattox, Va., to find cemeteries where her family was buried. When it came time to determine whether Harrison's research project qualified for Summer Scholar funding, Stewart spoke on her behalf. Harrison says the personal connections established at the College enable professors to better know their students' abilities. Harrison also was encouraged to go beyond the walls of her College classrooms, seeking opportunities in D.C. with the Washington Semester, where she interned at the Beltway Poetry Quarterly and Web Del Sol, the world's largest online publishing company. "Even though you are in Salem, you have the world at your fingertips," she says.

The College's commitment to personal connections is long established. Pam Cabalka '76, who recently became the head of the College's Alumni Association and formerly led the President's Advisory Board, also was heavily influenced by the strong guidance of then-business professor and alum Richard de Olazarra '52. Cabalka took seven business courses from him and eventually followed his advice to earn her MBA from William & Mary. "Mr. de Olazarra was a great teacher. He made me stretch and pushed me to excel," she says. "He became my mentor. I don't know what I would have ended up doing if I hadn't taken his courses and made that connection."

Cabalka, who is a business consultant, said de Olazarra's support and friendship continued for years, and since his death she still maintains a

close relationship with his wife, Ann de Olazarra '50. "From day one on campus, I felt a connectedness," she says. Other alumni reinforce her experience. A friend from the College, Thomas J. Love '75, now administrative judge for Prince George's County, Md., says he was encouraged and mentored through his four years by Dr. C. William Hill, the Henry H. & Trudye Fowler Professor of Public Affairs.

Nancy Baird Mulheren '72 and her husband, the late John A. Mulheren Jr. '71, also experienced the unique campus connections, but for him it was largely with College staffers. "What kept him in school was his relationship with Dean of Students Don Sutton, Registrar Homer Bast and Treasurer Clarence Caldwell," she says. John put himself through school and would stop in Caldwell's office from time to time to negotiate his payment schedule and to make payments. "Our connection with the school is long-standing and has become a passion of mine, probably because of our experience," she says. "I hope other people can have it, and I think they can because it's a small school."

Hands-On Learning

Craig Ultsch '07 helped to invest a portion of the College's endowment. Carly Waterstraut '09 was a nurse's assistant at Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital last summer. And Sophie Huemer '10 and Emma Wilson '10 are both students in the College's Undergraduate Research Assistants Program or URAP, working with Dr. Harry Wilson and Dr. Heath Brown in researching gun control issues.

None of those are your typical classroom experience - but they are typical of Roanoke College's education. Dr. Larry Lynch, chair of business administration and economics, runs a class entitled the Student Managed Fund, where students receive real-world experience by literally investing a portion of the College's endowment. "This group of students, each term, is given the responsibility of managing over a half a million dollars. This money is on deposit at Merrill Lynch and is being controlled by students," explains Lynch. His contribution is to ask rhetorical questions, lecture when necessary to explain concepts and oversee the process. And when the decision is made - by the students - to buy or sell, he calls right from the classroom to place the order. "When stocks go up, they are elated, and when they go down, they feel the pain and it shows in their discussion," says Lynch.

Ultsch, who first took this class during the spring of his junior year, became manager of the entire fund during his last semester. Today he works with New England Financial, an affiliate of Met Life, in both its investment and insurance sections. He says his experience with the Student Managed Fund helps him every day with his job and helped him land it as well. "It set me apart from the other applicants," he says. "The person interviewing me wanted to talk about it and told me there were not too many 22-year-olds out there who said they could manage a fund."

Waterstraut's experience with a clinical team leader for the operating room at Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital was just as valuable. The senior pre-med student says the weeks she spent in the O.R. gave her insight into the interior workings of a hospital. "I loved it," she says. "I know now I don't want to be a surgeon - there's not enough patient interaction for me - but the experience reinforced the idea of being a doctor." The internship also gave her supplemental learning she can't get in a classroom. Such hands-on experience helps students differentiate between the television version of working in a hospital and reality. But more than that, it gives students the upper hand with anatomy, physiology, the principles of microbiology and techniques used in the prevention of disease.

Meanwhile, two URAP students are working side by side with their professors conducting multi-method analysis of gun control policies. Dr. Brown says URAP is a rarity, getting students involved in research at the start of their freshman year. "They are gaining access to and participation with a faculty research project, which typically doesn't happen until a student is a senior, if at all," he says. "This is the way graduate research is done across the country." The result is that the professors get valuable assistance while students become comfortable working with scholars and doing research. Brown, for example, even had a paper accepted at a conference last May with data that was collected by Huemer. Such early access to faculty research increases the students' likelihood of their own undergraduate presentations and publications.

And these types of hands-on experience are available to every Roanoke student. Harrison experienced it as a freelancer during her Washington Semester, Ultsch as he researched funds and the URAP students who mentored with Brown and Wilson. Herr worked for three years with Jorgensen in the biology lab, and Waterstraut was exposed to operating room techniques. From the strong personal connections to the focus on firsthand learning … this is the classic Roanoke College education - and it's why Roanoke College is truly "Classic for Tomorrow." RC

Related Stories