A Mountaintop Experience
The Foundations Curriculum adopted by the Rhodes faculty in 2005 is structured around the belief that students should be deliberate agents of their own education. Jill Carr ’09 could be its avatar.
Carr had an experience while studying at Fudan University in Shanghai between her sophomore and junior years that had a profound effect on her approach to learning.
“I was taking a Chinese language course and a survey of Chinese economic development,” she recalls. “Fudan is one of the top universities in China, so my academic experience was more intense than I had expected. The language class was particularly difficult—we had about 30 vocabulary words a day, and a daily dictation quiz. I studied diligently for about a week, and then I realized that I could have studied like that in the U.S., and I was really wasting a great experience in China.
“After an e-mail consultation with Economics professor Teresa Beckham Gramm, my academic adviser, I resolved to take advantage of every chance I had to explore Shanghai, regardless of how it might affect my grades. It was the best choice I ever made, and it turned out to be an important lesson that I have continued to reflect on since returning to the U.S. As a senior, I’m really glad that I’ve integrated this lesson into my ‘Rhodes life.’ It’s trite, but I saw that being preoccupied with certain things can really take away from my ability to fully experience and appreciate my surroundings and the people in my life.”
At that point she plunged into life in Shanghai, taking advantage of every opportunity it offered.
“My fondest memory of that time occurred during my class trip to Gansu Province,” she says. “We were in a mostly Tibetan area (the province is home to a large number of minority groups), and one day we traveled to a Buddhist monastery in the mountains. The roads were so tiny that we all had to ride in the back of a flatbed truck to get there (we even had a monk hop on with us). The monks spoke only Tibetan, so people translated from Tibetan to Chinese and from Chinese to English. After they taught us about their monastery, their lives there and their religious practices, we all ate lunch together on top of the mountain. It was the single most memorable experience of my life.”
Back at Rhodes, Carr dove back into her study of economics, including professor Nick McKinney’s econometrics course. On that basis, Jay Eckles ’00, director of Institutional Research, offered her a Student Associate position in his office. Her first project tackled a question of institutional importance—whether students who have taken one or more Advanced Placement course in high school will perform better at Rhodes than their peers who have not taken AP courses. Her work was so impressive she was invited to present it at the annual Undergraduate Research and Creative Activity Symposium at Rhodes and at the Missouri Valley Economics Association conference in St. Louis. Carr lists as important mentors Gramm, Eckles, McKinney and professor Art Carden, who was instrumental in securing the conference invitation.
She is also grateful to her Chinese economics professor, who led a class of only three students.
“He has been suggesting data sources for my honors project. I’m working on a highly empirical project, so finding reliable data has been really challenging. He has been a great help.”
Carr returned to China last summer—this time to Beijing for an internship with UBS Securities.
“I worked with the mergers and acquisitions division, which was an incredibly exciting place to be,” she says. “It was my first experience to really live on my own in a foreign country, and it was both challenging and rewarding.”
Again, she says, she could not have been successful without help from her Rhodes professors.
“The economics faculty were really instrumental in helping me set up the internship,” she says.
The internship, as exciting as it was, also allowed Carr to contemplate what she wants to do next.
“My research in the Rhodes Institutional Research Department confirmed my desire to go to graduate school to study economics,” she says. “I’m really looking forward to the opportunity to continue this type of research, and I’m very grateful for the opportunities my research has already given me. Most beginning Ph.D. students haven’t had the extensive econometric experience that I gained from the Student Associate Program, so I feel especially prepared for graduate school.”
And, she points out, she would have missed that powerful growth experience if she had not had her epiphany in China.
“When Jay approached me about working in his office I thought, ‘Do I really have time to do that?’ Then I remembered I almost missed out on my mountaintop experience in China and I said, ‘Yes.’”