Faces of Rhodes
Skyler Gambert ′14
Hometown: Fayetteville, AR
Extracurricular Activities: Pi Kappa Alpha, Intern at Goner Records, Rhodes Bicycle Rental and Repair Program, Institute for Regional Studies, Rhodekill Ultimate Frisbee
Skyler Gambert ’14 participated in the 2013 Rhodes Institute for Regional Studies, which is an innovative summer program that capitalizes on the liberal arts tradition of the college and its location in Memphis, a large urban center with a rich cultural history. The Rhodes Institute awards fellowships to students who present proposals for specific research projects focused on the local community—either past, present, or future. After an intensive regional studies seminar and then six weeks working on their own projects, fellows present their work to the Institute for discussion and submit a research paper.
Tell the story of how you got to Rhodes College.
When I was initially looking at colleges I really wanted to go to school on the East Coast, but as time went on a lot of those schools became less and less feasible. Of the colleges I had applied to in the South, Rhodes was one of the few located within a large city. I grew up in a relatively rural environment and was ready for a change of pace.
Richard James, a local musician, once told me, “Memphis exists like it’s on its own island.” He’s right. It’s one of the most unique areas I could ever hope to live in. I couldn’t imagine college without all the awesome food, music, and people who call this place home. The city, as well as all the opportunities and friends I have at Rhodes, make me look forward to coming back every year.
How have you changed since beginning your studies at Rhodes?
I think if my time at Rhodes has taught me anything, it’s that you have to keep your personal ambitions a priority. It can be really easy to put something off that is important to you because there is something going on that all your friends are attending. If you don’t maintain your own goals, you can wind up pretty miserable in any situation. I think professors at Rhodes do a great job of helping students find value in their own ambitions, even when those students may doubt themselves. They are really supportive and encouraging.
My job as Bike Shop manager also reminds me on a daily basis of the importance of a good work ethic. If I don’t stay on my toes things can fall apart quickly (and sometimes literally). My job and my coworkers at the Physical Plant have done a lot to teach me about professionalism and keeping a positive attitude.
Tell us about your regional studies project.
My project is a history of WLYX-FM, the old radio station at Rhodes and Southwestern. It was really important to a lot of people in the Memphis community. Many local and national musicians came through and recorded interviews or live sets there. A fractured version of Big Star played their last show in the WLYX studios before Alex Chilton went solo. Frank Zappa once delivered the news and Bill Ward, the drummer from Black Sabbath, almost broke his neck falling down the stairs that led up to the offices. The station was also a critical source for jazz, world, folk, bluegrass, and classical music, as well as news and a successful radio drama called “Faith County.” WLYX provided programming you could not hear anywhere else in the region. It was led by one paid manager along with an all-volunteer staff of students and community members. The crazy thing is that no one knows about it who wasn’t there to hear it!
A group of students that I belong to is trying to bring radio back to Rhodes this next year. It is my hope that this project will be able to generate a lot of interest in that endeavor. Rhodes used to be one of the main outlets for music in this town and we still can be. I also need to thank Dylan Ledbetter ’14 and Professor John Bass. Without them this project would not have happened.
How will this experience contribute to your academic career?
That is a really interesting question. Before this project, music and Memphis history were primarily hobbies. This fellowship has given me a chance to engage those topics at an academic level. I have really loved it. I have been lucky enough to get the chance to continue my interests in music this upcoming year with a Mike Curb Institute for Music fellowship that will allow me to work toward providing avenues for students to gain experience in radio and recording at Rhodes. That being said, I still have a passion for writing fiction and music in addition to studying social and critical theory. These curiosities have not been exhausted by the WLYX project.
Compiled by Lauren Albright ′16