When I was a little girl, I could barely see over the kitchen table, let alone reach my plate unless it was at the very edge. I would sit up in my chair, reach far into the table, pile food onto my fork, then promptly spill all of it onto the table as I tried to get it to my mouth. Without fail, my parents would admonish me: “Bailey, pull your plate closer.” After doing so, of course, dinner frequently ended up in my stomach, instead of my lap, which was a definite improvement.
I didn’t know it then, but I realize now that “pull your plate closer” moments as a child were metaphors for how to help myself as an adult. My parents taught me from a young age that I should utilize all the resources available to me to find answers and opportunities before giving up and asking for help. Their advice is especially helpful at William and Mary, where infinite (but sometimes hidden) resources abound. Too often, students here miss opportunities for grants, international study, and more because they fail to “pull their plates closer” and investigate all the programs and departments here to assist them.
An absolutely indispensable part of my College experience has been working with the Roy R. Charles Center, which facilitates interdisciplinary majors, senior Honors projects, and scholarship application processes. They host scholarship workshops for underclassmen to prepare them to apply for large national and international grants: Boren, Fulbright, Marshall, Mitchell, Rhodes, Goldwater, and more. They sponsor guest lectures and lunchtime discussions. They annually give thousands of dollars in research grants for semester-long and summer projects and host an undergraduate research week to showcase students’ work.
As a freshman, I benefited from the Charles Center when I applied for and received a National Security Education Boren scholarship for eight weeks of fully-funded Arabic study in Morocco. Without the help of Associate Director Lisa Grimes and the peer scholarship advisors, I would not have been able to study abroad. I am currently undergoing the Fulbright application process and feel absolutely indebted to Lisa and the advisors for the time they have devoted to assisting me. This year, 43 students from William and Mary applied for Fulbright grants- I am hopeful that I will find myself teaching English in Turkey on a Fulbright this time next year!
Monroe Scholars and Presidential Scholars receive research grants from the Charles Center at least once as undergraduates. By virtue of my Monroe scholarship, I was given $1000 after my freshman year to research Moorish architecture and language in Morocco and $3000 after my junior year to conduct an inquiry into the function of religious non-profit organizations in secular democratic society.
As a senior, I am continuing my close ties to the Charles Center by writing an Honors thesis in Government on the role of religion in the public sphere, combining political philosophy, constitutional law, and a case study of the Wren Chapel. My advisor, Joel Schwartz, is the Director of the Charles Center, and the Charles Center oversees all the two-semester Honors projects, which are undertaken by about 10% of each class.
I truly believe that William and Mary, as a public university, best embodies the idea that funding should not be an obstacle to students’ intellectual curiosity and research. The Charles Center has provided incredible opportunities to me, and I hope that all students (particularly freshmen and sophomores) will explore the ways it can also serve them.