When Rhodes College moved from Clarksville, Tennessee, to Memphis in 1925 under the leadership of President Charles E. Diehl, it was, Diehl said at the time, “the chance of a lifetime” to recreate an institution of excellence in a central location that provides easy access to students from all over, along with greater opportunities for them to learn both inside and outside the classroom.
Ninety years later, President Diehl’s vision is being fully realized, as Rhodes students – who currently represent 47 states and 32 countries – are contributing to the Memphis community in immeasurable ways by fully engaging with the city’s culture, people, and causes.
An economics and art history double major, Mary Phan combines her academic and personal passions to strengthen the local arts community. As a Clarence Day Scholar at Rhodes, she serves as an outreach liaison between students and institutions such as Opera Memphis, the Dixon Gallery and Gardens, and the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art.
Mary has used her economics knowledge to assist local arts organizations with fundraising and sustainability initiatives. She has also performed violin and served as orchestra manager for the Memphis Sinfonietta. Her efforts on and off campus were rewarded this spring when she received an Americans for the Arts NABE Scholarship, which encourages the integration of arts and economics.
Launched in 2013, An Evening at Elvis’ is a live music web-series filmed in the living room of Elvis Presley’s first home on Audubon Drive. The house is owned by the Mike Curb Institute at Rhodes, and the series, which has featured artists such as Rosanne Cash, Charles Lloyd, Bill Frisell, and Bobby Rush, to name a few, is filmed, edited, promoted, and produced by Rhodes students.
Ashley Dill, an urban studies major from Austin, Texas, who has a fellowship with the Mike Curb Institute, is the associate event manager for the series, which means she books the bands, budgets and markets the shows, manages the student teams, and interviews the artists.
“The mission of the project is to use this historic space to have discussions about the importance of Memphis on the development of music and culture,” Ashley explains. “With each concert, we are exploring the breadth of Memphis music and sharing it with the world through digital media.”
In just two years at Rhodes, Thomas Mitchell, from Knoxville, has made a big impact on campus and throughout the Memphis community. The political science and educational studies dual major is a Bonner Scholar, student government senator, and the hunger and homelessness coordinator for the Kinney Program, Rhodes' campus-wide effort to engage all students in service.
Off campus, Thomas has interned at the Hospitality Hub, a social services center that provides resources for the homeless, and with the Memphis Teacher Residency, where he was a reading teacher for students in grades K-3. He also tutors Shelby County Jail inmates who are studying for a high school equivalency diploma.
"From an early age, I was taught that everyone is important and has a story worth telling," he explains. "I try to look beyond the surface to discover the best in people, regardless of their circumstances."
Because Rhodes is one of only a handful of national liberal arts colleges located in a major metropolitan area, our students have the opportunity to participate in the kind of Ph.D.-level research projects that typically are found at the country’s top graduate programs.
Tyler Harvey, an urban studies major from South Carolina, has spent 15 months participating in a Rhodes fellowship at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, where he has researched anticancer drugs used to treat pediatric acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
“My research at St. Jude has deepened what I’ve learned inside the classroom at Rhodes. I know now that I want to pursue a career in medicine and public health, and working at St. Jude has provided me with a clear vision of how to achieve my goals.”
Each year, 75 percent of Rhodes students complete internships and fellowships throughout Memphis, and the college considers the city a laboratory for learning.
Allysa Tews, a biology major from Colorado, was drawn to Rhodes due in part to its strong partnership with the Memphis Zoo. While at Rhodes, she has participated in an elephant behavior project, as well as a fellowship in the biodiversity research lab studying how polar bears deal with heat stress.
“My research on and off campus has been an integral part of my college experience. Rhodes and the zoo have allowed me to find my niche and be proud of who I am and what I’ve become.”
Brooks Lamb began interning with the Overton Park Conservancy in the fall of his sophomore year at Rhodes. His responsibilities included leading volunteer events, doing clean up and tree planting, and connecting Rhodes students with service opportunities in the park.
Through his internship, Brooks developed a deep passion for Overton Park and set out to build an even deeper relationship between the city and its most famous green space. This past summer, he began writing a forthcoming book, Our Park, which features personal histories of individuals who have had a unique relationship with Overton Park.
“Our Park explores the history of the park through the people who have experienced it first-hand. It highlights times of peace and conflict, and the ways in which citizens responded to adversity to defend the park they loved. I have been able to speak with such amazing people, from an African American woman who helped desegregate the Levitt Shell through a sit-in, to the attorney who stopped Interstate 40 from destroying the park.”
This past summer, Thomas Threlkeld, a senior computer science major and Clarence Day Scholar at Rhodes, created Camp Codette, a computer coding camp for local middle school girls. Funded by the Clarence Day Foundation and a grant from Google’s Ignite CS program, Camp Codette attracted more than 70 participants from throughout the city.
“Initially, I thought about creating a financial literacy course for local high school students,” Threlkeld explains. “But then I learned how the computer science industry has been plagued for decades by an ever-growing gender gap; while at the same time, job opportunities within the field are growing exponentially. So, I shifted my focus and designed Camp Codette to inspire middle school girls to find their passion for computer science and problem solving. We taught them about app development, 3D printing, and robotics.”
Planning is underway for next summer’s camp, which will expand to include instruction on virtual reality. And while Thomas will graduate in May, a new team of Rhodes students, inspired by his vision, will oversee Camp Codette.