This Small-Town College Is "Moving Without Leaving Home"
PRESBYTERIAN COLLEGE PHOTO GALLERY (all photos courtesy Presbyterian College)
Smith Administration Building
Modern Classrooms Use a Variety of Media Tools
Dr. Suzanne Smith Instructs a Summer Course for Schoolteachers
Relaxing at Lakeside
by Grant Vosburgh
A steady rain greeted Mitchell Spearman when he first arrived on the campus of Presbyterian College in April 1998. As a junior at Saluda High School, he had been selected as a PC Junior Fellow, so his mother encouraged him to make the 45-minute drive north through the country to the town of Clinton, where PC was holding a special visitation day for those honorees. Go spend the day there; maybe youíll find that special something that youíre looking for in a college.
What the young man first found was rain, and plenty of itóone of those all-day affairs that casts the Palmetto State in a dismal grey. But he also found a welcoming warmth that no April shower could douse, and as he made his way around the 240-acre campus of towering oaks and columned Georgian architecture, the faces continued to smile and the hands continued to reach out in greeting.
The day came to a close, and this particular PC Junior Fellow walked back to his car in good spirits. "But do you want to know what really convinced me that I was going to come to school at Presbyterian College?" Spearman asks. "It was a flat tire. You see, when I got to my car to go home, one of my tires had gone flat, and I didnít know what to do."
A flat tire. Right there in the pouring rain. For a moment the teen-ager panicked. But then, as if on cue, a campus security vehicle pulled up. Out stepped Tim Painter, one of PCís public safety officers.
"For the next 20 minutes we stood in the rain, and he changed that flat tire. Right then I knew that there was something special about this college and this town," says Spearman, now in his second semester as a PC student. "After a few minutes the dean of admissions walked up in the rain and said with a smile, ĎYou see, Mitchell, we even change your tires at PC.í "
While that particular service may not be an everyday element of the admissions recruiting strategy at Presbyterian College, it does illustrate the ethos of the institution. Since its founding 120 years ago, PC has provided students from South Carolina and beyond an education that balances faith and reason. As a residential liberal arts college, PC has strived to give its students a well-rounded curriculum that teaches them how to think; as an institution of the Presbyterian Church (USA), it emphasizes values, honor, ethics and Christian service, giving students a sense of purpose that teaches them how to live.
Neighborly. Thatís the word Sheriff Andy Taylor would always use when telling Barney and Aunt Bee what makes a place so special. Other descriptions will substitute phrases such as a sense of community and a family atmosphere, but it all really describes the same thing: a place where people matter more than anything else. For Dr. John Griffith, president of Presbyterian College, the word is home. In fact, PC recently completed a 10-year strategic plan called "PC 2010: Moving Without Leaving Home."
"Home is the remarkable place we cherish," Griffith says. "It is the PC that our graduates from the 1930s to the present recognize and embrace. Of course, this is something that transcends the physical place, the current program, and future plans. Home has to do with the core values of the college that are recognized by all."
At a recent meeting of the Presbyterian College Alumni Association board of directors, graduates from 1955, 1969, 1974 and 1989 sat around a table remembering their favorite PC faculty tales: an afternoon study session at a local hamburger haven; a Sunday night dessert-tasting at a professorís home; a December gathering at the chaplainís house to help him decorate his Christmas tree. A few of the names had changed through the years, but the stories remained the same.
Presbyterian College already ranks as one of 168 schools categorized by the Carnegie Foundation as "a national liberal arts college." (South Carolina has four institutions in that premier category: PC, Erskine, Furman and Wofford.) In its strategic plan, PC proposes advancements that in the next 10 years will lift the college to even higher standards: Construct or expand facilities for academics, student activities and residential life; and institute new academic initiatives such as a restructured general education program, a new "living-learning" program that more closely ties the education inside the classroom with the education outside the classroom, a Center for the Study of World Cultures that will bring globalization and diversity right to PCís doorstep, and a Technology in Service to Society program that will seamlessly integrate 21st-Century information technology into the liberal arts curriculum.
Can all that really take place on a small college campus in South Carolina? More importantly, can such high-tech innovation co-exist at a place founded on the virtue of "high-touch" service to others?
Members of the PC community not only say it can happen; they insist that the more ambitious the advancements, especially in technology, the more important the feeling of home becomes.
"I know that fear can arise that innovative ideas may threaten the identity of a place," says Dr. Peter Hobbie, a member of PCís religion and philosophy department who was selected as PCís Professor of the Year in 1999. "But the idea of true community is built on a solid understanding of the liberal arts and the Christian faith. Our faith builds a community where we can each rely on one another, where we can each strengthen one another.
"Learning builds community, too. So when we expand our horizons, when we look in new directions, we donít weaken our community, but we strengthen it."
Construction workers on the east end of the PC campus busily put the finishing touches on a new residence hall and classroom facility, Carol International House, that will be the first step toward PCís Center for the Study of World Cultures. There, selected sophomores, juniors and seniors will experience a global perspective right in the heart of Clinton, South Carolina.
"It is an exciting new plan, unique in South Carolina, and pace setting at the national level," says Griffith. "It is designed to help further distinguish PC as a first-calibre institution."
Meanwhile, the Technology in Service to Society program has begun its development, thanks to a gift of $1.5 million from a pair of PC business executives in the telecommunications industry. Not only will information technologies be integrated into all academic majors, but PC students also will develop a critical eye as to the role technology plays in our daily living.
Heady academic stuff, to be sure. The dicey part will be to integrate this new millennium world of academe into a neighborly environment where people rush forward to change a strangerís flat tire in a pouring April rain.
For Dr. Suzanne Smith, plenty is at stake. After all, she has been part of the Clinton and Presbyterian College communities since age 8, first as the daughter of college faculty members and now as an associate professor of business administration. At the same time that she looks to the future by bringing advancing technology into her classroom, she relishes the time she can spend with students outside classósuch as when she and other faculty and staff members spend a night in the residence halls each fall.
"If I learned anything from my night with those girls in the dorm last November," she says, "itís that what we do in the classroom makes up maybe 25 percent of what this education at PC is all about."
For at least one native South Carolinian familiar with small-town life, that other 75 percent is not only important, but it happens in a setting unlike any other.
"Where else could you go to a college where the people in town who do your dry-cleaning will call you in your dorm room when your clothes are ready?" Spearman asks. "Where else could a college student go to a local restaurant and before the end of his first semester the local residents there are calling him by name? Where else could a college student go to a church for the first time and, as youíre walking out of the sanctuary, get an invitation to eat lunch at someoneís home?
"Where else can you have a place like Carol International House being constructed a couple of blocks away from Whitefordís Restaurant and a full-service gas station?"
He throws his head back, eyes closed and smile wide.
"Thatís Presbyterian College and Clinton," he concludes. "Itís a college that can be very innovative without losing its genteel nature."
Itís a college that is moving without leaving home.
Grant Vosburgh is director of public relations at Presbyterian College.
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