Interviewer: Milan Shah
Interviewee: Dr. Tom Phillips, Director of The Wake Forest Scholars Program
1. What was it that made you want to study English and was there something that ticked you
to say yes I love it or…?
Well, that’s a great question. When I was growing up, I had two pretty good skills: I was really a
very good musician (clarinet) and I had a knack for taking things apart even though I could never
put them back together again. So I would take apart lawn mowers and not get them to run again.
I made a lot of models and my family was convinced that I was going to be either an engineer or
an architect. I liked to sketch, I liked to design, I liked to build things. I had no idea what I
wanted to study when I came to Wake Forest. I started reading for the first time and this is when
something clicked. I couldn’t have predicted that I was going to be an English major, until I was
exposed to the Wake Forest English Department. Of course that also had to do with the quality of
your mentors, teachers. There were a lot of young guns in the department that were really
dynamic and really great teachers. So as much as anything, I think I am probably a product of
what a liberal arts college does, and that’s to open you to things you’ve not thought about at all. I
chose not to go to an engineering school, even though I had scholarships at conservatories.
Unfortunately, some people say if you major in English because you can’t find anything better to
major in. You know, if you default to English, they have to take you in. But I walked in English
affirmatively, I was really excited about it. I also went to graduate school because I found that I
had neither read enough nor well enough. So my choice of graduate school was not so much
driven by career but my need to further understand literature.
2. So what is it exactly that you do to prepare the students for the scholarships? Do you
actively seek out students to apply for the scholarships; if you do this do you just look at
their resumes or do they come to you?
All of that, which may point out to the ad hoc nature of it. This is not always great, but we do get
lists of GPA in descending grade point averages from the registrar, which helps us to target
certain students. If you have a 3.9 and you are really good in politics, I want to see what your
resume is like. Maybe you could be a Rhodes Scholar or something like that, maybe you could
apply to be in Washington to work with the Carnegie Endowment. Or even maybe if you have a
high GPA and you are really good at languages maybe you are a good Fulbright candidate, that
kind of thing. Part of it is initially identifying and then writing the students encouraging them to
think about these things. We also have workshops every semester; there are actually three that
are coming up in April successively. We have already had one for science. We’ve had one for
public policy areas of study, one for international areas of study, and one for the British
scholarship programs in particular. So I invite students who have some grade qualifications, then
I solicit resumes and from there, it becomes more personal. I will talk to as many people as I can
at the end of the junior year; however I also talk to plenty of people before then. Some of the
scholarships you have to apply for in your senior. There are also scholarships like the Rhodes
and Marshall where you can be out of college a year or two and still apply for it. There are some
like the Fulbirght program where you can be in your late twenties and still apply. Even so, some
of what this office does is work with alumni who have been out even three or four, five years.