Despite fluctuating participation rates, members’ enthusiasm for the Carroll Fellows Initiative is strong.
The program was created in 1997 after a survey from the early ’90s showed that Georgetown students identified themselves as partying harder and studying less than students at comparable universities. Administrators rushed to find a solution, prompting professor John Glavin (COL ’64) and ElaineRomanelli, a senior associate dean in the McDonough School of Business, to establish a program to foster an intellectual community for self-motivated students. The result was the John Carroll Scholars Program, now called the Carroll Fellows Initiative.
Now in its 15th year, the CFI is a co-curricular research program that allows students to explore academic interests both individually and in groups. In 2003, the “Carroll Clusters” — groups of about 10 students who share a common research interest — were added to the program to facilitate the development and sharing of ideas.
Carroll Fellow Jose Madrid (COL ’14) said the program has added considerably to his Georgetown experience.
“Georgetown is academically challenging in and of itself, but I felt the program would help me turn my education into a meaningful contribution to society,” he said. “I wanted to not only challenge myself academically, [but] I also wanted to find a way to channel my academic abilities into a way to solve difficult questions for myself and others.”
Since its inception, the program has acquired a considerable degree of prestige.
Participation levels fluctuate in each class of Carroll Fellows. Five years ago, 72 members of the class of 2008 graduated from the program, compared with the 32 members of the class of 2013 who are now fellows. The classes of 2014 and 2015 are also smaller than in previous years, with 30 and 41 fellows, respectively.
VP Dao (SFS ’15), said the fluctuation is a result of students’ changing priorities and commitments throughout their four years at Georgetown and in the Carroll Fellows program.
“It is an extra class that’s not a requirement and doesn’t count toward a major. … Some people can’t devote as much time as they’d like to the program.”
Admission to the program is highly selective. Students can only apply to the CFI at the end of the first semester of their freshman year or as sophomore transfer students during the summer before matriculating.
Madrid characterized his application experience as intimidating.
“All present and past scholars have always been very passionate and driven individuals who are extremely involved around campus,” he said. “I knew applying was going to be a challenge because the process basically asks that you prove to be a driven and academically successful student after completing only two-thirds of your freshman year.”
The initiative requires students to participate in a two-semester forum spanning second semester freshman year and first semester sophomore year worth two credits total.
According to Madrid, all participants must also conduct research, write a thesis and serve as mentors to incoming members.
All new members of the initiative must conduct a First Year Independent Research Project, which requires extensive research on a topic of choice. According to Dao, who is researching the Battle of the Paracel Islands, the project is unique because fellows must do more than just find sources to support their point.
“[Professor Glavin] wants us to form a hypothesis and then try to prove ourselves wrong, so it’s not just finding evidence to support ourselves,” he said. “[The project] is teaching me how to do better research.”
Dao’s class meets every Friday afternoon for two hours and is largely discussion based. During his first semester, the class focused largely on how to prioritize activities and commitments.
But the program is not purely about academics. In the past few years, fellows have gone on scavenger hunts around D.C. and staged a reading of the Harry Potter books in front of Marvelous Market on Wisconsin Avenue.
According to members, one of the biggest draws of the program is the ability to meet other highly motivated students.
“I wanted to get experience applying my education outside of the traditional setting,” Zachary Singer (SFS ’15) said of his reasons for joining the program. “Now, in doing so, I’ve gotten to interact with a group of 50 interesting people I probably otherwise wouldn’t have met.”
Sonia Vora (SFS ’15), another Carroll Fellow, also commented on the program’s community aspect.
“It has definitely helped me make a group of friends whom I have a lot in common with, and it has made me a better writer and a more effective student,” she said.