A community of makers

Rhodos Fellows collaborate and learn at home

When it comes to academics, most University of South Carolina students tend to identify with their degree or major program. For the 280 first-year students known as the Rhodos Fellows, it isn’t quite so cut and dried.

Simon Tarr is faculty principal for Rhodos Fellows, Carolina’s newest living and learning community that launched at the beginning of the 2018-19 academic year. Named for the Greek island where the first computing device prototype was created, Rhodos is an integral part of the university’s second arena of distinction: an interdisciplinary academic program focused on information, design and computing.

According to Tarr, the academic journey of a Rhodos Fellow enhances degree study through exploration and collaboration among students who seek careers as creative designers, data scientists, communicators and engineers — and in other fields.

“The students in the program span 45 different degree programs,” says Tarr, an associate professor of media arts in the School of Visual Art and Design. “The biggest single cohort we have is business. Entrepreneurship is a very important part of taking the design of an experience, marrying that with information and then turning it into something.”

Rhodos Fellows live in South Quad and can explore concepts and theories in the residence hall’s basement, which is currently being converted into a large makerspace. The space will support aspiring students who are expected to complete a project by the end of the year in order to formally complete their fellowship. “Our fellows make something,” says Tarr. “It isn’t just a portfolio project for class or writing a paper. It’s making a new thing you put into the world.”

Whatever students are creating or building, they enjoy extended access to their faculty principal whose office is within the community. “For students, living on campus is enriching by its own right,” says Tarr. “But there’s something different about a faculty-led community. When I’m right there, the conversations are different and they’re more apt to ask questions. It de-mystifies the whole thing.”

Another strength of the living and learning community is that students are put into an immersive, experiential learning program earlier in their education. “It’s important for us as a university to help students start thinking about their paths as soon as they arrive on campus,” says Tarr.

Tarr believes the Rhodos community offers foundational impact for current and future fellows. “Practically, I hope it puts them in contact with peers, internships and companies they might not have come across until later in their college years,” says Tarr. “I would also hope that a Rhodos alumnus would understand that we are what we put into the world. A degree has no inherent value in and of itself unless it motivates you and leverages you to do something with it. My goal is for our students to have that epiphany very early on.”

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