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Presbyterian Scholars have opportunity to be ‘plugged in’ to campus

Barry McNamara
10/11/2018
Monmouth's newest Presbyterian Scholars are, from left, Kolby Carnes, Terri Woelfel and Courtney Fisher.
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MONMOUTH, Ill. – Monmouth College Presbyterian Scholars get a lot of special opportunities to be “plugged in” to campus life.

“We have a ‘Presby Points’ system, and Presbyterian Scholars are required to earn a minimum of at least 10 points per semester,” said Monmouth’s chaplain, the Rev. Dr. Teri Ott, who oversees the program. “The goal is 40 points per academic year.”

Scholars earn “Presby Points” for attending such activities as weekly chapel, which is held at 12:10 p.m. every Monday; a weekly dinner and devotion meeting held at 4 p.m. every Sunday at the Presbyterian House; and select campus lectures and events.

“The more involved they are, the more opportunities they get,” said Ott. “They’re more plugged in.”

Students who reach 40 points get a Presbyterian Scholars blazer, which Elizabeth Riedesel ’21 earned last year. But students earn more than points and a blazer. As members of one of the College’s more prestigious scholarship programs, they also receive numerous opportunities to broaden their intellectual, spiritual and cultural horizons.

With the addition of three first-year students this fall, the Presbyterian Scholars program now has 10 members. The new scholars are Kolby Carnes of Bethalto, Ill., Courtney Fisher of Monmouth and Terri Woelfel of Greenfield, Ill.

To become a Presbyterian Scholar, prospective Monmouth students submit a scholarship application and are recommended by their Presbyterian pastor. Students also attend an on-campus interview with Ott and current Presbyterian Scholars.

The scholars receive a financial award, but they also appreciate the less-tangible benefits.

“My faith has been a big part of my life, especially because my mom worked at our church when I was younger,” said Fisher, who is studying biochemistry. “I really love that I can connect with people of other religions, and I hope that I can help other people have these discussions and experiences who maybe haven’t before.”

“I am proud to be a Presbyterian Scholar because it keeps me stuck to my roots, as I attend a Presbyterian church back home,” said Woelfel, a psychology major. “I am looking forward to meeting new people that may or may not have the same beliefs as I do, but still becoming friends with them.”

Carnes, who is a religious studies major who plans to go on into seminary, first visited Monmouth as a high school participant in the College’s two-week Lux Summer Theological Institute for Youth.

The three new scholars gathered recently for dinner at the Presbyterian House, and running the grill was Bob Slocum, father of former Presbyterian Scholar Sophie Slocum ’18. He said his daughter had a very positive experience in the College’s religious and spiritual life program.

“The Presbyterian Scholars program gave Sophie the opportunity not just to practice and express her faith, but to take active leadership roles in worship, community involvement, and social and political engagement,” he said. “My wife and I have appreciated Rev. Ott’s commitment to walking the walk when it comes to spreading the word through good and meaningful works. ... The trust and initiative she invests in making the Presbyterian Scholars responsible for the success of the program is a huge part of their growth and maturing during their Monmouth experience.”

Off campus opportunities
Among the opportunities for Presbyterian Scholars is off-campus travel. At the start of each fall semester, the scholars participate in a get-away to the Stronghold Camp and Retreat Center in Oregon, Ill.

There are also special travel opportunities, such as a recent spring break trip to Washington, D.C., to study mass incarceration and criminal justice reform.

“That was one of the best trips I’ve been on,” said Ott. “Many of our students come from smaller, rural churches, and that trip to a big city really had an impact.”

The students saw how mass incarceration and criminal justice reform were addressed in bills before Congress, and “they got a sense of how to influence change on such a scale,” said Ott. “We were right up there on the Hill, and it blew their minds wide open. They learned that, collectively, we can have great influence on the world. It was very profound and motivating for a lot of our students. ... Our scholars are becoming more familiar with theology and social justice, and I’m super proud of that.”

Presbyterian Scholars can also plug in to a volunteer program offered by the Presbyterian Church (USA). Katie Jenkins ’18 is participating in the church’s Young Adult Volunteers program, serving a year in Asheville, N.C., with a non-profit ministry.

Ties to Faith United

The current group of Presbyterian Scholars is volunteering closer to home through programs at Faith United Presbyterian Church, which is a block south of the College’s Broadway border.

“We’re strengthening our partnership with Faith Church,” said Ott. “They have a ‘Wednesday Night Live’ program for youth, and the Presbyterian Scholars have been volunteering with that.”

Ott said the scholars will also run Faith’s “Christmas Fair Trade” gift exchange program, with “all proceeds going to local artisans all around the world.”

“We’re certainly seeing the effects of this program in terms of the scholars emerging as leaders in their church careers,” she added.