Charleston is an old city. The streets are paved with a mixture of asphalt and brick. The sidewalks are marked with crooked lines and a variety of gray shades. Chuck has seen a lot: the colonization of America, the Civil War and the Modern Age. The history of Charleston and the College’s own history are shared. We can see the history of this school through the eyes of present and past generations.
During Accepted Students Weekend, the Alumni Association held an event in Towell Library in the Cistern. Several alumni spoke with prospective students. The room was filled with life and laughter as generations of alumni mingled with current Cougars.
The journey began with meeting Karen Burroughs Jones, the director of Alumni Communications. Her energy was through the roof as she introduced the alumni. They expressed their experiences on campus as students with great passion. The topics ranged from changes in location of dining halls to the growth of diversity on campus. Many of these students expressed their appreciation and devotion to the College because of the skills they gained while students. Their experiences flashed before the audience like a movie as they spoke.
The first alumna was Sally Davis Schneider, who graduated in 1987 with a bachelor’s degree in political science and in 1992 with a masters in public administration. One of the most interesting differences she noticed was the change in population at the College. During her time as a student, the College was in the midst of a large expansion period that saw student population grow from mere hundreds to thousands. With the growth Schneider noted, more ways to be involved surfaced. Resources allowed students to take advantage of more opportunities. One thing she made clear that hasn’t changed is the environment of the campus – “warm and welcoming,” said Schneider.
Johnnie W. Baxley III, class of 1992, shared some of Schneider’s same experiences. As a political science major, he expressed that the campus has become significantly larger and much nicer than it used to be. He explained with a grin that the current students seem to be “higher achievers than before.” This comment made the room chuckle. When he began describing similarities, one struck as particularly beneficial: “The classes are still small,” said Baxley. This characteristic has remained at the top of the priority list of the College of Charleston over the years.
John Douglass, a graduate of the class of 1999 with a business administration degree spoke about some larger observations. Douglass described the students in the 90’s as “not as in touch” as students are now. He explained that there is now an environment that has much more excitement because of heightened student involvement and a more diverse campus.
Chris Bailey, a 2012 graduate, said that many students today want diversity and push for it. This was relatable to students due to current efforts to make the campus more inclusive of students from different backgrounds. Bailey expressed that the College gave him the opportunity to see the world where he gained even more valuable experiences as a student. He went on to earn his Master’s degree.
Mitzi Daniels, a 1994 graduate with a degree in psychology, highlighted Charleston’s strengths. “There is action all of the time on campus,” she added, “Charleston is a place of history galore, multicultural and diverse. There is no limit to the possibilities!”
Ann Looper Pryor, who graduated in 1983 with a degree in political science stated that the “student body is much larger,” but “the history remains here.” She explained that the class sizes are the same and the faculty is still caring and devoted to student growth. She also touched on the change in majors: “The College offers more majors than before.” Pryor continued stating, “a College of Charleston education is respected all over the country.” Pryor lived and worked in Washington, D.C. and had a very positive response to being a College of Charleston graduate from colleagues. She also felt that the College prepared her for the working world adding, “My education was super useful and I was well prepared for life after college.”
Mimi Striplin, a 2014 graduate with a degree in corporate communications and co-founder of Cannonborough Collective, a gift shop located in downtown Charleston, had a similar take on her experience. “The College is beautiful, welcoming, charming and close knit,” she smiled as she reflected on her experiences, “I was able to learn how to truly communicate, and I have made many friends through networking.” Striplin served as a Student Alumni Associate all four years during college, even serving as the president during her senior year. Striplin explained, “The liberal arts helped me react differently to many different situations, and it has been very helpful.” She also stated a few visions for the future of the College of Charleston: “I would like to see the College engaging more minority students. Also, I would like to see more involvement and focus on students of color.”
The alumni gave interesting viewpoints on the condition of the College. Each one had unique experiences in college, but more importantly, all College of Charleston alumni and students share a few experiences. The small classes, beautiful campus, historic city and desire to create an even better campus are just a few. Many alumni go on to do amazing things with their lives after college. Their success as professionals seems to have a direct connection to the skills they gained at the College of Charleston. As current students look at their experiences, time should be taken to reflect on the beautiful and inspiring past of the College. It is amazing to think about just how far the College has come and how much farther it can go with current and future students.
As this campus continues to grow, students should be aware that the past can be utilized to create a better future. The students are the main proponent driving change through clubs, organizations and groups to continue to engage diverse groups of students and future students to join in the College of Charleston’s unique and ever-changing historic campus. Present students, soon-to-be alumni, must continue to preserve the College’s character. In the words of Mitzi Daniels, “There is no limit to the possibilities!”