The Cavalier Daily
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Playing the name game

Q: How many Echols Scholars does it take to screw in a light bulb in an Echols dorm?

A: Probably only three. One to do the installation, one to hold the ladder and one to supervise, but you won't find any "scholars" actually living there.

Contrary to what common sense would indicate, Echols Scholars no longer reside in their namesake dorm. For the past three decades, "home" to these scholars has been Webb, Maupin and Watson Houses -- a change that has sometimes created confusion and raised more than a few questions for residents around Grounds.

"People always ask me if I'm an Echols Scholar because I live in Echols dorm," first-year College student Cady Snyder said. "I always have to explain to them that the program and the dorm are not the same thing."

But this hasn't always been the case. At its inception in 1960, the Echols Scholar program's name was indeed derived from Echols House, which housed the scholars for the first 10 years of the program.

Prof. William Holding Echols' legacy as a valued citizen and as a role model to his scholars lives on. Nicknamed Reddy Echols for his fiery red hair, he remains a legend at the University for his unparalleled contributions to two distinct fields in mathematics, pure and applied, and for his eccentricities. In 1895, for example, he tried to stop the infamous Rotunda fire by setting off dynamite in the building's annex.

Although this attempt proved fruitless, his dynamic energy inside and out of the classroom established his name.

"Echols represented a stronger academic facet of the University than perhaps anyone else could," former University Historian Raymond C. Bice said.

Around 1970, when Alderman Road dorms were all the rage, the University faculty decided to place its best and brightest students in the best accommodations.

"They kept the name even though the program expanded to other dorms," Echols Dean Lynn Davis said. "It is administratively sometimes confusing. Unfortunately, we really can't change the name of the Echols dorm, and we can't really change the name of the program after 30-some years, so it's something that we have to live with."

Each year, between 7 and 8 percent of the entering first-year class earns a place in the University's version of an honors program. Among the sometimes coveted, and resented, benefits bestowed upon Echols Scholars are priority class registration, exemption from area requirements, academic advisors matched by areas of interest and the ability to design an interdisciplinary major.

Yet a more touchy aspect of the program -- one that is viewed both positively and negatively -- is the fact that the scholars are grouped together in certain dormitories.

"I think it's bad in that it creates a stereotype of aloofness," said first-year College student Kelly Bristow, an Echols Scholar who lives in Webb House. However, "living together, you have the bond of being in the same program."

Although living in scholar-designated housing is not required, usually only fewer than a dozen students choose to opt out of the strongly encouraged arrangement.

"I think college should be an expanding experience where you get to meet a lot of different types of people," said first-year College student and Echols Scholar Colin Hunter, who, unlike his Echols Scholar cohorts, lives in Metcalf House. "I just wanted to meet different people, and I was concerned that living with a lot of intellectual people would not expose me to a lot of diversity."

First-year Echols Scholar Kelly Ramsey thinks her experience living in Webb House revolves around very active, involved people -- a contrast to the Echols Scholar stereotype of being "shut-ins." She has encountered such an array of "active, vibrant people" that she does not think the housing situation lacks diversity at all.

The process of choosing to live elsewhere, however, is quite lengthy and complicated.

Former Echols Scholar Association Dean Charles Vandersee emphasized that there is "a peculiar chemistry between the bright, energetic scholars. They catalyze each other and it is not always clear that it goes the other way around -- that they have the same effect on everyone else."

Students who want to live away from their fellow scholars must submit a lengthy letter to Dean Davis detailing their situation and explaining that they understand they will be partially excluded from the Echols Scholar experience.

"I wrote a letter to the Echols Dean to express my concerns, and then I visited the Housing Division in person and attached a letter saying how I believed Old Dorms would be a better fit for me," Hunter said.

While Davis emphasized that the scholars' housing assignments in Echols dorms are "optional," she also stressed that the assignment is considered part of the program.

"It's not so much students choosing to live where they're comfortable because I don't want to make the Echols Scholars comfortable," Davis said. "I want to challenge them"


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