Brian Burg

Robert Orrill held a Rhodes Scholarship in 1961. He majored in English at Purdue and intended to continue in the same direction at Oxford.  Yet unexpectedly, and early on, he changed to Modern History at Oxford.  Bob considers this “the result of a dawning recognition that I think of in life as an historical phenomenon – something that has become even more pronounced over time.” He is Executive Director of National Council on Education and the Disciplines (NCED), and a former Senior Advisor at The Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation (WWNFF), Princeton, New Jersey.  As Senior Advisor at WWNFF, Mr. Orrill works to advance programs in higher education, including those whose goals are to broaden career opportunities of humanities PhD’s and to inform the academic disciplines by promoting the national ideals of democracy and diversity.

Robert Orrill:

The one thing that I could say to current candidates is that the Rhodes experience will be “life-changing.” It could not be otherwise given the extensive opportunity it affords for travel, forming friendships, and study at one of the world’s truly distinctive universities. The question is how open one is to change. If one’s path through life is already clearly marked, the Rhodes is probably not something to pursue.

My life since Oxford has always has been about education in one way or another – either direct teaching or generally in educational policy. Indeed, it was in part an interest in education that drew me to Oxford in the beginning. I had heard about the Oxford “tutorial system” – the one-to-one relation with a tutor – and thought that this must be a valuable educational challenge. Face to face in this way, one could not escape into a class setting.  And the reality did not disappoint. I still count the hours I spent in exchange with my Oxford tutors as among the very best times of my life.

I continue to receive many communications from those who administer the Rhodes, and one thing I notice is more emphasis on the scholarship as a collective experience – on sharing the experience both at Oxford and in the life that follows. This was present in my day, but I think the encouragement to Rhodes Scholars to pursue connections among themselves is greater now. In 1960, this was something taken for granted as something that would naturally happen. But now, I think, there is a more active move toward joining in a common enterprise.


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