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Thursday, May 08, 2008

One student’s story: Indirect route can lead to success

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There is a lesson for students in J. Robert Shrode’s story: The path to success may wind a bit on its way.

A 1998 graduate of North High School, Shrode, 28, is the son of John and Virginia Shrode of Evansville. Like many college freshmen, he wasn’t sure about what he wanted to do with his life when he entered USI for the first time in fall 2000. He considered and rejected several majors before deciding to put college on hold.

He worked in the food service industry for a few years, considered culinary school or starting his own catering business, but decided against those as well. At the suggestion of his parents, he took a career test. “The test told me I should get out of food service completely,” he said.

He returned to USI in the fall of 2005 with an undeclared major, thinking that a bachelor’s degree would offer him more opportunities economically and in general. One of his courses that semester was an introductory political science class with the instructor listed as “TBA.”

“The TBA instructor turned out to be our provost,” he said. The class was taught by Dr. Linda Bennett. “She was a compelling lecturer, and she could tell I worked hard. She talked to me about opportunities in political science.

“She introduced the idea of graduate school to me and told me I needed to take Dr. Stephen Bennett’s class in polling and survey research. That class was closest to what I want to do in graduate school, so it was serendipitous for me.”

He declared a political science major that year and took four political science courses his second semester. In time, he worked on independent studies and research projects with Dr. M.T. Hallock Morris, associate professor of political science. Morris is on the executive board of the Indiana Political Science Association (IPSA), has served as its president, and edits its journal.

Shrode was offered the opportunity to present papers at the IPSA’s annual meeting in 2007 and 2008. This year, he co-presented a paper with Morris, “Environmental Knowledge, Party Identification and Political Ideology: A Preliminary Investigation into Attitude Ambivalence.” In 2007 the IPSA met at USI and he presented “An Age Independent Analysis of Youth Voting.”

He maintained a 4.0 GPA in his major and a 3.6 GPA overall. He got hands-on experience as a student worker in the USI Political Science Statistics Laboratory; as an interviewer canvassing neighborhoods and talking to residents of Habitat for Humanity homes; and as an editorial assistant for the Indiana Journal of Political Science.

He was a member of the Dean of the College of Liberal Arts Student Advisory Council; served as a volunteer tutor for students in Introduction to American Politics; and was a student liaison for two committees charged with hiring political science faculty.

“Rob is one of those rare students who has a great deal of intellectual curiosity,” Morris said. “When he’s interested in a topic, he runs with it - he doesn’t settle for the broad explanations that come from a class lecture. Instead, he stops by during office hours, he asks questions, and he does his own extra research. For example, Rob is what I would call a ‘methods guy.’ He took our stats class and decided that wasn’t enough – he actually wanted to know more about the underlying mathematical theories! So, in the last semester of his senior year, Rob signed up to take Calc II. Now, that’s impressive.”

Now a senior, Shrode applied to several graduate schools and decided to accept an offer from the University of California, Los Angeles. The graduate program in the UCLA Department of Political Science offered him a five-year fellowship package reserved for the best students. He will receive a $19,000 stipend plus fees and non-resident tuition during his first year, 2008-09. For the next four years, he is guaranteed a teaching assistantship in the department, including salary, registration fees and tuition, health insurance, and subsidized housing.

He plans to specialize in American Politics and Research Methods in graduate school. After completing the Ph.D., he hopes to obtain a tenure track position at a research university.

“Rob always goes above and beyond what’s asked of him,” Morris said. “For example, I went down to the lab one day and I found him running a mini-lecture about statistics for some of the students in the class. That’s really when I knew that Rob was going to make a great professor.”

Not bad for a student who returned to college with nothing more than a bachelor’s degree in mind.

Bennett said, “Rob was a joy to work with as a student. I’ve been teaching for 25 years and he’s one of the brightest students I’ve have had in a class. His acceptance in the political science graduate program at UCLA is a true accomplishment and I know he will do well.”

Shrode will graduate with honors at Commencement on Sunday, May 11. Commencement begins at 3 p.m. at Roberts Stadium, and Sherrianne Standley, vice president emeritus of Advancement, is the keynote speaker.

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