Letter to the Editor
Thanks to The Tartan for its attention to the Odyssey program in both a feature article, “Students make way up to the Summit” and an editorial, “Odyssey should look past QPAs” on Jan. 21.
However, both the article and editorial contain significant errors — most likely because the Tartan reporters did not solicit information before writing the article from either Indira Nair, vice provost for education, or Stephanie Wallach, director of Undergraduate Research and Fellowship Resources. (Dr. Wallach was first contacted by e-mail on Friday evening, telling her that an article would appear in Monday’s Tartan; Dr. Wallach asked to speak with the reporter, which she did, but she was not provided an opportunity to substitute accurate for erroneous information.)
Here are the key inaccuracies.
Odyssey is not a “leadership” program (as described in the front page article) but, first and foremost, an academic program with defined academic tasks and goals. That is why it is organized under the vice provost for education’s office. The term “leadership” intentionally was not mentioned in any descriptive communications regarding the nature of the program.
The request for student nominations was widely circulated to various campus representatives, including department academic advisors, individual faculty members, deans, Student Affairs staff, and the athletic department. Seeking a wide range of input into the selection process is a key goal of the program.
A central aim of Odyssey is to enhance students’ writing and research skills in order to help them become stronger candidates for nationally competitive scholarships and fellowships, such as Rhodes, Marshall, Truman, and many others. A minimum QPA is a requirement to compete for most of these opportunities; a QPA of 3.4, as Odyssey requires, is actually on the low end for these nationally competitive scholarships and fellowships.
That said, the Odyssey nomination letter specifically states that QPA should not be the sole criterion to nominate Odyssey candidates. We want to identify academically stellar candidates who are also well rounded and display a broad range of talents and metacurricular interests.
Student Affairs already runs several excellent leadership programs on campus, such as Emerging Leaders, Syzygy, and Greek Emerging Leaders, in addition to CA and RA training. The athletic department also coordinates a leadership series for its athletes. These programs are dependent on the recommendations of, among others, housefellows, club presidents, coaches, and activity advisers, as well as faculty. The leadership programs on campus provide exceptional opportunities for students, but they have a different mission from Odyssey, which is first and foremost an academically oriented program to help develop specific writing and research skills.
The Tartan editorial raises important issues about the uses and abuses of QPA as a gatekeeper. Both Dr. Indira Nair and Dr. Wallach welcome further discussion with Tartan reporters and editorial writers about the design, implementation, and future of the Odyssey program.
Director, Undergraduate Research and Fellowship Resources
Vice Provost for Education