Most Tuesday afternoons, Rhodes College junior Lucy Kay Sumrall finishes class and rides the few miles from the campus's wooded Memphis enclave to St. John's United Methodist Church to help serve meals to some 100 homeless and low-income city residents. Sumrall runs Rhodes's community soup kitchen with local volunteers, including at least a dozen of the college's 1,850 students.
"I always panic that no one's going to show up, but everyone shows up," says Sumrall, of Madison, Miss. That spirit of giving back resonates at Rhodes, where more than 80 percent of students participate in some form of community service.
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Indeed, the private liberal arts college embraces many of the educational and extracurricular offerings of Memphis. Students work at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, FedEx, and the Memphis Zoo (just across the street from campus); learn about the area's rich cultural history at the National Civil Rights Museum and the college's Mike Curb Institute for Music, or sample the blues and soul that blare from the city's ever-bustling Beale Street.
"The community at Rhodes really feeds off the community in Memphis," says Andy McGeoch, class of 2012, originally from Columbus, Ohio.
Many Rhodes students see community engagement and service "not just as an extracurricular that is fun to do, but as something that they can then incorporate into their chosen field," says 2012 graduate Salar Rafieetary, a Memphis native. Rafieetary, a neuroscience major who is considering medical school, volunteered at the locally based Regional Medical Center.
While the college is well connected to its urban surroundings, Rhodes students find that the school's 100-acre campus, with its open lawns and elegant Gothic architecture, gives the place a cozy, residential feel that is complemented by a few modern features, like an outdoor pool near the Bryan Campus Life Center, the Lynx Lair campus sports pub, and a 24-hour café and coffee shop in the library building.
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Another tradition that Rhodes shares with its rival Sewanee—University of the South is an honor system that requires students to pledge not to lie, cheat, or steal. Backpacks and other items are often left lying around, and students may occasionally even take tests at home, unsupervised.
Students say the small class sizes and 10-to-1 student-faculty ratio help maintain a strong sense of community with professors, too.
Before pursuing one or more of about 40 majors, ranging from Greek and Roman studies to theater and urban studies, all Rhodes students must enroll in one of two humanities sequences known as "The Search for Values in the Light of Western History and Religion" or "Life: Then and Now." Both of these three-course programs require study of the Bible and classical Western texts, but "Life" has more of a comparative religions emphasis. (Rhodes itself is affiliated with the Presbyterian Church.)
Biology tends to be a popular major, and Rhodes students have a high rate of admission to medical school. Tuition and fees run about $38,100, with room and board adding about $9,500.
About three quarters of undergraduates live on campus and most enjoy the intimate vibe, though some feel the college could use a bit more school spirit, particularly when it comes to attending on-campus activities or supporting the Division III Lynx sports teams. Still, students find plenty of entertainment options amid the strong Greek scene (half join fraternities or sororities), the 100 campus clubs and organizations, and the proximity of Memphis's vibrant downtown.
Junior Maggie Cupit of Brookhaven, Miss., observes that by attending a small school near a big city, "you get the best of both worlds."
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