“To those whom much has been given, much will be expected.”

by Peter McKelvey ‘86

I taught my first Winter Study course in January, 2020 fulfilling a life-long wish to teach at Williams.  It had been 34 years since I attended my last Williams class and so much had changed: new buildings, new academic disciplines, more diverse faces, etc.  All of the businesses on Spring Street were new to me save for Papa Charlies and the barber shop.   The economics department faculty, with whom I had spent much of my senior year, had almost completely turned over.  

It was with a tinge of nervous excitement that I met my students and conducted the first class session.  What would current students be like?  Would they take a pass/fail class seriously?  Would the skills that I honed from my business career transfer to the classroom?

Like many Winter Study courses, mine was developed to tear students out of the liberal arts curriculum for four weeks.   In order to cram in as much learning as possible, I set high standards: two to three hours of homework per night; fast-paced class discussions with frequent cold calling; a large final project; etc.  The subject matter for the course, An Introduction to Management Consulting, was brand new to almost all of them.

Having been part of the Williams community for almost four decades, I had very high expectations for the students.  Like any group of 20 Ephs, the students’ backgrounds were very diverse: athletes, dancers, computer programmers, a variety of majors including art history, economics, and chemistry.   They hailed from four different continents and at least one was a first generation college student.  

The students exceeded all of my high expectations.  They were curious, enthusiastic, and extremely bright.  Their questions for me represented an in-depth understanding of the material and a true desire to learn; their answers to my questions, although not always right the first time, were well thought through and defended.

The most gratifying moments for me were watching the students present the final group projects.  Each “consulting” team was assigned a business problem and tasked with developing and presenting  recommendations for the “management” team composed of their class peers.   For each presentation, I asked the class to listen intently and ask challenging questions as if they were the client.  What ensued were active discussions with peer challenging peer to strive toward the truth.   The only thing that I had to do was sit and watch them.  Yes, many things were new at Williams since I graduated in 1986, but in reality, so little had changed.

Toward the end of Winter Study, one of the students asked me why I chose to teach at Williams.   I recalled the words of President Francis Oakley’s inauguration speech which he delivered in the autumn of my senior year: “To those whom much has been given, much will be expected.”   Teaching a Winter Study course was my chance to pay part of that expectation forward as so many in earlier generations had done for me.  It was the chance of a lifetime.

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