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My W&L: Marc Wonders ’15

“Washington and Lee has been the happy intersection of the qualities I desired in a large and small school.”

Coming into college, I had very little idea of what I actually wanted my experience to be. My initial desire was to go to a large, well-known school. Then I developed a disposition towards smaller, liberal arts schools. Simply seeing new possibilities of what my college life could be like continually changed where I wanted to go. Luckily, in many ways, Washington and Lee has been the happy intersection of the qualities I desired in a large and small school.

Among my many uncertainties about what I wanted to do in college, there was one certainty — I wanted to be a science major. However, I didn’t know which science I wanted to major in. Originally, I planned to become a chemistry major, but after sacrificing chemistry in my first semester to ensure that I could take physics, this plan changed too, and I became a physics major.

As you can guess by the start of this essay, I have loved being a physics major here at W&L. I’ve been asked before, “don’t you wish you had chosen a bigger, more sciency school?” No, I don’t. The small size of the physics department has helped me in ways that the bigger departments of other schools couldn’t. Most obviously, the relationships I’ve built with the physics faculty have proven to be an invaluable piece of my physics education. In bigger physics departments I may have struggled to get my questions answered, but our physics faculty answers all my questions. To be honest, I don’t even know the office hours of my physics professors. If I have a question I simply walk to their offices, and as long as they are there, they are happy to talk about anything, including the graduate school decision that I postponed as much as I possibly could. (Sorry Professors Sukow, Irina and Dan Mazilu, and Erickson — maybe I should have paid more attention to what office hours actually were!)

Inside the classroom, these relationships have fused with the small class sizes to create a learning environment that I love. Any time I am confused about a topic, I can immediately interject and gain an understanding before moving on. It is hard to articulate just how helpful it is to continually understand what we learn (as much as possible for physics, at least) instead of letting one confusion lead to another.

Again demonstrating the serendipitous nature of my college experience, I chose to double major in business administration. Since I wanted to attend a liberal arts college, business clearly had a low priority on my checklist of college desires. But here again, coming to Washington and Lee has allowed me to combine the benefits of a liberal arts education with aspects of larger schools. Because the business program here at W&L has been discussed much more in other places, I won’t go into detail about the class sizes being smaller than many other business schools, the discussion-based courses characteristic of liberal arts schools but infrequently found in business schools, the great professors that have helped me, or the incredibly strong alumni network almost unheard of among schools our size.

I’ll instead finish by discussing how Washington and Lee has allowed me to add a third facet to my educational experience, quite unlike physics or business: foreign languages. I began working for Tucker Multimedia Center (the TMC) my sophomore year. For those unfamiliar with the TMC, it is the technology lab for the foreign languages (though it is also used by other departments) and is directed by Professor Kuettner. Through my work at the TMC I have enjoyed a variety of tasks helping to integrate technology into the foreign language curriculum. I have gotten to work with many different foreign language professors, and through my daily interactions with Professor Kuettner, I am able to have at least a little fun speaking in different languages.

Talking about physics, business and languages may seem like random and unrelated topics, but that is the point I am trying to make. Together they show one of my favorite things about my time at W&L. While I was looking at colleges, none of these subjects played much of a role in my future plans. But through a fortunate series of chance events, they all became a part of my time at W&L — something I’m not sure that I could have accomplished at many other places. Looking back on all that I have been able to combine into my W&L experience, I think I can safely say that I took full advantage of the unique opportunities W&L offers.

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Hometown: Akron, OH

Majors: Physics & Business Administration

Extracurricular Involvement:

  • Phi Eta Sigma
  • Phi Beta Kappa
  • Sigma Pi Sigma
  • Beta Gamma Sigma
  • Pi Kappa Alpha (Rush Chair and External Vice President)
  • Tucker Multimedia Center (Technology and Learning Specialist)

Off-Campus Experiences:

  • Physics REU (Research Experience for Undergraduates) at Rutgers University – Summer 2013
  • Study Abroad at John Cabot University in Rome, Italy – Fall 2013
  • Physics REU at University of South Carolina – Summer 2014

Post-Graduation Plans: Pursuing a PhD in Nuclear Engineering at Penn State University where I will be doing research in radiation detection.

Favorite Class: Quantum Mechanics – Professor Sukow

Favorite W&L Event: Orientation Week. It was awesome as a freshman and is still great as an upperclassmen. Everyone is in a good mood to be back and seeing friends they haven’t seen for a while and the freshman are all excited to start their college career.

Favorite Campus Landmark: It’s hard to choose but I’ll settle on Lee Chapel and the Colonnade. Both are beautiful to look at and represent much of what makes our school so special.

Why did you choose your major? I chose Business Administration because I thought it would be a useful major that I could get a job with. I chose Physics because I thought I was good at it, enjoyed it, and enjoyed the challenges that it presented.

Advice for prospective or first-year students? Meet as many people as you can as soon as you get to campus. There’s no easier time to meet people than as soon as you arrive and its great to get to know as many people in the W&L community as possible. Also try to study abroad. It’s a great experience.