25 Years of Cater Society
The Douglass Cater Society of Junior Fellows is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. Junior Fellows past and present talk about what makes this society “part of what sets Washington College apart.”
Kirstin Webb ’18 was a high-school student when she read a story in the Washington College magazine about the Douglass Cater Society of Junior Fellows, a program that encourages and funds students to pursue research projects that interest them anywhere in the world.
“It was one of the reasons I wanted to come to Washington College,” says Webb, an anthropology major who is the 2017-18 Cater Society president. “I think it’s part of what sets Washington College apart. Instead of just being on campus and going to classes and doing your homework and moving on to the next class, Cater really takes you to the next level, because it gets you thinking about what you want to learn for your own personal interests and what you want to be involved in, in the world as a global citizen.”
Created in 1992 by former College President Douglass Cater, the Cater Society offers high-achieving students unparalleled opportunities for domestic and international travel and cultural exploration. By developing independent research projects, and then writing grants to earn financial support for the travel and work, the students are able to pursue what they’re curious about, whether related to their major or not. Once they’ve completed their project, they return to campus and share their work and experiences with fellow students.
Over 25 years, students have traveled to every continent (including Antarctica), as well as some of the most remote places (like Easter Island) pursuing projects in every discipline. If you can imagine it, a Cater Fellow probably has done it, or will do it.
“The Cater Society draws some of Washington College’s most ambitious and creative students from every discipline, tapping into their inherent curiosity and passion for learning,” says the society’s current faculty curator, Aaron Lampman, chair and associate professor of anthropology. “By supporting their project goals, the Cater Society encourages them to take intellectual risks and expand their horizons, both literally and figuratively. The result is a community of students who support and inspire one another through their collective enthusiasm for lifelong exploration, education, and innovation.”
The requirements for acceptance are rigorous: students must have at least a 3.6 GPA, and they also must have demonstrated leadership on campus and in the community. Both requirements must be maintained to remain a fellow in good standing.
Webb has conducted three projects on Cater grants. Traveling on the Southwest Seminar, she researched how Native American cultures incorporate elements of the natural surroundings and spirituality into their jewelry making. In St. Petersburg, Russia, she attended the Enclosed Coastal Seas Conference in 2016 with Erika Koontz ’17 (also a Cater Fellow), presenting preliminary research on climate change perceptions on the Eastern Shore. And in summer 2017, a Cater grant helped her conduct ethnographic interviews with residents of flood-prone communities on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.
“It gets you thinking about these things outside of the typical college class time frame,” Webb says. “It is a lot of work to write a grant and go out and do these projects. But it’s so worth it … a lot of students will take what they’re learning in their classrooms and spark an idea and go out and do these projects in the real world and bring that back to the campus too.”
Webb says the motivation to grab the opportunities Cater offers also leads students to hone their skills as self-starters.
“Going out and doing things because you want to, not because someone is telling you to, it builds on becoming a lifelong learner,” she says. “It’s been absolutely one of the highlights of my college career.”