EMBARGOED UNTIL SUNDAY ... Multiple parts
Around the same time President Ronald Reagan demanded Mr. Gorbachev to "tear down this wall," Manish Kohli was in Newton Grove, N.C., helping revive a drunk who had passed out on a health clinic floor.
Kohli, a Eureka College freshman with aspirations of someday becoming a doctor, had to help this man who was comatose from heavy drinking. It was also obvious the man needed to get to a hospital.
So Kohli and those working at the rural health clinic grabbed the seemingly lifeless body of this drunk man, hauled him into a vehicle and began driving toward the nearest hospital - 100 miles away.
"We did first aid in the back of a station wagon," recalls Dr. Kohli, now a family physician with Johns Hopkins Hospital, who said the man received the care he needed at the hospital.
Kohli's initiation into the world of medicine was made possible thanks to a scholarship named after President Reagan.
The endowed Ronald W. Reagan Leadership program, organized in 1982 in honor of Reagan and his ties to Eureka College, celebrates its 25th anniversary this year of providing 116 students since its inception with free tuition and the opportunity to travel, through a mentorship program, for real world studies.
It also provides students with a chance to learn in a similar educational setting as President Reagan did many years ago before he graduated from Eureka College in 1932.
"This is a place that has had leadership as its legacy," said BrianSajko, director of college admissions and of the Reagan Leadership.
Organized 25 years ago, the scholarship program - viewed as the most prestigious of those offered at Eureka College - provides an array of opportunities for a select few students who, as high school students, maintain good grades, are involved with school and civic activities and who make a good impression on the college's faculty, administration and the student body during a pressure-packed weekend in February that is akin to elimination night on a reality TV show.
"It's kind of like that," Sajko said.
This past February, for instance, 90 prospective college students arrived on campus to compete for a Reagan Fellowship. Only five get one.
"Part of the pressure on the student is they come across in a certain way to people," Sajko said. "If you don't try and meet people, we won't be able to evaluate you because we would not have met you."
The weekend starts on a Friday with students casually mingling with the college community. Prospective Reagan Fellows stay overnight on campus.
On Saturday, the prospects meet with college officials for a series of interviews before they leave to go home.
"People are constantly watching you all weekend," said Ellie Schneider,18, of East Peoria. She was one of the lucky few to get a Reagan Fellowship earlier this year.
Sajko said the weekend is important for the college as well. Most of the students who participate in the February weekend have the characteristics the college considers a Reagan Fellow should possess.
Even if a student doesn't get a Reagan Fellowship from his or her weekend stay in February - considering the odds, most don't - the hope is that the students will choose Eureka College for their four-year stay. Last year, 44 percent of the students who came to the campus for the February weekend decided to go to Eureka College the next fall,
After the weekend, the field of fellowship candidates is whittled to 15.
From there, college officials will make impromptu phone calls to the remaining candidates for interviews.
By late April or early May, the five Reagan Fellows are announced.
With that comes prestige of being a representative of Eureka College.
Not everyone has been able to live up to the expectations, Sajko said.
"There have been a few that didn't present themselves as Reagan Fellows and were asked to leave the program," Sajko said. "It doesn't mean they left the college, (but) there is a focus on them. We expect them to be leaders, and they represent Eureka College."
The program also offers opportunity to travel through multiple mentorships allowing students to travel abroad and to Third World countries.
Nick Easley, 22, a graduate of Belvidere High School, has visited Africa several times thanks largely to the Reagan Fellowship he got a couple of years ago. Right now, Easley is in Kenya to complete research on his senior thesis.
During a trip to northern Uganda, Easley met a man who got a $200 loan through a not-for-profit group called Kiva, which accepts loans over the Internet on behalf of assisting entrepreneurs attempting to develop business in impoverished nations.
Easley was interning with Kiva at the time and was in charge of developing the group's internship program.
"He started with a table under a tree," Easley said about the businessman who started on the $200 loan. "When we found him, he built a shop. He built a new house and a new house for his parents, had 12 cows and three bulls. He's this 'Fortune 500' man from Uganda. Here is a man who made a million percent profit of what he (was loaned). It inspired me to do what I do now."
Easley, a sociology major who graduates this spring, is one of 17 Reagan Fellows currently on campus who will or who already has participated in two mentorships - similar to a college internship - anywhere in the world. The program budgets a certain amount of money for thementorships, covering many of the Reagan Fellow's expenses during the trips.
Freshmen Schneider and Natalie Wetterauer already are talking about where they might go for a mentorship at the beginning of next summer. Wetterauer, 18, of Washington, might go to a Russian orphanage, and Schneider is looking at visiting a Spanish-speaking country where she can better learn a language she might want to someday teach.
"Every other conversation, we talk about going (oversees for the
mentorship)," Schneider said.
Being a Reagan
Wetterauer celebrated her 18th birthday last week in her dorm room with a midnight birthday party of cupcakes, balloons, streamers and noise makers. A group of upperclassmen Reagan Fellows were helping her celebrate.
"They are so inclusive," Wetterauer said. "They take us under their
Referred to on campus as "a Reagan" or collectively as "Reagans," the fellowship students try not to boast about their accomplishment considering that they achieved something many other students wanted before coming to Eureka College.
Is there any jealousy?
"I'm sure there is," Schneider said. "But we don't want to rub this into people's faces at all. We don't say we're 'Reagans.' We want people to get to know about us first."
A year of celebration. Change?
Schneider and Wetterauer might be part of a group that will go to the White House in the spring to meet with Jay Hein, a Reagan Fellow who is now director of President George W. Bush's Office of Faith Based and Community Initiatives.
The Washington, D.C., trip is part of a yearlong celebration of the program's 25th anniversary.
It kicks off this week during the "Reagan Celebration" in which a group of Eureka College representatives will tour the Reagan Ranch in Santa Barbara, the USS Ronald Reagan in San Diego and the Reagan Presidential Library and Museum in Simi Valley, Calif. On Thursday, President Reagan's eldest son, Michael Reagan, will broadcast his syndicated talk show live from the Reagan Ranch Center and will devote much of the show's content to Eureka College and the Reagan Leadership Program.
An inaugural "Reagan Day" will be held on Feb. 25, hosted by Eureka College's Ronald Reagan Museum. The college is finalizing plans with Douglas Brinkley, author of "The Reagan Diaries," for a visit on that day.
"What we are doing is bringing together the Reagan Fellows and connect them back to the college and to reach out to those who believed in President Reagan and potential donors," Sajko said.
Eureka College President J. David Arnold said this year's celebration of the Reagan Scholarship program, along with last year's 75th anniversary of Reagan's graduation, shows how the college still embraces its most recognizable alum.
"As I always like to say, President Reagan was a role model alum," Arnold said. "He served as a trustee and was faithful supporter of the college. Ronald Reagan never forgot Eureka College and Eureka College will never forget Ronald Reagan."
While much of the attention this year will be on the 25th anniversary of the scholarship's inception, there will be discussions about making changes to the program. Arnold and Sajko both said there will be consideration for expanding the number of Reagan Fellows admitted yearly into the program.
In the first two years of the fellowship, about 20 or so were awarded.
Since 1989, however, the numbers of fellowships offered each year was reduced to five.
Arnold anticipates the program adding only one additional scholar to its list next year.
"It's a major commitment to one student for four years," he said. "It's a combination of not only the funding but it's also just like anything we do at Eureka, what's the right size? This is a close group. They do activities together and we want to keep it personal just like all our programs here."
John Sharp can be reached at 686-3234 or email@example.com.