Meet a Deac – Tom Phillips (’74, MA ’78)

This month, senior Brandon Turner (’12) became the 12th Wake Forest student to be named a Rhodes Scholar in the last 25 years.  Tom Phillips (’74, MA ’78), Director of the Wake Forest Scholars Program, plays an integral role on campus mentoring students like Brandon and preparing them to apply for prestigious scholarships like the Rhodes.  He’s also a wonderful teacher of English, and I hope you enjoy meeting him.


What is your official job title?
Director, Wake Forest Scholars Program; Interim Director, Program in Interdisciplinary Humanities.

How long have you worked at WFU?
Following graduation from Wake Forest in 1974, I worked as an admissions and scholarships officer for four years.  After a four year hiatus for coursework towards an advanced degree, I returned in August 1982, to work with merit-based scholarship programs.  In 2003, Wake Forest inaugurated Wake Forest Scholars, our post-graduate scholarship & fellowship education and preparations program.

In laymen’s terms, what do you do at WFU?
I identify and encourage high- and highest-achieving undergraduates and recent graduates to learn about and, if appropriate, apply for selective post graduate scholarships.  I also counsel many students about using our resources effectively to reflect, act, and reflect some more about the “why”s of disciplines, majors, overseas study programs, and post graduate plans.

What is your favorite course to teach?
I have been fortunate to teach at Casa Artom [Wake Forest’s Venice residential study abroad house] twice and Worrell House [Wake Forest’s London residential study abroad house] once.  These teaching and community opportunities were wonderful for my family and me.  I enjoy teaching Novel to Film in the Department of English.  In Spring 2013, I will be teaching a new course, Literature and Ethics, within Interdisciplinary Humanities.  But I have taught most, and truly enjoy most, a First Year Seminar on great novels and family life.

How would you characterize Wake Forest students?
Our current students are better prepared to do more, in and out of class.  This includes the challenge of academic rigor which holds, more or less, as it did here two generations ago.  They are not always prepared to think and reflect.  We have to encourage this swift moving, “do” generation to value the method of deep, measured inquiry into the life of the mind, for that goal, if achieved, brings the richest lifetime rewards (separate from how one earns his or her living).

What advice would you give to students?
Be adventurous in the curriculum, including the Interdisciplinary Humanities program.  On the whole, do fewer things to greater depth, academically and otherwise.  Incorporate weekly time for reflection, whether with a good newspaper or a good novel not assigned.

What do you like best about working at Wake Forest?
Sincere students, intelligent and purposeful.  Colleagues who want to serve students by challenging them.

In what year did you graduate and what was your major?
1974 – English; and in 1978 an MA in English.

What are some of your favorite memories as a student?
Many of my memories center on two activities, music and writing.  For the most part I have kept up with the former, often playing (clarinet) professionally in Winston-Salem.  I’m looking forward eagerly to being part of the great celebration of Wake Forest writers past, present, and future at WORDS AWAKE!, A Celebration of Wake Forest Writers and Writing, March 23-25, 2012, on the Reynolda campus.

And now for my favorite questions:

What is your chief campus-based activity other than your work? My spouse (Janine Tillett ’76 – both her parents were faculty members here) and I enjoy WF men’s and women’s soccer and make most home games.  Our children, now grown, played various levels of local and regional soccer.  We like the game and we like the WF teams very much.

Book you’re reading now: Reviewing material for a forthcoming First Year Seminar, including The Brothers Karamazov. My spouse has me reading the Jackson Brodie novels by Kate Atkinson.  Our book club of 30+ years standing just reread The Bone People, by New Zealander Keri Hulme, a dark and wonderful novel.

What music are you listening to these days: I’m listening to the hundreds of classical vinyl recordings  my late father in law, Lowell R Tillett, acquired and enjoyed.  (A larger, earlier portion of his record collection helped to found WFDD [Wake Forest’s National Public Radio station].)

Favorite movies: Beauty and the Beast (Cocteau), Children of Paradise (Carne),  The Leopard (Visconti), Nashville (Altman)

Guilty pleasure: My wife and I have enjoyed very much two recent BBC series:  Doc Martin and MI-5.

Favorite place to be on campus: My office, which is also intentionally a museum of my own life and career as a Deacon.

What most people don’t know about you: I sing and whistle well.  I am more a couch potato than I would like to admit.