In a 1999 Eckerd Vision feature article about his life, founding academic dean John M. Bevan recalls some of the founding principles that guided the creation of the College's first academic curriculum. The concept of dialogue comes up repeatedly in his reflections in the article. That is, the notion that collegiate academics should be a two-way street, one where the curriculum and course of study is defined as a result of constant and dynamic interaction between professors and students. "If you have a curious student who wants to find something out," Bevan noted at the time, "you give him the tools."
Giving students the tools to personalize their own education—to "find things out" for themselves— has been a key feature of an Eckerd education since the very beginning, and one can trace this personal touch throughout the College's history.
For many Eckerd students, this personal value was encapsulated in Winter Term—a time set aside since 1961 for students to pursue something of particular interest to them on their own, with guidance from faculty mentors across disciplines. Winter Term continues to be a salient part of Eckerd academics, enhanced by a renowned International Education Program, it not only allows students to carve out an area of study that interests them, but also allows them to do this in international settings such as Africa, China, Japan, London, and even Antarctica.
The Personal at Eckerd has meant more than just students being able to shape the course of their own education. It has also spoken to a strong mentoring ethic on campus, with professors taking a direct and active role in shaping a student's course of study from Autumn Term onward. While the student-professor mentor relationship is crucial, the recognition that a student's education is something that they will ultimately carry into the real world led to the development of programs involving mentors with years of practical experience. One such program, the ASPEC Discussant Colleague Program, which was featured in the campus newspaper in 1985, continues to this day and utilizes the experience, academic and practical wisdom of members of the Academy for Senior Professionals at Eckerd College as an additional mentoring resource for students.
Allowing students access to various types of academic and practical experience has shaped the way that the College deals with famous visiting scholars and lecturers. Visits by Former President Jimmy Carter and Nobel Prize Winner Elie Wiesel had them both in the classroom, teaching students directly.