Robert Merritt '87

Sociology and anthropology saved me from failing out of college! How, you ask? I started W&L in 1983 as a politics major on the path to law school (this is what my mother wanted) and then I later switched to a business administration and accounting major on the path to Wall Street (this is what my father wanted). Although I found aspects of both interesting, I neither saw myself as an attorney nor an investment banker. I lacked the interest and passion for these fields and was very unhappy--and I ultimately landed myself on academic probation. The Dean of Students politely informed me that I must improve my academic record immediately or risk the "...University severing its ties..." with me.

To make a long story short, I found my academic home within the walls of Newcomb Hall, majoring in sociology and anthropology. The excellent faculty coupled with a challenging curriculum of theory, methods and practical experiences set me on fire. I found within myself the strong passion and desire for public service. I was very eager to help people and make the world a better place for everyone. I really loved the applied nature of both these fields and its relevance to social change. They provided me with both quantitative and qualitative skills that would pay dividends later.

Thankfully, with a lot of hard work and summer school, I graduated on time from W&L in 1987 and headed to Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia for graduate school. I chose Medical Sociology and Research Methods & Statistics as my areas of concentration (with a bit of medical anthropology thrown in too). After my first year of grad school, I found myself working as a summer intern at the US Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC). I was given one analytic project to work on for the entire summer and I finished it in 10 days. By the end of my internship, I must have completed a dozen projects.

I am convinced that the education and passion I found at W&L directly led to my success in graduate school and then in my professional life. CDC offered me a permanent job after that summer, and I have been there ever since (over 25 years). For the past 20 years, I have also served as adjunct faculty at a number of colleges/universities teaching sociology (undergraduate) and health policy (graduate) students. Sociology and anthropology opened the floodgates of opportunity for me--I highly recommend it!