The Character Spectrum

Since the inaugural issue, we have highlighted examples of the Four Pillars in action each year. In 2003, we wrote about Leadership and Ethics, a Naval ROTC capstone course taught by Marine Corps Col. Ralph Tice. Tice, a member of the Class of 1974, combined philosophy with case studies in moral dilemmas. Unfortunately, he passed away in 2022, but he left behind a legacy that lives on in the cadets he taught.

Character encompasses a broad spectrum, and for this issue, we decided to focus on an exciting service project that teaches cadets about the importance of the environment.

Robert Lowe, who graduated in May, chose The Citadel because he was looking for a unique college experience. “I wanted structure and to be proud of what I did, and to create a better life for my family.” A political science major with a fine arts minor, Lowe never imagined standing waist-deep in mud on a humid Wednesday afternoon in March. But the now-Army second lieutenant jumped at the chance to participate in the South Carolina Department of Natural Resource’s marsh restoration project in West Ashley. The organization received $1.5 million from the National Coastal Resilience Fund in September of 2022 to replenish the habitat in historic Maryville. Lowe, who did not know what a healthy marsh should look like, said “I’m not an environmental scientist, so I thought the dry marsh was typical of Charleston, but it was not supposed to be that way.”

According to Michael Hodges of the SCDNR, the marsh grass may have suffered from significant drought in the 2010-2012 timeframe and again from tropical storms in 2015 and 2016.

Lowe was not exactly sure what he was getting into when he volunteered—literally. “I wasn’t expecting that amount of mud,” he said. But the result of the afternoon of work was immediately noticeable. After digging channels to increase water flow and vegetation growth, the cadets watched in amazement as the clouds opened. “As it rained, all the water started down the channel we just built. It was amazing to see how big a difference we made,” said Lowe. “We were watching living science right in front of us.”

For Hodges, the project was an opportunity to teach cadets a valuable lesson about the environment. “Marshes,” he said, “are vital to the health of our estuaries and provide many ecosystem services, which are beneficial to the environment and humans alike.”

The mission of Service Learning and Community Engagement at The Citadel is to prepare educated, engaged citizens, strengthen values and civic responsibility, and contribute to the public good. The Krause Center organized more than 3,250 volunteers who contributed over 23,000 hours of community service dedicated to the environment in the 2022-2023 school year.

“Our collaboration with community partners sets The Citadel apart,” said Alaina Rink, CGC ’22, who coordinates these programs for the Krause Center. “Cadets and faculty genuinely want to serve others and are delighted to do so in engaging service projects. It’s part of the culture.”

The involvement of cadets is integral to the restoration of the West Ashley marsh, not simply for the tangible work that is done, but because such programs create community involvement and awareness of the local environment. It is not just about completing the project but instilling a lifetime of environmental consciousness and care. “We truly believe,” said Hodges, “that volunteers in our program can accomplish great things if provided with the appropriate opportunities.”

That was exactly the lesson Lowe took home from his day in the mud: an understanding of just how much humans can alter their environment, negatively or positively, without realizing it. “Whatever you do daily has an impact. I saw how much one person can affect something,” he said. “This project taught me anyone can make a difference.”

Someday, Lowe hopes to be in a position to make experiential learning a regular part of education. “I love gardening. I love plants. I love getting my hands deep into the soil.” Lowe would like to create a school where students would learn about the Earth in a hands-on way every day. “Going outside and being in the environment—this is how it is supposed to be. I want to share that feeling.”