Undergrad maximizes his education

Christopher Carson browses the stacks at the Otto G. Richter Library. Photo: Mike Montero/University of Miami
By Janette Neuwahl Tannen

Christopher Carson browses the stacks at the Otto G. Richter Library. Photo: Mike Montero/University of Miami

Undergrad maximizes his education

By Janette Neuwahl Tannen
Junior Christopher Carson is constantly learning, through books and experiences, and hopes to use his broad knowledge base to help improve the world.

Christopher Carson cannot and will not be labeled.

“Growing up, I’ve always been interested in a range of things that don’t make sense when you put them together,” said the University of Miami junior from Philadelphia. “And so, I always felt like I had a deep understanding of a bunch of different areas, so I was anxious going into college where they make you pick a major. I thought, why would I want to put myself in a box like that?”

Carson decided to attend the University of Miami because of its academic flexibility. On a visit to Coral Gables during his senior year of high school, Carson was invited to be a Foote Fellow, an honor that allows students with a history of academic success to take a broader range of classes and follow their interests. Many Foote fellows double major or sometimes even triple major.

“I try to take one class a semester that I don’t know anything about because any time I am learning something new, I’m interested immediately,” said Carson, who was recently also named a Stamps Scholar—receiving a merit-based full scholarship awarded only to students with an exceptional academic record and leadership qualities.

The history and philosophy major has interests so diverse that almost anyone who knows him is often struck by Carson’s versatility. He loves astronomy and regularly takes the opportunity to spend the late evening and early morning hours stargazing. He has done it in places like Miami Beach, the Florida Everglades, or a friend’s family home in rural Leland, Michigan.

“Whenever I get bored, I research what is happening in the sky,” he said.

He also likes to bake; however, his rigorous course load and jobs don’t allow for too much downtime. Therefore, this past semester, he often rose around 5 a.m. to head to Madruga Bakery, a local business where he works and hopes to learn tips of the trade. Then, after classes and studying, Carson spent many nights manning the front desk as a Resident Assistant (RA) at Hecht Residential College. In January, he is taking a break from being an RA and moving into an apartment, where he looks forward to cooking and baking more, as well as perfecting one of his favorite recipes—bagels.

“Once you understand the fundamentals of a recipe, then you can start messing with it,” he said. “Baking is my way of being creative, but it also satisfies my need for things to be regimented. I find it appealing because it’s a science.”

Carson is an avid reader; and according to a friend, he is almost always reading, highlighting something, or taking notes on his laptop.. His majors of history and philosophy—along with minors in business law and Spanish—are driven by his fascination with arguments and negotiation, which he discovered as a freshman international business major in a class called Business Law, and later in a philosophy class. Carson learned to deconstruct an argument in a class he took freshman year called “Books that Matter,” taught by classics professor John Paul Russo and religion professor William S. Green, who is now a mentor to Carson. He still enjoys unraveling arguments in his history, philosophy, law, and religion classes, and those skills also have  been helpful to Carson as a member of the University’s Model United Nations team.

“Chris is one of those students who likes to get at the underlying reasons for things, and then wants to question, ‘is that the way it should be?’ ” said Mark Shapiro, an associate professor of practice in Business Law, and another of Carson’s mentors. “What makes Chris a little different is his willingness to be at both the detail level and the strategic big picture level, and you don’t often see that combination in students.”

Meanwhile, Carson is a self-proclaimed “history dork,” who examined the Third Servile War for an in-depth high school assignment. Today, he also loves to delve into the intricacies of America’s legal past, while he is also still captivated by the medieval period in Europe. Then there’s religion, another passion of Carson’s because he is fascinated by the reasons behind people’s faith. He is spending this academic year learning biblical Hebrew in an independent study with Green, so that he can read the Bible and interpret it himself.

“I’m agnostic and was raised Christian, but I don’t like people telling me what to believe,” he said, adding that sometimes passages are translated and interpreted today to oppose things like homosexuality, whereas they were actually written to condemn acts such as pedophilia, rape, and prostitution. “I want to study Biblical Hebrew and the Bible in order to develop my own deep understanding of the text, and filter out all of the noise.”

Carson is also intrigued by the patterns of prejudice and injustice against marginalized groups, such as lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people, and minorities. If he ends up going to law school—which is a possibility—Carson said he would work to oppose arguments that support discrimination in any form.

“Being a person of color, who is discriminated against both passively and blatantly in everyday life, it bothers me when people are logically inconsistent,” Carson said.

After college, he is considering opening a bakery in a low-income neighborhood, to give residents access to fresh, locally sourced ingredients. And Carson also may apply for a U.S. Fulbright Scholarship so that he can teach English to students in a place like Spain, Israel, Egypt, or Ecuador, since he loves to travel.

Besides his intellectual curiosity, Carson also has a kind, easygoing personality that makes people want to be around him. When junior Juliette Van Heerden first met him, they talked for three hours, she said. And when he was quarantined recently after being in contact with a student who had COVID-19, his residents left notes on his door saying they missed him. When he finished off the semester at Hecht, his residents left him a Christmas present.

“I don’t know anyone who dislikes Chris. He gives everyone an opportunity to be friends with him,” said Van Heerden, who is also a resident assistant in Hecht Residential College. She noted that Carson is known throughout the building for his caring nature, his stylish taste in clothing, and his affinity for skateboarding. “He has a very calming presence. He can talk to anyone.”

Van Heerden, a microbiology and immunology major, said she enjoys talking with Carson because she appreciates his global viewpoints. It is also why she suggested he join the Model United Nations team.

“While I was an RA with him, I could already understand that Chris was a leader in his own right and that he is very aware of the world around him,” she said. “I also saw that he could maintain his argument in a very composed way, while also listening to other people, which are all skills to do well in Model UN. And it has proven well so far.”