Who is William Rhode? Meet MSU's first Political Science PhD recipient

May 30, 2022

Dr. William E. Rhode is the first person to earn a doctorate in Political Science at Michigan State University. He went on to work in the Peace Corps and the National Institute of Health. The following history was published in 2013 following an interview between Dr. Rhode and former PLS Chair Richard Hula.

"William (Bill) Rhode grew up in Spinks Corner, Michigan. After high school, he attended junior college in Benton Harbor where he developed an interest in American history. His history professor encouraged him to pursue higher education and pushed him to enter a competition - a test on current events - hosted by Michigan State University that awarded half of the cost to attend MSU.

Bill entered MSU with a major in Criminal Justice. Just before graduation, while doing his fieldwork, he realized that the criminal justice field wasn't a good fit for him. After receiving his bachelor's in Criminal Justice, he decided to pursue a master's degree in an area he thought he was better suited to - public administration."

His public administration classes took place in the same building as political science classes and those professor soon notices his work. At the time, MSU was trying to make political science a department of its won, separate from the history department. By the time Bill received his master's, it was.

In an effort to increase its student body, the political science department distributed money that it had earned from the national Political Science Center to PhD candidates - one of whom was Bill. In 1958, he was awarded his PhD in Political Science, the first degree of its kind ever issued by MSU.

Bill developed excitement for learning during his time at MSU. This passion gave him a sense of focus and purpose in his life. He also learned the value of taking pride in what you do. He often told his family that you don't work hard for fame and fortune; instead you work hard with kindness because it's the right thing to do. While at MSU, Bill met his soon-to-be wife, Pat, playing billiards in the Student Union.

After a few years in the field, one of his MSU political science professors reached out to see if Bill would be available to create the political science department at Oakland University, a state extended college that had just been funded by the founder of the Chevrolet car plant. Bill played a pivotal role not only in planning and creating the political science department but also in consultations about the construction of the buildings. As the department grew, Bill taught entry-level classes each day until he expanded the faculty. Bill's role evolved through the years to include being the chancellor's right hand in developing a program built on community outreach and tailored teachings.

Due to the success of this new type of outreach, Bill wrote a short account titled "Liberal Education Around the Country." It caught the eye of the adult education group in Syracuse University in New York. This group was instituting their first Peace Corps training program and needed someone to lead their East African nurse training program.

Bill's achievements lead him to be hired by Sergeant Shriver, the director of Peace Corps appointed by President Kennedy to join the Peace Corps staff in Washington, D.C. He traveled throughout the U.S. to set up training programs and met with African officials to determine their needs. Of most significance was Bill's contribution to the decrease in the dropout rate of Peace Corps inductees. He developed a ground-breaking volunteer training program in the U.S. Virgin Islands, wherein returning volunteers trained incoming volunteers in an environment similar to that of Eastern Africa. By reducing the number of dropouts, Bill's strategy saved the U.S. government an overwhelming amount of money.

Bill and Pat eventually moved to Nigeria to assist with economic improvement efforts and to foster the relationship between Nigeria and the U.S. Department of State. Upon returning stateside, Bill took a job with Westinghouse Learning where he helped develop and conduct an evaluation of the Head Start Program. Over the next few years, Bill held a variety of different jobs, eventually landing a position assisting the agency for international development in finding an effective solution for the overseas distribution of U.S. funding. This job took him on many adventures around the world.

He later worked for the Department of Education as a senior member of the Office of Planning, Budgeting and Evaluation in the Development Programs Division. He ended his career with the National Institutes of Health as an acting Director of the Division of Resources Analysis.

Bill retired in 1994 after a whirlwind career. He took up woodworking, became an instrument-rated pilot, and joined a senior softball league. He and Pat enjoyed 59 years of Spartan football and basketball games until Pat passed away in 2012."