Ben Mathios in front of Jepson Hall

Ben Mathios, '23

April 19, 2023

During a group discussion, a visiting historian said people, especially leaders, should express their beliefs in strong terms, avoiding any trace of ambivalence. Ben Mathios, ’23, disagreed. He argued that ambivalence is a leadership virtue. People who can understand both sides of an argument make better leaders and promote greater civility in society, he said.

This kind of thought-provoking discussion with visiting scholars is exactly what excites Mathios about the Gary L. McDowell Institute Student Fellows Program. Hosted by the Jepson School of Leadership Studies, the program brings together scholars and intellectually curious students from a range of majors to participate in a reading-and-discussion-based cohort that grapples with ideologically diverse ideas on politics, civil society, and economics.

This year, Mathios is one of 19 McDowell Fellows discussing, among other things, the continued relevance of Western civilization’s Great Books. This collection of classics comprises works by Greek and Roman philosophers, historians, and playwrights, as well as Thomas Aquinas, William Shakespeare, Sigmund Freud, and more.

“The Great Books are a source of personal enlightenment,” the McDowell Fellow said. “Two millennia ago, Marcus Aurelius had the same anxieties I have today. What did he learn and what can I learn from him?”

A love of reading, deliberation, and discussion led Mathios to major in leadership studies and English, he said. “In many of my Jepson classes, we study influential philosophers’ ideas and then apply them to modern ideas, people, or problems. Now I use this as a model to ground what I’m reading in my English classes as well.

“My University of Richmond education has been holistic, not job training. I started taking classes I liked and didn’t stop. The reading and writing intensive nature of my majors helps me think better and work better with people. And as my dad says, everyone in business wants someone who can write well!”

His writing and interpersonal skills benefitted him this summer during his Jepson internship with the Hodges Partnership, a Richmond-based public relations and communications firm. He interviewed both nonprofit and corporate clients and wrote content for them.

Mathios recalled his first meeting with a client, a Kroger executive. “He shook my hand, then said, ‘You're Ben. From Upper Saddle River, N.J. University of Richmond student. English and leadership studies major. I’m going to give you some advice: Always look people up before you meet them.’”

At their next meeting, the Richmond senior came prepared with some personal insights about the Kroger executive. This client, in turn, continued to share valuable advice, and Mathios developed a strong working relationship with him. 

Now Mathios is contemplating career options that include becoming a public relations professional, a college professor, or a journalist who writes about travel or food. Whatever path he pursues, the liberal arts enthusiast said he will remain grounded in the Great Books he studied in his majors and as a McDowell Fellow.

“I’m going to use their writers’ philosophies in the way I live my life, the way I treat people, the things I value.”