Works in Progress: Playmaker
by Jim Amidon '87
April 6, 2010
Jacob Surface grew up in the shadow of the Wabash campus, yet it wasn’t until high school that he really noticed the College.
And when he finally did, it wasn’t in the traditional sense—neo-Georgian architecture, frequent articles in local papers, or endless streams of communication from the Admissions Office.
“One day I realized that my favorite teachers and coaches in high school—Tom Lutz ’91, Jake Gilbert ’98, Charlie German ’70, and Josh Thompson ’00—were Wabash graduates,” Surface recalls. “All of them are highly motivated men with good character and high standards. At some point I got the idea that I wanted to be like them.”
Gilbert was the head football coach at North Montgomery, a position previously —and currently—held by German. It was Gilbert who mentored Surface and pointed him in the direction of Wabash. He attended the College’s Opportunities to Learn About Business Program in the summer before his senior year and immediately decided to apply to Wabash.
“I applied early decision, and Wabash was the only school I applied to,” the political science major says. “Sure, I talked to people from other schools, but deep down I knew, ‘I’m going to be a Wabash man.’ Even without my financial aid package, I had decided that I would find a way to make it work.”
And work it has.
Surface pledged Theta Delta Chi fraternity because of its small size and because he knew he could get involved in leadership right away. Once pledgeship ended, he was elected corresponding secretary, house manager, and philanthropy chair—all at once. In the latter position, he excelled. He spearheaded the fraternity’s successful all-campus blood drive, and was the College’s point person for the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life, which was hosted by Wabash and raised more than $70,000.
That summer, Surface and his fraternity brothers were honored with Theta Delta Chi’s national Philanthropy and Service Cup and the Most Improved Chapter Award. Surface received a $1,000 scholarship from the fraternity. And he had just completed his freshman year.
Surface has made the most of his opportunities at Wabash while meeting challenges with the same ferocity and intensity evidenced in his philanthropic work. He’s taken immersion learning courses with trips to the Middle East, France, and Spain in just five semesters on campus. He spent a summer interning with the Center of Inquiry in the Liberal Arts and worked with its Wabash National Study of Liberal Arts Education. He’s been a stalwart leader of a young and emerging cross-country program, even though he never runs with the lead group. He’s now president of his fraternity, and he’s been a driving force behind the W.A.R. Council (Wabash Acts Responsibly).
He also four-pointed both semesters of his sophomore year.
“I went into my sophomore year with an attitude to keep up my work ethic from my freshman year,” Surface says with pride. “I made it my goal to get a 4.0 and accomplished that both semesters. But like in cross-country, every time you set a personal record, more and more is expected of you. You push yourself to see how much higher you can go.”
Or how much higher you can take your teammates.
“A leader is someone willing to make sacrifices so the persons next to him can succeed,” Surface says.
That’s the attitude he’s taken to the cross-country team.
“I know I’ll never score a point for the varsity cross-country team—just as I never did on the North Montgomery football team,” he says. “Yet when you love the people you do it with, it becomes meaningful. I try to model my leadership after Sam Prellwitz ’10, who also runs in the back of the pack on our team. I look up to him because he made sacrifices for me to be successful in my transition to Wabash. That’s leadership, and that’s why I run.”
Surface parlayed his political science major, Spanish minor, international studies experience, and interest in business to land an internship in the New York City-based Veracity Worldwide last summer. He conducted research and pored through tomes of data on international businesses for due diligence projects.
Now preparing to spend the spring semester off campus in Chile, Surface is becoming reflective about his first five semesters on campus. He chose Chile because he wanted to get away from Western Europe, to which many students are attracted. He wanted to go somewhere out of the way and take time to consider what he wants to do with his life.
“I don’t make choices to climb ladders or build resumes,” he says. “I make choices based on self-improvement and making the most of the opportunities presented to me.”
He’s not yet established his goals for his senior year at Wabash or for life away from the College. He follows his mom’s advice—to “find happiness from within.” Part of finding happiness for Surface also means handing the baton to the next group of emerging leaders.
“I’m really interested in spending my senior year as a brother in the fraternity and watching the younger guys go in their own direction,” he says. “Lately I’ve been wondering if Wabash produces too many leaders and not enough followers. There are so many organizations and clubs on campus that you can always be president of something. But as Professor Scott Himsel says, ‘In life you have to be willing to pass the ball, too.’ So at this point, I’m anxious to step back, reflect, and see leadership qualities develop in the younger guys.”
Surface is genuinely thankful for the financial aid and scholarship package that allowed him to come to Wabash.
“Whenever I feel dejected, I try to realize that there is someone out there just like me who is not getting the opportunities that I have. I feel that I have been extremely fortunate in the opportunities and resources that have been presented to me in life, especially here at Wabash. My parents didn’t have a chance to attend college and certainly didn’t have the resources to pay full tuition for me to get a Wabash education. That is my motivation.”
And that’s not a bad resume for a kid who never even noticed his hometown college until he realized the most important teachers in his life were Wabash men.
Lower left: As a freshman, Surface was the College's point person for the Relay for Life, which raised more than $70,000.