campus encounters

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Saint Mary’s College

SAINT MARY’S COLLEGE, Moraga, CA (visited 7/16/12)

St Mary's towerWhat a great school! This is a LaSallian (Catholic) college, and one of the things that the Director of Admissions talked about was the difference between the different types of Catholic schools (very helpful – I had no idea). LaSalle schools are run by the Christian Brothers, and there are no priests. They view themselves as “brothers to each other and big brothers to the students.” They came out of France in 1684 and are very intentional about education. They’re more collaborative and democratic, hence the seminar style classes that make up the Core curriculum at St. Mary’s. There are only five Christian Brother/LaSallian institutions in the US (vs 28 Jesuit). There is a definite community feel here; there are just under 3,000 students, most of whom live on campus.

St Mary's courtyardI appreciated that we got to participate in a mock Seminar Class as part of our tour. This is a Great Books College but not in the St. John’s sort of way. Students take four seminars in the Great Books (reading books by/about Dante, Freud, Wolfe, Marx, Shakespeare, etc). There are no lectures or tests; instead, participation and papers make up the grades. The idea is to pull in a lot of perspectives and look at things through different lenses. I asked one of the professors at the pre-dinner reception about how grades and feedback is done – how do they keep track of participation, etc? He talked about an extensive process meant to give direct, relevant feedback to the students, including a discussion with/among several of the professors/discussion leaders in front of the student. Although it’s time intensive, he said it was well worth it since it gave the students so much to work with; they’ve seen real improvement with the level of engagement and growth among the students.

St Mary's 1Approximately 1/5 of the students are in the business program. Pre-med is very strong, with 80-100% acceptance rate to med schools in any given year. Their dance, theater, and music is of conservatory quality but they do not offer a BFA, going back to their interest in education and the “whole person.” They want students to have a broad base to their education, hence the liberal arts focus. Creative Writing is also popular, and students can continue to an MFA. Study Abroad is a big deal here; travel-learning classes are particularly popular during this time. Approximately 90% of students will do some sort of international study during their four years.

St Mary's muralAlthough this is a very Eastern-feeling Liberal Arts college in many ways, it has its own style with Spanish architecture and “wild turkeys that patrol campus. They’re unimpressed with us.” They are an athletic powerhouse, best in the West Coast Conference. Sixty percent of students participate in some sort of athletics, and is one of the biggest employers of students on campus. School spirit is huge (Go Gaels!). Fordham and Notre Dame used to be their big rivals; now it’s Santa Clara University to the south of them. On the hillside overlooking the campus, there is a big SMC. Students from Santa Clara used to hike up and throw the rocks forming the ‘M’ down the hill (to turn it into SC instead of SMC). The letters are now concrete, and the freshmen will be sent up with red paint during orientation to give it a facelift.

As is typical of some of the smaller schools, they completely wined and dined us: hors d’oeuvres and wine in the atrium, and dinner in the faculty dining room (complete with California moscato with the crème brulee). They gave us copies of a novel by one of the professors who is also an alum. She joined us for dinner and was amazing to speak to. She also read a short excerpt from her book after dinner which gave a great flavor for the characters and how she pictures things in her head, and she signed copies for anyone who wanted it.

(c) 2012

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