campus encounters

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Montana State University

MONTANA STATE UNIVERSITY, Bozeman (visited 7/25-26/12)

MSU mascot

Bobcat (mascot) statue

I would expect that the CIA would recruit at campuses in DC or at some of the big name schools; MSU was NOT one I expected to be on the CIA’s radar – but it is. Because of the strong Arabic program and the study abroad program in Morocco, the CIA, the Department of State, and other similar agencies regularly recruit MSU students. As part of their commitment to helping students find jobs, MSU host two career fairs a year (including the largest west of the Mississippi). More importantly, they’re invested in providing the students with a good education with a lot of support added to the end game of who they are getting connected with.

MSU area

The university and surrounding area

MSU has started a major initiative to increase retention through community building initiatives and support systems. In the last two years, they’ve raised retention to 74.2% with a goal of 82% by 2014. However, four-year graduation rates still tend to be on the low side (a little over 50%) but they’re working on increasing this, as well. They’re looking at how students make the transition to college and develop ways to cope with all the newness of being a university student, how to be a citizen of the MSU academic community, and how to be an engaged Bobcat. They have implemented a First Year Initiative (a first year challenge which includes photo scavenger hunts and earning points that they can use around campus for food or at the bookstore). They are starting a Second Year Initiative, since the first two years are when students are most likely to leave. One of the best things they’ve started is a new policy stating that anyone who left MSU and did not attend another institution is invited to come back.

MSU dorm room

Typical freshman dorm room

All freshmen live on campus, as do many of the upperclassmen. During the Montana tour, we spent 3 nights in a 3-floor traditional-style (bathrooms down the hall) freshman dorm that. The rooms were relatively spacious with comfortable beds and lots of storage space. The cool thing is that students can paint the rooms any color they want; mine was a cheery yellow and green combination. The bathrooms were large and had enough showers to handle the group. Although there were over 50 rooms to a floor, the building didn’t feel that large because it was set up in a square with a courtyard in the middle. Each floor had a large tv lounge, and the first floor had more lounges, a 24-hour reception desk, and a dining hall. There are several options for students after the freshman year such as suites for upperclassmen, 21-and-over halls, and Greek Houses. The Greek system is very small (only 4% of the student population) with four sororities and seven frats. The houses are involved on campus and dedicated to tradition. They get involved in homecoming and giving back to campus and community – every house raises money for a particular charity.

MSU science cntr

Science Center

Another way they have built community is through the required University Seminar in which students participate in small group discussions about the common books they all read. Since all students read the books, it gives them all a common ground for discussion out of the classroom as well. Upperclass


The physics professor getting a cinder block broken on his chest with a bed of nails underneath him. Why? To illustrate force and different laws of physics.

student leaders get credits for leading the classes. However, this is not to the detriment of face-time with faculty. One of the tour guides told us that the “faculty really believe and invest in us.” We got treated to a 30 minute “Sample Physics Class” which was the most entertaining and informative things I’ve seen in a long time! The professor was funny and explained things so well. I wish I could have taken a full class with him!

MSU duck pond

Duck pond in the middle of campus

The student activities board and by the student life department host lots of on-campus activities, including speakers and performers, and students take the initiative on many of these, including throwing PowWows to celebrate the heritage of the Native American students on campus. School spirit is huge, and the Cat-Grizz (MSU-UM) game is as big here as it is on the UM campus. Football (in which they’ve been Big Sky Conference champs on multiple occasions) is only one of fifteen DI sports. Off campus, there are three easily accessible world-class ski areas within an hour (Bridger Bowl is 20 minutes away); kayaking, hiking, and other outdoor activities are also popular. This is much more of a skiing community than Missoula because Bozeman tends to get more snow. Bozeman is also a smaller city than Missoula so it is a little more compact and community-oriented. Town-gown relations are good. One student talked about how local businesses paint their windows blue and gold during homecoming.

MSU acad bldg 1Campus is very attractive with lots of brick and open space. There is a nice mix of older (but well maintained) buildings and new construction. The students and admissions people only cited a couple problems with the university; parking, as usual, seems to be an issue, but again, this is relative. It’s nowhere near the problem I’ve seen on a lot of campuses. The second issue brought up was that of the growing student population. Enrollment has increased, including lots of out of state students which is an “interesting challenge for infrastructure, access to classes, space, etc.” There are some creative solutions like changing around T/TH class times to fit in another class at the end of the day to make sure that students are getting into classes they need, again indicating that the administration is listening and responding to issues.

MSU acad bldg 2MSU has several programs of note:

  • The Plant Growth Building which houses 18 greenhouses; they can recreate any climate from Alaska to Hawaii and grow plants from that ecosystem.
  • Their Sustainable Food and Bioenergy Systems program is world-class: Cornell called them to ask about getting some help setting up their programs. The program intentionally stays wide and interdisciplinary and offers four options for the students to focus on: sustainable foods, sustainable crop production, livestock, or agriculture ecology. They have a four-acre organic farm where students work. Students are into problem solving, seeing the big picture, and getting outside. – search for “Bozeman Eats”
  • Students majoring in Engineering are required to take the national Fundamentals of Engineering Exam and have historically exceeded national average, usually scoring between an 88-92% on the exam. Mechanical Engo is the largest major.
  • Their five-year MArch program is a 4+1 program. The Dean of the program says that this is a good fit for students who like solving problems, are good with their hands, like math and drawing, and are comfortable coming up with many different answers. The program stresses hand-drawing as well as digital art, and students start in a design studio the first day. They do have a second year “Gate” in which students apply to continue in the program after their first year. They have 91 spots available. Although about 180 students start as freshmen in the program, many self-select out during the first year, another reason to get them in the design classes right away. Of those who apply to continue during their second year, 70-80% will be able to continue. Their 4-year grad rate with a BA is high (in the 90s), and 80% of the graduates will continue on for the extra year to get their MArch from MSU. MSU provides several Study Abroad options in places like Rome, Nepal, and South American which many MArch students usually can’t do because of the intensity of the program.
  • One of the reps described the climate in this way: “Students are active, faculty is accessible, and the facilities promote creativity and innovation.” This seems to be backed up by the fact that the university has been listed nationally in the Top 20 for recognized research. Students in any discipline can apply for grants of $1500/year + $300 for materials and supplies; because of this, they’ve seen a 150% increase in number of research projects going on around campus.
  • The Museum of the Rockies is also right next to campus. It houses the world’s largest collection of dinosaur bones and is a good resource for students in other areas as well.

(c) 2012


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