CLARK UNIVERSITY, Worcester, MA (visited 3/23 – 3/24/14)
“Challenge Convention, Change the World” is a hallmark of who they are, not just a marketing campaign. Kids know the motto – and really live by it, but they may have different ways of defining it. “Sometimes people joke – they put mustard on the fries and say ‘I’m challenging convention!’” said one of the tour guides, “but it’s really more an outlook. People are interested in making a difference.” They recognize that problems can’t be solved in the abstract, so they connect classroom experiences with the outside world, in the community, even on the other side of the world.
One of Clark’s distinctive programs is LEEP, Liberal Education and Effective Practice. They connect the traditional Liberal Arts with the new skills that employers want. The new president took office three years ago (after being Provost for many years), he visited a lot of CEOs and other business people to ask what they were looking for in hires. They wanted people who had the skills to cut across fields – communication, writing, teamwork, creativity, flexibility, and resiliency (“Who here has never failed?” he asked).
Clark is deliberately student-centered. They want to know what students are passionate about, and then validate those and make it a driving force. When people talk about Clarkies, that’s what they’re talking about. One of our tour guides, a junior from RI, is a biology and art-history double major who plans on going to med school. Another tour guide is majoring in PoliSci and will ultimately go onto law school, but plans on staying at Clark to take advantage of the 5th year Masters Program to get his MBA before that. Clark grants students a scholarship for a free 5th year to complete a Masters degree, provided they have a 3.4 GPA from their last 3 years (they do NOT count freshman year grades!) This is a draw for high schoolers who are also looking forward towards a Masters.
With 2200 undergraduates, Clark is one of the larger CTCL schools, but “it’s the smallest research university in an urban setting in the country,” said an admissions rep. “No once comes to Clark for Worcester . . . but it grows on you. There are cultural opportunities, good ethnic restaurants.” The 13 colleges in the greater Worcester area are connected by a shuttle. One student said that there seems to be more kids coming to Clark rather than Clark kids going out.
The university has seen a 70% increase in applications in 3 years; correspondingly, the admit rate went from 70% to 52%. At the same time, they have taken great strides to increase student involvement and retention. First Year Intensive (FYI) classes have “funky, slightly offbeat topics” of interest to the professors such as “The Role of Baseball in American History,” “9/11 in Popular Culture,” or “Kitchen Chemistry.” The professor serves as advisor for the 15-17 students in the section until they declare majors. The largest classes are the Intro to Psych and Bio classes with about 100. The smallest classes our tour guides have taken have had 6 (“Temple Builders,” an art history class), and 9 (First Year Intensive on Socrates and Nietzsche).
Some of the FYI classes can fulfill the Program of Liberal Studies (PLS); this program requires that at some point, students take at least 1 class in each of 8 thematic areas designed to build competencies. No two classes can be taken in the same field.
- o Verbal expression (good communication skills – English, theater, public speaking, etc).
- o Formal Analysis (typically math, but could be stats, even philosophy focusing on logic).
- Perspectives: allows students to see things from other people’s majors.
- o Aesthetic (Art, music, theater)
- o Historical (one Envi Sci teaches an Evolution class looking at why Darwin developed his theory when he did, looking at the colliding forces of religion and other things)
- o Global (African lit, Asian studies, history, etc)
- o Values (ethics, religion, philosophy)
- o Foreign language and Culture (2 semesters if they’re starting new, 1 semester if they continue from HS
The student panelists were open and gave us a good sense of who the students were. A couple interesting questions and their answers are as follows:
1) What surprised you? What challenges did you find?
- “The gap in my education and being able to keep up in classes.”
- “Research and using multiple sources for papers.”
- “The Food. It’s not bad, it just gets boring.”
- “It’s hard to get my work done because there are so many people are around; I was used to alone time.”
2) When asked to complete this sentence: “I want to thank Clark for giving me ________,” their answers were:
- “An Ivy League education without knowing it. Geography is #1 in the country.”
- “The opportunity to grow as a student. My understanding of how to be a successful student has developed.”
- “For being open. People are accepting.”
- “The professors. They aren’t just teachers. I even play racquetball with one of mine.
3) Who won’t be successful here?
- “Students who aren’t driven. People here have passion for something.”
- “Students are grade-competitive rather than interested in actually learning.”
4) What are your favorite traditions?
- Gallo – Dance recitals to represent different cultures
- Spree – bingo in the morning, jello wrestling, mechanical bull, color war