Juniata College (visited 11/20/14)
With all the small, selective liberal arts colleges around, it’s refreshing to find one that goes out of its way to illustrate what distinguishes them from other, equally nice, selective schools. At Juniata, they offer students a Program of Emphasis rather than traditional majors. Sixty-five POEs are already created which is robust for a population this size. “A designated POE walks and talks like a regular major,” said an admissions reps. However, somewhere between 25% and 33% of students will write their own by creating both long- and short-term goals. When students say that they “write their POE,” it’s a deliberate verb. They control the breadth and depth of their experience. One example is a recent graduate interested in digital production and African Studies. She got an internship in an NGO in Uganda help women with AIDS be independent and take care of their children. She is now working full time to get a business up and running and is the Digital Manager of their tv station.
There’s a strong sense of values at Juniata including Pacifism, Service, Community (both in term of people and the place), and Nonconformity. As one of 7 First Brethren Colleges left, students tend to be “conscientious non-submitters.” They choose their own path. There’s a history of service and learning and they have a Peace Chapel designed by Maya Lin (Vietnam Memorial). There’s a real sense of individualism. No orthodoxy means that there is space for students to explore. The school is intentional about meeting students where they are, supporting them, and moving them to places they didn’t even know about. “We live our mission.”
In the Provost’s welcome, she spoke about her own recent move to the college: “I got a generous. warm welcome. That matters if we want to convey Juniata to you. People make this place their career. What matters to me as a parent and professional is the personal experience.” They engage a personal education to help students develop skills and values. Someone is always reaching out to the freshmen: How’s it going? How are classes? How’s the separation from the family?
It quickly became very clear why Juniata is a CTCL school. At the panel, I asked students how it had changed their lives:
- It gave me opportunities to do things I never imagined. I’m astounded by the research here. I’m interested in theater, and I could audition even as a biology POE. I even went to Dublin for a Theater program.
- I’m a German and Chem major who wants to go to Med school. They’re willing to help me figure out where things fit as long as I’m willing to work.
- I developed my critical thinking skills, recognized my biases, and can converse in a more informed manner
- I was quiet and shy. Now my professors would tell me to shut up if they could. I’m involved in a lot on and off campus. I’m confident as a student and a person.
- It gave me my independence and set higher goals than I would have for myself. I’m looking abroad for job opportunities.
Some unique POEs include: Environmental Geology; Philosophy, Politics, and Economics; Professional Writing (Publishing or Digital Writing); and Integrated Media Arts. Last year, 7 students from IMA were hired by Penn State over Penn State Grads. Students majoring in Physics or Engineering Physics can complete a 3+2 program with Penn State, Columbia, Wash U, or Clarkson. The National Society of Physics Outstanding Student Award was given to a Juniata student 16 years in a row, and Bill Philips, Nobel Prize winner, donated the replica of his medal (given at the same time as his original award) to the college.
The Raystown Field Station, located 20 minutes away, provides environmental research opportunities for students. 18 students can live on-site in the 2 dorms. The fall semester focuses on field ecology and environment; the spring semester focuses on organismal ecology. The application includes an essay bout about their comfort level with coed living and why they want to go.
Juniata has a 4-year graduation guarantee: if they don’t graduate in 4 years because they weren’t able to complete their program, they can come back for free. They’ve had this on the books for 5 or 6 years and never had a single student need to take advantage of this. One reason is because all students have 2 advisors. Jamie White, a physics professor, said that Juniata does things that others would say is inefficient: “The Double Advising system – if you think about it, it’s really stupid! It’s twice the work that needs to happen!” However it’s just one more way Juniata can claim ‘Education with a Personal Touch.’
Research is a big buzz-word at colleges, but Juniata seems to be following through. It’s expected that faculty include students when they write grants. Natural sciences funding has been most robust, it’s not exclusively in that area. Research is credit-bearing; students aren’t just given mundane tasks. Students design their own project, answer their own questions, work directly with professors. At a conference, students presenting research on genomics were asked what year of grad school they were in.
80% of students have internships. Every intern gets coaching and can share what they did and learned. “Some of the best internships are the ones you hate. You’ve just learned a whole lot!” In the Innovations for Industry class, students team up and get assigned an outside client for a semester. One student who took the class before (they can take it up to 3 times) is assigned as Project Lead. A student is currently working on a gaming app for exercise.
Students are just as engaged outside the classroom. “If you’re bored . . . what are you missing? The biggest mistake I made freshman year was not reading announcements,” said one student. The music scene is strong despite no music POE. “Science students don’t have to give up the clarinet or can travel with the choir to Costa Rica or Budapest.” About 1/3 of students participate in a varsity sport; about half participate in some sort of athletics (club, etc). Volleyball and Football are the best attended sports, especially in games against Susquehanna, their main rival. When they need to get off campus, there’s plenty to do: art gallery, cafes, movie theater, bowling alley, kayaking, swimming.
Several well-loved traditions include:
- Mountain Day: Classes get cancelled for a day in the fall. There’s a BBQ at the lake, they play tug-of-war, play on inflatables, etc.
- Madrigal: a formal dinner in the winter. They get dressed up, get served by profs, sing. Each table gets assigned parts, and students will sleep in tents on the quad so they can be first in line to buy tickets for the tables that gets the “5 Golden Rings” part.
- Storming of the Arch: The rugby team guards the arch and freshmen try to run through. There are stories about what they get if they make it through, but no one has succeeded yet.
- LobsterFest: students get steak and lobster on the quad
- Mr. Juniata: a major fundraiser (it costs a can of food or $1 to get in) and the audience votes for the winner.
- Physics Phun Night: “We blow up things and set things on fire.”