Roanoke College (visited 11/2/16)
Put simply, Roanoke is a wonderful place for to live and learn. A junior summed it up well: “We’re blessed to be here and all they have done for us!”
Mr. Aaron Fetrow, VP of Student Affairs at Roanoke had this to say about Roanoke: “I’ve been around a lot of places with Mission Statements. They do their thing, and that’s fine. But this place is intentional. It’s collaborative. It’s real. And it’s fun. There has to be a complement to the academics outside the class. Not everything is perfect. There will probably be roommate conflicts. We’ll teach you how to deal with discomfort. It’s how you grow. We’ll teach you how to fix it; we don’t want you living in discomfort, but let’s face it – it’s life. You’ll have colleagues you disagree with and have to learn to deal with. We challenge students about diversity, conflict, whatever and then support them in the struggle to get through it.”
I appreciate that Roanoke is invested in ‘Whole Person Development’ – “It’s central to our mission statement. Most students don’t have a focused direction. We want students to be intentional with how different parts of themselves and different interests fit together.” People – students and staff – are encouraged to get involved in a variety of ways. For example, the Dean of Students is “a lawyer in a previous life. I teach when I can. I see students who are doing wonderful things, and it helps students understand that I’m not just here to bust up parties and deal with behavior.” In the coming spring, he and the Head of Security are co-teaching a Comparative Justice class in the UK. “I’m going to be that hippy anti-gun dude. He’ll play devil’s advocate. We’re not faculty, but we’re challenging and supporting students.”
The Core – or Intellectual Inquiry Curriculum – is challenging, grounded in skill and knowledge development, and designed to promote student engagement across a breadth of disciplines; one of the faculty compared it to University of Richmond’s program. Students take a writing-intensive class 1st semester and oral communication 2nd semester. The Bio professor we sat with at lunch taught a 2nd semester class and loved it because “we got to discuss morally ambiguous things.” There are 7 required 200-level classes; students choose from a wide selection of topics-based (not survey) classes such as “Do Guns Save Lives?” which teaches the basics of statistics. Students in the Honors program may take classes with an honors designation instead of INQ (and high achieving students can take honors classes without being in the program). Students need to show competency through the 3rd semester of a language by taking the classes or testing out. However, there are a lot of language options for students wanting to branch out; there are so many that they’re housed in their own building!
One student said that it’s “fairly easy” to get into required classes in bigger departments. “Business is one of the largest departments and offer classes all the time; the theater department is one of the smallest and may only offer classes every other year. You have to plan better and make a multi-year plan.”
Some of the students’ favorite classes were:
- Music Theory Study: “I had hopes of being a pop star. That didn’t work out for me but music has been a part of who I am and I learned a lot.”
- Religious Life of Young Adults: “It was very practical. I got to interview other students, read about what sociologists said about religion, and contextualize it in a broader context.”
- How Organisms Evolve: this was an INQ class about evolutionary biology.
Last year, there were 617 research experiences for 349 students (many in the sciences, but not all). This work is supported with travel grants, course credit, works-study research assistantships, fellowships, etc. 42% of last year’s graduates did research, and 98 students presented at regional or national conferences. 35% of most recent grads did an internship at places like Merrill Lynch, NASA, the Smithsonian, NIA, hospitals, and banks. As with research, there are more internships than students to fill them. For mentorships, they often tap into the alumni base. More than 500 have already signed up to mentor sophomores through job shadowing, skyping about career options, etc.
Students spend a lot of time studying away because the university makes it so easy to do. This year, 49 students are studying abroad for a semester or year; 17 are participating in the Washington Semester. MayTerm trips last 2-3 weeks. Last year, 179 students traveled in MayTerm. One student we spoke to went to Israel where they used the geography of the Holy Land to talk about the Bible: “Some things wouldn’t have happened if it were located anywhere else. It changed how I looked at my major [Religious Studies].” Some classes stay on campus such as another student’s class, Understanding Poverty Through Service: “We worked on gardens, built houses, and built a porch for an elderly couple.” Alternative Break Trips gets students off campus in fall, spring, and Christmas break; additionally, there are 30 courses connected to the local community. These are mostly service-learning trips; more than 500 students engaged in this, and 52% of students have done this at least once.
Almost 75% of students participate in some sort of athletics (25% are on varsity teams). Students involved in athletes and Greek Life tend to outperform others students in terms of grad rates, retention, and GPA. “It’s a hook.” Greek life is relatively small and gives students one more option to get involved. One student said, “I love it and would like to see it grow.” Rush is deferred to spring.
The Outdoor Adventure Program has a new center opening, and they’re very proud of this. “Look outside! This is where outdoor stuff should be happening. If you have students interested in repelling, kayaking, wilderness rescue, hiking, whatever – this is the place to do it.” There are lots of outdoor activity trips offered throughout the year. They also have an equestrian program; the barn is about 15 minutes away.
Students like the activities on campus. “It’s hard to get bored.” One of the favorite things is Bingo: “It’s the best! You can win a lot of stuff.” One of the favorite traditions is the Senior dinner at the President’s House. They engrave names and messages into the bookcases. If students need a change of scenery, there’s plenty to do in the region with the city of Roanoke and several other colleges nearby. From Friday to Sunday, they can get taxi vouchers to get around town, including the airport. However, there’s also plenty within walking distance including Mac & Bob’s, a restaurant across the street that was a project started by seniors at the college who graduated and just continued!