Dickinson College (visited 5/16/17)
“We’re global, international, and sustainable. We’re a very green school, 12th on the Greenest School List,” said the admissions rep giving the info session. A Sustainability major was added last year, several campus buildings are certified on the 3 LEED levels, and they own/operate a certified organic farm about 10 minutes away from the main campus. Students work and do research on the farm. Some students are doing work on toads: they’re building an eco-system and a pond to attract a specific species. Others produce biofuel, grow much of the produce for the dining hall, or work on composting 600-800 pounds of waste from campus and around town. “Students will camp there for classes,” said the tour guide. Students can apply to be an apprentice there after graduation and live full-time on the farm.
Another of Dickinson’s draws is the Global perspective. “We’ve been doing the global thing for a long time. We were doing it when it wasn’t fashionable. It goes back to Benjamin Rush when we were just starting,” said the rep. Over 1/3 of the faculty have international experiences. The Global Mosaics research program allows students to do interdisciplinary, international work. The college requires that students complete 3 semesters of a language; there are 13 offered to choose from (including Hebrew, Greek, Russian, Portuguese, and Chinese). Language classes got high praise from the tour guides: “We’ll do things like spend a day in the campus art gallery. We’re learning and using real-life language skills.”
The Study Abroad program has a nationally strong reputation. There are 15 Dickinson Centers (faculty chair the 2 domestic (NYC and DC) and 13 international centers including England, Australia, Japan, Beijing, and Bologna) and 24+ partner programs. “We’re not in Antarctica yet…” Students can and will study abroad in English, but many also in another language.
Town-gown relations are good. Campus is only a couple blocks from downtown Carlisle, so there is a lot within walking distance including 35 restaurants. The college hosts a community orchestra in which local people participate. “We’re too small to have one on our own.” Getting around town is easy, and the school runs shuttles to the train and airport (Harrisburg, BWI, and others at breaks).
Dickinson has remained financially stable through economic ups and down. They intend on staying a small school (about 2400 students), even though their incoming class is about 10-15 students higher than usual. Traditional dorms serve most of the first and second year students. Upperclassmen can live in houses and apartments owned by the campus. There’s also a range of Special Interest Houses which include language and cultural houses, the Tree House (sustainable living – they’ll have competitions to see how little energy they can use/who can take the shortest shower), Greek Housing, The Dog House (they’ll foster/raise/train puppies to be guide dogs or support animals), etc.
One of our tour guides was a junior from Chattanooga; she came for the International Business program which is well-known and well-regarded. Social Innovation & Leadership, Biochemistry & Microbiology, Econ, Law & Policy, and PoliSci also get high praise. Classes, not surprisingly, are small (capped at 35 but rarely that big) and “real world.” The phrase “Broader Picture” got used a lot in relation to academics. When I asked about the students’ favorite classes, both cited those where they could use what they learned in practical ways. One of the tour guides raved about her Calculus class (maybe a first for me!): “We actually used it for calculating the amount of DNA there is in cells. Another guide talked about interpreting in clinics in town for her Spanish for Health class.
The physics department runs a Plasma Lab which can only be used in the summer because power has to be shut down around campus in order to use it! There’s also a planetarium used for more than science classes: the Astronomy Club uses it, the college runs “Star Nights,” and even the Greek Myth class will use it!
The Innovation Competition is a way to fund novel ideals or projects around campus. Teams of 3-5 students must be interdisciplinary (representing majors in at least 2 of the 3 schools) and the idea must be sustainable. Recently, an idea that won the $2000 prize was a Coffee Cart attached to a bike called “The Peddler.” They sell fresh ground and French press coffee.
As with any school, there are a myriad of traditions, including the ubiquitous “Don’t step on the seal or else…” and the popular, symbolic walking onto campus (in this case through a building) and then back out at graduation. Senior week before graduation is full of traditions and fun for the seniors, including a beer garden on the quad and a bowling trip. The mascot, The Triton, has it’s own history and pranks revolving around it. The founder had asked a local merchant to make a Triton for the top of the cupola, but they got a mermaid. For decades, this would be stolen by seniors who bargained with professors before giving it back. The original is now on display in the library.