Westminster College (Utah)
Westminster College (visited 9/26/18)
This is a perfect college for students who want that mix of traditional campus, an urban environment, lots of academic and athletic opportunities, and access to a multitude of outdoor activities, particularly winter sports. Campus is located about 3 miles from downtown in the Sugar Hill section of Salt Lake City. The neighborhood has a funky, artsy, lively feel with a ton of things to do within walking distance. There’s plenty of public transportation (free for students!) to get to other parts of the city.
This is the only private, non-religious college in Utah. One of the professors said that there isn’t a big push for private education in Utah. This was started by Presbyterians in the 1800s when they came to SLC to convert (ironically!) members of the LDS church. However, the college severed ties to the church in the 1970s and has been non-affiliated ever since.
For a school with just over 2,000 undergraduates, there are amazing opportunities ranging from DII athletics to study trips to high-tech science equipment. “As long as you’re open to opportunities and aren’t closed-minded, you’ll do really well here,” said one student we talked to in the plaza outside the Student Center. He said that there’s good racial diversity and LGBTQ support on campus. “This is a great place for people who need accommodations whether physical or learning support. Things are accessible here, and there’s something for everyone.”
Creativity is embraced; along with that comes strong Fine and Performing arts. The theater department offers both a BA and BFA for acting and tech, and they just started a dance major (the director has taught in several major troupes in NYC). SLC has “a surprising amount of theater and ballet in town. Students are encouraged to do community theater; maybe 1/3 of the students stay local afterwards, and others go onto grad school, often with complete funding,” said one of the theater professors.
Sciences (including Neuroscience and Geology) are also strong, providing students with an amazing array of labs and equipment. They have an Anatomy (aka cadaver) Lab and even a Chromatography lab with a mass spectrometer! Undergrads can use this “as long as we vaguely look like we know what we’re doing under supervision,” said a chemistry major who took us through the building. The Great Salt Lake Institute, Institute for Mountain Research, and Environmental Center are all housed on campus. They have gotten funding from NASA to research bacteria living in harsh environments.
A covered footbridge over Emigration Creek divides the campus into residential and academic sides. There are two traditional dorms and others with suites. “Food is an 8,” said one student. All freshmen live on campus. There is no Greek life. Almost 50% of students come from outside of Utah. “They come for the winter sports,” said one student. Seven ski resorts are in close proximity, most within about an hour. “The snow is better here,” said the student working in the Honors College building. “The outdoorsy aspect is huge here. They even have Outdoor Education and Leadership major!”
The Honors College building, entirely staffed by students, is on the residential side of campus. We talked to the Junior working at the desk for about 30 minutes. The building looks a bit like a ski lodge; it’s a great space for them for holding events, studying, and more. “We can basically use it any way we want.” Freshmen and First Year Honors Students (students can apply to the program as freshmen or do a lateral entry once they’re here) do Tuesday Talks in lounge. She absolutely loves the program and working (officially and not!) in the building. They’re given better opportunities (including special study abroad options) and she likes that they’re acknowledged on the national stage – a professor from Columbia has called it the best Honors program in the nation. The courses that the Honors students take are a bit different but class sizes are the same size as regular (10-28). “Sometimes we get squished for time with getting everything in.” In the last couple years, they’ve grown the program’s population; she thinks that this has made it a stronger community because “there are lots of minds and ideas.”
Students can fulfill Gen Ed requirements through WCore or interdisciplinary team-based honors seminars. It’s a different type of learning for students who want to be challenged. Classes are limited to 16 with discussions based around primary texts. FYS combines 2 interdisciplinary classes. One student took Mystery and Puzzles (combined math and history); another took a Genetics and Probability class; a third took a Psychology and Literature class where they looked at Spellbound by Hitchcock, read The Bluest Eye and Girl, Interrupted and more. The FYS professors serve as initial advisors for students when they start at Westminster.