Bates College (visited 8/5/19)
Lots of colleges have traditions surrounding a body of water on campus: dunking on a birthday, regattas of some form, etc. This is the first I’ve heard of a mid-winter Puddle Jump tradition – in the middle of Maine, no less! In February, people cut a large hole in the ice covering the pond. Students put on costumes and jump in. “It’s safe,” said the tour guide.” You don’t even have to get yourself out. I just put my arms up and they pulled me out. There’s even a bonfire afterwards to warm up.” For a campus that put heated pipes under the library plaza to help keep the snow and ice clear (“There’s no excuse for not studying,” said the tour guide), this is a big deal!
Bates is a beautiful, traditional-looking New England campus AND it’s carbon neutral! They beat their goal to be neutral by 2020 (“We have to do certain things to offset our carbon footprint; ironically, the department that’s the worst at that is admissions because of all the travel”). They’re great at recycling, including composting, and they’re big on Community Outreach. Lewiston is classified as a Federal Refugee center with 10% of the population coming from the Eastern African Diaspora; more than 30 languages are spoken in public schools. All teams have a liaison to make sure all members volunteer. There is a center to help them facilitate this. It also runs international mission trips and provides other community service opportunities.
There’s a large quad surrounded by brick buildings; a relatively new art center (check out the Arts and Visual Culture major or one of the multiple a cappella groups) sits on the far side of the “Puddle” (pond) which also has ducks swimming in it; 22 Victorian Houses around campus are used as dorms. There are some new dorms which have some of the best lounges and kitchens I’ve ever seen! The town of Lewiston has plenty for students to do; students can ski for free at Lost Valley, the ski resort 10 minutes from campus, and they can get hugely reduced tickets at several other places nearby. They can borrow outdoor gear (including skis) from the Outdoor Center on campus. The beach is 45 minutes away, and there’s a bus stop on campus where they can get the busses to Portland or Boston.
Bates was founded in 1855 by Free Will Baptists who believed that education should elevate people out of their current situation and that people should work with a diverse cohort. More than 100 years before most peer institutions went coed, they were admitting women. They believe in access to education (ironic that they’re so selective now). Their endowment is a bit lower than some of their peer institutions because they invest it back into financial aid and other student-centered programs.
Students at Bates have to complete a Major + One; in other words, a major plus another major, a minor, or GEC They have an extensive list of these Gen Ed Concentrations which are comprised of 4 intentionally interdisciplinary classes revolving around a theme. For example, The Human Body might include classes in bio, dance, and PoliSci. This gives students plenty of opportunities to “test-drive” interests in the real world and a chance to learn by doing. Students are interested in getting out and doing things to put theory into action. Between 60 and 70% of juniors will study abroad, and 12-13% of the students come from other countries.
Bates has a 4-4-1 academic calendar. The longer terms are 13-week semesters in which students take 4 classes each. They’ll take 1 class in the short term. Students have to complete 2 short terms but can’t take more than 3 (“but some people get creative because it’s a popular time to be on campus,” said the rep). This is a time to delve into their majors. Math students do “math camp” where they do math 6 hours a day to figure out what they want to do for their thesis. “It’s great for community building.” Other unusual offerings include a Geospatial class (popular with the Geology majors) that will kayak up the Maine coast to collect water and dirt samples (which they then analyze). One of their graduates, a Boston Globe journalist, comes back to teach Online Journalism.
All students must complete a capstone project, often a thesis. Each department has it’s own thesis lounge where they have previous theses on display (and it’s tradition to ask a freshman to bind it). One student recently compared the serialization of Austin to Netflix; another looked at the influx of incarceration of mentally ill people in the county.
Classes are capped at 45 (the largest classroom) but average 19-20. The tour guide’s largest class was Intro to Bio with 45; his smallest class, FYE, had 9. They offer FYS in all subjects; his was in neuroscience. Sciences are strong; 91% of students get into med school “in the first round on their first try.” Two faculty members who have NASA grants.