campus encounters

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University of Maryland, Baltimore County

University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC) (visited on 12/9/13)

UMBC 1 I visited campus on a snowy, overcast day, but that didn’t dampen the activity on campus. Roads and UMBC 2sidewalks were cleared, and people were outside. I was impressed with the sense of camaraderie exhibited by the students. People were talking and laughing, greeting each other as they passed, making plans for activities. Very few students were plugged into music as they walked around.

~UMBC bldgs 3The campus is well planned out (not surprising considering that it’s about 50 years old). I expected a more traditional campus with large green spaces; it is located in the suburbs, after all. Coming in from the parking lot, the campus struck me as a bit sterile, but this impression changed quickly. There is a pond and fountain and some areas of open space. It is a lovely campus which is clearly well-thought out in terms of how it was developed.

UMBC 3

Info Tech and Engineering building

Biological Sciences building

Biological Sciences building

UMBC’s stellar reputation in STEM fields unfairly overshadows their other opportunities; they offer 44 majors, 41 minors, and 20 certificate programs. The university is ranked with Yale, Notre Dame, and Berkeley for teaching quality, and it’s been listed as a best value in education (it’s public). Experiential Learning (including funding undergrad research through publication and presentation) is part of their mission, and the Shriver Center helps students set up internships, co-ops, and service learning. President Hrabowski sits on President Obama’s council for education, has done TED Talks, and was listed on Time’s 100 Most Influential People of 2012. He’ll eat with students in the dining hall or talk as they pass by on campus. Our tour guide said when he sees people with books, he’ll ask what they’re reading, and he remembers things like when they’re taking tests; weeks later might ask how the exam went.

~UMBC trips poster

Poster advertising trips offered to students.

Students can get into downtown Baltimore in 15 minutes and into DC in about 45 minutes. The College Park Metro Stop is about 30 minutes away (as is the flagship campus of the UMD system), or students can take the MARC train into DC (which recently started running from Baltimore to DC on the weekends, as well). BWI (airport) is about 10 minutes away and Penn Station (Amtrak) is about 20 minutes away.

The University System of Maryland Inter-Institutional Registration Program allows students to cross-register at institutions such as University of Maryland College Park (30 minutes away), University of Baltimore (20 minutes), Bowie State (30 minutes), Towson State (30 minutes), and University of Maryland at Baltimore (15 minutes). Enrolled, degree-seeking students with sophomore and higher standing can take classes at other UM schools and receive credit at their home institution. No spots get reserved for students from other schools, so it’s first-come, first-served. Students must meet whatever prerequisites are in place and pay any additional class-specific fees.

One of the dining commons

One of the dining commons

~UMBC mascot

Mascot

Students get highly involved in campus. Sports and school-spirit seem to be big here; many students were wearing athletic and Retriever gear (the mascot is a Chesapeake Bay Retriever; students rub the nose of the Retriever statue in front of the Athletic Center for luck). The school takes the success of their athletes seriously and has an Academic Center for Student Athletes in the athletic center; the center is open to all students and there’s plenty of space for all sorts of fitness activities (including both an indoor and an outdoor pool). There are lots of other ways to get involved beyond sports. During Welcome Week, organizations set up tables in the quad so that students know what’s going on and get join groups. The university purposefully sets up “Free Hour” during which no classes are scheduled, giving everyone, including commuter students, the chance to be part of clubs and other activities on campus. There is no Greek Housing but Greek Life is active; students can rush after getting a semester of credit. One of the students’ favorite events is Quad Mania, a sort of Spring-fling event.

UMC 5About 4000 of the 9,500 full-time undergraduates live on campus. All dorms are suites, and facilities are new (a benefit of a newer university). Freshman suites are set up with two bedrooms sharing a bath; upperclassman suites usually also have a common area with a small kitchenette area. There are multiple options, including Living Learning Communities within the Res halls and several apartments on campus. All students living on campus must have a meal plan, but with multiple dining options, they can buy what suits their needs and their living arrangements. Students in the apartments will often buy the 5-meals-a-week plan (the least); freshmen almost always buy the 18-a-week (the most). There are many off-campus housing options, and the Off-Campus Student Services Department in the Commons keeps a listing of apartments as well as helping with roommate matching. The busses serving the university stop at five or six different apartment complexes nearby so transportation is easy. The Res Hall even smelled good.

Admissions is selective with successful applications having mostly As and Bs, but they will look at the trend through high school. Both the ACT and SAT are superscored. They have several Scholars Programs for qualified students: Center for Women in Tech (CWIT), Humanities, Linehan Artist (must audition), Meyerhoff Scholars, Sherman Teacher Education, Sondheim Public Affairs. Additionally, approximately 125 students a year are accepted into the Honors College which gives students the added benefits of Applied Learning Experiences, an Honors Community, and honors-specific classes. Successful applicants tend to have at least a 3.5 and a 2100 SAT or 31 ACT. Our tour guide was in the Honors Program; one of her favorite classes, The Anthropology of Food, was part of this program (and was her smallest class with 17 students; her largest was an Intro to Chem class with about 200).

(c) 2014

Towson University (Take 2)

Towson University (visited 4/16/19) (click HERE to see notes and pictures from my first visit on 9/30/16).

We asked the students to tell us about something that is uniquely Towson:

  • There are so many different places to go like Glen Woods or Freedom Square.
  • “The res halls are great. I hadn’t seen such diverse housing options at other places I toured.” Housing is guaranteed for 4 years in the Honors College, 2 years otherwise.
  • “Our health center is really great.”
  • It’s a great location – there’s downtown Baltimore and “uptown” Towson with shops and restaurants and the cinema.

This is the 2nd largest and fastest growing state school in Maryland. “There’s a huge momentum on campus” with an investment of $1.7B in real estate and a recently built new Science complex. However, they still keep classes at reasonable sizes with 24 students in an average class. There are a couple lecture halls with 125 seats, a couple more with 90. Those are the largest spaces on campus so no class can ever have more than that number of students. Some of their more unusual majors include Earth-Space Science, Metropolitan Studies, Deaf Studies, Dance Performance and Choreography, Bioinformatics, and Gerontology.

Students interested in merit scholarships must apply by 12/1 Early Action for consideration. They do NOT take Common or Coalition Apps. The $45 application fee can be waived in a variety of ways: College Board/SAT, College Bound, Baltimore City/County Top 10%, Alumni Admissions Nomination, Military Service, or Financial Hardship. The Personal Essay is an original TU Prompt: next year, it’ll be “Topic of your Choice” with suggestions. They’ve also changed requirements so interested students can use the same essay as their Honors College App.

The Honors College (open to incoming and enrolled students in any major within the first two years of study) enrolls approximately 700 students with 50 majors represented. Class sizes max out at 20. When interested students apply to Towson, they’ll check “yes” for honors on the application. This will trigger a prompt for the Honors Essay which is then used for both admission to Towson and for the Honors College. Applicants who click “no” will only write the essay for admissions (a different prompt). Decisions for Honors are done AFTER admission to the university; all honors decisions are sent out at once in February. Towson very intentionally builds community within the Honors Program with housing and Co-curricular programs run by students such as First Day Coff-Ay, Generation Jeopardy, First-Year Flapjacks, Smoothie Saturday, and Honors Helping Hands. One of the student panelists was in the honors program and said that she was a little apprehensive going in, but “Classes are seminar style. They’re a collaboration. They aren’t scary and they aren’t like AP classes.”

Towson offers a Freshman Transition Program which is a collaboration between CCBC and TU. This is an invitation-only program to selected freshman applicants. Usually 175-200 are in the program any given year. Students take Community College courses taught by CCBC faculty on TU’s campus in the late afternoon and evening. However, they are treated like full TU students with the exception that they cannot participate in intercollegiate or club sports. A major benefit is that they pay CCBC tuition and fees (cheaper than TU tuition) but TU Room & Board. If they hit certain criteria in the first semester, they can then segue directly into being a fully enrolled TU student in the 2nd semester (about 80-90%). If not, they have another chance in 2nd semester to meet that criteria. Students are assigned to an FTP advisor to help them through the process..

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