University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC) (visited on 12/9/13)
I visited campus on a snowy, overcast day, but that didn’t dampen the activity on campus. Roads and sidewalks 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.
The 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’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.
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.
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.
About 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).