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Davidson College

DAVIDSON COLLEGE (visited on 3/17/13)

Davidson 5I wish I had visited Davidson sooner. I was highly impressed with the campus and the opportunities available to students. It’s unfortunate that it isn’t on more people’s radars. I had heard a lot about it after moving to the state, and I finally had a chance to bring some students for a visit on the way to a College Fair. This selective school of just under 2,000 students sits on a beautiful sprawling campus in the city of Davidson, about 20 minutes outside of Charlotte, NC.

The dining hall

The dining hall

Davidson acad bldg 2We visited on a Sunday when the admissions office was closed, so a student from Hillel gave us a tour and took us to brunch. Although there weren’t a lot of students in the dining hall when we first arrived a little after 11, it was getting busy by the time we left a just before noon. The food was excellent and there were plenty of options. The student we were with said that the line to swipe in can be long during the busiest times, but it moves quickly. The “make your own” stations can take some time to get through because the food is made fresh to order. The most popular stations are the noodle and the omelet bars, but any of the hot food is good because of the variety offered. They’ll hold international theme days (Singapore, Russian Culture Night – including dancers, Peru, etc) which students really like since it’s different. The Thanksgiving Dinner is also well attended and tends to be a highlight of the year. Since the campus is small enough, they only have one main dining hall, but there are a few other dining options on campus. The Davis Cafe in the Union is available for late-night food (it’s open until midnight), and the Cats Den in Sports Center is open for lunch (mostly sandwiches and other “grab and go” options). Also, instead of fraternities or sororities, they have “Eating Houses” which give students a group to join. There are several small houses with kitchens where members can go eat, giving them a small social group to connect with. The multi-cultural House also has a kitchen which groups can reserve, but it has to be educational or part of a recognized group on campus.

Students eating and working outside during lunch

Students eating and working outside during lunch

The statue of the mascot in front of the athletic complex

The statue of the mascot in front of the athletic complex

The sense of community is strong here. Although it’s a smaller school, there’s something for everyone. There’s a lot to do on campus: parties in the quad, movie nights, speakers, clubs that sponsor events (often with food!). A regular email gets sent to students called the “Cryer” which lists the upcoming events including deadlines for grants, internships, summer opportunities, and other similar things. Tables get set up across campus to provide information about everything from clubs to special events to offices (such as Religious Life) on campus. It’s easy to get off campus since the college runs shuttles. Wi-fi is everywhere so students can work outside. Tables and chairs are everywhere, and students were all over on campus utilizing them. They even had tables with umbrellas for shade near the large outdoor stadium. I image those are highly sought-after on game days! Their entire athletic complex is impressive. Davidson is a DI school which surprised me since they’re so small.

One of the dorms.

One of the dorms.

Davidson 4Their freshman dorms are traditional style with bathrooms down the hall, but each room has its own sink. People work hard to create a feeling of community within the dorms, both formally and informally. Our tour guide said that during orientation week, one of the activities was a cake race. Everyone in the hall brought back the cakes they won and had a social. After the first year, students can choose from a variety of dorm styles, including suites. There are also other types of living halls, including “Sub (substance) Free” halls in which residents pledge not to bring in alcohol or come back drunk. New sophomore dorms have kitchens on each floor which other students can use, even if they don’t live there. Most students live on campus, but there are apartments right across the street from campus in which about 100 students are granted permission to live through an application process. All students are allowed cars on campus allowed; parking costs $50 for unlimited parking or $25 for the lots far away. Cars aren’t necessary, though, since campus is in town and things are accessible. The college will run shuttles to the Lake Campus daily and to the Charlotte airport before and after breaks for $30. Lots of students will bring bikes on campus, especially those living in the upperclassman dorms located on the outskirts of campus.

Davidson acad bldgDavidson artsClasses are kept small here; even as a freshman, our tour guide’s largest class (a music class) had 23 students in it; her smallest (Chinese) had 8. Even though this is a small campus, students are not limited to the academics which they can take. The Charlotte area has a consortium of colleges (including UNC-C, Queens, and Belmont) at which students can cross-register with the approval from the Registrar. This is easy to do if the class isn’t offered at Davidson, but harder for more popular subjects like History. Additionally, students can do independent studies for some languages that are less common and aren’t offered – although Davidson does offer a lot, including Chinese and Italian. Students do have a language requirement in which they have to successfully complete three semesters (through 201) of a language, but they can place out if they come in with enough competency. Other requirements include a class in Cultural Diversity, Religion and Philosophy, Social Science, Math, Science with Lab, and English. All freshmen take a Writing Comp class that has some sort of theme (Memory, Gender, Music and Literature, Revisiting the Library – about history and archives), and they’re taught from professors from all disciplines (history, religion, anthro, etc).

(c) 2013

Centre College

Centre College (Visited 9/24/19)

Centre quad 3There’s a reason that Centre is on the Colleges that Change Lives list. Students are “Happy, successful, and grateful” which shows in their freshman-to sophomore retention (in the low 90s). Combined with a 4-year graduation in the low-to-mid 80s, you have a recipe for a lot of success. When visiting a CTCL school, I ask students how the school has changed their lives. Here’s what 2 said:

  • “I come from a community where education hasn’t been important. Being able to see the world as it is, I’ve grown closer to my culture and community, but it’s inspired me to give back to a world that has accepted my identities. I came here as a refugee, and I understand myself better. I will treasure the mentorships.”
  • “The people change the lives of Centre students whether it’s a faculty member who says ‘try something new, don’t assume you know your path yet’ – or a student who gets us involved in something. We’re challenged to be better and go outside our comfort zone.”
Centre 3

The college’s “200 years” banners

This is Centre’s bicentennial year “which we celebrated by raising $200 million” – not bad for a small school of 1410 students sitting on 150 acres in a small Kentucky town! For the last 30+ years, they’ve landed in the Top 10 for percentage of alumni who give back to the college. This has helped grow their endowment to over $330M.

One counselor asked, “What’s here that offers opportunities to people from non-college going cultures?” We got what I think is one of the best, most thoughtful, well-reasoned answers I’ve heard: “We think it’s important and it’s intentional. They find people who are like themselves here. We’re not a place of privilege like many places like this. We aren’t overweighed with rich kids – that just hasn’t been the culture here. That matters. There’s an incredible culture of personal concern for students here. Faculty are invested in success of students that is different from a lot of places.”

Centre dining hallAlmost ¼ of the students are Pell-eligible, and about ¼ of domestic students self-identify as students of color. Just over 20% are First-Gen. “This is a great place to be a first-gen: they graduate at higher rates than continuing gen students,” said one of the professors.

Centre is almost entirely (98%) residential (with about 50% of students coming from outside Kentucky) which builds community, and it shows from walking around campus. New dorms are gender-inclusive. Students are happy and engaged with each other. We saw few people alone or plugged into their music. Campus is gorgeous and traditionally styled with meticulously maintained brick buildings.

Centre 4Although Presbyterian by heritage and maintaining “a loose connection,” you’d never know it by being on campus. Centre is open spiritually with multiple groups representing different identities. There’s a spirituality center and plenty of opportunities to reflect various beliefs. They create a safe space to foster faith (or non-faith). “You can be who you are while still learning about the other. They’ll often open convocations with prayers in native languages, in different faith traditions, etc. It breaks down the fear and mistrust of what they maybe don’t understand yet.” The tour guide said that she’d like to have a central intercultural center, a one-stop shop. Two years ago, they hired 3 diversity people and today they see lots of programming, training on how to be an ally (such as pronoun use), etc.

Centre lincoln 3We asked the students and faculty, “Why here?”

  • Students learn to perform: “They put themselves out there and learn to fail and succeed.”
  • “It’s the Centre Commitment: Students will graduate in 4 years, they’ll study abroad at least once (85% do it once, 30% do it twice; record was 7 times with graduation in 4 years), and/or do an internship or research. Study abroad is built into the fabric of the college. We’re not doing superficial tourism. Students dive into the culture and place. We balk at the word “trip” – students complete a rigorous academic course. They hit the ground with questions to ask. This is important especially because of the college’s location in Kentucky. We want to expose people to a wider context. Over half of the students come from KY and sometimes have never left the state. This is the way to open them up.”
  • Centre quad 2

    A view of one of the quads

    “We kind of own the high impact practices – our experiences in the classroom, the labs, etc – is off the charts. We’re really, really good at this.”

  • “We’re taking young people and shaping them as citizen leaders in whatever they choose to do going forward. They’ll have 3 or 4 more careers, live in several places. It’s the norm. The placements they get are to be envied which is a credit to a lot of people, including career services and the faculty.”
  • “It’s way more than providing an education. It’s creating an adventure. It’s a first-rate undergrad education, prepared for work in service, but be given a chance to go places socially, emotionally, academically to move beyond. We give them practice to be a person of adventure.”
Centre Norton 1

Norton Center for the Arts

Everything we heard from students, admission reps, Deans, professors – spoke to an educational experience that’s off the charts, in and out of the classroom.

  • “People can pursue diverse interests whether it’s cutting-edge research, the arts, or athletics.”
  • They operate on a 4-1-4 calendar that allows for 10-12 classes to be taught overseas in January. Pre-med students, athletes, etc go abroad which isn’t always the case.
  • The average class has 18 students with 60% having fewer than 20. The largest class maxes at 30. Teaching is prized: “It’s rewarded in merit pay and in tenure and promotion decisions,” said one of the Deans. Faculty members here have received many Kentucky Teacher of the Year awards.
  • The Norton Center for the Arts is an exceptional space, rivaling several I’ve seen at larger schools. It provide space for Visual/Fine Arts and Dramatic Arts majors and minors, and the venue brings the wider world to the students, part of the mission they do so well: they’ve hosted the 2000 and 2012 VP debates, Shanghai Ballet, Architecture festivals, and a myriad of nationally and internationally known performers. “The Norton Center is one of the most phenomenal things I’ve seen on a college campus: students can get behind the scenes, have international acts in their classrooms, etc,” said a Professor.

The students’ favorite classes include:

  • Centre skeleton 3

    Some of the skeletons in one of the Science buildings

    A study-away trip to Morocco and Spain: “We studied the three major Abrahamic religions. We talked to Jewish communities, the Conquistadors, the history attached to the other places and how they created community. Interactions with locals were amazing.”

  • Islamic America: “We traveled 10 days from here to Denver to see different states and how the Muslim community works there. I’m not from the US. To learn those facts and stories and to experience the emotions was fascinating.”
  • “Urban Economics in London, specifically learning how a local economy develops, why certain business develop close together, the banking system, etc. was great!”
  • “Churchill’s World about his life and world. I read more than I have for any other class and I loved it. I was eager to write the next paper.”
  • Acting Storytelling Class: “For my final project, I told an immigration story through my Dad’s eyes. It was powerful to learn his story and then share it.”

Centre quadAcademics to note include:

  • Over 200 students major in Economics & Finance, which is almost unheard of at a school this size. Students can prepare for finance and business careers without a business degree. They also offer a minor in Global Commerce.
  • “We have good participation in the sciences” including Chemical Physics and Biochemistry & Molecular Biology. They provide strong prep for professional schools: over the last 5 years, med school acceptance has ranged between 80-100% with 11-25 applying each year.
  • They have several new programs including a Data Science Major/Minor and Arabic
  • They’ve developed a graduate nursing partnership with Vanderbilt and an MAT partnership with University of Louisville and Vanderbilt.
  • This is one of very few liberal arts colleges with a Hot Glass program!
Centre arch

The arch between academics and athletics

Not surprisingly, they’re strong with service and leadership, including Bonner and Posse Scholars. “We’re engaged communicators, collaborators, leaders, and are community-driven. We get involved in a lot. We’ve earned our spot here and want to be challenged,” said the tour guide. There are over 100 organizations on campus and 23 DIII teams competing in the SAC. There’s a bridge arch “that symbolized the connection between academics and athletics,” said the tour guide. Centre beat Harvard in football in 1921 by one touchdown but haven’t played since: “I think they’re scared!” About half the students join Greek Life with deferred rush until spring. Frat houses sit on 1 side of Greek Row, sororities on the other “except the ones that switched awhile ago. I’m not sure why that happened,” said the tour guide. “They have a good track record of being safe, mentoring, taking care of each other.” A couple favorite traditions include:

  • Centre flame statue

    The infamous Flame Statue

    The Open and Close processions. Students are given a token with the seal to give to someone who made an impact.

  • Students run from dorms to the Flame Statue, around it 3 times, and back to the dorms – naked.
  • They put pennies on Lincoln’s feet for good luck.
Centre lincoln penny

Penny for good luck placed on Lincoln’s shoe

“Most students are curious. They want good grades but also want to understand what we’re talking about. We bring up controversial issues; students engage. They dig into literature and high-level arguments that don’t have yes or no answers. The students are ready, and we push them higher. We’re sensitive to the way we use test scores in admissions. We can say yes to people who are qualified to be here.” Only about 15% of the class get admitted through Early Decision. Common overlaps include Vandy, Rhodes, Miami of Ohio, Sewanee, Davidson, Kenyon, and Furman.

There are three significant programs worth mentioning:

  • Grissom Scholars: 10 full tuition awards per year plus a $5000 enrichment stipend are awarded to high-achieving, high-need, first-gen students. They’re looking for academic excellence (although test scores rarely play into that: they see a gamut of scores). “The recipients are good citizens, have significant school or community involvement, and are mature, kind, determined, joyful, supportive, and show exceptional potential for leadership.”
  • Lincoln Scholars: 10 recipients per year receive full tuition, room & board, and 3 funded summer experiences. “This is for students who believe they have the desire and capacity to change the world.” They look for students who are bold, selfless, unafraid, and passionate; who have integrity, courage, curiosity, drive, vision, and talent to change the world; and who are high-achieving students who are “bright enough” academically to fulfill their vision.
  • Brown Fellows: this is a more traditional merit-driven “big ticket” scholarship: there are 10 awarded per class, covering full tuition, R&B, fully funded summer travel and projects (~$6,000), and faculty mentorship. Students are intellectually curious, ambitious, focused, disciplined, and trustworthy. The University of Louisville is the only other school in KY with this program; sometimes they do joint cohort things. This is the only scholarship that has a score minimum (31 ACT/equivalent SAT) required by the funding partners. Recipients almost always have maxed out their high school curriculum and often gone beyond. “They’re typically more apt to be generalists. We’re drawn to the well-rounded kid rather than the ‘angular’ highly-focused kid.”

Centre “can be a bit of a bubble but town-gown relations aren’t bad.” Greek organizations and athletics do a lot of community service. The Bypass has lots of restaurants. Downtown Danville is walkable. “Dan Tran [public transportation] isn’t great but it works.”

© 2019

Washington and Lee


W&L’s iconic building

Washington and Lee (visited 11/3/16)

“At the end of the day, I want the students to say, ‘it changed my life.’ I want it to be transformative. If they can say that, we’ve done our jobs.” The size of the school facilitates a lot of what they do, and “the faculty we bring on understand the pedagogy. Having famous faculty doesn’t help if they don’t want to know the students and work with them.”


Some of W&L’s academic buildings

Washington & Lee is a traditional Liberal Arts and Sciences university, “underscore the AND.” They combine professional programs in the Williams School of Commerce, Politics, and Economics and Journalism (both interdisciplinary programs) with a liberal arts education. “Students don’t apply to the business program as they might in larger schools. I don’t want the Williams School to be a Venn diagram with the Liberal Arts: I want it to be completely immersed. We’ll teach things like Business of Contemporary Arts (co-taught by a Tax Accountant and Art Historian), Land in Lakota Culture, Economics, and History (co-taught by Anthro and Economics professors), or Cybersecurity (co-taught by a PoliSci professor and a lawyer).” Along the same lines, they won’t offer a 3+2 engineering program because they want the students to have the full undergraduate, liberal arts experience. Students in these programs are interested in the liberal arts and complete the foundations/distribution requirements, including the language requirement.

wl-6Students who thrive here are curious, high-horsepower students. They’re near the tops of their graduating classes; they’re keyed into community and engagement. Loners/people who have an affinity to work alone won’t do so well here. Students seek out professors and like to argue/discuss points from class. “Teachers will instigate conversations that are uncomfortable for students. It makes us grow,” said a student on the panel.

wl-treewalkLast year they admitted 1200 of 5100 applicants. Just over half of the class of 465 were admitted through ED (I or II). Crossovers include UVA, William & Mary, Chapel Hill, Georgetown, Dartmouth, and Davidson. The Johnson Scholarship is awarded not just for outstanding academics but to those students who they believe will bring transformative leadership skills to campus. “We want them to be change-makers.” They bring 200 finalists to campus for 3 days and will end up awarding 70 scholarships.


The first floor of the Hillel building with the cafe in the back

“We want to have a broad range of students. The Office of Diversity and Inclusion does a lot of outreach. We’re concerned about affordability and accessibility. We meet 100% of financial need and do not include loans.” Almost every state is represented (there’s no one from ND in this freshman class); VA, TX, NC, GA, MD, FL, and NY have more than 20 students. Almost 10% are first-gen. Although only 17 of last year’s freshmen self-identified as Jewish, they do have a relatively new, large Hillel building; the E-Café inside is Kosher Dairy. They also have Salaam, a Muslim Student Association.

“We’re different because we have a sense of who we are,” said W&L’s President. “We produce citizens of honor who are ready to go out and make a difference.” Whatever they’re doing is working: they have a 98% retention rate, and 90% of students graduate in 4-years. He went on to illustrate a couple things that make them stand out:

  • wl-statueHonor System: “It’s a system, not a code saying that we will abide by the standards of the community.” This plays into exam schedules, too. Students can self-schedule their finals within the week, although some professors ask that their exams be done on a specific day. Others will give a take-home final and ask that it be brought back within 24 hours.
  • Speaking tradition: people will greet you when you walk around.
  • Their endowment allows them to provide “robust services” to students: they have an MD running Health Services, a psychiatrist on staff, deans for every class. There’s a lot to be said for community building, support, etc.
  • Freshmen all complete alcohol education and “bystander education.”

Junior Village in the background beyond the stadium

Lexington is very much a college community: VMI is next door with 1700 students, and the law school has another 350. They have a loose connection with VMI in that they will attend speakers and some other events happening at the other campus. All the seniors live off campus which helps mesh town-gown relations. W&L now requires all students to live on campus for 3 years – but only for 3 years! They recently built a “Junior Village” with has a café and dining hall; a pool is being built. Some Greek housing is in town, and there are 6 sorority houses near the football field. Usually sophomores live there. Rush is in the spring.


Sorority Row

“I was surprised how integrated students are,” said our tour guide. “I was a little bit wary at first because of the 17% diversity rate, but it doesn’t matter. I wasn’t sure how the speaking tradition would play out, but people do talk to each other. I was shy. I didn’t know how to do that, but now I see that people go out of their way.”

wl-patioStudents tend to be more conservative but not exclusively, and there are a lot of liberal professors. “But everyone is civil. They talk about the issues, not about the people. Professors expect us to be able to have conversations and back up opinions, and students do.” A lot of people talked about civil discourse and the learning community while we were on campus. “I say community and opportunity a lot,” said one student. “It seems cliché but I don’t know how else to describe it. It’s not just about what we learn but the skills and experiences.”


Originally a stable, the doors are now left open because the story says that Lee’s horse Traveller haunts the building and will shake the doors when they are shut.

The average class size is 15. Only 5% have more than 25 students. “A few classes like organic chem and a popular geology class on climate change get higher.”

“There’s no one way to do a W&L education,” said the president. “We see some strange double majors. They get jobs because they’re unique.” The Core accounts for about 1/3 of a student’s curriculum. “We push against the idea that every class has to count for something. We want them to explore.” There is a Phys Ed requirement: “I can say with absolute certainty that every W&L grad knows how to swim.”

Students have a lot of school spirit. “We may be DIII, but we have football!” They have tailgates and an annual Lee-Jackson lacrosse game which both draw huge crowds. The Thanksgiving Dinner even draws community members.

© 2016

Allegheny College

Allegheny College (visited 11/8-9/2015)

~Allegheny walkway~Allegheny pillarsOne major distinction of this CTCL school is that students are required to declare a major and a minor (or 2 majors) in 2 different areas (Humanities, Social Sciences, Natural Sciences, or Interdivisional) – hence the college’s “Unusual Combination” tag line. This might be one of the reasons that they’ve been listed in the Top 12 Most Innovative Liberal Arts Colleges in the company of places such as Amherst, Grinnell, and Davidson.

~Allegheny chapelThe college has an amazing admissions staff and a friendly, well-spoken president. Students are engaging, engaged, and are comfortable with themselves – and are comfortable enough to push themselves and try new things. “We admit the diamonds, but we also admit the diamonds in the rough.”

~Allegheny leavesStudents say this about how Allegheny has changed their lives:

  • “I have to engage in the work, not just show up and get the A. I can see connections between subjects. They make me think about things and how we can use what we learn.”
  • “It’s motivated me to sift through material and find what’s meaningful to me.”
  • “I’m amazed at how it’s opened my eyes and at all the opportunities it’s given me.”
  • “It taught me the importance of the human connections and that it’s ok to change your mind. Everyone does it.“
~Allegheny mascot 2

The school mascot, the Allegheny Alligator (chosen for the alliteration)

Students love that this is a small school (just over 2000 students, 60% of whom come from outside PA). The relationships they build with each other and with faculty are amazing, and despite the size, there’s a huge range of experiences. “We don’t have to give up on things to pursue other things.” One thing that students and professors raved about was the Experiential Study-Away experiences. These are 3-week, credit-bearing trips lead by faculty. One geology professor has taken students on trips as diverse as the Grand Tetons and India.

~Allegheny 4Allegheny celebrates their 200th birthday this year (it’s the 32nd oldest college in the US). When the President addressed visiting prospective students and families, he said: “We feel a responsibility to carry on traditions set by the people who graduated as well as a generational responsibility for those coming later. You can help shape, build, and make it better based on the gifts you bring. I see remarkable young people being challenged to be better than they thought they could be. The energy and passion they bring is amazing.” From what I saw of the students, he’s absolutely right.

~Allegheny 7About 130 students complete on-campus summer research each year. “We need undergrads to get involved because there are no graduate students,” part of the reason the school won the 2015 Award for Undergrad Research. One student said that what she likes most about Allegheny is the “academic rigor mixed with opportunities. I’m doing research in a psych lab as a sophomore.” Students all complete a Senior Comp (thesis) to prove that they’ve mastered writing, presentation, and critical thinking skills.

~Allegheny glass art 4

Part of the Art installation made of glass

Additionally, 70% of students complete internships. Allegheny provides over $140,000 a year in support to help students do this. They send 20-25 students a year to DC where they’re housed at American University. If the internship is unpaid, they also get a modest stipend for food and basic public transportation.

The college President described the faculty in this way: “They’re scholars, they’re mentors, and often become friends. They’re some of the finest professors who deeply care about the students. We’re walking the journey together.” A professor on one of the panels said, “I teach here because of the students. They challenge me; sometimes they vex me.”

~Allegheny dining hall

The main dining hall

Some of the students’ favorite classes have been:

  • Intro to Global Health: “We looked at disparities around the world.”
  • Intro to Econ: “It was eye opening. I never got to take classes that interested me. The professor’s genuine regard was amazing. I wasn’t uncomfortable walking into office hours for help.”
  • Intro to Communication Arts: “My friends were talking about it so I took it. Now I’m thinking about double majoring.”
  • Soil to Plate: “We trace were food comes from. We visited soybean, dairy, and hydroponic farms and then apply what we learned. Our final was to make a sustainable dish and write a paper about it.”
  • World Regional Geography: “We looked at different regions and cultures and how we solve problems.”
~Allegheny organic farm

The campus organic farm

The student-built plant wall in the Science building

The student-built plant wall in the Science building

Sustainability is big here. Recycling containers are everywhere, and there’s a push for locally sourced food. The campus organic farm is in the middle of campus, and the much of what’s grown is served in the dining hall. They also work with local farmers for food. The Environmental Science department ranks #2 in the country, and students can major or minor in Environmental Geology, Art and the Environment, or Environmental Writing. Other unusual or noteworthy majors include Applied Computing, Middle East and North African Studies, Art and Technology, and Global Health Studies. Interdisciplinary work is key – they do it well.

Campus is bursting with activities but town is accessible when they want to get off campus. The free Loop bus shuttles them around town. Favorite campus traditions include:

  • Orchesis (a student run dance recital)
  • WingFest (including “an intense wing-eating contest!”)
  • Local foods dinner (this honors a professor who championed sustainability)
~Allegheny bike charger

A bike that will charge electronics

Incoming students take a Freshman Seminar each semester (about 45 are offered each term). These are the beginning of a 4-year series of developing competencies (reading, writing, speaking, listening). Students are encouraged to explore something they’re interested in. “You might discover a different discipline that’s new and exciting.” Some options include: Study of Metaphor, Conspiracy Theories, Political Dissent in American Politics (how minority groups in the 20th C are portrayed in literature and movies), and Africa is Not a Country (notions/portrayals of African countries).

The school works hard to help incoming students with the social-emotional transition to college, and it has paid off with a 92-94% retention rate and a 6-year graduation rate close to 80%. They have early warning systems for students who are floundering; having the Freshman Seminar professor as advisor helps. With 15 students in a class, it’s apparent if you’re skipping, falling asleep, not engaged, unhappy. There’s a lot of talk about the Statement of Community and what people are expected to do. Res Life, Religious Services, the Dean of Students, etc work with students about alcohol use and abuse, health and wellness, study skills, and more. “Coming here is more demanding than in HS. I took classes that challenged me more than I thought they would, but it provides us a supportive environment to learn how to live up to that. I utilized office hours; they want to talk to you. Go to the Learning Commons. The students get it because they’ve been there.”

(c) 2015

Olin College of Engineering

Olin College of Engineering (visited 4/14/14)

Collaborative lab space with stickies as students work through problems

Collaborative lab space with stickies as students work through problems

“Olin in a nutshell: students take ideas, develop them, share them, and improve the community.” Group work is highly valued here, and all students complete a minimum of 10 major group projects tackling real-life problems. It’s a creative, collaborative place. “You can learn anywhere, but if you want to be in control of that learning, come here! You can go into Boston, India, wherever and put things into place.” Twenty percent of students study away at some point. There are Direct Exchanges in South Korea, Belgium Germany, France, Thailand, Chile, and across the US.

The academic complex

The academic complex

The university was chartered in 1997 by the Olin Foundation (which has built landmark buildings on 74 campuses across the country) after a study came out that said that engineers were not being educated in a way to be competitive in the work-place. The first 30 students, dubbed the “Olin Partners,” came in 2001 and graduated in 2006 when the school also became accredited. Now with a full-time enrollment of 350 students (with a gender balanced student population!), Olin has redefined engineering as a profession of innovation with an education based on 1) a curriculum that emphasizes teamwork, project-based learning, practical skills, business knowledge, and a multidisciplinary approach to engineering; 2) developing leadership and communication skills; 3) emphasis on undergraduate teaching and learning in a small supportive community. They offer majors in Mechanical, Electrical and Computer Engineering, and Engineering with concentrations in Bioengineering, Design, Systems, Computing, Materials Science, and a self-designed option.

Student projects

Student projects

Olin has been ranked #2 for “Students who Study the Most” and #11 for “Best Quality of Life” – a good combo! Students are doing what they love. Students can complete research and self-study topics that interest them. One of the tour guides is working in a group to develop a Rubiks cube that solves itself. “It’s completely ridiculous and probably impossible, but we’re doing it anyways because it’s awesome!” The Robotics team is creating an underwater robot that mimics the tuna. They also have a Robotic Sailing Team. “The Hopper” is one class project in which students have to design a plastic toy that hops – and kids judge the results.

SCOPE (Senior Capstone, Program in Engineering) put teams of 4 or 5 students to work on a project for a company like Bose, DePuy Mitek, Facebook, Intuit, Harley-Davidson, Trip Advisor, Raytheon, HP, IBM, Boeing, AGCO, or Army Research Lab. They have to figure out what the problem is, how to fix it, and implement the solution. Projects could be anything from designing a lighter airplane seat or a better vending machine for Pepsi to figuring out how to use the revving on motorcycles for better power.

Students must take a year of Calc and a year of Physics before coming to Olin. They do not take any AP, IB, or transfer credits. Olin has a unique and rigorous program; because of that, the first year is graded on a Pass/No Record system; starting sophomore year, they get traditional grades. “Sometimes that first C is hard to swallow,” said the rep. The lack of grades in the first year gives students a cushion to adjust to the Olin way and to take some risks. They graduate 96% in 4 years and 99% in 6 years.

The 2 dorm buildings

The 2 dorm buildings

Accepted students have a 2190 median SAT or 34 median ACT. Applicants attend a Candidates’ Weekend if they want to come to Olin. Group exercises and individual interviews are evaluated – everything else is for fun. Parents are welcome, but not required. Of the 998 applications last year, 220 were invited to Candidates’ Weekend; 102 were admitted and 30 placed on waitlist. Waitlisted students can opt to enroll at Olin the following year. They enrolled a class of 84, 20 of whom deferred from the year before. Students can also defer for military service or religious missions.

campus map.  Babson is in the upper right corner.

campus map. Babson is in the upper right corner.

The campus is small and runs right into Babson’s campus which whom they share athletic and health services (the health service building is closer to Olin dorms than to Babson dorms). There are only two residence halls on Olin’s campus: West Hall houses freshmen and sophomores; East Hall has juniors, seniors, and exchange students. There are fully stocked kitchens in both dorms. Students can cross-register at Brandeis, Wellesley, or Babson, and shuttles run between these campuses every 20-30 minutes. One student created a solar-powered trash compactor with a student from Babson. Olin also owns a van that students can use for any academic reason (or other school-sponsored event). There are 71 clubs on campus and they can also join clubs at the other two universities. Olin has club-level sports, soccer and Frisbee, and they can play on Babson’s teams (and women can play at Wellesley).

Students are quirky, funny, and think outside the box. As we started the tour, one of the guides said, “Please don’t feed the students, and keep your hands and feet inside the tour at all times!” Olin is home to the only collegiate level conductor-less orchestra. “It’s the only varsity sport on campus,” said the tour guide, and students have to try out, but there are other musical groups to join and even sound-proof practice rooms. The culture on campus allows the students to pursue passions, even if it isn’t dealing with engineering. For example, one student loves making truffles and can see going into chocolate-making. They even have a Fire Arts Club!

Teachers see it as coaching rather than teaching. They ask questions. Students ask questions, build relationships, etc . Students have the skills to start a business or go into a field that’s not exactly engineering. Some go into MBA programs. Top Grad schools are Harvard, MIT, CMU, Babson, Stanford, and Cornell. They’ve had 41 NSF Fellows, 11 Fulbrights (one of the top producing universities in the country), 2 National Defense, and many more major scholarships and competitions.

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