SUNY-ONEONTA (visited 7/24/13)
SUCO (what the students and townies call the State University College at Oneonta) is an attractive campus full of green space and brick buildings, not at all your stereotypical state university. They even have a pond by the union in the shape of NY State. Campus is located about a mile from Hartwick College, and not much further to downtown Oneonta. Our tour guide was a Senior history major from Syracuse. She originally hadn’t thought about SUCO, but had visited and fell in love with it; she feels that she made the right choice. I asked her to describe the students and who would thrive at SUCO. She thought for a minute and said, “Misfits – and I mean that in the best sense of the word. People who are looking for where they fit, who want to be who they are and be accepted for it. They’re the ones who will do great here.”
With just under 6,000 undergrads, SUCO can keep classes to a reasonable size (most hovering around 20); the largest room itself only holds 200 students (and the lecture halls all have leftie desks in each row). Our tour guide’s largest class had 47 students; the smallest had 8 in which the students discussed International Politics “basically around a kitchen table.” Our guide’s favorite classes have been Urban Philosophical Dilemmas, 1960 (not the decade – just the year), and Medieval Sexuality. The school offers 5-week mini-classes worth 1 credit in topics like Excel, scuba, or even cooking. Although there are some TAs, they never teach classes; they conduct review sessions, answer questions, and take attendance and answer questions, but that’s about it. Academic buildings are consciously designed to maximize student collaboration and comfort, with small-group study rooms (including tv screens that hook up to computers so they don’t have to all hover around a small screen) and a student lounge in every academic building. Possibly the coolest thing I’ve seen in a while in terms of academic spaces are the outdoor classrooms located just outside the Fine Arts building. Our tour guide said that a favorite down-time activity among students is playing Manhunt at night in the area.
Campus life is vibrant and it’s clear that students know how to have fun without sacrificing academics. I was impressed with the number of students around campus even in the summer. Because there’s so much to do on campus, the tour guide didn’t mind at all that the town is small (although there is stuff to do in town, and many restaurants will even take the student’s flex-dollars on the ID cards to pay for meals). The spa weekends, Winter Wonderland, and OH (Oneonta-Hartwick) Fest earned high praised from the students I talked to, but they said that things go on all the time. Right before finals, SUCO throws a Spring Fling as a stress relief with ice cream socials, concerts, and even Therapy Dogs on the quad. A favorite ongoing activity is going to the movie theater on campus that shows movies all weekend (and popcorn is free!). SUCO has several DIII sports (they even have a rugby field) so going to games is another popular activity. Their big rival is SUNY Cortland because both are the Red Dragons. SUCO owns a separate camp with a ropes course, a rock-climbing wall, trails, a Longhouse, and more that the students will frequent.
This is the first college I’ve seen that opens up a designated kitchen area in the Dining Hall to students; “MyKitchen” allows students to pasta, stir fry, sandwiches, and more. The ingredients are in mini-fridges and all the equipment is there for them to use. From 11-2, a cook will also make lunch and several times a week there are 3-course meals made for students to enjoy. Students enroll in one unlimited dining plan, but there are three dining halls across campus. We saw the main facility, and they clearly thought through how to handle the crowds. The first floor is a lot like a 7-11 with several options for grab-and-go food (including milkshakes which are popular). The second floor holds the main dining hall. There are several stations, and much of the food is made to order. I asked our guide about timing, thinking that there could be long waits during busy times, but she told us that she’s never had to wait more that about 5 minutes for food. Menus are published online a month ahead so students know if they want to go to a particular dining hall. They have a bakery on campus which provides all the bagels, breads, cakes, etc for campus, and parents can order a birthday cake to be delivered to their student.
Our tour guide has been impressed with the level of attentiveness to student concerns and making sure that students have options and flexibility in programs. “They fix things we complain about: the parking, how it looked in front of the library, the dining hall hours.” The President is active and seen around campus talking to students. Juniors and seniors can have cars on campus, and parking isn’t a problem. They are able to take advantage of classes at Hartwick if there’s something offered there not available at SUCO. Also, because they’re a SUNY school, students can study abroad with any SUNY program without problems. The students said that opens up a lot of options for them. The residential options on campus are extensive with 15 dorms to choose from (13 of which have work-out centers in them so they don’t even have to trek to the gym). Every dorm has at least four computers and printers, and students are given $15 in printing credits per semester. Less than ten percent of students are involved in Greek life so most of the social life revolves around the dorms.