campus encounters

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Search Results for: “green mountain

Green Mountain College

Green Mountain College (visited 4/16/14)

~Green Mtn bikes

~Green Mtn zen garden

Zen Garden

Green Mountain is the kind of college you would expect to find in Vermont – outdoorsy, environmentally conscious, maybe a bit quirky. They have a bike shop on campus, their on-campus coffee shop sells only local foods and fair trade goods, they have an outdoor kiln, there’s a Zen garden outside the library, and bathrooms are unisex.

~Green Mtn quad 2Known as the Environmental state college, the have a distinctive core curriculum called Environmental Liberal Arts (ELA) consisting of four Environmental-based classes in addition to the other required distributions. All freshmen take a 6-credit class called “Images of Nature” in the fall. In the spring they take a writing intensive class. “Delicate Balance” and “Dimensions of Nature” are the upper level ELA classes which can be completed at any time before graduation.

~Green Mtn solar

Solar panels and maze

People are great and definitely aren’t generic. However, lots of people also leave after freshmen year. We asked some students why, and they said that a lot of people come here thinking that it’s a party school and either realize that it’s too small, not what they want, or they bottom out because they party too much. One counselor asked, “So you don’t party now?” The student said, “I didn’t saw that. Let’s just say that I figured out the balance.”

~Green Mtn dining hall

Dining Hall

Most of the 825 students live on campus because there’s a 4-year residential requirement unless students meet an age requirement. Dorms are assigned by major or interests, and there are several Interest Floors. Currently, the campus isn’t completely wired for wifi, but they’re provided with Ethernet cords for the rooms.

~Green Mtn bulls

Campus farm

~Green Mtn Main 2People come for the stand-out majors like Adventure Education, Natural Resources Management, Renewable Energy and Ecological Design, and Sustainable Agriculture and Food Production. They have a working farm on campus, and 20% of the food used on campus is produced on the farm. Our tour-guide was a sophomore Envi Sci and Education major, and double majoring or interdisciplinary work is highly encouraged. They also encourage hands-on and practical applications to what students learn in the classroom. For example, the Green MAP (Mountain Adventure Program) is run by people in the outdoor adventures major. One program they run is the Wilderness Challenge, a pre-orientation program which several students participate in; options include kayaking, hiking, yoga, mountain biking, and more.

Check out their YouTube Video: GMC – Our Home!

© 2014

University of Vermont

University of Vermont (visited 4/15/14)

~UVM mascotIn case you were wondering, UVM comes from the Latin Universitas Viridis Montis, or University of the Green Mountains.

~UVM 2Located in Burlington, UVM is the state’s flagship, land-grant university. With almost 10,000 undergraduates and 1,800 graduate students (about ¼ of whom are in the medical school), students say that it’s the “perfect size.” Although this is the flagship, 65% of students are not from Vermont; “There just aren’t that many students in Vermont,” said the tour guide. There’s a lot of diversity, openness, acceptance, and safe spaces around campus. In fact, it’s the first college in the country to have written into its bylaws that it wasn’t adhering to a particular religious sect – and was also the first school to all women and African Americans full membership status in Phi Beta Kappa.

~UVM sci cntr interior 3

Stairs in the Science Center

“UVM fits any student,” said one of the students we talked to. “It’s inclusive.” In additional to more traditional types of Gen-Ed requirements, the school has a Diversity Requirement. Students must take 1 D1 (Diversity 1) class which covers Race/Racism in the US. They can either then complete one more D1 class or a D2 class which is “Human and Societal Diversity.”

~UVM Sci Cntr interior

Atrium of the Science Center

Some of the more unusual majors are Community Entrepreneurship, Community and International Development, Molecular Genetics, Sustainable Landscape Horticulture, Medical Radiation Therapy, and Neuroscience. Athletic Training, Nursing, and Exercise Science are competitive and some of the most popular majors; nursing is restricted by capacity. They have a 5-year Engineering program with St. Mikes. It’s more difficult to transfer into Engineering or Nursing/health sciences if students don’t declare them coming in, but not impossible. Students completing an Animal Science major have an opportunity to gain early admission to the Tufts University Vet School. People in these departments can still study abroad and minor outside the department which is a bit unusual.

The science center is one of the newest buildings on campus. They made use of local woods for the flooring which changes color to imitate changing landscapes (designed with student input). The building has “awesome lab spaces,” according to our tour guide, including hydraulics, soil, and more. They even have a wind tunnel!

~UVM museum


Their business program puts a great deal of focus on current themes in the business world such as global issues and entrepreneurship. Our tour guide also raved about the strong theater and music programs. They have three main stage events every year, and students are involved in the technical aspect as well. Their art department is impressive, and the university owns the largest art collection in the state (but is that saying much?).

~UVM statue 3Students can be admitted to the Honors Program as a freshman or apply for sophomore admission with a certain GPA and recs from professors. Students in the program live in the newest housing on campus, and the seminars for the first 4 semesters are held in this building. Our tour guide said that her Pursuit of Knowledge was a nice break from Engineering, and the seminars are interesting. She took Discovering a Sense of Place: Transcendentalism. During Junior year, they take a thesis prep course to get ready for their senior thesis.

~UVM theater

Theater Building

~UVM sculptureStudents must live on campus for the first two years. 70% of juniors and seniors move off, but they don’t have to. The tour guides said that there’s way more to do on campus than there’s time to do it all. They laughed when they told us about “The Bored Calendar” which lists all the activities on and around campus. Students complete quite a bit of community service right in Burlington, a city all the students raved about. “We’re in a city on a lake surrounded by mountains.” Church Street is a pedestrian area, well utilized by students and townies alike. When they get sick of the local area, they can hop on the Megabus which goes to both NY and Boston.

Internships and career development are big. The host several career fairs every year with lots of out-of-state employers coming to each. One of the admissions reps said that “Career success is everyone’s job on campus.” Within 6 months of graduation, 20% of alumni are in grad school and 80% are employed.

© 2014

New England Culinary Institute

New England Culinary Institute (visited 4/15/14)

neci 5Occupying several buildings on a main street in Montpelier (the smallest state capitol in the country, and the only one without a Burger King, a McDonalds, or a Starbucks), NECI (pronounced “necky”) does amazing work training students in a variety of culinary arts, including Baking/Pastries, Culinary Arts, and Management. Both the restaurant and the bakery are open to the public: “The big difference with NECI is that there’s a customer at the other end. It makes it immediate.”

neci 7We were lucky enough to eat dinner at the restaurant, and we had time to chat with students, faculty, and admissions reps. One of the chefs we talked has a cookbook coming out called Real World Farm to Table. One of the instructors is Chinese and is providing language classes for students in the BA program. Another one (Jean-Louis) won Chopped. He sat with us at dinner and provided some great entertainment! The student at our table is a first-gen college-goer. She was the first female to do an internship with a butcher. She grew up on a farm and understands the process, but said that being at a butcher was still a big adjustment.

neci 8There are 500 students enrolled at any given time, but only half are on campus; the other half are off doing internships. Students complete several modules on campus separated by 6-month internships. They have a strong presence in Napa, New Zealand, Germany, and many the big cities around the country. Students are encouraged to stay in the country for their first internship. After that, they can go abroad.

neci 1neci 2The classes and work on campus are set up to mimic the industry, so the students are scheduled for about 55 hours a week. Another way that they distinguish themselves from other culinary institutes are that students can’t hide here. Other places may have 100 kids in a lecture and 18 in the kitchen; here, classes are capped at 20 and no more than 10 will be in the kitchen at a time. In addition to all the experience working in both the bakery and the restaurant, they get other types of great experiences: we got to see Easter Bunny Chocolate Racecars that they made. There is also the annual “Wedding Cake Challenge” when groups are given a specific task such as to coordinate the cake with something like a specific article of clothing or to tea cups. They give tastes to the public who get to vote on appearance and taste.

neci 4To expand some opportunities for students, they have looked at the Five-College Consortium and are now trying to get NECI, Sterling, Green Mountain, and Vermont Tech linked so students can do a 1-semester exchange among the colleges. They also offer Dual Enrollment for high-schoolers who can enroll online first by doing 9 weeks online and 1 weekend in residency. After that, they start on site. October is the traditional start for kids coming out of high school. Non-traditional students usually start in April or November.

© 2014

Sterling College

STERLING COLLEGE (visited 4/13/14)

~Sterling bldg 2

Main Street

If you didn’t know better, you’d pass by this college campus thinking it might have been a glorified summer camp or simply more pretty white wooden buildings lining the small main street of Craftsbury, population 1,300 (“we’re supposed to get cell service in about 6 months!”). They’re an hour from Burlington, 2.5 hours from Montreal, and 3 hours from Boston.



Sterling is one of the most unusual colleges I’ve ever visited; with only 120 students, this is 1 of 7 federally designated Work Colleges (others include Warren Wilson and Berea). They’re looking to grow to 150 students in the next 2 years. They do have an 85% acceptance rate which reflects the self-selecting population of the applicant pool. Cross-over colleges include College of the Atlantic, Green Mountain College, Warren Wilson, Evergreen State, and Prescott. Sterling is test optional; things like Work Ethic counts for much more than scores. Tim, the Director of Admission, said that the students here work harder than he did at Williams. We were all impressed that he was one of the two people taking us out on tour; dressed in corduroys and boots, he was tramping through the mud with the rest of us, clearly excited to be showing off all that the school has to offer.

~Sterling draft horse sign~Sterling where food comes fromThey do their best to accommodate special academic interests but the baseline educational experience is Ecological Stewardship. Tim called Sterling, “Boot Camp for Stewards.” It’s a vibrant community with an ethic of land use. Majors include Sustainable Agriculture and Sustainable Production (and in fact, 20% of the food used in the dining hall is grown on campus); Ecology (students work for the National Parks, Land Trust, Game and Wildlife), and Education (grads go on to work at the Farm School and other similar things). They have several minors, including Draft Horse Management and Climate Justice. The buildings are small, older, wooden buildings, many of which are being fitted for solar power while keeping the traditional feel to the buildings; you won’t find new modern LEED certified buildings here. They’re also working to transform everything to not use fossil fuels.



~Sterling dorm cat and lounge

Dorm lounge complete with resident cat

We talked to several students who came to Sterling from across the country: OR, NY, MA, PA, and NJ. Twenty percent of the students come from Vermont, 50% come from New England and New York, and 8% are international. The students said that they came because of the small community, the unique programs, and the opportunity to merge hands-on and intellectual work. One student was surprised that it’s so academic here. Many of the students are non-traditional students (although the average age is only 21), and several transfer or come back for a second degree. One woman on the panel was 29 and had already been working as an architect. She here because she was “blown away” by the ecology lens.

One of the students made the bread we ate at lunch!

One of the students made the bread we ate at lunch!

Students are expected to have an axe (not kidding!). All freshmen need to complete “Bounder” which is based on the Outward Bound Education. This fall class ends with a 4-day, 30-mile trek back to campus without tents or stoves. They’re taken out to the woods and dropped off with the group. “In December, you can get any kind of weather.” The kids said that it’s a really difficult experience – they’re glad they did it, but hope they never have to do it again! Over their time at Sterling, they can get certified in Wilderness First Responder, as well. A student at lunch said, “I learned so much about anatomy and physiology, and it only cost about $100 rather than $1000 if I did it somewhere else”.

Message boards like this are all over campus

Message boards like this are all over campus

All students must complete a one semester internship; before that, they do a “Work Search” class; afterwards, they do a reflection. A veteran on campus is about to gradate with an experience in Horse Therapy because of his internship; he plans on continuing this work with other veterans after graduation. There are 4 draft horses on campus which are used for everything from working the farm to pulling the carts with maple sap to the maple syrup hut. The campus farm is extensive, with all sorts of animals (currently, they have steers being raised on an old tennis court which the school acquired when they took over a resort that went bankrupt) as well as food. They’re building a new chicken building that looks like a little cabin.

© 2014

Sewanee: The University of the South

Sewanee (12/3/18)

Sewanee chapel and quad

The quad with the chapel in the background

With nicknames like “The Domain” and “The Mountain,” I expected campus to feel more mountainous than it does – but Sewanee sits on flat on top of the Cumberland Plateau, its 13,000 acres making it the 2nd largest college campus in the country.

“This isn’t a place where students are absorbed into the surrounding city. They’re really here. They need to be a good classmate, teammate, reliable lab partner.” The “town” of Sewanee is only about 2 blocks long but has basic essentials (store, post office, etc). We asked the students panelists what they would say to people who are afraid they’ll be isolated on a mountaintop:

  • Sewanee town

    The town of Sewanee

    “Valid point! If you are really afraid, this might not be the place for you – but they do keep us incredibly busy! And Chattanooga is 45 minutes away.” (Nashville is just over an hour; Atlanta is 3).

  • “They don’t put a group of 18-22 year olds on the top of a mountain and hope they figure it out because that’s terrifying. There’s so much to do here. It’s not an issue.”
  • “This is an academically rigorous place. We spend a lot of time doing work. Those students you saw in the library earlier weren’t staged: they’re really in there studying. Plus, you can leave. You can have cars. That’s how we meet people. Upperclassmen will yell down the hall, “Freshmen, we’re going to Walmart! Get in the car!””
  • Sewanee fire pit

    Patio with a fire pit outside the dining hall

    “I found it refreshing. I think college should challenge you. I never had a problem getting off campus, but I find there’s so much to do that you may not get anywhere else. You just have to look a little more sometimes.”

  • “It creates a stronger community to go after what you’re passionate about instead of looking elsewhere and not connecting to people here or spending time with people who love the same things. My friends at other schools say that they don’t have the freedom to go after what they love.”

Sewanee students 2Sewanee has a reputation for being preppy. In large part, it lives up to that – but that’s not the whole story. “Understanding our brand can be a barrier. Students have to buy into being on a mountain. There’s a large outdoorsy contingent [the Outing Program runs over 200 trips a year], and many of our students are Pell-eligible,” said a rep. “Our students of color often come from a city [including 10 Posse students a year from the DMV]. Things like food or barbers/beauticians that signify comfort aren’t as readily available. We need to provide access to that especially if they don’t have a car. We have zipcars; if they don’t drive, people will teach them.”

Sewanee 9“Spaces are important. They evolve each year. If there’s something we aren’t doing, we own up to it and change. There’s now a Q&A House for LGBTQ+ students.” Students agreed that the college has become more responsive in the past several years. “Students feel empowered.” They even have an amazing music room tucked into the 2nd floor of the library. Inside is a top-of-the-line speaker system, amazing acoustics, and an archive of 25000 vinyl records! Students can come in to research or just listen to music. There’s a large construction project going on that will incorporate the Wellness Initiative with the Student Commons. “Right now they have the green spaces, but you also need indoor space.”

Sewanee 12Campus is gorgeous: the buildings are made of (mostly) locally-sourced stone. The chapel which normally seats 500 (1000 at the holidays when they reconfigure the space) is the focal point of campus; the Rose Window is inspired by Notre Dame in Paris. Sewanee is the only Episcopalian supported campus. Historically, this was a draw but is less so in recent years, although about 1/3 of the students self-identify as Episcopalian. They have an interfaith house and Jewish and Muslim associations. There’s a Theology School, but there is little other religious influence other than that. Nothing is mandated, but services are offered. The chapel is used for large campus events such as signing the honor code, “gowning,” and graduation.

Sewanee window intOne of the biggest surprises is the Tennessee Williams Center: upon his death, Williams bequeathed the bulk of his estate to Sewanee to honor his grandfather, an Episcopal priest and alumni; his grandparents “kept him alive – he almost sold his typewriter three times to pay for food. They’d send him money.” The gift from about 20 years ago came “out of nowhere,” said the center’s Director. They renovated the old gym into a spectacular new center, and royalties from his plays bring in $1.2m a year. “We’re running a mini-conservatory. Students do everything: act, sew, direct, do lighting, and even learn how to sweep a floor properly.” The 8 graduates from 2018 are all working in the business. Students can do their own productions – they pitch ideas to the Student Production Board, secure the rights to the play, do the PR, tickets, everything. Cabaret sold out so quickly that they added more shows.

Sewanee music room

The music room in the library

We asked the student panelists about what surprised them at Sewanee and what they wished people knew:

  • “I wish people knew that it’s as big or as small as you want it to be. People think they need this huge school to make friends, but there are only so many people you can be friends with.”
  • “I wish people realized that Sewanee students are competitive in the real world. It’s so much more than a name. We’re intellectual.”
  • “A lot of people don’t know about Class Dress – we don’t wear sweatpants to class. It’s an unspoken ‘dress nicely’ policy. We don’t do the ‘rolled out of bed look’ but don’t be worried about it. It’s not a huge deal!”
  • “I wish people knew how much we love Sewanee. I want to do 4 more years here!”
  • “There a large Greek life here (70% participation) but the wonderful thing is how inclusive it is. Events are open to everyone. You never have to be a member to do something. It’s just like another club.” Another panelist agreed: “I get to have as much fun without paying any of the dues.”

Sewanee 4Academically, Sewanee may be best known for their English Programs and The Sewanee Review, the oldest continuously published literary review. Students work as Interns where they actively review submissions and pass on opinions to the editors. They bring on Pulitzer and Nobel Prize winners (such as Arthur Miller and Anne Patchett) to work with students in the Summer Writer Conference. Students can minor in Shakespeare Studies and earn a certificate in Creative Writing.

Sewanee seal

The college seal – don’t walk on it if you want to graduate on time!

Sewanee offers multiple certificates, electives, and minors that they don’t make into full-blown majors (the most unusual of which is Southern Appalachian Studies). The Babson Center for Global Commerce is the “house of business,” working itself into liberal arts in interesting ways. “It’s more horizontal in nature than vertical. Employers need the critical thinking and persuasive skills from a Liberal Arts degree.” They only offer a minor (the largest one on campus with 10% of students completing it) to provide students a comprehensive education, combining passion with practicalities. “My job [Director of the program] is to expose them to what it means to go to work.” They bring in speakers like Delta’s CEO to talk about the company culture, a newspaper CEO to talk about digital transition, women in STEM, etc. Carey Fellows (29 honors students are selected each year) take 2 extra classes and a semester-long internship in junior year.

Sewanee DH ext

The Dining Hall

As I walked around campus, I passed a class entering some of the wooded areas across from the quad; I watched for awhile as they did measurements, testing, and more. Not surprisingly, the Earth and Environmental Systems department is strong, and their academic building is amazing! “It’s like home,” said the Director of the program. “Maybe too much so!” They offer a certificate in Watershed Science and majors in several other areas (including Forestry and Geology).

Sewanee chapel ext 5Campus is steeped in traditions, creating a distinctive Sewanee culture:

  • Lessons and Carols, based after King’s College in Cambridge, is a big deal on campus and in the community. The University Choir sang for us for a few minutes; the director told us how students can earn a music minor through choir membership. A world-famous opera singer (the winner of the Pavarotti Competition) is teaching students as an Artist-in-residence. They also bring in adjuncts for any instrumental lessons “even bassoon.”
  • Honor Society/ Getting “gowned”: Students earning Honor Status for 2 straight semesters earn their Academic Gown and the right to wear it around campus to class and other events. Professors also often wear their gowns to teach.
  • The Sewanee Angels: the tradition says that angels live in the Domain to protect its beauty and the people who live there. They become people’s guardian angels; as students and staff leave the gates, they tap the roof of the car to let the angels know they’re leaving so they’ll have an angel who will always guide them back.
  • As with lots of other colleges, Sewanee has a “Don’t walk on the seal” tradition. “If you do it by accident, you can streak the quad to reverse the curse,” said our tour guide.
  • Hiking the Perimeter Trail, a 20 mile loop around campus. “It’s a right of passage. It’s an all day trip that often starts and ends at Shenanigans (basically the only pub in town).”

© 2018

Western Washington University

Western Washington University (visited 6/23/17)

WWU 7WWU quickly became one of my favorite schools. I’m not sure what the vibe is, but whatever is going on there is working — and with an 82% freshman-sophomore retention, the students like it, too. Driving up the hill to campus, we decided it felt a little like a summer camp. We later learned that there’s a designated arboretum along the edge of campus. The wooded area opened up to a beautiful campus at the top of the hill. “This is the Goldilocks of campuses,” said one student. “It’s the right size.”

WWU dorms 1In many ways, this is an artsy campus “but that’s not all-encompassing. I wouldn’t describe the engineering department like that!” said one of the reps when we asked her if our impressions were accurate. There is a general sense of inclusive access and closing gaps starting with admissions and carrying through the way the students treat each other and the wider world. This is an open, accepting community. About a dozen students attended the counselor reception so we had time to talk to them. Their nametags listed preferred gender pronouns.

WWU 4Students are aware of and interested in what’s going on in the world. “I haven’t met an apathetic person on campus and I appreciate that,” said a tour guide. Students mobilize themselves. They’ll help get people registered to vote and hold protests for the Dakota pipeline. “There’s a general sense of wanting to talk about events and differences. Yeah, you see things that seem skewed towards the liberal, but there are also posters up about conservative talking-points as well.” It’s not surprising that for 3 years running, WWU has been #1 nationally among mid-sized universities sending graduates to the Peace Corps.

WWU sculpture 3This is a medium-sized university with 15,000 students, about 95% of whom are undergrads. Not surprisingly, most students are from Washington. Just over half (52%) self-identify as some sort of under-represented student (including low income, students of color (25%), and first gen (31%)). “People might have multiple identities: we don’t look at diversity in a compartmentalized way. It’s intersectional,” said the President.

WWU quadOne unique academic aspect stems from this approach of intersectionality: the Fairhaven College of Interdisciplinary Study is a bit like Evergreen State College in that students can collaborate with faculty to create a course of study. There are significant differences, but the spirit is there. These are students who want to look at things intentionally and systematically, usually with some component of social justice/change. Advisors help students acclimate to the learning style, the narrative evaluations, and grappling with creating their own degree. Students write an evaluation at the end of the quarter; the professor responds and decides if they get credit. “I felt like I learned so much more because there was more dialogue and in-depth conversation with peers and the professor.” It’s good for students who want to share their views and learn from each other. The college is physically located on South Campus, but not all classes are there. Students still have to take a certain number of “Main Campus” classes. Most students apply during freshman or sophomore year but can apply as an incoming freshman. Their core requirements differ from Main; they mirror each other but are specific to the campus.

WWU fountain

The fountain controlled by a sensor on top of one of the buildings; if it’s windy, the fountain height goes down

The university’s tag-line is Active Minds Changing Lives. “Students love learning and doing something meaningful,” said one of the students. Teachers are here because they want to teach, and just over half of the students will do research with a professor. Academics of note are:

  • Unusual majors include Canadian-American Studies, Decision Sciences, Manufacturing and Supply Chain Management, and Behavioral Neuroscience.
  • Unusual Minors include Arts Enterprise & Cultural Innovation, Business Analytics, Disaster Risk Reduction, and Sustainable Design
  • WWU science

    One of the science buildings

    The College of the Environment was one of the first in the country; they’ve been ranked in the top 2% in the nation for number of grads who go on to earn research doctorates. “Environmental Sustainability = Human Sustainability!”

  • Theater is ranked as #10 in the country. There are several professional theaters within 10-15 miles where students can intern.
  • There are about 150 students in Honors each year; an honor-housing option is available.
  • IDEA: Interdisciplinary Entrepreneurship in Action
  • They offer a Leadership Minor open to all students, and they’re working on a Masters. The curricular and co-curricular work together. They’re trying to get a leadership conference going through UNESCO.
  • WWU maker space

    One of the maker-spaces on campus; students do much of the engineering work in hands-on labs like this

    Engineering: All tracks are accredited (except vehicle design; there’s no accreditation for this). Students aren’t admitted directly into the program; they apply as soon as they finish the pre-reqs, much of which depends on where they start with math. This is a highly hands-on department. Students who invent/create things here will retain intellectual property (but are asked to acknowledge the school)! There’s a patent office on campus to help them with this process.

  • WWU quad 2The Fine Arts department takes advantage of the fact that this is the 2nd largest number of artists in residence after Santa Fe: film, painting, sew/knit/quilt/crochet. Art classes are open to non-majors, but majors get first pick. Open spots are then available to others.
  • A student designed the weather meter on Bond Hall – if it’s windy, the fountain gets lower so people don’t get sprayed with water. There’s a tradition that if they win at intramurals, they’ll jump in the fountain.
WWU Rockies 5

Canadian Rockies as seen from campus

The school has a strong Learning Support program. “The first year is very hands-on and progressively becomes hands-off. They’re coming out of K-12 where it was SO directed. We teach them how to ask for accommodations and how to advocate for themselves. It’s to help them move forward into being independent with this.”

WWU seatingThere’s no football and no Greek life on campus (although their rowing and soccer teams are national champions!). “That really helps town-gown relations!” Bellingham (population 82,000) is a beautiful place to live. Students get a free bus pass to get around town. The Canadian Rockies are visible from campus, and students can be at the mountains in an hour! The ocean is “right there”. The border is only 15 minutes away; Vancouver is another 30 beyond that. Students can catch the Amtrak for an easy day trip. Mt. Baker is an hour away, and Seattle (without traffic!) is 90 minutes. So many outdoor activities in the vicinity: skiing, snowboarding, kayaking, fishing, and even “hammocking if that’s your thing!” There are only 3 national chain restaurants (Starbucks, Pita Pit, and Jimmy John’s). The rest are locally owned.

WWU 1Admissions uses their own application requiring a personal essay and activity list with an optional “tell us more” section. They require a math-based course in senior year. However, if students have completed an advanced math beyond Algebra 2 before senior year, they are exempt from this requirement. This is a WUE school, but it’s treated almost like a competitive scholarship-based program. Only about 15% of students will get WUE, but then they offer 2 other award tiers for others.

© 2017

Plymouth State University

Plymouth State University (visited 10/17/16)


Robert Frost Statue

If you want to study meteorology in a small school or brag that Robert Frost taught at your alma mater, this is a place for you to check out.

“I was surprised at how friendly the place is. It’s a hold-the-door sort of place,” said one of the students. It’s a homey atmosphere, the type of place where a professor will run a Stitch-and-Bitch on a Friday evening in a dorm and have 40 kids show up.

psu-2People describe Plymouth as a transformative place: “it’s almost a “do-over/start-over” place where students who maybe didn’t think that they were college material come and realize that they are. They can hit the reset button here. They can move into a future that a lot of them never imagined for themselves,” said one of the reps. A student agreed: “I’m a better student now. I’m actually doing my work and getting As and Bs.”


Typical fall colors when the morning fog burns off

Students who haven’t found their voice yet often do well here. They have to engage in the process and understand what they’re learning because they apply it in a lot of classes. They’re responsible for it during group projects. “My biography does not preclude my destiny. If you’re not good at math, you know what? We have math classes here!” said another student. “No matter where they start, development happens,” said a rep.


Early morning walk to class in the fog

Lazy doesn’t work here. Students are “gritty and willing to work hard. Most are not coming from affluence. They’re willing to work for things and want to take advantage of the opportunity because they know that not all kids get that,” said a rep. The kids here are “often on the cusp of finding their passion. We do really well with kids who have heart and spirit. They’re good kids. That doesn’t mean they don’t have their hot-mess moments, but they have heart.” That being said, they recognize that their graduation rates need some work.

There are several things in place to help PSU students succeed. One is the existence of first-year success coaches. They take the “GPS approach: think of it as a roadmap. We know the way and what’s ahead.” Students get a nudge/reminder via text, email, etc when something is coming up “or missed a turn.”

psu-acad-bldg-2Plymouth has taken a deliberate stance towards “rebuilding the liberal arts.” They spend time asking themselves, How are they going to let students be transformative, to come out of school and be ready to take on challenges? The result is a redesigned core curriculum (starting the 2016-17 school year) revolving around 7 multi-disciplinary clusters:

  • Education, Democracy, and Social Change
  • Tourism, Environment, and Sustainable Development
  • Justice and Security
  • Innovation and Entrepreneurship
  • Arts and Tech
  • Health and Human Enrichment
  • Exploration and Discovery

For a school this size, 50 majors and 60 minors is impressive. The largest enrolled departments are: business, CJ, Education, Envi Sci & Policy, and Health and Human Performance. Things to brag about include:

  • psu-meteorology

    The meteorology building


  • Adventure Education
  • The Allied Health majors: Athletic Training, nursing, and Social Work. A PT department is in the works. Students from all majors come together four times before graduation to work on a “virtual patient;” they have to come up with solutions for cases as a group.
  • Theater Arts: Dramatic Writing, Acting, Musical Theater, and Design-Tech tracks
  • DHL now only recruits at Arizona and Plymouth State. They love the kids’ authenticity and that many of them have been working since 15 or 16. Some of these kids have never been on an airplane, and they get to live in AZ for the first 18-24 months of their careers.

Class sizes for students on the panel ranged from 9 – 32. Their favorite classes were:

  • Mind, Brain, and Evolution (psych). “It’s just fascinating.”
  • Event Management: we learn how to market and run fund-raising events by raising money for a local event.
  • Disney: Magic Kingdom or Evil Empire (FYS). The professor gave both sides of the arguments, we learned how to formulate arguments, etc.
  • US Feminism (history). I decided to minor in women’s studies because of this. We didn’t learn the stereotypical things.

One of the biggest dorms, and the tallest point in town.

Over 40% of the 4,100 students come from outside NH, although 90% of the population is from New England and the Mid-Atlantic. There are some buses running to Logan, Concord, and Manchester. They’re seeing an increase in the international population including a lot from Sweden: “I think they come for the hockey and maybe soccer,” said the tour guide. There’s an athletic culture here: about 80% of students participate in some form of athletics, whether on one of the 24 DIII teams or in club/intramural sports.


One of the dorm kitchens

96% of students live on or within 1 mile of campus. Housing is available all 4 years. A new Res Hall with 288 beds is opening fall of 2017. Freshmen are integrated into dorms; there’s no separate building. Weekends are less than busy, but there are certainly things to do. Skiing is popular (Cranbrook is only 20 minutes away). Before graduation, the students on the panel said that students have to:

  • See a movie or go stargazing on Lynn Green while drinking hot chocolate.
  • Take a selfie with Robert Frost (the statue on campus)
  • psu-chairsFloat the river!
  • Learn to ski or snowboard. “There’s no point coming to school here if you aren’t going to do that!” Students often come here because they’re active and/or enjoy the environment and being outside. There’s an outdoor center where students can get equipment for free to get outside whether it’s on the lakes or mountains.

Admission is Rolling; their app is free (Common App costs $50). Students only need 1 letter and NO test scores: they won’t look at scores even if they’re sent in!

© 2016

Dartmouth College

Dartmouth College (visited 4/12/14)

~Darmouth library

Dartmouth library

Every day at 4:00 pm, Dartmouth students can get tea and cookies for 10 cents in Sanborn Library, the main library on campus. Several years ago, the university was going to raise the price, but an alum stepped up to fund an endowment to keep the price at 10 cents forever.

Dartmouth looks like you’d expect: lots of old brick buildings surrounding a quad, but with enough modern buildings to keep up with the times. The Quad sprawls along a main street of Hanover, a quintessential New England town. Main Street has everything students need: great gelato (I tested it after the tour!), restaurants, and shopping. Because of their location, there are lots of outdoor activities such as hiking, skiing, and swimming. Although they’re relatively remote, the students don’t feel stuck. Each semester, Dartmouth runs a bus at least 7 times to Boston and twice to NYC.

~Darmouth quad 2

Main quad

Nothing on campus is more than a 10-minute walk from the central Green, home to several campus traditions. One popular yearly event is the multi-story bonfire built by freshmen; they’re supposed to run around it 100 times plus the year of their graduation, but usually that’s too far so they’ll do the year of graduation only.

~Darmouth sculture swingInterestingly, students refer to their class by year of graduation (“I’m a ’16”) rather than the traditional freshman, sophomore, etc. Almost all incoming freshmen participate in pre-orientation, 5-day trips in groups of 6-8 students. They choose from a variety of options such as hiking, nature photography, kayaking, mountain biking, and cabin camping.

Dartmouth is still called a college because of the undergraduate experience, even though they have grad programs. My tour guide said that her largest class was Chem 101 with 150 people (the largest lecture hall on campus can fit 180 students); on the first day of class, the professor started calling people by name because he had memorized who they are. Writing Seminars include classes like Political Debates in Archaeology and Native American Representation in Pop Culture.

~Darmouth archDartmouth runs on the Quarter Plan. Students take 3 classes a term and must complete work in 8 distribution areas. “D Plan” says that students must be here for the summer quarter after sophomore year. In exchange, they take off a quarter of their choosing during sophomore or junior year. Our tour guide loves this; students can get internships more easily during their time off. During the summer on campus, they get to know others really well, they can “test run” leadership positions in organizations, and “it’s the best weather of the year.”

~Darmouth acad bldg 1When I showed up for the tour, I was told that I was not allowed to attend the Student Forum, open only to prospective students so they could ask questions without adults. However, the two students at the desk were more than happy to answer questions. “One of the biggest challenges at Dartmouth is not getting involved in everything!” said one. The other told me about his favorite activities: Humanitarian Engineers and Habitat for Humanity.

The Director of Admissions stopped down for a few minutes. Although there was a slight drop-off in applications this year, they are still at about double the number from 10 years ago. There is a rise in diversity and strength of the applicants. He called it a “crowding at the top” in terms of numbers, so nuance becomes increasingly important. They’re looking for engagement, people who are curious about their world, and those who push beyond what’s right in front of them. This can manifest itself in lots of ways: probing to real depth in academics, the way they engage peers and pushing conversation in class, getting involved in a social pursuit. About 40% of their class is admitted through the Early round. Several of these are recruited athletes and legacy students.

~Darmouth dorms


There are many amazing opportunities for students:

  • The performing arts building has a movie theater, and there are concert halls where big name performers come including YoYo Ma, George Winston, world famous dance troups, and more. Many of these people or groups will run student workshops before or after performances.
  • Any student can use the university woodworking, ceramics and jewelry workshops, paying only for materials.
  • The Hood Museum doesn’t just display items. Our tour guide got to work with a mummy shroud at the museum on campus.
  • The Psych Department has an fMRI machine for brain imaging, and priority access is given to undergrads.
  • Dartmouth is home to the largest gym in the Ivies. Students can earn PE credits by ice fishing, white water kayaking, Zumba, wilderness rescue, and more.
  • Public Policy students work with the NH Senate and even present to them.
  • Our tour guide works with cancer nanotech lab at Dartmouth Hitchcock med center.
  • The Women in Science Program will fund 1 term of research.
  • They have the only geography department in the Ivy League.
  • The “Take Your Professor to Lunch” program gives students $40 gift cards to restaurants in town so they can get to know professors outside of class.
  • They have the longest running independent student paper and actually pay rent to Dartmouth.
  • The Dartmouth Ventures Entrepreneurship Competition evolved from an initiative from an alum who wanted to encourage student innovation. Two students from the class of 2016 won with their invention, Tray Bien, an ergonomic serving tray after hearing waitresses complain about tendonitis and carpal tunnel. First place internationally competing grad and undergrad.
~Darmouth greek house

One of the Greek houses

Many dorms are Affinity Houses, and each area has clusters of first-year students. Over 90% of students live on campus all 4 years, just over half (51%) are in single rooms. There is a bit of Greek Housing, but relatively few opportunities to live in a Frat or Sorority houses. Greek Life policy delays rush to sophomore year; my tour guide said that she never expected to want to become affiliated, but she’s glad she did because it’s not at all like the stereotype. All events are open to anyone, and there are even 3 coed groups.

© 2014

Mount Holyoke College

Mount Holyoke College(Visited 10/16/12)

Nice building

One of the main old buildings on campus.

~MHC quadThis is a very different type of campus from Smith. Picture a typical, older, “typical New England” campus with a lot of grand old brick buildings, lots of green areas, and big trees. That’s Holyoke. The town is also a cute, small New England town with a little town square, although I sensed that we saw most of it driving in. I asked the tour guide what she liked to do in town, and after telling us how much there was to do on campus, she admitted that she rarely spent time in South Hadley, although “there are a couple places to go eat on the Square.” She said she’ll go to Northampton if she’s looking for a town or to the other campuses for things to do.

~MHC treesThe student panel at breakfast was interesting, but the students were not nearly as articulate or insightful as some on other panels I had attended. Maybe it was too early in the morning! Favorite classes tend to be the ones where they feel supported. One student had to present a self-developed NGO to the President of the college that she said was an amazing experience. Another said that her FYE about Politics and Self was eye-opening. A third talked about a professor not letting her drop a French class, saying “You can do it.” They all agreed that professors are invested in student success. They also appreciated the sense of internationalism on campus. Faculty members speak 55 languages, and the college brings in other students for Junior Year Abroad as well as sending their own students around the world for study experiences.

~MHC ampatheaterFaculty usually only teach two classes a semester to give them time for teaching well, advising students well, and do research well. They have an integrated advising program that starts with a First Year Seminar and a “Connections” break-out session (a 4th meeting a week) that is an extension of orientation to be well positions to make the most of their MHC experience. They fund internships so the students have a meaningful work experience. They’re hoping to be broader and more comprehensive so it’s not just an internship. There’s a Nexis program – set them up for the internship, and then after, they “unpack” what happened.

~MHC 3The Holyoke students we spoke to didn’t seem to take advantage of the academic benefits of the Five College Consortium. No one on the panel had taken classes on other campuses and gave the impression that it wasn’t popular or really sought after although “people do it.” Our tour guide said that she hasn’t taken any classes at other schools, but “there are always students from other colleges in my classes.” Social events seem a little more utilized, particularly because of the co-ed factor. The students we talked to really liked the single-sex education in a lot of ways and definitely felt supported in their growth as people, but they did seek out chances to meet and hang out with guys on other campuses. The students we talked to would like the reputation of women’s colleges to change; it’s not a convent or “a place for lesbians to hang out.”

~MHC 2One-third of students are in the sciences, and the science center is the newest building on campus; an alum gave $10million to build it. There’s the “Million Dollar Tree outside” that students and alums wanted kept, so an additional million was raised in order to keep it. The alumnae are a very strong force. I met up with one of my former students at breakfast, and she is clearly happy and relaxed here. She has found intellectual stimulation and a supportive community. This seems usual for the students we met. Some, however, were a bit over-the-top to the drinking-the-kool-aid level. The tour guide got a bit creepy about Mary Lyon, the school’s founder who is buried in the middle of campus. She went on for a long time about Lyon, traditions on campus (several surrounding Lyon or her grave such as putting garlands around on her birthday), and said “I LOVE Mary Lyon!” several times. The campus has a ton of traditions. For example, each class is given a color and icon. In the library, by tradition, 2 classes are assigned a staircase on each side, and if you use the other you won’t graduate (at all? On time? I can’t remember). The traditions definitely tie students together and give them a sense of belonging at the college. The alums I know from MHC still talk about things like Mountain Day and the class parades.

One of the quads on campus.

In terms of admissions to Holyoke, there’s an enormously self-selecting group of applicants. They use a 1-9 rating scale when assessing files, and about 95% of applicants earn a rating that suggesting that they’d be successful here. Most students will submit SAT scores, even though they’re test-optional. The offer thirty 21st-Century-Scholars awards each year which provides a $25,000 merit award every year.

~MHC shabbat posterDining halls on campus got fairly high reviews. They have a kosher/halal center which can get crowded because a lot of vegetarian students eat there too. Our tour guide told us that she would expand this if she could change anything about the school since it’s sometimes hard to get served there because of all the people.

Something we learned about late in the program, sort of by accident, was that MHC has an Equestrian Program. They had brochures available in the admissions office, so I asked the rep to expand on the program; she said they offer every type of riding (ie, Western, dressage) and have 60 horses and miles of trails available to students.

(c) 2012

University of Redlands

UNIVERSITY OF REDLANDS, Redlands, CA (visited 6/23/12)

Redlands main quad

The main quad with the chapel at the end, as seen from the main building

I was hugely impressed with this university, both in terms of the personnel and the physical campus. Knowing that I was going to be in the Southern California area for a limited time over the summer, the admissions rep responsible for North Carolina invited me to visit campus on a Saturday – even though they’re closed on Saturdays over the summer. He came in to meet with me and had two tour guides from the local area come in to give me a tour. Both were going into their sophomore year and were training to be tour guides, but I wouldn’t have known that they hadn’t been doing this for quite some time.

Home of the Johnston Center

Home of the Johnston Center

Redlands acad bldgOne of the best programs at Redlands is their Johnston Center for Integrative Studies. Along the lines of Antioch, Hampshire, and Evergreen, students get to design their own major through contracts and negotiations with professors and the advisor (although they can have more than one advisor due to the interdisciplinary aspect of the program). A recent graduate majored in “The Art of Happiness” in which he took psychology, philosophy, religion, and other similar classes in pursuit of how and why people are happy. When asked what he was going to do with it, he replied, “I don’t know yet . . . but I know I’ll get the interview!” The 200 students in the program have autonomy over designing their own curriculum, including enrolling in the mainstream classes and negotiating the syllabus with the professors to tweak it to what they need. It’s a direct, visual way of taking down the traditional experience of a college education. The admissions rep said that the prevailing attitude in the program is that “if you’re bored, it’s your own fault!” Students have to be very motivated, curious, and outside-the-box thinkers to succeed in the program. They have their own housing and academic building, but they are not segregated by any sense. In fact, they tend to be some of the most active students on campus.

Redlands stud centrNone of the students on campus are slackers, though. The admissions rep described the typical student as being “an academic with a life” and professional-minded. The most popular majors are business, education, psychology, pre-law, and pre-med. Sciences are so strong that 99% of students looking to go into medicine or post-graduate work in the sciences get into one of their top 2 choices of schools. However, students are gregarious and open-minded, especially in the sense that they will give anything a try. Students cross “boundaries” all the time; they don’t pigeonhole themselves. For example, there are several pre-med majors participating consistently in theater productions.

Redlands musicThe music program is strong, at a conservatory level without the conservatory. The student: faculty ratio is 7:1 in the music department as compared to 11:1 in the rest of the university. The music program is classically based, and students can earn the BM or BA; any student can minor in music, as well. There are scholarships given out for students who participate in ensemble work even if they are not majoring in music. Additionally, they put on two musicals every semester, even though the university has technically done away with their Musical Theater major.

Redlands sci cntr

The entrance to the science center

The tour guides told me that the smallest class she has taken so far was a California History class (9 people); the largest was 28 (an Intro class). One really loved her Freshman Seminar class called “Play it Again” based around reading and seeing plays. The other didn’t like hers: it was an environmental studies class. In addition to two lectures a week, there was a three-hour lab on Thursday afternoons that turned into a lecture as well. She liked the content, but had trouble sitting through so many lectures and wishes there was a more hands-on component. The good news was that it did “double duty” – counting for both the Freshman Seminar and a Science requirement so she felt that it was worthwhile in that way.

Redlands sundial

The “sundial” clock on the side of the science building

Redlands accepted their largest freshman class this year of 800 students, but will probably fall back down to the usual 750 after this year. They have an impressive 91% retention rate with 80% graduating in 4 years. They chalk this up to the intense support networks and highly aware faculty. Advising is strong from day one. In fact, no one can declare a major until they’ve met with an advisor after arriving on campus. They can indicate an interest on their application and can declare as early as their first meeting with the advisor in the fall if they know what they want to do – but they can also change their minds up to the end of sophomore year without losing much, if any, time.

Redlands ampitheaterThe campus is beautiful. It’s organized well with most residences around a quad on one side of campus, and most academics on the other side. They have a Memorial Garden on campus; although I only got to see it from the side, it clearly is a beautiful, well-maintained place. The tour guides spoke highly of the space, saying that students utilize it well when it’s open (the gates are locked up overnight), and students take pride in its appearance, volunteering to help keep it up. Next to the Garden is a large Greek-style amphitheater which holds graduation, speakers/concerts, freshman orientation events (including piling all the new students into the pit area for games which the tour guides told me was quite the bonding experience!), and other large events like that. Another freshman orientation tradition is to send the students up the mountainside beside campus to the large “R” overlooking campus to clean up around it, repaint it, or doing whatever else it needs to make it look good again for the coming year.

Redlands chapelSeveral construction jobs were going on around campus, the most extensive being the dining hall. We tried to peek through the construction fences; the guides were just as curious as I was about what it was going to look like – but they did know that they were putting up many more outdoor seating facilities which they were particularly excited about. They raved about the food; I normally don’t hear students going on to that extent about their dining options.

The courtyard of the science center

The courtyard of the science center

When I asked them what they would change about the school, they had a hard time answering. One of them said, “I’m a really big foodie, so before the dining hall renovations, I might have said that, but they’re fixing it already.” After a bit of thinking, the only thing that the either of the guides wanted to change was the fact that there were not enough power outlets in the library. They love working there because the university has spent a lot of money into renovations and have made it a comfortable, inviting place to work, but once the batteries die on their laptops, they pretty much have to go back to the dorm or another building with an outlet to recharge, unless they’re lucky enough to score one of the rare outlets in the library.

(c) 2012

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