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Hampshire College

HAMPSHIRE COLLEGE (visited 10/16/12)

~Hampshire swingI had no notion of what the Hampshire campus might look like. Our schedule said that we were going to arrive at and have lunch at the Red Barn – and we actually pulled into a small lot next to a red barn with organic farm stands not too far away. It feels remote, yet is only about 15 minutes out of Northampton, and with the shuttles running to the other campuses, it’s not at all removed.

Dorms

A unit of dorms on the Hampshire campus.

Hampshire is unique in a lot of ways. Everything is interdisciplinary, and there are no pre-set majors. Students complete concentrations which are self-designed with the guidance of at least two faculty members. The program is flexible enough for students to study what they’re interested in, but structured enough to give them a lot of support to figure it out, too. They’re given skills to be life-long learners. They’re expected to have excitement and curiosity. Learning takes place in and out of the classroom – projects, labs, on the farm, etc. They collaborate with each other and with faculty in addition to completing independent work. Students jump into hands-on work from the beginning whether it’s in the lab, the art studio, or someplace else. They design their own projects, labs, experiments, questions to pursue. They don’t just do the professor’s work. People say that this is one of the major reasons why Hampshire has been named in the Top 30 Most Entrepreneurial Colleges, which also includes Harvard, Stanford, and MIT. Students look for real-world solutions to problems and can figure out how to accomplish them. Stonyfield Yogurt, 7th Generation Cleaning Supplies, and other big-name companies were started by Hampshire grads.

~Hampshire arts villageThe college divides work up into the Division System:

  • DI: tutorials. Students who come here generally know what they THINK they want to do. They take several required courses across the curriculum, some social engagement, and some electives. The point here is to make sure they’ve acquired the required skills to be successful. They must present a portfolio at the end of DI to show how they’ve mastered these skills, and write a reflective essay about their work.
  • DII: concentration. What are the questions that matter to you? Can you develop questions that will take you across several areas? What areas are within the questions, and how will you develop a plan to answer them? It could be an internship, study abroad, community engagement. This often changes as it develops.
  • DIII: Capstone projects. This is a major, sustained, original work, like a master’s thesis/project. They meet with advisors/ committees once a week (no less frequently than every other week). One kid did a psychoanalytical analysis of jazz aesthetics. He was the only undergraduate to present at a major conference.
library

The outside of the library building.

~Hampshire Yurt

The campus yurt

Students also don’t get grades; they receive written evaluations at the end of the semester detailing their work, strengths, and areas for growth. Some people are concerned with accessibility of graduate programs and admissions, but Hampshire is 30th in the country for students who go on to get PhDs. The students tend to get MORE looked at by grad schools because they aren’t just numbers. They are not nervous wrecks when they start grad school. They have ownership of the process and that gives them a leg-up. Some of the students will recruit younger students to help with experiments. They had lab meetings, compared data, etc.

~Hampshire drafting room

An art studio

After lunch and a presentation by the admissions people, we went out on a tour, starting on a dirt track across a field to the main part of campus. The first area we walked through were a collection of town-house type buildings which were apartments for upperclassmen. At this point, the tour guide told us that something like 83% of all students have single rooms; this number is closer to 75% for first-years, but overall, about 7/8 of students get singles, which is really amazing. After leaving this residential area, we entered more of the main part of campus which was an odd collection of brick, glass, and modernish buildings spread out around a large, very green campus.

The campus is very much about sustainability. They have 15 acres of organic farming. They host a “Food for Farms” gala event with people coming from all over. Students tend to be hugely active in Social Justice causes, and students tend to be “practical idealists.” Because of their innovative programs and resources, they’re seeing record numbers of applications. They’re in the process of adding six new faculty positions in creative writing, math, and African studies. Film, acting, and directing are big here, as is the tech side of theater and film production. One of the bigwigs from Pixar works here. They’re committed to helping students meet need. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the James Baldwin scholarship program to serve underserved communities. The first year total fees are totally covered. After the first year, the students apply for financial aid like everyone else, but Hampshire will meet 100% of need.

(c) 2012

University of New Hampshire

University of New Hampshire (visited 10/17/16)

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Students stretch out in the grass in front of the UNH sign and main building

unh-foodtruck

Food trucks get tucked around campus

UNH should be on far more people’s radars. This is just an amazing school. I liked the vibe here; students were friendly, outgoing, outdoorsy (including just wanting to be out and about on campus), and smart. For a state school, it is not an overwhelming size, either physically or in population numbers. It’s beautiful with a mix of historic and new buildings, with facilities that offer a great deal to the students in the academic and social realms.

 

unh-2There’s something to be said for the liberal arts within a comprehensive research university. Students who are most successful here want to be challenged and stretch themselves in and out of the classroom. Students who like UVM should also seriously consider UNH. It won’t disappoint; they take care of students, and students want to stay. Freshman-to-sophomore retention (86%) and graduation rates (67% in 4 years, 79% 6-year) are above average.

unh-students-4

Not an uncommon scene on campus: students were everywhere!

Last year, applications topped 20,000 for the first time with the out-of-state population growing. Part of this is demographic (there are fewer college-aged students in NH); the other part is reputation. In the admission process, they focus mainly on the transcript: have students taken the minimum (at least!) and done well (looking for mostly Bs or better)? The SAT/ACT is not crucial for admission, but comes more into play for merit awards. They only require 1 letter, preferably from the counselor. In terms of admissions, Nursing and OT are the most competitive to get into.

 

unh-shuttles

Shuttles get students around campus, but it’s also very walkable

A major distinction for UNH is its location and size. The physical campus size is manageable, but more than that, there are so many options accessible to campus. They’re only 30 minutes from the ocean and beaches, and the mountains and urban areas aren’t much further. Portsmouth, a medium-sized city, is 20 minutes away, and students can use UNH transportation to get there. There’s even an Amtrak stop on campus; students can be in Boston in an hour, or head up the coast into Maine to Portland or Freeport (home of LLBean!).

 

unh-dorm

One of the dorms

Housing is guaranteed for 2 years. Of course there are lots of social options, as at any school of this size (13,000 undergrads at the Durham campus; there are about 1,000 more at the non-residential Manchester campus). Something the students appreciate is that “One thing doesn’t dominate campus: we have Greek life, we have football and hockey, etc – but none of those dominate the others. You don’t have to belong to a certain group or do a certain thing to belong here.” Only 10% of students go Greek. Hockey is one of the most popular sports.

 

unh-engo-lab-2

One of the engineering labs

This is a great option for students who want engineering at a medium school. However, their excellent academic choices and resources go far beyond that. Started in 1866 as New Hampshire’s Land Grant institution, UNH has now also earned Sea and Space Grant designations and offers over 100 majors. It’s not surprising that the College of Life Sciences and Agriculture options are strong and varied, including EcoGastronomy, Sustainable agriculture and food systems, and Marine, Estuarine, and Freshwater Biology.

 

unh-hammockTheir sustainability efforts are amazing: they get almost ¼ of their food from local and/or organic sources, and they’re the first land-grant school to have an organic dairy farm, and they make their own ice cream on campus. They gave us scoops for dessert; not only did they have great flavor options, but it tasted better than most I’ve tried!

Discovery is their Core curriculum, comprised of 11 disciplines they need to take classes in, including a World Cultures class (which can be fulfilled with study abroad – they offer over 600 options) and a Capstone or “Integrative Understanding.” Research is defined broadly here: they call original projects (musical compositions or a business proposal) as “research.”

unh-loungeResources are strong across the board, but Ocean Engineering and Marine Biology have some unique resources at students’ disposal. UNH co-runs the Isle of Shoals Marine Lab with Cornell University. Students spend a great deal of time researching out there, particularly in the summer (they can live on the island!). The Ocean Engineering labs have 2 wave pools; the military even asks to use this for research. Computer Science students have labs to try to break into a variety of systems as part of CyberSecurity training.

© 2016

Southern New Hampshire University

Southern New Hampshire University (visited 10/18/16)

snhu-2

One of the new buildings on campus

Most people recognize SNHU (students pronounce this “snew”) as an online provider, but this is also a full-on traditional school with 3,000 undergraduates on campus (with graduate and/or online students, their population totals over 100,000 students). They just absorbed most of the students and faculty from Daniel Webster College when that closed suddenly in the summer of 2016. Over the next few years, they might continue to grow by a few hundred students.

snhu-dorms2

Some of the upperclass dorms

Located in Hooksett, this is a suburban and safe campus. They’re 10 minutes from downtown Manchester and an hour to Boston. It’s fairly residential with 2/3 of the undergrads living on campus. Housing in guaranteed, and there are 2 new res halls going up over the next couple years to replace older buildings. Freshman can have cars on campus.

snhu-pub

The Pub

“This is not a ghost town on the weekends. There’s something every night whether it’s a musician in the pub or pizza and video games in the dorm.” Last Chapter Pub does serve local micro-brew beers (anyone can come into the pub; students with ID get a wristband to drink). Greek life is more community-service based; each member must complete least 10 hours a semester. A favorite campus activity is Battleship: students get into a canoe in the pool; given a paddle and a bucket, they try to sink others.

Faculty from a few stand-out departments talked to us:

  • Justice Studies
    • This is the umbrella including Criminal Justice:
      • Policing and Law Enforcement (about 40%)
      • Crime & Criminology (sociology, psych, political science, philosophy)
      • Law & Legal Process (good for students thinking of going to Law School)
      • Terrorism & Homeland Security
    • snhu-loungeFaculty come with professional backgrounds; most still work in the field (some are retired). Guest speakers are built into the program: the intro class always has a minimum of 3 guest speakers so students see an array of opportunities.
    • Internships are not “one-and-done” here; students are allowed to do up to 4 (including at home over the summer if they want). Students have interned at all kinds of police departments, parole offices, court appointed special advocates for children, US Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, YMCA, Women’s Crisis Centers, national parks (rangers), security, and investigative services. Some do Marine patrol: they get sent to a Police Academy and work May to September.
  • snhu-educationEducation:
    • Professors must be currently certified teachers.
    • NH certification has reciprocity with most states.
    • Mostly elementary or through middle school with Secondary Math (7-12), Social Studies (5-12) and General Special Ed (K-12). There wasn’t enough interest for the other secondary programs.
    • Culminates with a full year of student teaching (which students can complete in 1 or 2 settings).
  • Business:
    • Degree in Three: Most students who come here are able to handle it. It’s experiential which makes it different. It’s easier to opt out than opt in; if they think they want to try, come in. Retention in the program and completing is usually 80-90%. Sometimes they’ll take summer programs if they’re an athlete or just want to take it easier. Study abroad is built in if they want to do it, and often they’ll do some online work when they’re away.
    • Business students are exposed to a variety of experiences, discussed from a business perspective. They might see a play and talk about marketing, fundraising, and costs associated with putting it on. It’s practical experience and allows them see options for jobs.
    • Much of their work is project-based. They partner with major companies like Target (how they market food) or Kohl’s (market the management program).
    • Students can get their MBA in 1 year + summer
  • snhu-hospitality-centerCulinary Management:
    • Incoming student don’t need previous experience (in fact, it’s split between those who had some experience and those who hadn’t).
    • A 400-hour internship is required between freshman and sophomore years so they know if they really want to continue. Our tour guide did hers at a bakery working 3am-11am.
  • Engineering will be starting shortly now that they’ve taken over Daniel Webster College.

Admissions is test optional, even for Engineering right now. Decisions are rolling with an answer in 30 days.

snhu-4Some of the students’ favorite classes include:

  • Sport Practicum: “I worked with a major league soccer team. The professor ran class like a business: we dressed up, had to be on time. We developed and ran a pre-game event put on before a live game. It was so successful that they kept running it.”
  • Game Design class: “we made a new game every 2 weeks. The professor changed up the teams, mechanics, etc. It was the most informative class because we could test out designs and ideas. I didn’t even know I cold do it.”
  • snhu-3Intro to Geography: “I thought it was going to be easy – but it was successfully challenging. I learned more in that class than anywhere else.”
  • A 2-week Culinary trip to Italy: “they taught about Italian cuisines, we went to a parmesan cheese factory, learned about wine regions, did cheese tastings. My favorite was when we went truffle mushroom hunting!”
  • Abnormal Psych: “It was interesting to look at all the case-studies. The professor talked about real-life cases.”
  • Food and Beverage Management: “This was a hybrid class. We designed menus, learned how to price, do marketing, stuff like that.”

© 2016

New England College

New England College (visited 10/19/16)

nec-bell-tower

The bell tower set among the rocks and trees of campus

“Show up. Be prepared. Engage. Take responsibility. Be a self-advocate. Come with an open mind. We can give you the skills; what you do with it is your choice.”

A few things make NEC stand out from other small liberal arts schools:

  • nec-dining-hall

    The dining hall with flags of international students

    It’s amazingly diverse (the most diverse in NH). “We celebrate it; it’s part of our core environment.” The diversity comes in all forms: gender, sexual orientation, race, veteran status, socio-economic status, whatever. More than 40% of the undergraduates self-report as underrepresented students and more than ¾ of the students come from outside New Hampshire.

  • For students interested in politics, this is the place to be. “We’re the Super Bowl of Politics. Our kids meet the next President of the US. All the candidates come through here. There are town hall meetings, kids introduce them, meet them, end up working for them.”
  • nec-sign-2The have a pedagogy of engaged learning. “Our way is to roll our sleeves up and do it; let’s get out there and apply it!” Wednesday afternoons there are no classes so kids can get out and do things. They go all over NH.
  • NEC’s core values center on civics and the natural environment. How do we develop new citizens to make a difference in their local, national, world environments? They ask people to weave in civics and natural environment.
nec-1

Some of the dorms

This residential, beautiful campus is home to about 1500 undergrads from 29 states and 19 countries, including 5 new Americans from the refugee centers in Concord and Manchester. Applying is free, and admissions is rolling and test-optional. Admissions wants to see what they’ve done and what they want to achieve. “We’re small; we know the kids we’re working with.” Academically, students fall within a wide range, coming in with 2.0-4.0 GPAs, although average is a 2.8. “NEC is a special place; we’re willing to take a chance and work with the students from ‘less than stellar’ backgrounds.”

 

nec-student-painting

A student painting along the river as leaves fall from the trees

The small, caring community provides opportunities for students who are willing to work for it and take advantage of them; those who want to engage in the community will do well here. “It’s hard to describe the typical NEC kid,” said a faculty member. “It’s perfect for the place for students who may need encouragement and for those ready to fly.” In addition to tutoring and advising, they have a fee-for-service ($4500 yearly) mentoring program, a 1-on-1 service for time management, skill-building, organization, etc. Students do not need a documented need for this; anyone can sign up; they get about 40 freshman, dropping to about half that for sophomore year.

 

nec-new-acad-bldg

The new academic building

There are 4 Academic Divisions offering 32 majors all grounded in the liberal arts tradition. New business and performing arts buildings will open in 2018. A few programs worth noting are:

 

  • Outdoor Education: Students in this program take education classes and academic classes to back up the outdoor educations: for example, for rock climbing, they’ll learn physics and geology. One graduate is running a program in Norway, and got her Masters (after learning Norwegian) there. Another is an Asst. Dir. of a wilderness program in Montana.
  • Computer Information Science: “this is as experiential as you can be with a CIS degree”
  • nec-stage

    Building the set for FortinbrasTheater Education: one of the few in NH, and they have to also take all the Special Ed classes to be dual certified.

    Theater Education: one of the few in NH, and they have to also take all the Special Ed classes to be dual certified.

  • Theatre: phenomenal.
    • They’ve sent a large number of graduates to Inside the Actor’s Studio.
    • While I was there, they were preparing to put on “Fortinbras” (tagline: “I’m not here to finish their story. They were here to start mine.”)
    • Theater students put on a Haunted Trail for the community
  • Integrated Studies in Philosophy and Literature: One of the tour guides took “Humanity of the Inhumane” looking at philosophy, ethics, read Clockwork Orange, etc.
  • The study-away program (Amazon rainforest, Belize, New Orleans, Rome, Cairo, Costa Rica, Ireland) is free of charge: “This isn’t just for people with resources.”
  • Juniors with 3.0 or higher can apply to be in an accelerated program to take 3 classes that count for both undergrad and the Master’s.
nec-town

View of the main street from campus

Henniker is very small (population 2500-3000); there’s a very small main street with a pizza place, a bank, and a pharmacy. The owner of the local Chinese restaurant will cook traditional food for students. “What we do really well now is to embrace that we’re in the country. We used to try to say that we were close to Boston – and certainly we’re close enough for a Red Sox game or whatever – but you aren’t going to do it every day.” Concord is only 20 minutes away, and shuttles run on the weekend. There are miles of trails right here where students can run, hike, bike. A local farmer lets them use an area for bonfires. Students get a free ski pass (rentals are $10): Sunapee is 20 minutes away, Loon is 1.5 hours, and Pat’s Peak is 2 miles away. A popular annual event is night skiing there when the school rents out Pat’s Peak for 4 hours. Kids will often come to class with ski boots on, either coming directly from skiing or heading out right after class.

 

nec-reading-room

The library reading room

As an unwritten rule: if students represent NEC in athletics, at conferences or programs at schools, etc, it’s an excused absence from class. Their students run ropes courses for orientations, including local public schools and Keene State. 40-50% of students play on one of the 17 DIII team including a championship rugby team. Men’s wrestling is new this year; women’s volleyball will start fall of 2017. Lots of Swedes come here for hockey, and Indian students play cricket on the little league baseball field. The men’s soccer team hosts the local Age 8-9 league; the kids got to line up and walk in with the team.

 

© 2016

New Hampshire Institute of Art

New Hampshire Institute of Art (visited 10/17/16)

nhia-main-bldg

The main building on campus

This is a small niche school, right for the very focused student who knows what he/she wants to do and wants individual attention. “Going to art school is about following your passion. It’s about a lifestyle,” said an admission rep. As with many Institutes of Art, they’re hidden kind of in plain sight. “We’ve been around for 118 years and no one knows about us. We’re aiming to change that,” said the President.

 

nhia-mural

A city mural painted by NHIA students

NHIA knows what they’re doing, and they do it very well. One of its distinguishing factors is its location right in the city of Manchester (incidentally, the first planned and one of first electrified cities). The college is small, filled with people who are makers and want to contribute and make an impact on their community. The students bring service, much of it art-oriented, to the city itself; they clean parks, paint murals, and partner with the Manchester school district to bring art to the schools. They also intern in the city and beyond.

 

nhia-jewelry-making

The jewelry making studio

The five studio-based majors offer an optional 1-year MAT program; the BFA in Creative Writing does not yet have an MAT option. Almost 1/3 of the students are enrolled as Illustration majors with almost another ¼ each in Fine Arts and Photography. Ceramics, design, creative writing, and the interdisciplinary program pull 10% or less of the population. All students get a MacBook loaded with InDesign, PhotoShop, Adobe, etc with the idea that the more skills they have, the more employable they are.

 

nhia-printing-studio-2

The Printmaking studio

Regardless of major, all students take a common Foundation class that crosses disciplines. Students are presented with common topics, prompts, and questions; for example, they might look at the Holocaust, and they’ll work towards solutions and presentations through their particular lens. The interdisciplinary start allows for growth and collaboration which is so important in the art world. They’re prepared for jobs, and they’re graduating with less debt than students at many other A&D schools. “We aren’t spending money on rock climbing walls. We’re spending it on things that matter to art students,” said the president.

 

nhia-new-kiln

One of the kilns being rebuilt by ceramics students: they learn all the skills needed to be successful after graduation.

Students develop a professional practice while here; this is the only art institute that requires 3 semesters of business, and many students take advertising classes as electives. “They think about what’s in front of us and what’s ahead. I love the way the college interacts with the city. There’s networking and internships. It’s us as artists, and allows us to tailor what we’re doing to make a life and future.” The Dean of Admissions said, “More and more employers want ‘Creatives’ because things are changing so fast, they want new ideas.” They’re marketable.

 

nhia-cw-lounge

A working lounge in the Creative Writing building

My group spent an hour talking with one of the Creative Writing professors. Students “do everything here: play writing, memoirs, poetry, novels, short stories, non-fiction. Whatever they want to be, they’re going to do it well and rigorously.” There’s even a minor in Graphic Novel; they complete 2 Foundation courses (fiction and illustration), 1 trans-media class (how they work today in digital world), and 2 semesters in graphic novel.

 

With about 30 students in the Creative Writing program (they would like to grow this), students get intensive practice and personal feedback. They bring in professional, published writers every month to read their work, talk about the business side, run workshops, and even meet 1-on-1 with kids to give feedback. The Writing From the Senses class was happening while we were in the building; they had a drummer in (sound); other days, they bring in a chocolatier (taste), perfume (smell), etc to get kids to really delve into sensory descriptions.

A student came into the room as we were speaking to the professor. We asked him to sum up his experience: “I love writing here. Suggestions are relevant and it’s never boring. I’ve been stretched. I love Radical Revisions – you think on so many planes and in so many dimensions. It’s uncomfortable and challenging and great.”

All students in the major take Intro to Fiction, Intro to Poetry, either Memoir or Creative Non-Fiction, and a reading course, “not in the way they’re used to in High School. They’re looking to see how the author put it together.” Advanced workshops are required, and electives are varied, ranging from humor satire, writing the apocalypse, graphic novel, podcasts and audio narratives, and cinefiction (borrowing from film techniques). All students in the major have to be an editor on the journal: they have to create a website, put out a print version in the spring, curate it, and justify their decisions to include or not.

For parents who might be worried about their children majoring in creative writing, “tell them that employers are always looking for strong writers,” said a professor. They get professional writing preparation, and students often intern at magazines, blogs, and one is at Cambridge Writer’s Project. Most students go into editing, blogging, etc. Many will publish shorter works; “book deals don’t just happen.” Students who are go-getters who take advantage of everything at school have no trouble getting jobs. They go to events, take initiative, start radio shows, etc.

nhia-vault-gallery

The converted bank vault

Of the 500 or so undergraduate students, most live on campus. Almost 40% of students come from outside NH (13% of which are from outside New England, including some international students). There are lots of clubs and other activities. The monthly “Slam Free or Die” poetry slam gets high reviews.

 

In terms of admissions, “Think of the application as introducing yourself to us. Talk about community involvement. Show off artwork. We’re looking for people with some technical expertise, but more importantly those who have ideas and want to share them.” Creative Writing applicants should submit something that shows their thought process and voice, in whatever form that comes in. Students are encouraged to go to a National Portfolio Day. They also suggest a summer program: “Do a deep dive into making art 24/7 to see what it’s really like.”

© 2016

Smith College

SMITH COLLEGE (visited 10/15/12) (Click HERE for information and pictures from my visit on 5/30/19)

P1000974

A view of the pond, a popular hangout on campus.

The buildings at Smith are about as eclectic as the students. The campus seems very haphazardly put up but somehow it kind of works. Instead of all new buildings needing to fit in with the buildings already up, they need to correspond with the style of the times. It was very cool. The atmosphere was vibrant; people were everywhere, even on a dreary, drizzly day. People seemed genuinely happy and comfortable on campus, and students were interacting with each other.

Smith stdnt cntr

Student Center

During our admissions presentation, the Director of Admissions talked about 5 ways Smith is different:

  1. Open Curriculum (Smith, Amherst, Brown, Grinnell all have this) meaning that there is no core. This comes with a lot of responsibility. Many students don’t know what they want to do, or they change their minds once they get there. It’s about learning how to use the open curriculum that’s open and thoughtful and deliberate. What does it mean to be liberally educated? The Liberal Arts advisors help students negotiate this process so the students pick classes, internships, study away opportunities and other educational components that complement each other. It changes the dynamic in the classroom because students want to be there and are engaged in the process.
  2. One-third of the students major in the sciences. This is the only women’s college with an established engineering major. They see this as important since only 15% of engineers are women: “What’s up with that? It’s 2012.” Women at women’s colleges do research at a higher rate than women at coed college. They’re a member of AEMES (Achieving excellence in math, engineering, and science) and they attract a lot of women of color and first gen students. They were among the best in the country for women going on into careers in the sciences.
  3. Praxis (Practical Education) guarantees an internship for every Smith student. Smithies are going to Columbia Records, the Smithsonian, ABC in London, Museum of Modern Art, Dutch Parliament, hospital in Mexico, Max Plank (sciences) and other big-name places for their internships.
  4. Smith dorm

    Houses

    They have 35 Houses, not dorms. These are places to live, not just a place to sleep; students often stay with a house for multiple years and they even graduate with their house during Commencement ceremonies. Since Smith is a little on the large side for a small college (about 2800 students, the House system helps make it smaller. The expectation for students is involvement, and that attitude starts in the Houses. They’re an “incubator for leadership” – grooming them for bigger opps off campus. Leadership comes in many forms. It’s about a sense of engagement. Along with so many houses, students have free access to all of the 15 dining rooms on campus; because they can swipe in as many times as they want, they can get the main course at one place, a desert at another, a snack at a third.

  5. Smith dormsThey’re working to change the rhetoric of Women’s Colleges. Face it – it’s as much the “Real World” as any other place. All colleges are bubbles in some regard). Many of the students like not have men around 24/7. “Let’s face it: 18-20 year old men . . . not your shining moment! When you want the men, they’re there. When you don’t, they’re not. The bathrooms are clean. What else do you want?” Women’s Colleges are challenging, empowering, encouraging, and fun. Students learn to work as part of a team; develop self-confidence, initiative, and leadership; and learn to think and write critically. They stress the idea of community which is open and accepting. The college enrolls a very diverse community, including one of the highest percentages of low-income and first gen students in the country. They meet full demonstrated need by they aren’t need blind; they need to make sure they have the right funding available. (By the way, most of the counselors applauded the Director of Admissions for saying the following: she’s offended by the “what about the lesbians?” question. People would never allow people to say “what about all the black students?”).

Smith 3One of the counselors asked “What surprised you?” to the students on the panel. Here’s what they said:

  • I was surprised at the classroom environment; you always hear how much people are encouraged to speak up and I found that it really was the case. I was always in classes I chose to be in.
  • How at home I felt and the houses were a community. People were interested in making me feel comfortable.
  • How much help you could get with academics. People want to help each other succeed.
  • How smart people are. It’s overwhelming to be in a class with brilliant women all the time.

Smith 2Another questions asked students to name a favorite class:

  • Public Policy. The professor is engaging and there are hilarious PowerPoint presentations. He gets very excited about the technology. He’s extremely accessible, and students who aren’t even taking his class can wander into office to talk.
  • The Inklings about Lewis, Tolkien, and ?? in which they looked at the texts through religious, social, and other contexts.
  • Chemistry: she hated it in high school, but had to take it as a requirement for engineering. The prof was great, thoughSmith pond, and now she’s a chem tutor.
  • Class in Costa Rica meeting with activists, community leaders, etc because it was so inspiring.

The students were asked about favorite traditions:

  • Ivy Day: everyone wears white and carries roses. The alum comes back and every class plants its own ivy. When you first come to Smith, you get little pots of ivy from previous classes.
  • Illuminations: the whole campus gets covered in paper lanterns and the class year gets written in lights on the pond.
  • Diploma Circle: when you walk up for graduation, you walk up in Houses, alphabetical within house. You don’t get your own diploma, so you stand in a circle and exchange until you get yours.
  • Mountain Day: the President declares a day off in the fall. Students go apple picking, hiking, having bbqs, etc. It’s a day to relax.
  • Tea: Friday or Sunday afternoon, they bring baked goods from the dining hall to the house and people just come down and chill. Alumni House also does it once a semester. STRIDE (students doing research as their work-study job) will tet together for tea once a month. The prof will bake for that.
  • The Smith Network: The alumnae are a cult. They’ll do Kick-Off barbecues to send new first-years on their way and do a lot during the year (and watch out for each other after graduation).
  • Big Sib/Little Sib. All first year students get assigned an upperclassman who will leave them little presents throughout the week – candy, notes, etc. At tea at the end of the week, there’s a reveal.
  • Winter and Spring Weekends. On Spring Weekend, current seniors have underclassmen write prophecies for them, and seniors will leave things to underclassmen.
P1000981

The new science building.

A counselor asked, “How do you sell a women’s college to high school girls who are done with the drama?” Resoundingly, the answer was: Take guys out of the equation and a lot of the drama goes away! However, this isn’t a convent. A couple of the students said that they forget that they’re at a women’s college because of the Consortium, and there are often men in their classes and in clubs or at parties. One student said that she got off campus a lot; Northampton has a lot going on and is one of the best aspects of Smith (this was echoed by students at other colleges, as well, who would purposefully head there on the weekends when they wanted to get off campus and spend time in a vibrant college town). One said that she chose Smith over MHC because MHC is in a much smaller town, does not have the open curriculum, doesn’t have the House system, and the campus didn’t seem as lively.

Smith 4Another question revolved around how engineering works with the open curriculum. There is more of a set path in this major: students can directly go on the path of required classes, but they can explore some other classes and still get out in 4 years. The major is technically Engineering Science; students will often go on to grad school in order to specialize, but can get employed directly after Smith, as well. One of the panelists is minoring in architecture because she wants to end up doing civil engineering.

Students at Smith seemed to take full advantage of the Consortium. One student took an intensive Spanish class during J-term at Hampshire; another was currently taking a class at Amherst. They also see the Consortium as a social resource. They go to parties, speakers, concerts, and even the circus where they learned to juggle. The busses run particularly late on the weekends so they can take advantage of late-night events.

If money were no issue, the students would want: New profs for interdisciplinary programs (just in EnviSci or Urban Studies, for example), a new pool, more dining halls (sometimes it gets crowded) and more dining hours because there aren’t many late dining options.

(c) 2012

Amherst College

AMHERST COLLEGE (Visited 10/15/12)

chairs and field

One of the best views on campus!

I don’t know of any other college that lets the winners of a lip-sync contest get first dibs on housing. Most students live on campus, and like many campuses, there are plenty of options for living arrangements. After the first year, housing is done on the lottery system; each person is given points based on GPA, seniority, etc. Groups of people wanting to live together have their points averaged for their place in the lottery. However, one of the big traditions on campus is the lip-sync contest in which groups can compete to move up in the lottery. The winners of the contest actually get moved to the front of the line. Amherst is a bit quirky like that.

Amherst 5Coming onto this campus was a much different experience than going onto the UMass campus! This felt like the traditional campus that people come to expect from New England colleges. There was quite a bit of green, and the buildings were well maintained. The campus was also much more sedate as we were driving through; fewer students were walking around, but that might have been a result that classes were in session.

Amherst interiorA recent graduate sat with us at lunch and answered a lot of questions; she came from Buffalo, NY and applied here Early Decision because she just knew this was the place. As a history major, she got to do some great things. Her senior thesis was an analysis of Holocaust photos in context of victimization and retaking of power. She did a great deal of this at Hampshire because they have a theoretical photography department. Most of her books were used from the other libraries, so she said that the 5CC affected her academically. She also loved the social “expansion” including “Concert hopping” in the spring.

bulletin board

Lots of activities to choose from!

Amherst has a true open curriculum meaning that the students will fulfill the requirements for a major but have no distribution requirements. One student on the panel said, “It’s what drew me here. I like to dabble. I’ve taken classes in 10 departments, and I like to stretch myself.” One of the panelists decided not to double major because he was having so much fun taking a lot of different types of classes. The open curriculum is great in many ways and makes Amherst a match for different types of people – those who have no idea what they want to do all the way up to those who want to really focus in one area. The admissions person said that in some ways, having this open curriculum defines a true “liberal arts” curriculum since students are taking so many different types of classes that they probably would not have otherwise.

Amhest statueAdmission decisions are made by committee so it’s “about as fair as this can be.” Applications are read by two people and then taken to committee; those that don’t get sent to committee are clearly not admissible, and that’s agreed upon by both readers. Everyone comes in thinking everyone is more amazing and that they haven’t done anything. “Even if you ARE the 5th in the world at chess and won the debate championship and cured cancer, you feel it.” That being said, it’s not a competitive environment. People collaborate all the time and will not sabotage each other because they’re looking for that one A – “if people deserve an A, they’ll all get it.” That being said, there are a couple departments that will grade on a curve, like Econ. But even in a situation where people should be fending for themselves, they still help out. You have to want to come here and be competitive. You have to want to learn. But once you’re here, it’s not like that. It’s competition with yourself and be the best you can be. Once admitted, Amherst will meet demonstrated need without loans; students graduate debt-free unless the family took out an outside loan.

Amherst 4Currently, the student-faculty ratio is 8:1, but with 18 new faculty members being added, this will change. Introductory classes might have 80 or 90 students but this is far from the norm. One panelist has a class with 4 people in it. The faculty teaches the students how to do scholarly research and expect that sort of research to be produced. “Professors guide us, but not to hold our hands. They let us stumble and then will help to pick us up and get us back on track.” Professors are willing to spend as much time as it takes in class, and out – they teach very few sections each term so they have time to devote to the students. One of the panelists was in a music seminar class, and each class meeting “took as long as it took. The students and the prof would stay until we were done.”

Amherst 3Students are knowledgeable about the world and current events, and they like talking about what’s going on in the world and on campus. Students have a voice, and they regularly bring up issues and work with the powers-that-be to improve campus. “They actually care about student opinions. People are shocked when they sit in on meetings and see that our voices matter.” Women’s rights tend to be a big topic on campus; the students think this is because Amherst had been an all-male school for a long time. The night before we talked to the student panel, a group talked about the topic of sexual misconduct with the president. The college provides free copies of the NYT in the dining hall, and they’re widely read. “Things change in the world. We’re ready and willing to change with it.”

Amherst 5We asked the student panel the following questions and got some great answers from them:

What has Amherst done for you to prepare you for whatever you want to do next?

  • “Confidence!”
  • “Science. It’s so not true that you can’t do science at a LA school. I did an internship at the flagship UT campus but was more prepared than their students.” She learned to integrate information, to think outside the box, to think critically. “It’s allowed me to realize what’s important in the questions I’m asking and to synthesis important information.”
  • “There’s a reason why Bain and JPMorgan and others recruit here. Students here take the time to learn on their own. We’re some of the best thinkers they have because we challenge the information.”
  • “Time management. I could stop doing all the extras and concentrate on classes; I’d do marginally better grades, but that wouldn’t be a good use of my time. We get as much flexibility to organize our time, but it’s on us to prioritize.”

What do you wish you had known before you came to college that we can share with our students?

  • Try lots of new things.
  • Don’t go in thinking you know exactly what you want to do. Be open minded.
  • Look at LA schools because you’re here to challenge your ideas rather than listening to lectures.

What traditions are your favorites?

  • “The rivalry between Williams and Amherst is HUGE. Homecoming is a big deal here. Alums will get together and watch the games and there’s a bonfire on campus. A blog on ESPN listed us as one of the top places to tailgate in the US because you can tailgate 6 feet from the endzone.”
  • “We have things going on about every 2 weeks, so I can’t really talk about just one. Of course, it’s hard from me b/c I perform [in the a cappella group] about a dozen times at each of these weekends”

(c) 2013

Five College Consortium (Massachusetts)

Five College Consortium (Visited 10/15-16; see individual write-ups about each specific college)

Smith College, Mount Holyoke College, Amherst College, and UMass Amherst bound together in 1965 to form a Consortium in Western Massachusetts after about a decade of collaboration between the campuses. Their partnership resulted in the creation of Hampshire College in 1970, and the 5 College Consortium became official.

The consortium is meant to create a social exchange as well as an academic one. In addition to being able to cross-register for classes, students can participate in theatrical or musical groups, play on intramural or club teams, join clubs, and take advantage of any event hosted on any campus (speakers, concerts, movies, etc). We asked a couple tour guides on different campuses how they find out about things, and they both said that things were well advertised with fliers around campus, or friends who were taking classes on other campuses would find out and spread the word. We found out later that there’s a calendar online: http://calendar.fivecolleges.edu/FiveCol/calendrome.cgi

Once a student is enrolled in their home college, they can take classes at other campuses for free, and the credits transfer over; their degree is conferred by their home institution. There are some multi-campus certificate programs (similar to a minor) which necessitate cross-over. One panelist at Amherst is completing an African Studies Certificate, and he’s already taken “Intro to African Studies” at UMass and “African Cities” and MHC.

Busses run frequently between campuses so there’s no need for cars. Three of the colleges are less than a 10 minute drive apart, right around the town of Amherst. Smith and Mount Holyoke are a bit further, but are about a 20 minute drive.

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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