Hobart-William Smith Colleges (visited 3/6/20)
I loved Hobart-William Smith; I grew up in Upstate NY so I’d heard about it and knew a few high school classmates who attended. It came back on my radar when a colleague talked about his son’s experience rowing on their crew team. I made sure to make time to go see it the last time I was going through New York, and I’m so glad I did! It’s a hidden gem and I hope it gets on more people’s radars. It offers opportunities way beyond what you’d expect from a college of this size with about 2200 undergrads.
HWS came about when Hobart (a men’s college) and William Smith (women) merged post-WWII. It’s now a Coordinate College System (a little like the University of Richmond) “and we pay attention to its historical heritage,” said the Dean of Admission. They have two Dean’s offices, two mascots, two sets of traditions, and two student governments. Students are able to switch “colleges” if and when appropriate. “There are really interesting conversations here about gender. You can’t ignore it here.” They have gender-inclusive housing as part of their 26 Theme Houses, the Fisher Center for Gender Studies, and majors in Women’s Studies and LGBT Studies, one of the relative few I’ve found (especially at a school this size!) as well as a minor in Men’s Studies (which I almost never see). I think they’re working on making this a major in the next couple years. They hold retreats and symposiums to give people plenty of time to talk about gender issues.
I was highly impressed with the diversity and inclusiveness on campus that seems to permeate everything they do. “We do an amazing job with First Gen students. There are groups with faculty and students so support is built in,” said the Dean. This is also a Posse school which helps increase racial and ethnic diversity while providing support for students. Beyond that, the environment on campus spoke volumes. Students were interacting with each other in the dining hall, walking across campus, and in study groups. The flyers around campus showed what was important to people – discussions, international films, different religious and social groups and clubs were all being advertised. There are 2 kosher kitchens on campus which we normally don’t find on a campus this size. “Lots of kids show up for Shabbat dinner.”
This diversity extends to intellectual and social interests of the students, as well – not just the common forms of diversity (racial, ethnic, economic, religious) that people tend to look for. “The common theme here is the engaged students. They’re activists. In Admissions, we look to see, Are you living what you’re passionate about?” said the Dean of Admissions. “This could be intellectually, athletically, socially. You could be into debate or biochemistry. This engagement, this passion, is what makes it interesting here.” Their biggest applicant pool comes from downstate (New York City and Long Island) but this is expanding. Students are fairly globally minded and want to study abroad. “We have room on campus for 2000 students to live here, but our enrollment is just over 2200: we send about 200 abroad each semester.” Students must spend 3 years in residence, including senior year, as part of their core curriculum which leads to an amazing community.
I was bowled over by the newly renovated Centennial Center for Leadership. Students can apply to be a Centennial Scholar (usually they look for a 3.5+GPA and 1320+SAT/29+ACT). The Center offers a co-curricular leadership certificate in a variety of areas, one of only a few of these offered in the nation. Participation isn’t major-specific: students can major in whatever they’d like and still participate. The Center runs things like Idea Labs, Hackathons, and Pitch Contests, They had just held the Pitch Contest a couple days before I visited; the student who won had developed a new hood for firefighters that goes under their helmet. “It saves life-saving time,” said the Director of the program who spoke to me for a few minutes.
The Dean of Admissions who gave me my tour said that about 30% of students major in the sciences. They have a dedicated pre-health advisor as well as a Health Sciences minor: “they do a great job of advising students out early if needed.” This is great coming since Elizabeth Blackwell graduated from here as the country’s first female to earn her medical degree. HWS offers a 3+2 engineering program: “Maybe 25 a year say they want to do it, but maybe 3-4 end up completing it.” Those who opt out of the program often instead go into architecture, physics, etc. “Our architecture program is one of the best in the country among smaller schools.” Students coming out of this architectural studies program get years knocked off grad school.
In addition to fairly standard science offerings, they also have a major in Geosciences and a minor in Atmospheric Science. Many students take their science classes into the field (literally) by taking advantage of the Finger Lakes Wine region. Many students will works at wineries either for part time jobs or internships. One alum set up a food truck pairing up Wood-fired Pizza and Wine which he takes around to different wineries.
Other majors worth noting include majors in Critical Social Studies, Russian Literature and Culture or Russian History and Culture, Arts and Education, and Media and Society. Fun fact: they have a 100-seat movie theater screening room on campus that’s often used in classes in this major as well as for general enternatinment! Cool minors are offered in The Sacred in Cross-Cultural Perspective, Holocaust Studies, Sustainable Community Development, and Aesthetics (often paired with Architectural Studies or the art majors).
HWS has a highly successful athletic programs with great facilities including 3 turf fields and the largest indoor facility in NY outside of the Syracuse Carrier Dome. About 30% of the students are varsity athletes, including good football: their big football rival is Johns Hopkins! Women’s soccer recently won the national title against Messiah, another soccer powerhouse. Games overall get a good turnout: “Fans line the hill overlooking the fields. They bring in food trucks for games/tailgating. We have the rah-rah feel here, but on a much smaller scale than most big athletic schools – but it’s not just athletics. Students support each other in the arts [particularly dance and theater], and the Pitch Contest had1000 students come out to watch.” Students are also active in things like Debate, and HWS hosts top-level debate competitions in the national parliament style. They offer scholarships for students in this area. They currently have a national debate champion on campus.
Outcomes speak for themselves here. Students are poised, pursue their passions, and are articulate and well-rounded thanks to the 8 Curricular Goals that make up the core curriculum. They strong career center guarantees that students a paid research experience or internship if they go through the program. Whatever they choose to do, students are surrounded by a plethora of opportunities for the taking at Hobart-William Smith. HWS sets up students for success.