UNIVERSITY OF OREGON, Eugene, OR (Visited 7/18/13)
“Big nerds and sports fanatics can both fit in here,” said the admissions counselor, a 2010 alum. The University of Oregon is a flagship Public Research University; taking undergrad research so seriously is no small feat for a school their size. “Intellectually, it’s a game-changer.” Students do research in labs, on study abroad trips, and just about any other possible place (including an on-campus Cultural Museum in which Anthropology and Archaeology students do research). “Research allows students to find that spark, and that’s what we’re most interested in doing here. We want them to create knowledge, not just hear about it from others.”
I was half expecting UO to feel like other large, sprawling state universities, but it didn’t because of all its outdoor spaces and gardens. The campus is a federal arboretum with an arborist in charge of all the plants. School spirit/pride is high; for example, a lot of the dorm windows had O stickers in them. Athletics, of course, are a huge part of life here. Hayward Field, home of their Track and Field team, is famous because the Olympic trials are held here (which students can and do attend); they showed this off to us before any other facility. (As a side note, Animal House was filmed here). U of O is expanding their rec center, including adding a 16-lane pool, which a scheduled opening in the fall of 2015. Out of their 20,800 undergrads, just under 10,000 a day use their rec center (as compared to Ohio State: 6,000 of their 55,000 students use their rec center). An alum donated money towards the Jacqua Student Athlete Success Building for DI athletes. When we were shown this on the tour, a several eyebrows went up; the general feeling was, “Why are the athletes being treated so much better? What about academic success for non-athletes?” When we expressed this, the answer came in two parts: first, they don’t have control over what the alumni want to donate money for, and second, they do provide a lot of services to everyone; they’re just located in other spots on campus. “We’re well libraried,” said our tour guide (and interesting, the faces on the main library are major thinkers in the Canon).
The university prides itself on providing relevant and interesting academics within attractive buildings meant to inspire students and showcase the academic work being done in them. Allen Hall, for example, looks like one of the top PR firms in the country. The Willamette Science Center has a huge atrium that has integrated several aspects into the architecture that reflect science: quarks are shown in tiles on the floor, stars are reflected in lights across the ceiling, DNA strands wind around the staircase, the lampposts are designed after botanical structures, and there are cell structures around the walls. An additional science building will open this winter that will take on an interdisciplinary focus because “real world problems don’t get delivered as ‘chemistry’ or ‘biology.’” The physics has an Applied Physics program designed to help grads go directly into a job or move into a grad program.
Oregon is “Big enough to be good, small enough to be great,” says Roger Thompson, VP for Enrollment. It feels smaller than it is because of orientation and how students can interact with resources and faculty. Small classes help them define their interests and paths. “Secretly we believe that most students are undeclared at that age.” It’s ok to be undeclared, tentative, or to change their minds later, and the university offers 269 academic programs split between 7 schools:
- The Arts and Sciences school has the state’s highest ranked programs in bio, chem, physics, math, poli sci, econ, psych, English, and history. The Center for Nanotechnology, the Oregon Institute for Marine Bio (only one in the pacific NW), and the Pine Ridge Observatory are worth noting. They’ve installed large electron microscopes which are bolted to the floor; companies that want to use them must come to campus; this actually gives undergraduates a chance to work with professionals. They do not have an engineering major; the tour guide said that their sciences tend to be more theoretical, but they do have a 3-2 engineering program with OSU.
- Students interested in Business come into the pre-business program; to move to a full business major, they need a 3.0 in their classes at Oregon.
- The school is fully accredited for both accounting and business. Fewer than 5% in the world are dually accredited.
- They have the first and best sports business program (ranked by ESPN, Sports Illustrated, WSJ)
- They run a Center for Sustainable Business Practices, Finance and Securities Analysis Center, Entrepreneurship, Sports Marketing Center.
- Within the Journalism and Communication school, students come in as Pre-journalism majors and complete a Gateway to Media course cluster integrating multimedia storytelling and critical thinking. Once they meet the minimum GPA of 2.9, students are eligible for entry as full journalism majors. Two areas of note within this school are their Media in Ghana program and the Full-service student-run advertising firm
- The College of Education is ranked in the top three public colleges of education in the US (the Special Education program is ranked 3rd in the nation). This is also the top funded education school for research per faculty member.
- The Architecture and Allied Arts is 6th among public universities, in the Top 15 undergrad programs overall, and 1st in sustainable design practices and principles. They offer a BArch degree, a 5 year program requiring a portfolio for admission. The portfolio can be anything – ceramics, art, even creative writing. They are looking for higher grades and scores, but also analytical and aesthetic ability. The Art department offers media areas including ceramics, digital arts, jewelry and metalsmithing, and photo.
- Like Architecture, the Music and Dance program requires additional admissions criteria. Oregon offers one of three comprehensive music programs on the west coast. There are thirty ensembles and over 200 music and dance events every year, and the university hosts the internationally recognized Oregon Bach Festival. They boast a 100% job placement for music education
- The Honors College enrolls 220 new students every year (out of about 1500-1800 apps). The average GPA of students admitted into the program is 3.85, but there is no required minimum. They look for students with the spark, the initiative, the willingness to ask questions. If the students can prove through writing and teacher recs that they have these qualities, they’ll consider other GPAs. The 4-year curriculum is compatible with every major, and every CHC student researches, writes, and defends an honors thesis. Over 80% of CHC alums attend grad school within 3 years of graduation.
30 years ago, Oregon pioneered the concept of the Freshmen Interest Groups. Although students are not required to sign up for a FIG, they are strongly encouraged to do so; the university has found that those students who participate end up performing much better than those who do not. They put students into small, thematically grouped cohorts of 25. The classes, made up of 25 students grouped according to a common interest, satisfy a gen ed requirement. The classes fill up quickly, and they’re trying to increase opportunities.
About 35% of the university’s students come from outside of Oregon (and every state is represented); 10% of the students come from 70+ foreign countries. Almost 20% self-identify as students of color. Twelve percent of students join Greek life, so it’s available but not a major social force on campus. Much of the social activities are based out of the Union, a funky, unusual building that looks a bit like a labyrinth. It’s a multi-level building made of wood and concrete with old beams across the ceiling; it smells like old wood in a good way. The building has all the typical things people expect at a union: food, student groups, etc. They have an extensive outdoors club, and anyone can be trained to lead trips for this group. Residential life is comprised mostly of freshman: 90% of first-year students live on campus but that drops to about 7% of sophomores, 5% of juniors, 2% of seniors. There’s a ton of cheap housing in the area; our tour guide hasn’t lived more than 2 blocks away since she moved off campus. The university is trying to increase their numbers of non-freshmen on campus. They offer a variety of housing such as Living-Learning Communities, several of which have classrooms in the dorms. The Global Scholars Residence is an incredible new building that houses about 400 Honors and College Scholars students. The rooms are suites, there’s a beautiful dining facility on the first floor, and there are lots of meeting and lounge spaces in addition to having Faculty in residence.