University of Charleston, WV (visited 4/12/12)
What first struck me about UC was how little it looked like the typical college. The buildings were all a light, yellowish brick and stone (clearly all designed to go together rather than adopting various styles as they grew), and the campus was long and compact, wedged in the block between the river and the main street and taking up about two or three blocks lengthwise. Buildings sat in two long rows with plenty of parking in the middle, effectively separating the Res life side of campus (the side away from the river) from the academics/admin side. Not only is the campus accessible from town, but everything is quickly available on campus. The Academic buildings are mostly connected with enclosed walkways/bridges so in bad weather, you don’t have to go outside. For example, the library takes up four levels of one of the buildings and it’s accessible on many levels. The river view is amazing and they love to show it off. In one of the academic buildings, they have a multi-level art gallery with panoramic views across the water. The artwork changes periodically, but all of it is by female artists from WV. They have maximized their use of space to let in a lot of light and open the buildings to the river views. One of the academic buildings, the Clay Tower, is eight floors; some colleges might put the fancy offices in the rooms with windows overlooking the river, but here, those are taken up with classroom, labs, and work-spaces for students. The Capital Building (and its gold dome) sits right across the river.
One of the most unique aspects of UC is that there is no core curriculum like at many other colleges. Instead, they integrate English (particularly writing and communication) into any major that students choose. All classes are writing and presentation intensive; they care more about having students apply what they have learned through practice rather than just spit back information on a test. They also have 6 Liberal Learning Outcomes, important traits for success in the workplace, such as critical thinking, citizenship, and infusing science and technology. These LLOs show up over and over in the classes that students take throughout their time on campus.
For a variety of reasons such as not having a core curriculum, accepting goal/career-oriented students, and the class structures, 35-40% of students graduate in fewer than the traditional four years (fabulous from an economic standpoint). Most students declare a major within the first year or so, but it is not required – however, in order to graduate early, students do need to know what they want to do fairly early on. However, they also have a Discover Program for first year students who are undeclared/undecided.
Driven, engaged, goal-oriented students tend to thrive here. Internships are available as early as 2nd semester freshman year. My tour guide, a freshman Chemistry major from Northern Virginia, was asked by one of his Chem professors if he wanted to help do research on finding traces of cocaine on paper money. Although he was a bit disappointed that they didn’t find any, he got a lot of practical research experience, and he said that they found other really interesting things in the process. The professor is going to be expanding the research, and this student is first in line to help continue the project over the rest of his time at college. He is also involved in a variety of campus clubs, including some that compete in regional and national levels. When I asked him what he’d like to change about the university, he said that he wishes more people got involved in some of the extra-curriculars. Several people were really involved, but some students got more wrapped up in the academics.
Health Sciences and Pre-Professional programs are strong here. There are 7 hospitals within 10 miles of campus, so internship and hands-on experiences are common and accessible. They also have a 6-year Doctor of Pharmacy program; students do 2 years of prereqs and then spend 4 years on the doctoral program. They also have a fast-track business degree in which students can get their BA in 3 years and then spend 1.5 years getting an MBA. Public Policy, politics, and pre-law are also very popular. The Capital Building is directly across the river from campus, so again, internship opportunities are there and highly sought-after. Finally, both the Interior Design and the Athletic Training programs are hands-on; students majoring in Athletic Training get assigned to different sports teams, so they work for full seasons with the same people; they also rotate through teams for different seasons to get a sense of what different athletes might need. Incidentally, UC is DII which surprised me because there are only 1,600 students at the college. They even have a large football stadium across the river, something almost unheard of for a college this size.
There are 4 residence halls: 1 for only freshman, 1 mixed, and 2 for upper level students. They also have a new graduate residence hall for the MBA, PharmDoc, and other grad students on campus. All the dorms are suites or private bathrooms. My tour guide and his roommate, for example, had a private bathroom directly across the hall from their room. They had a key for it so they knew that no one else would be using it. On the Res Life side of campus, they have a brand new fitness center (with views of the river, of course!) and a gym right behind it. That building is next on the list to be renovated with the expectation that it will eventually be joined to the new fitness center. All students can have a car on campus; parking costs $100 a semester.