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Mercyhurst University

Mercyhurst University (visited 3/18/19)

Mercyhurst M and Main

The main entrance

Sometimes visiting a college without knowing much about it first is the best way to approach this. This is definitely the case here. I loved driving onto campus under the metal arch and up the drive leading to the stunning main, original building. This has the feel of a strong faith-based community – there’s no question that this is a religious institution with the statues and the chapel – but I never got the heavy-handed feeling that some other religious institutions have. It just had a sense of calm and purpose permeating much of what goes on.

Mercyhurst chapel 1

The main chapel

The Sisters of Mercy (the first non-cloistered order) started Mercyhurst with 23 female students in 1926 (they went coed in 1969 with the addition of a men’s crew team). Their 2 major tenets include health care and education. If people needed help, they got it. They took care of soldiers on both sides of the Civil War, for example. Someone described them as being on the liberal edge of Catholicism, telling me that it was the Campus Ministry that started the LGBTQ group years ago. “They see the problem, not the details of who the person is. They want people to feel welcome and at home. If you want to be here, they want you to be here. Students seem respectful of people’s opinions and people can say what they feel.” The tour guide agreed: “It’s a supportive environment where you can be yourself.”

Mercyhurst lab

One of the cybersecurity labs

This is still something of a regional school with many students coming from a two-hour radius. Much of this is program driven: the academics have strong reputations, and the university has specialized majors such as Interior Architecture and Design, archaeology/anthropology (including concentrations in Bioanthropology and Bioarchaeology), and Applied Forensic Sciences (with concentrations in Criminalistics/Forensic Bio, Forensic Anthropology, and Forensic Chemistry). They’ve developed majors that enable students to train for jobs that industries need, and have done a great job of being future-focused by creating programs in data science, cybersecurity, and Business and Competitive Intelligence.

Mercyhurst Applied Politics

Institute for Applied Politics polling room

They have created specialized institutes as well, including one for Ethics and Society and one for Applied Politics (Students can work here to conduct public opinion polls on a variety of things, including politics and environmental issues).

Mercyhurst offers a strong Learning Support program as well as Institute for high-functioning students on the spectrum. I met with representatives from both programs and ate lunch with 3 of them. They’re wonderful and clearly love what they do!

  • Mercyhurst nontrad apts

    Some of the non-traditional apartments where students in AIM can choose to live

    LDP (Learning Difference Program) offers two levels of academic support.

    • Students with a current documented disability will be able to get accommodations such as extended time for testing, Assistive technology, etc. For extended time, students get a form that indicates which accommodation they’ve been approved for; they have that signed by the professor and comes back to the office for scheduling at least 5 days before the test date.
    • The Academic Advantage Program is a fee-based program with about 10 openings for the coming year. “Sometimes it’s hard for kids coming from a high school with a real reach-around program. This service focuses much more on organization and executive functioning to make sure they’re getting things done on time and then making sure that they seek out the content help somewhere else. They need to be advocating for themselves.” Students get weekly check-ins with academic counselors who will help create a document to track what they have due, create a weekly time management calendar, and other things to help students stay on track. They’ll also track grades through an early alert programs. Counselors can help students get tutoring.
    • Freshmen also have the option to participate in the PASS summer program; 12-15 students each summer move in at the end of July and take a 3-week, 3-credit class. It counts for the REACH (see below), and it alleviates the fall course load. They can move into their dorm room to get settled early. They also have workshops so they know what the accommodations look like.
  • The Autism Institute at Mercyhurst (AIM) provides support for students on the Spectrum; they support the students’ adjustment to college and provide social and other support to make sure they’re successful. There is specialized housing available, but this is optional. Students can choose to live there or in other available dorms.
Mercyhurst 1

The library and an academic building connected by an overhead walkway

The Core Curriculum is called REACH in which they take 10 classes in 10 disciplines, 2 in each of the following areas: Reason & Faith, Expression and Creativity, Analytical Thought, Contexts & Systems, and Humans in Connection. Freshman also take two semesters of Intro to Mercyhurst classes which purposefully mixes students of different majors and different geographic areas so they interact with people they might not have. These classes help to ensure that students know where resources are on campus.

Mercyhurst sky roof

The “sky ceiling” in one of the academic buildings.

The university has recently revamped their academic calendar to incorporate “mini-terms” into their semesters. This effectively splits the semester into 2 8-week sections, and students can go on “mini-semester travel.” They also have a campus in Dungarvan, Ireland “that’s really an extension of our campus.” Freshmen can go if they’re in the honors program (but this option is not always available every year). Depending on the major, they might be able to take some of the requirements for the major. About 25% of students will study abroad.

Mercyhurst reading room

One of the reading rooms

They do have a 4-year residency requirement. “People aren’t leaving en masse on the weekends. They’re here and doing things.” Freshmen are not allowed to have cars on campus, but all students get passes for public transportation. There’s a lot to do in Erie including an indoor water park, mini-golf, theaters, Target, etc. “There’s cool local music downtown,” said the tour guide. Presque Isle (about a 15 minute drive; the bus line also goes there) is a popular spot with walking trails and beaches; sometimes the college hosts events there. “Erie is like Buffalo, Cleveland, and Pittsburgh,” said the admission rep. “We’re trying to come back from being primarily an industrial city so things are getting revitalized.” Gannon University is also in Erie, so a lot of places cater to college students.

Mercyhurst motto

The college motto

A couple fun campus traditions mentioned by several people are:

  • The Sister Damien Spirit Bell is a fixture at hockey games. The tour guide told me that she was such a supporter of the Mercyhurst teams (and about 30% of students are athletes) that “she would tell the opposing team that they’d go to hell if they beat her boys.” The bell is still rung at athletic (“and personal”) victories. They have 3 DI sports (men’s and women’s ice hockey and men’s crew). All other sports are DII.
  • The new President (well, sort of new – he’s in his 4th year) established Hurst Day. On a random fall day, he cancels classes with a big scavenger hunt (based on the history of campus, etc), games, activities, competitions, and a big dinner.
Mercyhurst quad

The quad

Improvements are student-focused (such as the new sophomore res hall being built). “Things aren’t done blindly on campus; it’s done on purpose.” They just opened a bar on campus in Mid-March. It’s run by the cafeteria so food can be bought with their card; they need cash for alcohol which is served with a 2 drink limit “for student safety,” said the rep. The tour guide said, “It’s great. It’s been open 3 days and I’ve been there twice.”

Mercyhurst birds 2

Artwork by one of the art professors (also a Mercyhurst alum)

Admissions is fully test optional; those who don’t send scores are still eligible for Honors Programs, scholarships, and any major. They’ll superscore both the SAT and ACT if sent, and admissions will counsel students if they aren’t sure if they should send in scores. “We’re not super selective. We work well with students who aren’t your traditional A student or who needs more hands-on.” They have a 15-to-finish initiative: they work with students to take at least that many credits per semester so they’re on track to graduate. “But it’s not just random credits. We have advisors who make sure they are taking the RIGHT 15 credits.”

© 2019

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Gannon University

Gannon University (visited 3/18/19)

Gannon archThis is more urban than I had expected it to be, but it still has enough of a campus feel to make students feel like they have “a place.” Campus is about 2 blocks wide and 5 or so long. “You can walk across campus in 2 Spotify songs!” said the tour guide. Having the size of a campus described that way was a first for me – and I think that sums up Gannon in a lot of ways!

Gannon student cntrErie is the only port city in Pennsylvania. They get a lot of traffic from Routes 90 and 70, but it’s not a major city. Costs are reasonable, and the city opens up lots of options for social life including “funky brew pubs and lots of cool museums,” said the tour guide. The rep said, “The city and the college grew up together in the 1920s, and now we’re adults and we help each other out. We’re a weird city! It’s cool to be in Erie as a young person. This is an international place. 18% of the population isn’t from here. That’s also reflected in our student population. In the time it takes you to walk across campus, you’ll hear 5 or 6 languages.”

Gannon upperclass housingStudents are typically involved in 5 or 6 things on and off campus. The tour guide told me that “student like Greek Life. It’s there but not overarching. Many groups are volunteer based, and often dues are donated to community organizations. You join knowing you’re going to be involved. There are no rowdy parties because we’re in a residential neighborhood.” They discourage rushing Freshman year because there are so many other opportunities to take advantage of. “Greek Life isn’t the umbrella. It’s just one thing UNDER the umbrella of our entire experience.”

Gannon 2Gannon is a 5 minute walk to Presque Isle bay on Lake Erie. “The freshwater and marine biology students and the crew team don’t mind the lake access!” said an admissions rep. In addition to having access to the lake for their crew team, they have an amazing interior turf field on campus. They take athletics seriously and have strong (DII) teams: “We can put ourselves on par with the lower 20% of DI schools.” They offer women’s wrestling (the 1st in the state and still 1 of only 3 in PA). Football, baseball, lacrosse, women’s soccer, and volleyball tend to pull in the most crowds, but they also offer water polo, competitive cheer (co-ed and all female) and competitive dance teams. Inner-tube water polo is the most popular intramural “and it is hilarious! They’re bouncing all over the place,” said the tour guide.

Gannon chapel 2This is the only university in Pennsylvania run by the Catholic diocese. It’s named after its founder who saw an influx of homeless newspaper boys so “he rounded them up to give them an education.” Catholicism is still a part of the identity with about 50% of students self-identifying as Catholic. There are very few things around campus to indicate that this is a relisious institution (there are a few small crucifixes around, but no statues, the chapel is not obvious, etc). The tour guide said that the religious aspect “not in your face. It’s there if you want it, but really easy to ignore it if you don’t.” She’s not Catholic and hasn’t felt isolated, pressured, or anything else. Students do have to take two theology classes of their choice; nothing is scripted, and mass/chapel attendance is never required.

Gannon atriumThere are about 4000 students on campus, 1000 of whom are grad students. Many of these are Gannon undergraduates who move right into grad programs. “A lot of our engineers are torn between here and RIT for graduate school. We’re not unhappy about being in that league.” The average class has 19 students; the largest classes will cap at 60ish because the largest lecture halls aren’t really bigger than that but those classes are rare. Professors are known by their first names. “It’s peer to peer. Students are walking their dogs, having coffee with them, babysitting their kids.”

Gannon performance lab 1One of the coolest things I saw on my tour was the Human Performance Lab. The tour guide said she normally doesn’t get to take people in there, so she was excited to show it off. She was raving about the director of the program who happened to be in there working out on the treadmills. “Come on in! I’m just killing time before the next group comes in!” He showed off the amazing technology and machines in there, and also had the tour guide chime in about some of her labs that she did in the room. This is absolutely an incredible facility that a lot of undergraduates do not have access to and most universities.

Gannon library“Gannon is riding the sweet spot of becoming a top-tier university without being elitist.” There’s no shortage of offerings for students, and Gannon provides strong job training without losing the ethos of who they are as a personalized, liberal arts institution.

Gannon stained glassAdmissions is rolling but “most students apply in the fall.” They will superscore both the SAT and ACT. Tuition is affordable, and they’re generous with scholarships. “The top price anyone will see is $48K with the highest tuition for health sciences, engineering, and CompSci because of the labs, but there are scholarships for those, too.” Some other scholarships include:

  • Diversity Service and Leadership (diverse racial backgrounds; $1000 for just applying as a student of color; if you visit and write an essay, you get an additional $2000)
  • Schuster Memorial Music/Patron of the Arts. Some stipulations apply such as a commitment to community service in the arts
  • MUN Scholarships (up to $3,000)
  • Full Tuition (students must apply by 12/15). The top 10% of applicants get invited to be in a full-tuition program. Those who choose will come to campus to give a presentation (could be everything from Irish Dancing, bringing in models they built, etc).

Athletes can be recruited with scholarships, as well, since they’re DII.

© 2019

Houghton College

Houghton College (visited 3/19/19)

Houghton quad 2This school is a well-kept secret which is unfortunate. I drove to campus from Erie, and I had quite the scenic drive heading north off Interstate 86. There were plenty of small towns and farms; I checked my GPS at one point to make sure I had programmed it right because I didn’t see any signs for the town of Houghton (pronounced “Hoe-ton” not “How-ton”) or a college of any sort … and then suddenly, I was there.

Houghton chapelThey do NOT make a secret that this is a “Christ-centered education.” While definitely religiously focused, nothing on campus is “in-your-face” or screams “Religious School!” However, students must attend 2/3 of the chapel services held on M, W, and F; the tour guide described a lot of music happening at chapels. Masses are not required, although they are offered on campus (many of which are student-led). Many students choose to go to church in the community. The student worker in the office talked about having a group of friends that she went to church with. Students also have to take 3 religious classes as part of their Gen Eds, including Biblical Lit (“basically an intro to the Old Testament”), Intro to Christ, and an upper level elective.

Houghton 7The directions sent by the admissions office were spot-on – the brick building with the bell tower was one of the first buildings I got to. Parking was plentiful and well marked, something I appreciate more and more as I go on these visits. The welcome center, located right inside, is lovely and warm. Coffee and cookies were set out, and a student was staffing the desk to greet people.

Houghton dorm 2

One of the dorms for females, the biggest on campus. “I think about 300 people live here.”

This is a mostly residential campus. There are 4 dorms (2 each for males and females) and some townhouses for upperclassmen. There are very few commuters mostly because of the rural nature of the community. One of the students I talked to said that she’d like to improve the dorms a bit. “A couple of them are older. They aren’t terrible, but they could use upgrades.” I asked her about the food – “It’s the best I had when looking at colleges. It’s maybe an 8, but I’m not picky.”

Houghton walking trail

One of the walking trails leading from campus. 

The central part of campus is easy to navigate and has a great feeling about it. The athletic facilities and a couple dorms are a bit more of a walk, but even the furthest fields and the new athletic center weren’t any more than a 10 minute walk at a fairly leisurely pace. There are lots of wooded areas and trails for students to use for hiking or running. “Outdoorsy students will definitely like it here,” said the rep (and Letchworth State Park, the “Grand Canyon of the East” is only about 15 minutes away – lots of opportunities for hiking, rafting, camping, etc). The only part of campus that isn’t walkable is the Equestrian Center, a fairly major area a couple miles away; I drove over to see it after the tour and was impressed at the size of the facility. They offer an Equestrian Studies major and minor and an Equine-Assisted Therapy minor.

Houghton equestrian cntr

The equestrian center

I talked to the student at the admissions desk for awhile. She said was surprised her the most was how much of a community this really was. “I chose it for the community but didn’t know just how open people would be.” The 1000 undergrads do become a truly tight-knit community and people tend to get involved; the ruralness of the campus pretty much guarantees that. There are lots of traditions and community-building events, and the Rep who showed me around, herself a recent grad, couldn’t say enough about it.

Houghton 7

Students talking between classes

“Students who want a community are going to do great here. You can’t help but get involved.” Several of the major traditions revolve around the dorms. One of the male dorms always dresses up in wacky costumes and bang on drums during home games. Even the website lists that dorm as “Home of Shen Bloc, a high-energy, raucous cheering section for Highlander athletics.” One of the female dorms always throws a Thanksgiving feast and another throws a party. Other traditions that people brought up were the Bagpipes that are played at graduation and “Scarfing” for freshmen. “We get a scarf; we’re supposed to give it away at graduation to someone meaningful to our experience here, but that doesn’t always happen.”

Houghton Hammock Village

The “Hammock Village” – the only one I’ve ever seen of these on a college campus!

An area for growth that the rep sees is that “we’re predominantly white. We’re trying to increase that. Some of that happens in chapel. We’ll talk about things even if it makes people mad or uncomfortable. We hold forums and have the hard conversations. We’ve had a record high number of students of color coming in.”

Not surprisingly, they have several religiously-themed majors and minors such as Pastoral Ministries, Bible, and Theology. Their music and arts divisions are strong (offering BFAs and BAs in typical areas as well as Music Industry and Applied Design and Visual Communications); the large arts building has an EMA recording studio, practice rooms, and galleries. Students wanting to combine this with Business can earn a bachelor’s in Integrated Marketing Communications.

© 2019

Arcadia University

Arcadia University (visited 2/26/19)

Arcadia 1This is a hidden gem that I wish more people knew about. This is the school that will take care of its students, provide tools to succeed, and give them a chance to develop their voices and their passions.

My tour guide is from Nevada and transferred from UN Las Vegas. That’s a huge switch, so I asked how she found Arcadia. She said that she was really unhappy at UNLV and told her sister (who lives in the area) that she was dropping out of school; her sister told her that “No way is that happening!” and took her on college tours in Eastern PA. As soon as she got to Arcadia, she knew. She’s now a senior and couldn’t be happier that she ended up here.

Arcadia global business“UNLV was easy, and I was expecting to fly through classes here, but I got a C on my first paper. I was devastated. I had never gotten a C in my life! I almost dropped out. But my professors pulled me in to work on my writing. I learned how to pull apart an argument and present it. I may not write that way all the time, but it made me a better writer overall and I’m so much more confident now.” All students have to write a Senior Thesis (“the bio majors start in Junior year because it’s so difficult.”). She wrote hers on class ranking and discrimination in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.

Arcadia library and flags

The library

The tour guide’s favorite class was Education and Inequality; “I took it because I’m interested in the subject even though it’s not in my major.” The campus itself seems to be incredibly inclusive. “There’s a lot of activism here,” she told me. When I talked with the rep after the tour, she told me, “We have a strong LGBTQ community on campus. The new president is very much social-justice oriented.”

Arcadia castle 1

T

Arcadia is perhaps best known for its global perspective. Flags hang all over campus “representing countries where our students or faculty are from or places students have studied.” Students must take a language at least through the 102 level; they offer about 8 languages, including ASL. They rank as #1 for number of students going abroad. Wording is important here: not everyone goes abroad, and some go more than once. (Compare this to Goucher in MD which requires EVERY student to study abroad; they just have a smaller student population!). However, this does not minimize Arcadia’s commitment to global perspectives, getting students out of their comfort zones, etc. Not surprisingly, they offer a Certificate in Peace Corps Prep.

 

Arcadia pondThey offer a First Year Study Abroad Experience (FYSAE) in London and Sterling. Students are identified as candidates in the admission process and offered a spot. Sterling is capped at 15 students; London has more flexibility because it’s run by Arcadia. They are implementing a new Second Year program (SYSAE) in 6 locations but with more stipulations on which majors are eligible (some examples: bio, education, and nursing can’t go). Students interested in SYSAE interview as part of the application. “It’s just another layer to make sure they’re ready for it,” said the rep.

Arcadia quad stu and castle

The main quad with the Castle to the left and new Student Center to the right.

They offer traditional semester and year-long programs, “but for students who want to try out travel or aren’t sure they’re ready, there are spring travel classes,” my tour guide told me. Spring Preview classes are open to any student in their first year at Arcadia (freshman or transfer) and costs $595 (cheaper for students in the Honors College) regardless of location: this covers airfare, the hotel, most meals, and any scheduled group activities. My tour guide went to London on one of these and then did a semester abroad in her Junior year.

 

Gray Towers Castle (a National Historic Landmark) which had been their home. (Fun fact: Creed 2 was filmed in this building). The 3rd floor of the Castle is a dorm – for first-year students! “In keeping with the way the owners set up the house – with his side and her side – the males are housed on one side and females on the other.” Males are in quads; females have rooms ranging from 2-7! The tour guide was quick to point out that the room with 7 is huge, and she showed me a room on the first floor of equivalent size.

 

The Arts Department is housed in two buildings, one of which is older than the Castle. The Power House (it had actually powered the Castle) has traditional/2D (painting, etc); the other houses 3D (ceramics, etc). Students can earn either a BFA or BA in Art or Theater. The largest auditorium (400 seats) is an annex to the building; my tour guide loves the theater program. “I go to every production. They do such a good job!” They now offer a musical theater concentration. They have extensive offerings in the Arts including Pre-Art Therapy, Arts Entrepreneurship and Curatorial Studies, and Scientific Illustration.

Arcadia stack house 2

One of the Arts Buildings with the theater annex to the right.

I didn’t realize that Arcadia had such strong graduate PT and PA programs (PT is ranked #2 in Pennsylvania). They pair with UPenn to run a clinic on Arcadia’s campus. Undergrads are “almost assured entrance” into the program; they offer both a 3+3 and 4+3 Pre-PT/DPT. They have also paired with Drexel Law School to offer either an Accelerated 3+3 BA/JD or an Assured Admission 4+3. Entrance is extremely competitive to these: Students must have a minimum of a 1330 SAT or 28 ACT and 3.5GPA and graduation in the top 10% of the class (if the high school ranks).

Arcadia old wellTheir new Student Center (which is geo-thermically heated/cooled as well as having light sensors and other green initiatives) opened in 2011 and has a lot of comfortable spaces for students. One of the large lounges was almost full when we walked through. All the student engagement offices are there. She was very happy with the number of things to do on campus: a couple favorite events were Laser Tag (spring) and Carnival (fall). Night Madness and Midnight Bingo – held at least once a month – “are huge here! They give away amazing prizes!” Weekends are fun. “You don’t see students much in the daytime – because you realize that they’re sleeping all morning – but they come out at night!”

If anything, the tour guide would love to see renovations in the dorms. There were several dorm clusters where 2 or 3 dorms are linked; the buildings we walked through looked like typical dorms, but the rooms were more spacious than many I’ve seen. In some dorms, the beds can’t be fully bunked because of the height of the ceilings (lower than some but didn’t feel claustrophobic), but students can add risers. Food is pretty good here, but the dining hall is kind of small for 2300 undergrads. They do have a cool program for the use of to-go containers (they don’t provide things that can be thrown out). Students can buy a reusable container for $5. They can bring it back after using it to get cleaned; they’re given a token/coin that they can then turn in for a clean container when they need it to go again.

© 2019

Old Dominion University

Old Dominion University (visited 1/31/19)

√P1110926

The new Education building

I can’t say that my initial impressions of the university were stellar (although I think they redeemed themselves so keep reading!). The Welcome Center (the actual admissions dept is elsewhere) was hard to find; I found out that they weren’t even offering a tour on the day I arrived despite it being listed on their website; and they had no record of me coming, even though I had confirmation from the admissions rep that I was welcome to join the (non-existent) tour/info session. The Welcome Center was a small office on the side of a large atrium in a large building off the quad … with almost no signage to get people to the right place. When I got into the right building (after calling the office to get directions which at least got me to the right building), I asked a CNU employee for help … and she had no idea that the office was even in that building. The people in the welcome center (when I finally found them!) were confused as to why I was there, although they were incredibly nice and went out of their way to help. When I went to put the parking pass in my car (visitors park on the 4th or 5th floor of the garage more than a block away), they arranged for the student intern, a senior, to give me a personal tour since there were no tours that day.

 

P1110920

The main quad (with 70s architecture)

All that being said … the student spent 90 minutes giving me an amazing tour, and he was one of the best ambassadors that ODU could have asked for. He was not at all scripted (so many tour guides can’t get off “the script” to save themselves), and I feel like I got the real scoop on what it was like to be a student. He didn’t hold back when he felt that there was room for improvement, and he didn’t sugar coat his experiences. When he got excited, that was genuine as well.

 

P1110937I think this is one of the most racially diverse campuses I’ve ever seen (and I’ve visited over 420 schools at this point). Fewer than 50% of students self-identify as Caucasian; about 1/3 self-identify as African-American and almost 10% as Hispanic. I mentioned this to the guide, and he agreed. “The mix of students you see in the classrooms aren’t staged. That’s how things are here.” In the new Student Center, there are multiple Affinity Rooms (not just for race), and students can use whichever one they identify with. I asked the tour guide about the less-visible diversity (religion, political views, socio-economic status), etc. He thinks it’s impressive; he loves that he knows all sorts of people with all sorts of backgrounds and views.

P1110941

This “monorail” was built to help move students around campus — but the builders never tested to see if it would run off the ground!

ODU is technically classified as a residential campus, but doesn’t seem to be the reality. My tour guide said that there are only about 2000 beds on campus; the university says that 24% of the undergraduate population (hovering around 19,500) – and 75% of freshmen — live in “university owned, operated, or affiliated housing” (aka not necessarily on campus). As a senior, he lives off campus, and says that there’s no issue finding housing. There are a lot of houses to rent as well as apartment complexes. Because of the high number of students commuting from home or living off campus, “parking is an issue.” However, it’s easy to walk and bike – in fact, it’s ranked #7 “most bike friendly campus” in the country. Campus is flat “and you’ll see a lot of people biking and skateboarding.” Students can get free weekly bike rentals or pay a fee of $35 a year to guarantee a bike.

 

P1110943

Some of the dorms

Only about 10% of the student go Greek. “I’m not affiliated and I’ve never felt like I’ve missed out.” There’s no Greek Housing – and they have a rule that no more than 5 (6?) members of a chapter can live together. I asked if they really enforced that, especially with the number of people living off campus. He said no, but in practicality, there were few rental places that would accommodate more than that anyway. Food on campus “is good! They even have a hibachi grill and a conveyer belt with fresh-sushi and other things to grab-and-go. You just wait for what you want to come around!”

P1110945

Freshly made sushi on the grab-and-go conveyor belt in the dining hall

Their 6-year graduation rate isn’t wonderful. Only about 55% of their students graduate within this time frame. “I think that commuting is a big reason for people who transfer out,” said the tour guide. “It’s just not conducive to the college experience.”

ODU started as the Norfolk division of William and Mary in 1930, and became its own school with university status in 1969: the main quad architecture definitely has a 1970s vibe! However, campus outside of that main quad has lots of new buildings and a modern feel. Academics are impressive, and the new buildings have amazing classrooms geared towards discussion and group work. The tour guide’s largest classes (intro level) had “about 75 students.” The smallest had 10.

© 2019

College of William and Mary

William & Mary (visited 1/31/19)

√P1110917No doubt, W&M is an amazing school with a beautiful, historic campus and strong academics. I was disappointed that along with that, I got a strong “We don’t have to try” vibe during the visit. I was glad that the info session didn’t have a PowerPoint (and therefore more of a conversational feel) but there wasn’t much insight into the college during this time. The thing that the rep got the most excited about was the Cheese Club which was started because a student liked to buy cheese and share it with his dorm-mates.

P1110905

The Sunken Garden where a lot of campus-wide events take place

 

This is the 2nd oldest college in the US (after Harvard), but they’re quick to point out that they are first in lots of other areas: oldest law school, honor code, honor society, and the oldest academic building (Wren) still in use. “It’s a tradition to take a class in there before graduation,” said the rep. With a school as old as this, there are lots of traditions. The rep highlighted a couple favorites:

  • Yule Log: In mid-December, the community (including people from town) gathers in the courtyard where there are bonfires going. Everyone gets a sprig of holy, and there’s singing, hot cider, and more. Someone reads “’Twas the Night Before Finals” and the university President shares a story, as well.
  • P1110910

    The Wren Building – the Oldest continually used academic building in the country and is used for many of the campus traditions

    Opening Convocation welcomes freshman to campus. The Provost and President give speeches, then students get ushered through Wren into the Courtyard on the other side where all other students and faculty cheer. First-years go single file and get high fives. At graduation, they basically reverse this walk and exit campus as a group.

  • The Raft Debate has 4 faculty members appealing to the audience – in highly theatrical fashion – why they should be the sole survivor of shipwreck to use the raft to get off the desert island on which they’re stranded.
W&M bridge 2

The iconic (and infamous?) bridge – as with any campus, there are legends. At W&M, if you kiss someone on the bridge, you’re going to marry that person. To reverse this, you have to push that person off the bridge.

One of the most interesting bits of information I got was that W&M operates a joint program with St. Andrews. Students spend two years at each institution and have some flexibility in the order in which they do these. I spoke with two first-year students while waiting for the info session to start, both of whom are in the incoming class’ 27-person cohort. They are both planning on spending their first and last years at W&M with the 2 years in between at St. Andrew’s. Students have a limited number of majors from which to choose if they’re in this program (Film Studies is the most competitive; others include English, History, Econ, International Relations, and Classical Studies). In order to be accepted to the program, they had to submit an additional 2000 word essay with their W&M application. They said that there’s no special orientation other than a brunch and dinner at the beginning of the year, but they’ve been taking a class throughout the semesters that covers things like culture shock.

P1110882In terms of academics, “We’re a liberal arts institution while still being a research university,” said the rep. They take an interesting approach to the Core requirements: all students take “Coll” Classes (the College Curriculum): there are 2 First-Year Experiences classes. In the 2nd year, the classes focus on academic disciplines to provide breadth of knowledge. The 3rd year has a global focus and can be covered by study abroad. The 4th year is a capstone for the major.

W&M solar charger

Solar Panels run the outlets on this picnic table!

The majority (70%) of students do research (but she had a hard time coming up with examples outside of the sciences when asked – psychology (the major is technically Psychological Sciences) was mentioned, which is another fairly common research area – and not surprisingly, the new Integrated Science building includes the psychology department). About 25% of those who do research are published before graduation.

As a medium sized university (6,000 undergrads, about 2/3 of whom come from Virginia – many people forget that this is a public institution!), they offer a good range of majors, including some more specialized ones that you’d expect to see at larger schools:

P1110902Students have the opportunity to apply for an Early Assurance entry into VCU or Eastern VA Medical School. Eligibility requirements differ between the schools, but both a 3.5 GPA from W&M and must get a minimum score on the MCAT (505 or 507) in addition to other things.

Campus is bike-friendly and easy to navigate (regardless of how you get around!). A few areas of note include “Ancient (or Historic) Campus” which has 3 of the 4 oldest campus buildings in the country. Martha Barksdale Field was created to give women a place for sports; although men were not specifically banned from this space, the stipulation she put on it was that cleats could not be worn – and since the men wore cleats to play, they had to stay off.

© 2019

University of Mary Washington

University of Mary Washington (visited 2/1/19)

UMW delivery bikes

Food Delivery Bikes!

This is the first campus I’ve seen where they will deliver food to students using bikes! (Maybe there are others out there; I’d love to know who they are, if so – and they should absolutely point that out on tours!)

I was last on UMW’s campus about 10 years ago with 34 students in tow. I could picture the main walkway – the “spine” – running through this long, skinny campus. On that trip, 3 former students met the group, took us to dinner, and showed us campus which was great for the students since they got didn’t get the “canned admission’s spiel.” However, I’m really glad I had this chance to come back, talk to a couple current students, remind myself about what was going on at the school, and see what had changed (and a lot tends to change on campuses in 10 years!).

UMW walkway 2

The main walkway through campus

This is a quintessentially pretty, traditional-looking campus full of brick buildings. I didn’t realize that it had functioned as a sister school to UVA (which didn’t accept females into undergraduate programs at the time); they went coed – and was fully independent of UVA – in 1972 and earned university status in 2004.

For a school this size (just under 4400 undergrads, making it the smallest public school in VA), they have some impressive choices for majors, and they seem to be thoughtful in their minors that allow students to build upon their interests and gain additional skills that will allow for better job procurement.

UMW collaboration lab

One of the many collaborative classroom workspaces

One of the students said that she was surprised by how much teachers want them to succeed. Classes are relatively small, and both students I spoke with raved about their First-Year Seminars. The FYS teacher is the advisor for the first 2 years; then they get an advisor in their major. The FYS is one of the Gen Ed requirements (which are fairly typical compared to other schools). All students must complete 2 “Speaking Intensive” (which I rarely see) and 4 “Writing Intensive” (more than many colleges) classes as well as an Experiential Learning experience. This can be done in a variety of ways such as internships or study abroad. One of the students said that his Experiential Learning psychology class (many majors offer classes that will fulfill the EL requirement) – Mentoring Students at Risk – class was the best one he had taken. This is offered during the summer; students were in the classroom for a week, then they spent a week working at a camp for children with incarcerated parents.

UMW dorm 2

Some of the dorms

Fredricksburg is a great college town. Although campus is just outside the city-center, things are accessible. Both DC and Richmond are an hour away, and students can hop on the Amtrak/VRE from the station located a 5-minute drive from campus. The students told me that some of their friends have done internships in those cities. They appreciate that there are so many additional social and academic opportunities because of the university’s location.

UMW Greek rockHowever, students aren’t running from campus, either; there’s plenty to do. One of the most popular student organizations is the Canine Companions for Independence club which allows students to raise and train service dogs. Students Helping Honduras (now a national organization that was co-founded by a UMW student) is another highly popular group. One of the students I spoke with, a sophomore, has already traveled to Honduras with the group to do work there.

UMW 1UMW has a 2-year residency requirement, but about 15% of first-year students commute from home (about 90% of students are from Virginia). One of the students told me that 68% of students stay in campus housing all 4 years. For those who choose to move off, there are several apartment complexes within walking distance. They’re redoing the entire dining hall, and there are a few other smaller food options on campus. “Food is a 7, maybe an 8. I’m not sure you can get to a 10 when you’re cooking for 5000 people.”

UMW bell towerUMW doesn’t recognize Greek Life although there are a couple unofficial chapters off campus as well as an on-campus community service organization that anyone can join. They have a trial every 10 years to hear student voices regarding whether they want to start officially recognizing Green organizations, and to date, they’ve never wanted to do so. The student telling me about this said that she appreciates that the college is responsive to students, cares about their opinions, and allows them input into decisions affecting campus life. Overall, she was very happy with her decision to come here and with UMW as a whole. “If anything, I would spend more money on internships and scholarships for study abroad, but it’s still pretty good the way it is.”

© 2019

Virginia State University

Virginia State University (Visited 1/27/19)

VSU 10I arrived on Sunday to walk around and talk to some people; I was pleasantly surprised to see how active students were on a weekend. Students were playing football, walking across the street to the church, hanging out in the gazebo, walking between buildings. It had a lively vibe that not all campuses have on a weekend, particularly on a relatively chilly day in January.

VSU 9This HSCU is located in Petersburg, a small city about 20 minutes south of Richmond. Campus is very pretty – and is completely gated which surprised me. They’re in a slightly more residential area less than a mile from the downtown area of the city; there is public transportation available, and the train station is about a mile away. Students said that there’s been an increase of things to do on and around campus recently. They still say that a lot of it is “make your own fun,” but if you put some effort in, it’s fine. There are just over 4,000 undergraduates, about 2/3 of whom come from Virginia. Most freshmen (and just under 2/3 of the total study body) live on campus which explains part of why there was still a vibrant feel on campus on a weekend.

VSU 8As a land-grant school, it’s not surprising that majors within the College of Agriculture are strong here (Hospitality Management and Dietetics fall within this school in addition to Agriculture and other more traditional majors you’d expect). They also run a 400+ acre Agricultural Research Station about 2 miles from campus.

VSU 4However, students had a lot to say about other departments, especially Business. The College of Engineering and Technology offer 2 engineering majors (Computer and Manufacturing) as well as 3 in Engineering Technology degrees (Electronics, Information Logistics, and Mechanical).

I’m a bit concerned about retention and graduation rates; fewer than 45% of students graduate within 6 years. However, for students looking for a good bargain (tuition is less than $6,000 for in-state and less than $16,000 for out-of-state) at a medium-sized university where faculty will likely know who they are, this might be a good option.

© 2019

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