campus encounters

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Archive for the category “California”

UC Davis

Bikes and shuttles at Davis

Bikes and shuttles on the UCD campus

UC DAVIS   (visited 7/17/12)

UC Davis gardenYou have to love a school that has grapevines lining the road leading up to the entrance, and where bikes rule the school. The flat, attractive campus and the outdoorsy, environmentally conscious students seem much “crunchier” than Berkeley. Berkeley talks the talk, but the UCD students come through with action. There is extensive composing, co-ops, and organic and locally grown food initiatives – so local, in fact, that quite a bit is grown on campus and served in the dining halls! The buildings are absolutely beautiful and they appear to have some thought put into them in terms of style, usage, location, and being environmentally sound. Every aspect of the school appears to be deliberate; they are clear about their mission and are able to it into practice.

UC Davis bikes and athletic cntr

Athletic Center and ubiquitous bikes

There’s a reason Davis is known as a Bike School: this is a physically extensive campus and students really do need quick, convenient transportation. Shuttles run constantly, but bikes are clearly the preferred mode of transportation. Racks are everywhere to lock bikes up, most of them almost full to capacity. It was not unusual to see what had to be a couple hundred bikes outside buildings.

Students are active in and out of the classroom; Student Government really is run by the students and has a multi-million dollar budget. 500 clubs are offered on campus, and if students are bored, it’s not for lack of things to do.

UC Davis sealUCD receives over 49,000 applications just from California. Although lots of schools say that their application process is holistic, this is the first college to specifically say that they will look at things like perseverance through challenges and hardships, management of a significant disability impacting educational, and life goals, again illustrating that they are able to articulate a mission and put it into practice. The admissions rep was also very clear about what they want in the personal statement: “It needs to express something not already stated. Don’t write about getting the MVP. You already told us that on the application, and we’ve seen it. We don’t need to hear about the process of getting it. Tell us something we don’t know already.”

The admissions director was also very clear about expecting to see that students keep their grades up through the end of the senior year: If an accepted student’s grades deviates more than 1 letter grade, he or she needs tell the admissions early. They’re more likely to work with the student and have some wiggle-room if the student takes responsibility and owns up to the issue. They have actually told some students whose grades dropped significantly NOT to move in – as late as on move-in day when the information has gotten to them late.

UC Davis acad bldg 4Applications must be submitted between Oct 1-30 but so not send transcripts until asked for it. Students should check “yes” at the boxes at the end of the application which will enable the school to release information to high school counselors. This enables us to act as a liaison for the student. Out-of-state apps are reviewed manually to make sure they’re meeting the A-G California standards (listed on the website). Students need 4 years of English; at least three years of lab sciences, math (through at least Alg II), and Social Sciences; two consecutive years of a language; and one year of art, all with at least a C – although they recommend that students complete more than these minimum standards because things are getting much more competitive. Students need a minimum GPA of 3.4 during 10th-11th grades only and should take the SAT/ACT by end of 1st trimester senior year. SAT IIs are not required but encouraged – it gives students “additional” credit, but the school won’t penalize them for not taking it.

UC Davis statueEngineering is the only major that does not let students automatically transfer in when they are on campus; they have to meet certain requirements to get into the program. Students can pick from 16 different engineering programs, making it the most extensive program in the UC system. Other notable majors are the neurobiology/physiology and viniculture programs.

(c) 2012

University of San Francisco


USF stepsUSF 1This is a physically impressive campus (and academically impressive, too). We got dropped off at the base of the “infamous steps” and trekked up them (not nearly as bad as I had feared!). There were spectacular views of the city which they consider to be part of their classroom. One admissions rep described it as “423 smaller classrooms in 1 giant one.” The admissions video doesn’t show a single classroom; everything shows students in the city. First year students get this “city as classroom” feel starting right away in their First Year Seminars with classes such as San Francisco Urbanism, Telling San Francisco’s Stories, and Writing in the Gold Gate Park. They bring the city to the classroom and vice versa.

USF courtyard

Part of the campus with the city in the background.

USF windowThe university began in 1855 to educate the children of the gold rush. There were originally two separate colleges for males and females. The nuns got the huge building at the top of the hill which was rare since those Jesuits “like their views” as the tour guide said. Although there’s still “upper” and “lower” campuses separated by a residential block, it’s very easy to get around, and there’s still some campus feel to it. Students can get from one end to the other in 10-15 minutes. It’s also located between the two safest police districts in SF and the students said they felt really safe walking around, even in the residential area dividing the campus. The university is mission driven: education plus service/social justice. As an illustration of the university living their social justice mission, in 1950, their football team (they compete at a DI level, by the way,) had a 9-0 record and were invited to Orange Bowl – but only if they left their black players at home. The team (not the school) declined the invitation to play.

Library reading room

Library reading room

USF chapelThey believe in integrated hands-on research and are nationally ranked for this. USF has strong sciences and a new science building. Nursing is particularly strong. 96% of the nursing students pass the NCLEX on their first try; 98% are employed. Entrance into the nursing program is highly competitive: fewer than 60% are accepted as freshman. The program has high-tech simulation rooms, and clinicals start the sophomore year. Nursing students, since they can’t do a traditional study abroad, can do two international immersions: one in a hospital in Vietnam and the other assisting midwives in Guatemala at a clinic. Management/business is also strong with 7 majors; Entrepreneurship ranks 12th in the country. USF also has a 3+2 engineering program with USC; students spend 3 years in USF’s physics department and then transfer to USC to finish up the BS in engineering.

USF libraryThe Director of Admissions was “our kind of people” as one of the college counselors at my lunch table said: friendly, spoke with ease, was dressed in business casual, and relaxed but not unprofessional. He had the kind of demeanor that put people at ease quickly. He told us that USF just admitted their largest freshman class with 1265 students. Their student population is about 5300 – the “Big end of small or the small end of medium, whichever floats your boat.” No ethnic or racial group makes up more than 36% of the student population. They don’t look at writing on the SAT. Students should apply by the Early Action deadline of 11/15 to be considered for merit aid which is not available for international students, although they don’t have to take the TOEFL if they graduated from an English speaking school.

(c) 2012

Cal Maritime Academy

CAL STATE MARITIME, Vallejo, CA (visited on 7/17/12)

This is one of those schools that I probably would not have chosen to visit if I were doing visits on my own, but it was absolutely amazing! I’m so glad I saw it! This small campus is built on a hill leading down to the Bay. The “crowning glory” of the campus is the 500-foot, decommissioned Navy vessel now docked at campus, run and operated by Cal Maritime as their training ship. Our tour-guide took us on the “Golden Bear” where we got to see the bridge, the engine rooms, and the engineering room. Many students spend a semester living on the ship which serves as their dorm (certain degrees are exempt from this) so they get used to the living quarters and know what it’s really like living on a ship for a length of time, and every summer, the ship is taken to sea for three months for training trips. They alternate between the Pacific Rim (they have a relationship with a maritime institution in Vietnam) and the Panama Canal/Caribbean area. International experience is a key component of the curriculum.

We also got to spend time in the training simulator with a 360 degree screen showing San Francisco Bay. I got to take the helm to take the “rescue boat” around Alcatraz, through a level 6 storm, and go “rescue” people from a burning ship. Students regularly participate in 2-4 hour training sessions in there. The school has three simulation rooms that can hook up to each other, so each of the three “ships” can see and react to each other.

This is a highly unique, specialized college catering to a specific crowd:

  • They enroll fewer than 1000 students, making it the smallest of the CSU schools.
  • Only 6 BA/BS degrees are offered.
  • Three of the degrees provide a track for Coast Guard Licensure.
  • They have the highest graduation rate in the CSU system at about 94%.
  • They have the highest gender imbalance (85% men) in the CSU system.
  • This is the only maritime academy on the west coast, and only 1 of 6 in the country (one is in Texas; the remaining four are on the east coast).
  • They’re required to wear uniforms during classes and other official events, and they “fall in” at 7:00am three times a week.
  • Job placement is very high (about 95%).

Because this is a specialized campus, students have a tangible sense of purpose and have to know that they want to be here. They get a lot of non-traditional students because of people realizing later what they want to do. Two of the students we spoke to were older (28 and 35) and had been out in the workforce already and were going back for a second BA/BS degree. The students we spoke to had clear career goals such as working on cruise ships or working as a civilian on Navy ships.

(c) 2012

San Francisco State University


SFSU tiger and acad bldgSFSU scienceSFSU lives up to its reputation as being in the coldest area of town. As we toured in the afternoon, we could watch the fog roll over campus; you definitely can’t forget that you’re in San Francisco! This is the most compact, size-wise, of the CSUs, and with 25,000 undergrads, it also has the highest density. It is called the “City’s University” because it mimics the diversity found in San Francisco: 68% of the student body are students of color. It has also been called a “College with a conscience.” They got a 2010 award from President Obama because the students provided over 300,000 hours of service during the year. There is no community service requirement; students do it because they want to.

SFSU businessSFSU commerceThe university offers Bachelor degrees in 115 areas. They have an outstanding Marine Biology and cinema programs. The movie “Dolphin’s Tale” was based on the work of a SFSU professor who provided the new tail for the injured dolphin. In cinema, alumni have been nominated for 13 consecutive years for Oscars in a variety of categories. They also have an apparel design program which might be one of their most unique programs. The most competitive would be nursing which has 80 spots open per year. Students cannot apply directly to nursing. Instead, they apply undeclared with an intent to major in nursing, then have to take the prereqs on campus and apply into the program. They have several impacted majors on campus, a term applied to schools in California which have more applicants than spots available to accommodate them. Some of the impacted programs are environmental studies (a major that is becoming more and more popular on several campuses), psychology, journalism, and social work.

SFSU quadSFSU 2The campus is attractive, nicely landscaped, and welcoming. I really liked the college and would highly recommend that my students take a serious look at it. The only drawback is that housing is a problem on campus. They only have 2400 beds and have no immediate plans to add, mostly because of space issues. Students have to apply for housing by mid-December; this application has a $55 fee attached to it. Most people who meet this application deadline can get housing provided.

(c) 2012

FIDM: Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising

FIDM balcony

The balcony off the library on the top floor of the building.


I knew nothing of FIDM before going on the Counselor Tour in San Francisco; once I knew we were going, I looked it up online. Because it is so specialized, a proprietary institution, and primarily a two-year college, I probably would have skipped the visit if I on my own, but I’m glad I saw it.

FIDM has four campuses: the primary campus in Los Angeles hosts about 4,000 students. The San Francisco campus has the next highest number of students, usually around 1,000. The Orange County and San Diego campuses have 300-500 students each. Students do not need to stay at the campus at which they begin; enrollment is flexible between all of them, and almost all majors are offered at all the campuses. LA is the only campus with dorms; it is also the most popular for majors such as Costume Design because of the access to the entertainment industry.

The San Francisco campus occupies floors 5 through 8 of a building downtown. A security officer in the lobby was checking Student IDs and checked all of the counselors off of a list of expected visitors before allowing us to proceed up the elevator. On each of the floors (except the top floor which is taken up by the library), the walls are covered with displays from students to showcase work from all the majors from fashion design to interior design.

Even during the summer, students were in classes, in the library, and in and out of the building. Because they’re on the quarter system, this is not unusual; in fact, they even encourage first year students to start in July rather than wait until October. If they go straight through, they can complete their degree in 18 months. Most of the degrees are AAs, but they do offer one BA in Business Management for students who want to add to their credentials; this is only open to students who completed an AA at FIDM (even if they leave to work for awhile, they are welcome to come back later for the BA). There is an advanced certificate program in 4 areas offered on a competitive basis. 10-15 students are selected for each of the 4 areas from all the FIDM students across the 4 campuses. Regardless of major, students get a great deal of hands-on experience both at the school and in internships. Job placement rate is high; the alum network is strong, and the school hosts several job fairs a year. However, graduation rate is only about 59%. A large portion of this, however, stems from students deciding that they really don’t want to be in the program and that the major they selected wasn’t for them. They are addressing this through changing their application and admission procedures.

The application and interview process is extensive. They are committed to admitting people who really want to be there and understand the specific nature of their degrees. For out-of-state students, they should apply directly to the campus they want to attend; there are virtual tours online to help students see what is offered at each location. The students then complete a phone or skype interview that takes up to 1.5-2 hours to determine if they should even apply to the school. They also complete a career survey to help them focus on the major. Because the majors are specialized, they need to declare a major coming in. (They can change majors, but they’ll most likely spend additional quarters at the school to finish.) Once students move into the application phase, they need to submit the application, transcript (students tend to be very strong in art and humanities), 3 recommendations, 2 essays, and a portfolio – however, if they don’t have a pre-created portfolio, they can complete one specifically for FIDM. They call this the “Entrance Portfolio Project” and prompts are given in the application. Acceptance rate is about 65%.

The admissions people were up-front about this being a proprietary institution. One of the big differences between this and some other for-profits is that this is accredited for academics and for the design programs. Classes can be transferred, although if a student decides to go to a more traditional college or university, it might be harder to transfer the design classes. However, students do have distribution requirements such as history, English, and science – but much of it can be geared more towards the students’ majors such as “History of fashion in the US” or “The science of textiles.” Another difference with FIDM is that it is privately held and not on the stock market, so business decisions are not made with shareholders in mind.

(c) 2012

Mills College

MILLS COLLEGE, Oakland, CA (visited 7/16/12)

Mills clock towerMills 1I was hugely impressed with Mills in every way – the people, the campus, and the programs. It lives up to the small liberal arts school reputation of paying attention to its students, and also of the Women’s College reputation of empowering people. They are proud of being “women-centered” with the aim of helping women (with students as young as 16 and as old as 95) and giving them room to grow. There are only two other women’s colleges in CA (Scripps and Mount St. Mary’s); Mills was the first west of the Rockies. The school is described as being a little more crunchy than the east coast. I’m not sure that’s so true in terms of the type of student, but maybe in terms of being more flexible with their curriculum. In 1990, the school was going to go coed. When they announced this (and it was already in the works to move in that direction), the students went on strike in protest. This has been the country’s only successful reversal of a decision to go coed.

Mills libraryThe students I met were poised, enthusiastic, and engaged, although I know that’s a bit skewed: they aren’t going to bring the unenthusiastic students to talk to us, and the students on campus during the summer loved it and want to be there. Their retention rate speaks volumes in terms of the fact that the college is doing something right. Not surprisingly, Mills’ goals include making the students feel at home, retaining the students who come to campus, and having students graduate on time. First year students are put into Learning Living Communities based on a variety of interests; there are two dorms set aside solely for first years. 80% of all dorm rooms are singles. Normally, at a women’s college it would go without saying that these dorms would be all female. However, as students move up, they can opt for coed dorms because Mills does have male graduate students. Housing options range from traditional halls to apartments; many of them are way up a hill – which is also where the dining hall is. Our tour guide joked that by the time they hike up the hill, they’re not even hungry anymore, and often forget why they trekked up in the first place.

Mills wish treeMills businessThe most unusual major on campus is PLEA: Political, Legal, and Economic Analysis; the biggest majors are psychology and English. An unusual component to the English major is the emphasis on writing. Mills offers a 2+2 nursing program with Samuel Merritt (which several other schools also partner with) and several 4+1 programs in business, public policy, computer science, and music. Any student in any major can get an MBA in only 1 more year with good advising; the only undergraduate option for business is to major in business economics, not straight business. The Graduate School of Business building is one of the newest on campus, built to be environmentally sustainable. Public Policy draws a lot of students because Mills is part of a new national project at the State Department level to entice women into public policy careers. Bio and Chem are strong and popular (so much so that they’ve had to add more class sections) with lots of opportunities for research, working with professors, and internships. There is no physics major. Not surprisingly for a college this size, classes are small; the tour guide’s biggest class was 40; her smallest was 8. The average size is 15. Overall, academics are strong, and Mills is one of only 5 schools in Northern California with a Phi Beta Kappa chapter. Lots of internships are available, mostly off campus, but some are done on campus, particularly in the summer in the science labs. Most of the students we talked to at lunch and who gave tours were science majors doing research. One of them said that the only thing she would change would be to put more money towards better lab equipment, but she recognized that she’s a bit biased.

Mills courtyardWhen we arrived on campus, they took us right across campus to the Alumnae House for lunch on the patio where we were assigned seating based on geographic area so we could talk to the admissions rep for our area and a student. Before sending us out on tour, the Director spoke with pride that Mills provides close attention and support it the students; the students and the facilities backed that up. They have multiple lounges for different groups of commuter students (Parent’s lounge, complete with toys; 23+ or the “old women lounge,” traditional student lounge, etc). Our tour guide was a non-traditional student and had access to the 23+ lounge so she took us in. There were several couches, a full kitchen, mailboxes, showers, tables, and white boards. She said that people will come in to take naps and write notes on the board asking someone to wake them up at X time, and people will. People here look out for each other; they want everyone to do well. For example, in the Arts Building, there is no competition for space. Everyone has their own studio, and the place is “humming at 3 in the morning.”

Mills archesCampus activities abound with a lot of clubs, traditions, and activities. The tour guide told us of a tradition that everyone looks forward to: the Rubber Ducky Races that are held every spring on the stream that runs through campus. Mills competes at the DIII level in 7 sports: crew, soccer, tennis, volleyball, cross country, track, and swimming; about 1/3 of the students participate. “Mills is small. We don’t have many of any type of kid;” this is good and bad. Cliques don’t tend to form, but it’s sometimes harder to form community. However, because they are so close to so many other universities and the resources of a large metropolitan area, students from a variety of places will join up to form groups or expand their circle. For example, the Jewish students join up with Berkeley’s Hillel, and the Mills students hosted a Seder on campus that was “very feminist and new age.”

Mills 1Oakland is urban and has the same problems that other big areas have, but they don’t feel urban at all. Busses run right by the front gate so they have access to quite a bit and the city offers a great deal to the students. They’re an active part of Oakland but also of the SF community so there are lots of interactions there for internships, shopping, and in art and music. Oakland is urban and has the same problems that other big urban areas have. They can take classes at UC Berkeley or 11 other schools in the Bay area after the first year. They run free shuttles, so they can take advantage of parties and social lives there if they want in addition to the academics

They receive 2800 applications for a class of about 325; students can use the Common App plus the Mills supplement in which they have to submit a graded paper from a class. Merit Scholarships range from 10-20K and applicants are informed of what they have received with their admissions decision. They do their best to meet full need with their extensive Financial Aid program if students file the FAFSA and Profile.

(c) 2012

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

Cal State East Bay (formerly Hayward)

CAL STATE EAST BAY, Hayward, CA (visited 7/17/12)

CSU East Bay QuadI was much more impressed with CSEB that I assumed I’d be; I had low expectations but loved the place, illustrating the truth in what I tell students: don’t judge a school based on lack of knowledge or what you THINK it’s about.

CSU East Bay view of bayPopulation wise, this is a medium school with about 13,000 students, but the campus is a manageable size, mostly because it has a large commuter contingent. A BART stop is just down the street and CSUEB offers free shuttles to campus; this helps both the commuters and the residential students since it’s so easy to get around town.

CSU East Bay housing


CSU East Bay fitness cntr

Athletic/Wellness Center

About 1,000 students currently live in the dorms which are located along one side of campus and are new, large, comfortable, and attractive. A lot of building is going on around campus; the athletic center and the union are both new. The athletic/ wellness center is next to the dorms and gets a great deal of use. The old iconic building, a multi-story cement monstrosity is currently sitting empty because it is not earthquake safe and will be coming down at some point. This is being met with both positive and negative reaction: it no longer “fits” with the rest of campus and it’s a bit of an eyesore, but on the other hand, that was the iconic East Bay building for so long that alum are not happy thinking that it’s going to be taken down. Currently, there are a lot of slightly-better-than-trailers temporary buildings around campus that house a lot of auxiliary services that had been in the building, and they’re looking for ways to build new places for them. Many are already in new buildings, and they don’t think it will be long before they can get the remaining departments into permanent structures.

CSU East Bay new acad bldgs

Academic Buildings

This is clearly a very supportive environment in a lot of ways. Programs are hands-on and take a practical approach to the knowledge and theory that students learn in the classroom. East Bay has a lot of first gen students; programs are in place to make sure they succeed; they also do a great job supporting students from low-income families and those coming in from foster care (including providing housing over breaks and food when the dining hall is closed).

(c) 2012

Sonoma State University

SONOMA STATE UNIVERSITY, Sonoma, CA (visited 7/18/12)

Someone described Sonoma State as a place where “people actually talk to people” and it seems to live up to that! I would recommend this school to a lot of people. It’s simply amazing!

Sonoma dormsSonoma housing plansThe housing at SSU is probably the best I have ever seen. Students live in beautiful suites starting in freshman year. They have a variety of options: single or double rooms within suites, suites with or without kitchens, different layouts, different numbers of people, townhouses, and Student Interest Groups. Costs vary according to space. The townhouses are so good that they rent them out as houses over the summer. For the special interest housing, the students do not need to major in that area, just be interested in that subject. However, they do have to test in with good SAT or ACT scores. Different Residential Units have dining halls; the food is good. I like that the college let us eat in one of their halls to experience what the students get.

Sonoma housing areaSonoma libraryThis is the newest of the CSU campuses at about 50 years old. It’s also the most residential of the CSU campuses at about 64% residential. Dorm quiet hours are 10-8 during the week, midnight-8 on weekends. They pull a large percentage of students from San Diego, San Francisco, and San Jose. On the weekends, they offer lots of trips into SF, the ocean, national parks, etc. They also have the largest study abroad per capita in the system and have the largest EOP grant of the CSUs for California residents.

Sonoma acad bldgTheir student population hovers around 8,600 with the best retention and graduation rate in the CSU system. About 20% of the student population is Hispanic right now; the university would like to get that up to about 25%. This would label them officially as “Hispanic serving” and make more grant money from the state to help them continue improving services. They’re also looking to attract more STEM and more academically qualified students.

Sonoma libraryTheir impacted majors (those that have more applicants than space in the program) are EnviSci, Liberal Studies (create your own major with a 4 year graduation guarantee), business, psych, kinesiology, and criminal justice. The average graduation time is 4.5 years because of double majors or late advising. The average class size is 26. The largest lecture hall on campus is 120 so they have some of the smallest lecture classes in the system.

Sonoma gymSports are big on campus and school spirit is high. However, the football stadium is now an observatory for astronomy because they don’t have a football team anymore. Soccer is the new football in terms of homecoming games, attracting fans, etc. Women’s softball and Men’s baseball are both competitive and several pros have come out of the university.

Sonoma 1The campus is pretty and easy to get around. They have two things worth mentioning: First, they have 1 of 12 saplings grafted from a tree that Anne Frank planted (another one is at the White House) and a Holocaust Memorial. Second, there are two ponds stocked with fish; students can fish with their ID which doubles as a fishing license. There are even geese and ducks walking across the quad between the ponds!

(c) 2012

UC Berkeley

UC BERKELEY (visited 7/16/12)

Berkeley towerBerkeley lives up to the “Big-name schools don’t have to try” motto. We got to tour the campus, but they clearly were not going to go out of their way for us. The only “special treatment” we got was that we met the tour guide in front of the fountain by the main building where they start the tours instead of congregating inside. This is the first college of the 30 I’ve toured as part of group of college counselors that did not even send an admissions representative to say hello to the group, even though we were there during summer, not in the middle of travel or reading season.

Berkeley gateBerkeley is the first UC school to be established, hence the nickname of “Cal” (a little like Chapel Hill is called Carolina). It was originally a Mining, Agricultural, and Architectural school and still boasts a functioning mine on campus. The campus is extensive and feels a little schizophrenic rather than cohesive. Buildings seemed to have been added randomly without thought to what was around it. It was not an attractive campus, but it did have a lively feel to it: it was packed with students and with people touring so I felt like we got more of a sense of what campus life is really like for the students.

Berkeley 2The tour guide said that students have to fight for everything here; a counselor remarked after the tour that a person would have to have really sharp elbows to do well at Berkeley, but someone else said that she had sent a student there who did not have those sharp elbows and she did ok. A third person described Berkeley students as falling into three types: the go-getters with the elbows, the athletes who are in their own little world, and the drifters. “It’s Berkeley. You have people who are naked, people who are smoking pot, and people who are riding unicycles – sometimes all at the same time.”

Berkeley tower 296% of freshman live on campus, and two years of housing is guaranteed; 10% of students live in Greek housing. The tour guide said that finding off-campus housing is a HUGE hassle, and it takes a lot of looking on Craig’s List and other places to find anything decent. There are some co-ops where students can work in the house for reduced R&B costs. Our tour guide said that parking on campus is a problem, but if students change their license and registration to Berkeley, they can park in the city for free. They also get a free bus pass with their student ID card, and there are zip cars on campus for use. 4000 students own bikes on campus, but there is no bike share program. The gym costs $10 a semester to use which is the first time I’ve heard of a gym on campus costing extra (not including things like the specialty classes like Zumba) – although other places just build that cost into the mandatory fees, so here they can opt out if they want. Berkeley has 33 club sports and 9 intramurals in addition to their DI level varsity teams. Students have to pay for sport tickets, but the cost seemed reasonable and there tended to be decent turn-outs for games.

Berkeley 3Our tour guide said that it’s not too difficult to get classes that they need as long as they are flexible, persistent, or think outside of the box (ie, take another class earlier than they anticipated, take a different class to fulfill a requirement, or keep checking online to see if a spot opened up). Class registration happens in phases: they can register for 10 credits in phase 1, 5 credits in phase 2, and the remainder in phase 3. All phase 1s happen (for seniors down to freshman) happen before phase 2 starts. Seniority partly plays into the process. Our tour guide came in with sophomore standing because of APs, but added the disclaimer that “It’s Berkeley. Most people come in as sophomores because of APs.” However, most people don’t choose to graduate in three years; instead, they choose to double major or study abroad. DeCal, or Democratic California, offers classes run by other students in areas of interest and expertise. Examples include Hip-hop, the History of Burma, Sociology of Sex in the City, Scrabble, Stream Clean-up, etc. Students can earn 2-4 credits on a P/NP basis. They also offer Freshman/ Sophomore seminars (mixed groups) in a variety of topics. Our tour guide took Linguistics of South Africa. Her largest class was in the hundreds, but she did take a Seminar class with fewer than 20.

Berkeley dinoThere are a few interesting buildings or aspects to the buildings on campus:

  • There are no door handles on most of the doors of the Chancellor’s building. This comes from the Free Speech Movement when students chained the doors shut to lock in the Chancellor until he listened to their demands. Now school policy states that doors can only have 1 handle per set of doors so they can’t be chained shut, a policy that is illustrated directly across from the Chancellor’s building on the library.
  • They have an underground library under one of the quads that is the size of 4 football fields. It connects several of the buildings around the quad.
  • The Bell Tower is the third tallest in the world (the others being in Europe). There are concerts three times a day utilizing the 68 bells. Students can learn how to play them, and many of the concerts are student run. The floors in the tower house a music library as well as holdings from La Brea Tar pits.

(c) 2012

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