Wheaton College (visited 9/12/17)
There are several colleges with ponds on campus, some of which have traditions surrounding them. Wheaton’s reminded me of my own alma mater in Upstate NY – it’s the only other one I know of with a similar tradition, but this was much more formalized than my school! “There are two traditions with Peacock [the name of the pond],” said a rep. “Swim across it before graduation – but no one really does that – and the Head of the Peacock!” During this annual race, students build their own boats and race across the pond in the style of a crew regatta.
“There are very few schools that are truly unique. We offer progressive education with timeless values. We push the envelope.” Wheaton is undergoing a full overview/overhaul of their curriculum. Now it includes the following:
- Connections: Students must take 2 two-course or 1 3-course interdisciplinary Connections classes. This helps students see the value of a liberal arts education through the intersection of topics. They choose courses that have pre-determined connections, or one that they’ve identified in their path:
- An art studioBiology and Art History pulls in Scientific Drawing, Art Conservation, DaVinci. 1 prof is a cell biologist; the art historian looks at medieval cathedrals. Together, they look at structure and strength to determine why some still stand and others are in rubble.
- Lexomics combines Computer Science and English driven by data science and digital humanities. Google analyzes all the texts they can get their hands on. “It’s the new way people analyze literature. It generates results that generates more questions.” They write algorithms that allow people to dissect texts. Linguists can discover when, where, and by whom things were written and pieced together
- PoliSci and Geologists: They look at the political ramifications of melting ice caps as new waterways form. Countries are claiming ownership: who gets that and the oil underneath? They look at plate tectonics, etc. If you’re working in geology, you’d better understand PS, and if you’re in politics, you need to look at money, etc.
- The Astronomy department runs an extensive observatory including 7 telescopes that are controlled online, and there’s 1 in Australia that they’re hooked up to so they can access night skies almost 24/7 as well as see the Southern Hemisphere. They pair with a couple departments for Connections classes:
- Ancient Astronomy pairs with Classics.
- They pair with Biology for florescent imaging looking at bright against dark – this works on cells as well as in space!
Wheaton Edge: This guarantees access to financial support for experiential learning such as research or an internship before senior year. This is a 4-year process for academic preparation, access to grad school, and preparing for the professional world. If by the end of junior year, students haven’t found a paid internship, they can apply for a stipend for up to $5000 to support them for an internship over the summer. When the new president came, he asked how many – could be true internships or with Mass Challenge, research, etc. What was preventing the 30% from not doing them?
I asked students on the panel to share the best class they’ve taken:
- You Are What You Ate looking at history through food. “I changed my major because of this class!”
- A history class from a professor who specialized in Charlemagne: “We read a lot of articles based on his daughter and helped research for his book.”
- Quantitative Research Methods: “I want to be a neuroscience major. The real-world application of class was interesting to see what people in the field had really been doing. Now I’m a research assistant with that professor.”
This is a typical small liberal arts school; it started as a women’s college and went coed in 1988. They’ve traditionally hovered around 1600 students (with about 1/3 from MA, 1/3 from the rest of New England, and 1/3 from outside the region), but brought in 528 last year and they’d like to keep it at about 500 students new students per year. They’re breaking ground on Southern Campus for a new res hall. The Board has committed $100 million to improvements, tackling areas with biggest impact on students first (ie the dining hall).
“We’ve seen increased energy and diversity over the last several years,” said a rep. Diversity is big here in all its forms. A student on the panel said, “I think there’s enough for me to feel welcome and safe here. I didn’t understand the women of color thing until I got here, and being here has made me figure that out. It’s given me a chance to figure that out and talk about it and celebrate it in a positive light.” Another said, “People are receptive of things and will talk to anyone, even with people who don’t have experience with people of other backgrounds. We have safe spaces like the Black Student Union. Everyone is welcome.” People are open around and accepting of LGBTQIA students. There are gender-neutral bathrooms, clubs, etc. Campus Conservatives are a minority – but they dialogue a lot with Campus Democrats “who have been some of our biggest supporters,” said an officer in the club.
Located in a safe town about 45 minutes south of Boston and 20 minutes north of Providence, it’s easy for students to have the best of both worlds. There’s plenty to do within walking distance, and there’s a free shuttle to the train station that will take them to either city. The college also maintains a fleet of rental cars. For students wanting to study somewhere else, they do have a relationship with a university in Bhutan, and 60% have a formal study abroad experience for either a semester or year.
Teachers want to be at Wheaton and work with students, they know students’ names, and classes are small. Students are curious and are willing to keep trying: “they’re definitely persistent!” said a professor. The President teaches an accounting class at 8am – “and it’s full,” said one of the students. His educational background is in accounting and finance but wants to work at a liberal arts school: “I’ve spent my life trying to convince finance students that the last thing they need is another finance class. Life is too complex for that.”
In terms of academics, one rep said, “The Liberal Arts doesn’t have the fancy, pretty spaces that the sciences have, but we’re strong!” Other things to know about the academics are:
- Students can major in Business & Management during which they can take courses in finance and other more specific areas. They concentrate on the core, providing abroad base with the experience of applying it in the real world. Every class has experiential learning, often consulting for small businesses. They can’t graduate without an internship AND a capstone project (highly unusual for business), extended research based on their interests. A current senior is combining her love of marketing with her hatred of vaping, researching whether packaging makes a difference in people’s inclination to vape.
- Sciences are strong, and 80-90% are accepted to med schools each year. Many students are on the health-science tracks including vet, dental, PT, Nursing, OT, etc.
- Music and Theater/Dance: students have access to extensive facilities and groups. Students can participate for credit or for fun. There’s a black box theater which is entirely student run (acting and directing) and is sometimes used as a “jazz club.” Music ensembles include a World Music ensemble and a chamber orchestra.
- They offer majors in areas such as Animal Behavior, African/African American Diaspora Studies, Bioinformatics, Development Studies, Arabic, Medieval/Renaissance Studies, and Digital Humanities. Students can rent equipment for this.
Advising is also different than at many places, recognizing that students are different: “The same technique isn’t going to work for everyone. Are they missing deadlines? Do they not think it matters?” Clearly they’re doing something right: retention and graduation rates are significantly higher than the national average, and students are flocking to excellent grad schools (for example, they send an average of 13 students to Harvard every year) and they’re in the Top 10 in graduates getting Fulbrights.
Wheaton is test-optional, including when it comes to awarding merit scholarships; many of these come with a guaranteed $3000 grant for use after sophomore year. Of those who submitted, the average came in at mid-high 1200s. The typical student has a B+/A- average with some APs. English proficiency is shown with a minimum TOEFL 90 (they have a little bit of wiggle room if it’s a point or 2 under if other things line up).