Roger Williams University (visited 5/1/19)
This was the only school (out of 10 on the RI Counselor tour) to have us eat in the dining hall. The food was good and the dining hall was easy to navigate with plenty of space, even with lots of students there.
This is an interesting school. The main campus sits on a peninsula, so there are some beautiful views as we walked around. Downtown Bristol is about a mile away from campus; there’s a bus stop at the school’s main entrance, and the college provides 10 free passes to encourage students to use it. Their downtown campus mostly houses the graduate programs, keeping the main campus centered on undergrads, helping them become versatile and ready for the job market or grad school. They offer a range of programs that work together, and they’re actively creating programs that allow students to add to their skill set and provide employers with obvious skills.
They’ve created majors and minors that make them stand out from other universities such as Aquaculture and Aquarium Science, applied or computational math, Historic Preservation, Security Assurance Studies, eBusiness (minor), digital forensics (minor), construction management, and Professional and Public Writing.
There are plenty of experiential learning opportunities, and RWU encourages students to pursue them, including having an annual $75,000 fund to send students to conferences. They want students to figure out unscripted problems. “That’s what life is about. Dealing with those outside the gates is some of the best experience there is.” Over 650 students will have a semester-long experience solving real-life problems, “and it’s building every year. It’s great to have that on a resume … but it also creates great citizens.” Their Community Partnership Center creates opportunities such as organizing a Women in STEM conference for elementary schools. “This is impactful because I could put things I learned into ways the kids could learn and get excited about,” said one student.
More than 95% of students graduate with at least a minor in addition to the major. “It’s almost limitless in terms of what they can overlap. Because of the sequence in Engineering and the studio hours in Architecture, those might be outliers to that, but they can still do it.” They recommend that students interested in one of those major declare it if they want to graduate on time (and during the admission process, they’re looking to see that the students have taken at least Pre-Calc). It’s much harder to transfer in later. With other majors, students can declare in sophomore year without worrying about finishing on time. Architecture offers a 4+2 accelerated MArch program (in addition to a major and a minor in Arch), and these students can study abroad in Barcelona or Florence.
Engineering is the fastest growing major, and the school is taking quick strides to get all those classes on campus. There’s a great deal of building happening which should be happening in the next year or so. Students major in Engineering, receiving a strong liberal arts base and then specializing in one of four options: computer, mechanical, civil, or electrical. Students who are not majoring in engineering can choose to minor in engineering with a focus in environmental, robotics, biomechanics, or structural engineering.
The university has incorporated some interdisciplinary work into their Core, including a senior-level capstone; there’s also a class on Williams and his ideals. “The Core is supposed to be more philosophical and reflective but it doesn’t really happen,” said the tour guide. He went on to say that he learned what it should’ve been afterwards – “but the theory definitely wasn’t what happened in reality. I’d like them to tweak this so people have to think outside the box more.”
“We don’t have to adhere to specific metrics during the admission process. A holistic review is the reality. If students are likely to be successful, we say yes,” said one of the admissions reps. RWU has gone test-optional without putting students at any disadvantage; students are fully admissible to any major and can qualify for scholarships. They also recognize that retention is as much a product of affordability as about student involvement. They currently have an 82% freshman-sophomore retention rate and have instituted a scholarship for enrolled students: they earn an extra $1000 for each year they’re on Dean’s List. They have a strong academic program to engage students with learning; “learning isn’t always innate,” said one of the reps. They offer tutoring programs, and they teach professors how to engage students in active learning. Professors give out cell numbers and often come in on Saturdays to reteach or practice with students.
Almost all freshmen and about ¾ of all undergraduates live on campus. Sophomores can live in Baypoint across the bridge where there is a dining hall and a fitness center. Freshmen are not allowed to have cars on campus. One of the students said that the LGBTQ community is strong, and people are highly accepting of students identifying in this group. There’s an LLC option on campus for students wanting to live in this (in addition to several other LLC options). “Racial diversity needs some help, though. Same with general geographic diversity,” said a student.
Our tour guide seemed fairly shocked that RWU had a reputation as being a party school. “There was a football team for awhile, but that was shut down,” she said. “People here are pretty bright. That’s not to say that there’s no social life, because there is. Long weekends can be kind of dead, but regular weekends are active.” There are Honor Societies but no traditional Greek life. Campus is safe and students will walk around at all hours with many buildings open 24/7. “The Blue lights haven’t been activated other than for testing,” said one of the reps.