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Archive for the category “Tennessee”

Sewanee: The University of the South

Sewanee (12/3/18)

Sewanee chapel and quad

The quad with the chapel in the background

With nicknames like “The Domain” and “The Mountain,” I expected campus to feel more mountainous than it does – but Sewanee sits on flat on top of the Cumberland Plateau, its 13,000 acres making it the 2nd largest college campus in the country.

“This isn’t a place where students are absorbed into the surrounding city. They’re really here. They need to be a good classmate, teammate, reliable lab partner.” The “town” of Sewanee is only about 2 blocks long but has basic essentials (store, post office, etc). We asked the students panelists what they would say to people who are afraid they’ll be isolated on a mountaintop:

  • Sewanee town

    The town of Sewanee

    “Valid point! If you are really afraid, this might not be the place for you – but they do keep us incredibly busy! And Chattanooga is 45 minutes away.” (Nashville is just over an hour; Atlanta is 3).

  • “They don’t put a group of 18-22 year olds on the top of a mountain and hope they figure it out because that’s terrifying. There’s so much to do here. It’s not an issue.”
  • “This is an academically rigorous place. We spend a lot of time doing work. Those students you saw in the library earlier weren’t staged: they’re really in there studying. Plus, you can leave. You can have cars. That’s how we meet people. Upperclassmen will yell down the hall, “Freshmen, we’re going to Walmart! Get in the car!””
  • Sewanee fire pit

    Patio with a fire pit outside the dining hall

    “I found it refreshing. I think college should challenge you. I never had a problem getting off campus, but I find there’s so much to do that you may not get anywhere else. You just have to look a little more sometimes.”

  • “It creates a stronger community to go after what you’re passionate about instead of looking elsewhere and not connecting to people here or spending time with people who love the same things. My friends at other schools say that they don’t have the freedom to go after what they love.”

Sewanee students 2Sewanee has a reputation for being preppy. In large part, it lives up to that – but that’s not the whole story. “Understanding our brand can be a barrier. Students have to buy into being on a mountain. There’s a large outdoorsy contingent [the Outing Program runs over 200 trips a year], and many of our students are Pell-eligible,” said a rep. “Our students of color often come from a city [including 10 Posse students a year from the DMV]. Things like food or barbers/beauticians that signify comfort aren’t as readily available. We need to provide access to that especially if they don’t have a car. We have zipcars; if they don’t drive, people will teach them.”

Sewanee 9“Spaces are important. They evolve each year. If there’s something we aren’t doing, we own up to it and change. There’s now a Q&A House for LGBTQ+ students.” Students agreed that the college has become more responsive in the past several years. “Students feel empowered.” They even have an amazing music room tucked into the 2nd floor of the library. Inside is a top-of-the-line speaker system, amazing acoustics, and an archive of 25000 vinyl records! Students can come in to research or just listen to music. There’s a large construction project going on that will incorporate the Wellness Initiative with the Student Commons. “Right now they have the green spaces, but you also need indoor space.”

Sewanee 12Campus is gorgeous: the buildings are made of (mostly) locally-sourced stone. The chapel which normally seats 500 (1000 at the holidays when they reconfigure the space) is the focal point of campus; the Rose Window is inspired by Notre Dame in Paris. Sewanee is the only Episcopalian supported campus. Historically, this was a draw but is less so in recent years, although about 1/3 of the students self-identify as Episcopalian. They have an interfaith house and Jewish and Muslim associations. There’s a Theology School, but there is little other religious influence other than that. Nothing is mandated, but services are offered. The chapel is used for large campus events such as signing the honor code, “gowning,” and graduation.

Sewanee window intOne of the biggest surprises is the Tennessee Williams Center: upon his death, Williams bequeathed the bulk of his estate to Sewanee to honor his grandfather, an Episcopal priest and alumni; his grandparents “kept him alive – he almost sold his typewriter three times to pay for food. They’d send him money.” The gift from about 20 years ago came “out of nowhere,” said the center’s Director. They renovated the old gym into a spectacular new center, and royalties from his plays bring in $1.2m a year. “We’re running a mini-conservatory. Students do everything: act, sew, direct, do lighting, and even learn how to sweep a floor properly.” The 8 graduates from 2018 are all working in the business. Students can do their own productions – they pitch ideas to the Student Production Board, secure the rights to the play, do the PR, tickets, everything. Cabaret sold out so quickly that they added more shows.

Sewanee music room

The music room in the library

We asked the student panelists about what surprised them at Sewanee and what they wished people knew:

  • “I wish people knew that it’s as big or as small as you want it to be. People think they need this huge school to make friends, but there are only so many people you can be friends with.”
  • “I wish people realized that Sewanee students are competitive in the real world. It’s so much more than a name. We’re intellectual.”
  • “A lot of people don’t know about Class Dress – we don’t wear sweatpants to class. It’s an unspoken ‘dress nicely’ policy. We don’t do the ‘rolled out of bed look’ but don’t be worried about it. It’s not a huge deal!”
  • “I wish people knew how much we love Sewanee. I want to do 4 more years here!”
  • “There a large Greek life here (70% participation) but the wonderful thing is how inclusive it is. Events are open to everyone. You never have to be a member to do something. It’s just like another club.” Another panelist agreed: “I get to have as much fun without paying any of the dues.”

Sewanee 4Academically, Sewanee may be best known for their English Programs and The Sewanee Review, the oldest continuously published literary review. Students work as Interns where they actively review submissions and pass on opinions to the editors. They bring on Pulitzer and Nobel Prize winners (such as Arthur Miller and Anne Patchett) to work with students in the Summer Writer Conference. Students can minor in Shakespeare Studies and earn a certificate in Creative Writing.

Sewanee seal

The college seal – don’t walk on it if you want to graduate on time!

Sewanee offers multiple certificates, electives, and minors that they don’t make into full-blown majors (the most unusual of which is Southern Appalachian Studies). The Babson Center for Global Commerce is the “house of business,” working itself into liberal arts in interesting ways. “It’s more horizontal in nature than vertical. Employers need the critical thinking and persuasive skills from a Liberal Arts degree.” They only offer a minor (the largest one on campus with 10% of students completing it) to provide students a comprehensive education, combining passion with practicalities. “My job [Director of the program] is to expose them to what it means to go to work.” They bring in speakers like Delta’s CEO to talk about the company culture, a newspaper CEO to talk about digital transition, women in STEM, etc. Carey Fellows (29 honors students are selected each year) take 2 extra classes and a semester-long internship in junior year.

Sewanee DH ext

The Dining Hall

As I walked around campus, I passed a class entering some of the wooded areas across from the quad; I watched for awhile as they did measurements, testing, and more. Not surprisingly, the Earth and Environmental Systems department is strong, and their academic building is amazing! “It’s like home,” said the Director of the program. “Maybe too much so!” They offer a certificate in Watershed Science and majors in several other areas (including Forestry and Geology).

Sewanee chapel ext 5Campus is steeped in traditions, creating a distinctive Sewanee culture:

  • Lessons and Carols, based after King’s College in Cambridge, is a big deal on campus and in the community. The University Choir sang for us for a few minutes; the director told us how students can earn a music minor through choir membership. A world-famous opera singer (the winner of the Pavarotti Competition) is teaching students as an Artist-in-residence. They also bring in adjuncts for any instrumental lessons “even bassoon.”
  • Honor Society/ Getting “gowned”: Students earning Honor Status for 2 straight semesters earn their Academic Gown and the right to wear it around campus to class and other events. Professors also often wear their gowns to teach.
  • The Sewanee Angels: the tradition says that angels live in the Domain to protect its beauty and the people who live there. They become people’s guardian angels; as students and staff leave the gates, they tap the roof of the car to let the angels know they’re leaving so they’ll have an angel who will always guide them back.
  • As with lots of other colleges, Sewanee has a “Don’t walk on the seal” tradition. “If you do it by accident, you can streak the quad to reverse the curse,” said our tour guide.
  • Hiking the Perimeter Trail, a 20 mile loop around campus. “It’s a right of passage. It’s an all day trip that often starts and ends at Shenanigans (basically the only pub in town).”

© 2018

University of Memphis

UNIVERSITY OF MEMPHIS (visited 4/23/13)

One of the many tigers statues from campus placed prominently in front of the new Union.

One of the many tigers statues from campus placed prominently in front of the new Union.

For a medium-sized, urban, public school, this was surprisingly attractive (and safe! They’re ranked as the #1 safest metro school in TN [they’re proud that they beat Vandy] and Campus Security patrols campus and a two-block radius around campus, which is where much of the off-campus housing is). The campus is designated as a Level-2 Arboretum with more than 60 types of trees, and there’s lots of open space on campus. Prominent in the middle of campus is the impressive new 3-story union which opened in 2010. The middle is open with grand staircases all the way up to the top floor, and much of the social life goes on there. Not only are there various offices, but they have several food options, both to-go (such as Dunkin Donuts) and their own sit-down restaurant fashioned like a Chili’s that’s open for lunch (the nachos are a big thing there). There’s a full-sized theater on the second floor that shows recent movies and gives out free popcorn and soda. The Post Office is here – something that surprised me (and I’ve never seen on another campus) is that students have to rent a PO Box if they want one, even if they’re residential students!

An academic building

An academic building

I visited on a Tuesday morning; because there was only 1 family and I visiting that morning, the admissions staff sent me out on my own with two tour guides so I could really pick their brains. One of the tour guides came to Memphis for the nursing program and the Greek life; it didn’t hurt that her parents both came here. The other one was from Memphis, had gone to another school first, and then transferred back. He couldn’t be happier. Both are currently commuter students, but say that they don’t see this as any disadvantage at all. There are lots of ways to get involved, and because there are so many people who commute, they’re not left out of campus life. There are plenty of places to study and hang out between classes, so it’s easy – and because they’re so involved, they’re on campus most of the day by choice. Off-campus housing is easy to get either through the Greek system or the rentals (which are plentiful right off campus). The tour guides said that the Greek kids tend to be the most involved in campus live in general. Girls rush the second week of classes, the guys are summer recruits: “it tends to be a lot of who you know.”

The lounge and kitchen area of the Honors Dorm

The lounge and kitchen area of the Honors Dorm

Currently, only 3000 of the 16000 undergrads live on campus. The university is trying to get more residential students as well as deal with the “parking convenience” issue (there is parking, but it’s sometimes far away which the students say can be difficult and requires that they get to campus earlier to give them time to park and walk to class). They’ve recently built Honors Dorms which are fabulous! The rooms are traditional doubles, but the bathrooms, although located in the hall, are private (you can close and lock the doors); each bathroom is a complete unit (sink, toilet, shower). In the rooms, the “dressers” are two stackable components of two drawers each that can either be separated and go under the bed or stacked to be a more traditional dresser. The halls are set up in circles, and there are kitchens and lounges on each floor. It’s a clean, comfortable set-up.

Memphis quadI asked the tour guides about diversity on campus; it’s clear from just walking around campus that there’s a lot of racial diversity that reflects the nature of Memphis, but they said that there’s a lot of political and religious diversity as well. They have “Religion Row” which houses buildings dedicated to all sorts of different religions, so everyone has a home. I also asked them what sort of student tends to fit in and which tend to leave. Neither one of the guides knew more than a couple people who have left; they said that the students who don’t fit in tend to be close-minded or they don’t like the city. They also agreed that students who transfer tend to go to smaller schools.

Memphis 1They have carts that they use to take people on part of the tour. This was fun, but not entirely necessary since the campus isn’t that big. However, despite that fact, they do run shuttles around campus fairly continuously – but this seems to be a response more to the commuter population and people needing to park farther away sometimes. There’s even an app that tells student where each shuttle is, which the students find particularly useful in bad weather.

The lobby of the library

The lobby of the library

They have quite a few majors and academic programs to brag about. They’re #1 in the state for nursing, and their other med programs such as Pre-Dental and Pre-Med are also strong; Memphis has a lot of hospitals (many of which are close to the university) which provides a vast range of clinical experiences for students, so they graduate with a lot of different types of hands-on experience rather than just 1 or 2. Their Business program is solid (and they have particularly strong links to FedEx so students do a lot of internships with them, as well). There’s a music conservatory which requires an audition for admittance. Psychology is their most popular major and gets the most funding (and the psych lecture hall is the biggest on campus with 450 seats, although most classes cap at 300 with break-out sessions). The ROTC program is large, and they’ve just started an Asian Studies Program, as well. As a college, they’re ranked #7 in the country for internship experience (as defined as participation as part of a credit-baring course), and their job-placement rate is high because so many of their students graduate with real-life, practical experience.

The Administration building where Admissions is located

The Administration building where Admissions is located

To be considered for admission, they use the following formula: (GPA x 30) + ACT score. If the student has a 95, the rest of the application will be looked at. The only time they will look at letters is if they’re denied and people feel that the application needs to be reviewed. They don’t superscore either the SAT or the ACT, and applicants need at least a subscore of 16 in English on the ACT. There are several scholarships available, and Non-Resident scholarships are stackable with the other scholarships which are dependent on GPA and ACT scores (23 ACT and a 3.0 gets you $8000 a year; 25ACT and a 3.25 = $11,000; 30ACT and 3.25 = $13,000). Two of their scholarships need separate applications and the deadline is moving up next year, probably to 12/1. The TOEFL is required of all international students, even those graduating from a US high school.

(c) 2013

Rhodes College

RHODES COLLEGE (visited 4/22/13)

Rhodes 1 Rhodes statueI was impressed with Rhodes; it lived up to all the things I’ve come to expect from a Colleges That Change Lives school. Not only is it a beautiful campus (it falls into the small group of colleges, along with places like Bryn Mawr and WashU, with lots of gothic stone buildings), but they’re also rightfully proud of their “focus on the 4-Rs: Rigorous academics in the Real world on a Residential campus showing proven Results,” as one of the admissions rep puts it. They boast a high retention rate and an impressive 91-100% acceptance rate to grad school over the last 10 years, so they’re doing something right.

Rhodes Kappa DeltaThe admissions rep gave a very enthusiastic, quick overview of the school before splitting up the group among the 3 tour guides: “It’s their job to show you their home.” There were four college counselors touring Rhodes on the day I went, so they sent us out with our own guide. Rob was a fantastic, dynamic senior from Texas majoring in International Urban Politics; he said that we’ve probably never heard of it before since “I made it up.” Before leaving the office, one of the tour guides put a large map up to show us where we would be going. This was a great idea and helped us get a sense of campus; I don’t know why more schools don’t do this.

Rhodes Star Room

The Star Room in the library.

Much of the campus has a wooded feel; I drove up to the admissions office under a canopy of trees, so I wasn’t surprised to learn that the campus is a federal arboretum. When Rhodes built the new library, they had to cut down a few trees, but they incorporated the lumber into the building. Their library is now ranked among the top 25 most beautiful libraries in the world, and is one of two earthquake-proof buildings in the state, designed to “split in half.” On the first floor is “Middle Ground,” the 24 hour section of the library. Rob told us that it’s “where people go to pretend to study. You hear all sorts of typing, but people are really on facebook.” The rest of the library is where the real work gets done, and the floors get progressively quieter on the higher levels. The Star Room on the second floor was co-designed by the art students and the astronomy students. The ceiling has as astrological chart of the way the school looked on the night the university opened.

Rhodes 2About three-quarters of the students live on campus all four years. The freshman dorm we toured was great! It even smelled good. Rob had sent pictures to his friends back home who were at the state flagship university, and they were definitely jealous, comparing his large suite with stained-glass to their little cinder-block rooms. They just finished building a Junior dorm that acts as a “bridge” between the freshman and sophomore dorms and the Senior apartments (which have 6-8 rooms connected with 2 bathrooms and a common room). The junior dorm is a little more independent, has some kitchen options, etc. For students who want to move off campus, it’s easy to find housing. Rob rents a house from a prof with six other students. There are also housing options listed online in the Marketplace section of the website. There are no Greek residences, even though about 50% of students get involved in Greek life. The groups are inclusive with most activities open to anyone. Rush happens during the second week of classes.

Rhodes 4

Statue of the Lynx, the school mascot

Newsweek ranked Rhodes as the #1 Most Service-Minded school; students are active on and off campus. Like any campus, there’s a lot to do on campus, and the city of Memphis is easily accessible (downtown is about 10 minutes away). On campus, one of Rob’s favorite traditions is Rites of Spring in which there are concerts, parties, and other events. There are several unofficial “To-Do-Before-Graduation” things including jumping in the fountain, climbing the sphere (which was created during a contest between the physics and the chemistry departments – Physics won and then placed it outside the Chem department to brag), and riding the statue of the lynx (their mascot). Rob finds it funny that the lynx is in a fighting stance since real lynxes will initially curl up and try to roll away from danger. Rhodes’ fight song includes the line “Roll Roll Roll” which is like saying “Run away!!” . . . “kind of like what our football team does, so I guess it’s appropriate!”

Rhodes 2

Honor Code

Rhodes has a completely student-run Honor Code (1 of only 17 in the country). If there are violations, students get called in front of the council which deals with the entire investigation. Students could get expelled, but he doesn’t know if that actually has happened since everything that happens is confidential.

Rhodes archesRob appreciates having such easy access to professors and other adults around campus. The president gets rave reviews by the students, and I can see why. Although we didn’t know who he was at the time, he came out of an office as we were walking by, and he stopped to say hi. He talked to us for a few minutes and bragged about Rob: “I bet he didn’t tell you he’s already got a job for right after graduation, did he?” After he walked away, Rob said, “That was President Troutt. That’s pretty much what he’s always like. He talks to everyone!”

Rhodes sci cntr

Science Center

In the presentation at the beginning of the morning, the admissions officer told us that the average class size is 14, so we asked Rob what the reality of that was. He is currently in an individual study (so a class of 1) but of the regularly scheduled classes he’s taken, the smallest has been 3 (he’s had several classes with fewer than 10 students); his largest has been in the high 20s. He said that people here who succeed are engaged in class; students can’t get away with NOT be engaged in a school this size. “We’re all big fish in a small pond.” He knew two people who transferred: one wanted a specialized medical field not offered at Rhodes, and one was disillusioned by the size; his parents had pushed him to Rhodes when he was choosing between Rhodes and LSU. He likes that the students can utilize the resources of Memphis for internships and for research as part of classes. There are nine Fortune-500 companies in the area including FedEx, Auto Zone, and International Paper. St. Jude’s Research Hospital is nearby, and Rhodes is the only undergrad institution allowed to send students to work there.

(c) 2013

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