campus encounters

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Archive for the category “Virginia”

Radford University

Radford University (visited 4/3/18)

Radford fountainI was excited to have the chance to visit Radford since a student of mine was all fired up about it several years ago; it was the only one he wanted to go to. My welcome to the university by the admissions staff was enthusiastic, and they were helpful with parking and getting me registered for the tour. That being said, I was highly disappointed in the visit, and I left not knowing why I would recommend the school to a student, mostly because I had no idea what made it different from a multitude of other medium sized universities.

Radford 4This is a public university with 9,400 students, 90% of whom are undergraduate. The school didn’t go co-ed until 1972; today, it’s still almost 60% female. I do get the feeling that their reputation is getting better corresponding to its growing academics and cracking down on some of the partying that the school had been known for. “I get the party question a lot,” said the tour guide. “It was definitely a party school at one point. It’s not like that anymore. Admissions is getting more selective, and this is a dry campus. They even consider your body to be a container. If you come back to campus visibly intoxicated, you can get in trouble. You might not even get into your major if you’ve been written up for an alcohol charge.” They do seem to be doing some things right; retention is at about 77% which above the national average.

Radford dorm quad 4Radford is a good choice for a solid B/B+ student. Admitted students have a middle GPA range of 2.9-3.5. Generally, scholarships are granted to students with at least a 3.2 GPA and 1080 SAT or 22 ACT. Students must apply by December 1 to be considered for scholarships. Scores received by then will be considered: if new scores come in, they’ll reconsider the scholarship offer. Out-of-state scholarships are higher corresponding to the higher tuition (about $32,000 for OOS compared to just under $20,000 for in-state).

Radford dorm towerThe average class size is 30-35 students. This is a bit larger than many schools of this size, although fewer than 3% of classes are taught by Grad Assistants. Students seem pretty happy with their classes. There are 6 colleges to choose from for majors:

Radford dorm quad 1There are 15 residence halls clustered around several small quads. All dorms are suite-style or have en suite bathrooms; none have bathrooms down the hall. I’m sure this has gone a long way to Radford being ranked #3 best dorms in the state and in the top 100 nationwide. Their meal plan is like a debit card. With their card, food is half-price at the on-campus fast food vendors (Wendy’s, Starbucks, Chik-fil-a, etc) and 70% off listed prices at the dining hall. They have a sit-down style restaurant on the first floor of the largest dorm on campus, a 10-floor dorm that houses about half the freshmen. Parking is available for all students in a lot across a footbridge from the main campus, but cars aren’t needed. The Radford Transit shuttles run every 10 minutes from about 8am to about 1am. This gets them around campus as well as in town to places like Walmart and as far as Blacksburg (Virginia Tech area).

Radford dining hallStudents seem happy with the things to do on and off campus. “We’re in Southern Virginia among the mountains and rivers,” said a rep. There is a town, and Virginia Tech is not too far up the road, but this is not a booming college town. Thy have a popular Outdoors Club which gets students into the immediate area to hike, bike, ski, etc as well as outside of the area to scuba dive, sky dive, and more. The DI sports are strong, and students go for free, including trips to see away games during the NCAA tournament. “We’re the only Virginia team to win a game in the that,” said a rep. There are plenty of chartered club sports and 200 intramurals for students who don’t want to play varsity.

© 2018




Virginia Commonwealth University

Virginia Commonwealth University (visited 3/13/17)


One of the dorms; much of campus sits on streets like this

Students looking for an urban campus with lots of diversity, school spirit, and big sports will do well here. However, they need to be willing to advocate for themselves.

This is a state school with 24,000 undergrads, 37% of whom are male and 89% coming from in-state. Gen Ed classes run 150-200 students in lecture halls, but the upper level major classes average 27 students. “It’s the students’ job to take advantage of the opportunities.” Classes are varied, as you’d expect from a school this size. A couple favorite classes were Cultural Text and Context about Egypt and Women in Global Politics.

VCU ped walkway

The pedestrian walkway part of central campus

Campus sits in the middle of Richmond with almost no “central campus” in the traditional sense. However, location means there’s plenty to do, and students have opportunities to connect to the community, get internships, and apply what they’ve learned. The James River is minutes away from campus with hiking and other activities. Richmond itself is centrally located, only 1.5 hours to Virginia Beach and a little more than 2 hours to DC.


One of the older buildings on campus

VCU is a relatively new institution, starting in 1968 when 2 colleges merged. The main campus sits on the site of one school; all the medical programs (including graduate schools) are on the other one a couple miles away. The do offer a Guaranteed Admissions Program for some honors students into several of the graduate health programs as long as they meet the minimum requirements. This is not binding so it’s ok if they change their mind. Applications for this have a hard November 15 deadline; students need a 1330 SAT or 29 ACT and a 3.5 unweighted GPA. Beyond that, they should have done something to stand out such as shadowing or volunteering.

Engineering and the Arts are big here:

  • Engineering has offerings in Biomedical, Chemical and Life Science, Electrical and Computer, and Mechanical and Nuclear.
  • VCU arts 1

    One of the art studios

    The Arts Department includes both visual ad performing arts.

    • Visual arts are very much studio-based. “It allows us to establish ourselves and experiment,” said a junior painting/printmaking major from Kansas. “I wanted to go somewhere where I had the resources of an entire university.” He loves the program and is very happy with his decision to come to VCU, but said the downfall is that they don’t get any help in establishing a design portfolio. “We’re on our own to figure that out.” There also aren’t really any internships easily available or at least advertised. “I looked online; I think this major is the only one with nothing listed for internship opportunities,” he told me.
    • Unusual offerings include Kinetic Imaging and Craft and Material Studies.
VCU plaza

The plaza outside the main dining commons (to the left). The library is the glass building on the right.

Humanities and Sciences, of course, is the biggest school. A few unusual offerings are Military Science and Leadership, Statistical Sciences and Operations Research, Kinesiology, and Forensic Science.

The smallest majors/schools are Social Work (35 freshman) and Life Sciences with 51 freshmen (this includes Bioinformatics, Envi Sci, and Integrative Life Sciences; biology and other sciences are in the Arts and Sciences division).

Students really like the diversity on campus. “Campus shows off the spectrum of people there. I’ve made friends from all over,” said one of the tour guides (we had 3).


An LLC building

There are plenty of living opportunities such as LLCs and Global Living. There is no residency requirement, but 74% of freshmen do live on campus. Food gets good reviews from the students: “There’s so much food! They keep adding new options every year.” The dining hall sometimes runs what they call ‘Upper Cuts’ which serves “really, really great food!” according to one of the tour guides. It requires a second swipe on the meal plan. Restaurant Row, on one of the main streets running through campus, takes Rams Bucks. For students living off campus, it’s easy to find apartments and houses to rent near campus.

VCU dormAdmissions is rolling, and it takes about 4-6 weeks to get a decision after application is complete. They recommend that students include their SSN on the app to facilitate the link to FAFSA. This streamlines, the process, reduces mistakes, and allows them to get the package to students earlier. Students applying by Jan 15 will get an answer by April 1 at the latest. Test scores are optional for students with a 3.3 GPA at the time of application BUT are required for merit scholarships, the Honors College, Engineering majors, and for homeschooled applicants. If you want to get considered for automatic-consideration scholarships – apply by 11/15!!!

VCU stu cntrThe Honors College will look at writing on standardized tests; regular admissions does not. Priority deadline for freshman Honors Program is 2/1. The Guaranteed Admissions program falls under the honors college: if you’re admitted to GA, you’re admitted to HC, but not vice versa! The application for GA is on the Honors College website and is completely separate from the Common App.

© 2017

Roanoke College

Roanoke College (visited 11/2/16)

roanoke-main-signPut simply, Roanoke is a wonderful place for to live and learn. A junior summed it up well: “We’re blessed to be here and all they have done for us!”

Mr. Aaron Fetrow, VP of Student Affairs at Roanoke had this to say about Roanoke: “I’ve been around a lot of places with Mission Statements. They do their thing, and that’s fine. But this place is intentional. It’s collaborative. It’s real. And it’s fun. There has to be a complement to the academics outside the class. Not everything is perfect. There will probably be roommate conflicts. We’ll teach you how to deal with discomfort. It’s how you grow. We’ll teach you how to fix it; we don’t want you living in discomfort, but let’s face it – it’s life. You’ll have colleagues you disagree with and have to learn to deal with. We challenge students about diversity, conflict, whatever and then support them in the struggle to get through it.”

roanoke-entranceI appreciate that Roanoke is invested in ‘Whole Person Development’ – “It’s central to our mission statement. Most students don’t have a focused direction. We want students to be intentional with how different parts of themselves and different interests fit together.” People – students and staff – are encouraged to get involved in a variety of ways. For example, the Dean of Students is “a lawyer in a previous life. I teach when I can. I see students who are doing wonderful things, and it helps students understand that I’m not just here to bust up parties and deal with behavior.” In the coming spring, he and the Head of Security are co-teaching a Comparative Justice class in the UK. “I’m going to be that hippy anti-gun dude. He’ll play devil’s advocate. We’re not faculty, but we’re challenging and supporting students.”


The business school – this had been a bank across the street from campus; the college bought it when it went up for sale.

The Core – or Intellectual Inquiry Curriculum – is challenging, grounded in skill and knowledge development, and designed to promote student engagement across a breadth of disciplines; one of the faculty compared it to University of Richmond’s program. Students take a writing-intensive class 1st semester and oral communication 2nd semester. The Bio professor we sat with at lunch taught a 2nd semester class and loved it because “we got to discuss morally ambiguous things.” There are 7 required 200-level classes; students choose from a wide selection of topics-based (not survey) classes such as “Do Guns Save Lives?” which teaches the basics of statistics. Students in the Honors program may take classes with an honors designation instead of INQ (and high achieving students can take honors classes without being in the program). Students need to show competency through the 3rd semester of a language by taking the classes or testing out. However, there are a lot of language options for students wanting to branch out; there are so many that they’re housed in their own building!

roanoke-guitarOne student said that it’s “fairly easy” to get into required classes in bigger departments. “Business is one of the largest departments and offer classes all the time; the theater department is one of the smallest and may only offer classes every other year. You have to plan better and make a multi-year plan.”

Some of the students’ favorite classes were:

  • Music Theory Study: “I had hopes of being a pop star. That didn’t work out for me but music has been a part of who I am and I learned a lot.”
  • Religious Life of Young Adults: “It was very practical. I got to interview other students, read about what sociologists said about religion, and contextualize it in a broader context.”
  • How Organisms Evolve: this was an INQ class about evolutionary biology.

roanoke-4Last year, there were 617 research experiences for 349 students (many in the sciences, but not all). This work is supported with travel grants, course credit, works-study research assistantships, fellowships, etc. 42% of last year’s graduates did research, and 98 students presented at regional or national conferences. 35% of most recent grads did an internship at places like Merrill Lynch, NASA, the Smithsonian, NIA, hospitals, and banks. As with research, there are more internships than students to fill them. For mentorships, they often tap into the alumni base. More than 500 have already signed up to mentor sophomores through job shadowing, skyping about career options, etc.


One of the dorms

Students spend a lot of time studying away because the university makes it so easy to do. This year, 49 students are studying abroad for a semester or year; 17 are participating in the Washington Semester. MayTerm trips last 2-3 weeks. Last year, 179 students traveled in MayTerm. One student we spoke to went to Israel where they used the geography of the Holy Land to talk about the Bible: “Some things wouldn’t have happened if it were located anywhere else. It changed how I looked at my major [Religious Studies].” Some classes stay on campus such as another student’s class, Understanding Poverty Through Service: “We worked on gardens, built houses, and built a porch for an elderly couple.” Alternative Break Trips gets students off campus in fall, spring, and Christmas break; additionally, there are 30 courses connected to the local community. These are mostly service-learning trips; more than 500 students engaged in this, and 52% of students have done this at least once.

roanoke-stadiumAlmost 75% of students participate in some sort of athletics (25% are on varsity teams). Students involved in athletes and Greek Life tend to outperform others students in terms of grad rates, retention, and GPA. “It’s a hook.” Greek life is relatively small and gives students one more option to get involved. One student said, “I love it and would like to see it grow.” Rush is deferred to spring.


Main street is right off campus; some of the mountains are visible in the distance

The Outdoor Adventure Program has a new center opening, and they’re very proud of this. “Look outside! This is where outdoor stuff should be happening. If you have students interested in repelling, kayaking, wilderness rescue, hiking, whatever – this is the place to do it.” There are lots of outdoor activity trips offered throughout the year. They also have an equestrian program; the barn is about 15 minutes away.


The interior of a dorm with study nooks

Students like the activities on campus. “It’s hard to get bored.” One of the favorite things is Bingo: “It’s the best! You can win a lot of stuff.” One of the favorite traditions is the Senior dinner at the President’s House. They engrave names and messages into the bookcases. If students need a change of scenery, there’s plenty to do in the region with the city of Roanoke and several other colleges nearby. From Friday to Sunday, they can get taxi vouchers to get around town, including the airport. However, there’s also plenty within walking distance including Mac & Bob’s, a restaurant across the street that was a project started by seniors at the college who graduated and just continued!

© 2016

Jefferson College of Health Sciences

Jefferson College of Health Sciences (visited 11/3/16)


One of the classrooms

Jefferson is an Allied Health Science College, offering degrees from associates (PTA and OTA are the most competitive) up to doctoral programs (2 offered in nursing and health services). However, they do have a Core component in the Humanities and Social Sciences, offering a minor in Healthcare Humanities. Because the programs here are so specific, students need to know that this is what they focus on, but they do have some options to transfer programs if they don’t like or aren’t doing well in their first program.



Practice “dummies” for IVs

One of the benefits of Jefferson is its size. “We’re small. We have just over 1000 students.” A huge benefit of this is that the professors are helpful and invested. “We can call and text them all the time,” said one student. All academics are housed in one building so students don’t have to track them down. The professors are here to make sure students are successful and ready to go out into the workforce: “Give me someone with common sense and I can train them,” said one.


jefferson-signThe college president was a hospital administrator when this building was a full-service hospital. During the switch, in-patient services were moved to another hospital, and the 5th and 6th floors were gutted and converted to the school, now the largest occupant of the building. The 1st floor is a quasi-urgent care center; the 2nd has pediatric rehab, and the 7th floor houses inpatient rehab services (people transitioning to home or other facilities). Students have access to lots of clinical rotations without even leaving the building. Other clinicals are often done at Roanoke Memorial or Carillon Hospital, the 2nd largest in the state. Carillon is a 20 minute walk or 5 minute drive; trolleys run over there and parking is free.


A view of the hospital from the school

In addition to the basic academic skills within their field, students are taught to work in groups across disciplines. Students participate in an annual Disaster Event, an inter-professionalism event coming out of McMillan in Canada. They get evaluated on how well they work together as a team, on ethics, etc (they aren’t being critiqued clinically on skills for this).


During our visit, we got split into 2 groups to talk with the Heads of 2 departments and tour the facilities:

  • jefferson-ambulance-2

    A model ambulance used for training, mostly by the EMS students

    Students can get an AAS in Surgical Tech (this technically falls under Nursing) and become nationally Board Certified (students have a 100% pass rate on the exam). Surgical Techs help prep patients and then monitor and keep things sterile in ORs. Students get more than 200 clinical hours in before graduation and are almost always hired before graduation.

  • jefferson-xrays

    Some of the Respiratory Tech training

    Respiratory Therapy is one of the Bachelor’s programs. This was the most amazing program! The Head is dynamic and passionate about what he’s doing. I was ready to sign up for the program right then. We got to look at x-rays to see how a diagnosis might be done, machines that help Cystic Fibrosis patients, and even 2 sets of real lungs that he inflated for us!

    • 75% of RT students are employed before graduation, and everyone has a job within a month of graduation. This isn’t unusual. A nursing student said that she has gotten job offers on the floor as she did clinicals: “You can come back and work for me.”

The Anatomage; the student demonstrated how it can show different layers of the body

Resources are “top notch. Often they’re one generation out of date – we get a lot of things donated – but they’re free and similar to what they use in hospitals,” said one of the teachers. An exception to this is the Anatomage which is table with a top that works like a giant ipad. They can pull up a picture of full-sized body that students can rotate, “dissect,” and use to learn skeletal, muscular, and other structures. Not many schools have it.

Additionally, they had a Cadaver lab which gets used by many programs including Occupational Therapy. OT also has labs that include a play room for kids and a mock house so they can learn to work with patients in that environment.


A view of the dorm (the tall brick building) from the school. It’s a quick walk across the park. 

Students we spoke to chose Jefferson for the direct entry programs, the 4-year EMS, and the nice dorms. Dorms are a 4 minute walk from the school. Even though there’s no traditional campus, students feel like they get a full college experience. There are extra-curricular options and events just like any other college. A couple they mentioned were:

  • Taste of Jefferson: Departments have different foods, students get a passport to be stamped, they get a t-shirt when they fill it up.
  • Chocolate Day: “the best part is the chocolate fountain!”

One of the OT labs

All students can have cars on campus, and parking is easy in the garage. It’s helpful to have one for clinicals and just getting around; the closest grocery store is a mile. However, it’s not needed.

© 2016

Washington and Lee


W&L’s iconic building

Washington and Lee (visited 11/3/16)

“At the end of the day, I want the students to say, ‘it changed my life.’ I want it to be transformative. If they can say that, we’ve done our jobs.” The size of the school facilitates a lot of what they do, and “the faculty we bring on understand the pedagogy. Having famous faculty doesn’t help if they don’t want to know the students and work with them.”


Some of W&L’s academic buildings

Washington & Lee is a traditional Liberal Arts and Sciences university, “underscore the AND.” They combine professional programs in the Williams School of Commerce, Politics, and Economics and Journalism (both interdisciplinary programs) with a liberal arts education. “Students don’t apply to the business program as they might in larger schools. I don’t want the Williams School to be a Venn diagram with the Liberal Arts: I want it to be completely immersed. We’ll teach things like Business of Contemporary Arts (co-taught by a Tax Accountant and Art Historian), Land in Lakota Culture, Economics, and History (co-taught by Anthro and Economics professors), or Cybersecurity (co-taught by a PoliSci professor and a lawyer).” Along the same lines, they won’t offer a 3+2 engineering program because they want the students to have the full undergraduate, liberal arts experience. Students in these programs are interested in the liberal arts and complete the foundations/distribution requirements, including the language requirement.

wl-6Students who thrive here are curious, high-horsepower students. They’re near the tops of their graduating classes; they’re keyed into community and engagement. Loners/people who have an affinity to work alone won’t do so well here. Students seek out professors and like to argue/discuss points from class. “Teachers will instigate conversations that are uncomfortable for students. It makes us grow,” said a student on the panel.

wl-treewalkLast year they admitted 1200 of 5100 applicants. Just over half of the class of 465 were admitted through ED (I or II). Crossovers include UVA, William & Mary, Chapel Hill, Georgetown, Dartmouth, and Davidson. The Johnson Scholarship is awarded not just for outstanding academics but to those students who they believe will bring transformative leadership skills to campus. “We want them to be change-makers.” They bring 200 finalists to campus for 3 days and will end up awarding 70 scholarships.


The first floor of the Hillel building with the cafe in the back

“We want to have a broad range of students. The Office of Diversity and Inclusion does a lot of outreach. We’re concerned about affordability and accessibility. We meet 100% of financial need and do not include loans.” Almost every state is represented (there’s no one from ND in this freshman class); VA, TX, NC, GA, MD, FL, and NY have more than 20 students. Almost 10% are first-gen. Although only 17 of last year’s freshmen self-identified as Jewish, they do have a relatively new, large Hillel building; the E-Café inside is Kosher Dairy. They also have Salaam, a Muslim Student Association.

“We’re different because we have a sense of who we are,” said W&L’s President. “We produce citizens of honor who are ready to go out and make a difference.” Whatever they’re doing is working: they have a 98% retention rate, and 90% of students graduate in 4-years. He went on to illustrate a couple things that make them stand out:

  • wl-statueHonor System: “It’s a system, not a code saying that we will abide by the standards of the community.” This plays into exam schedules, too. Students can self-schedule their finals within the week, although some professors ask that their exams be done on a specific day. Others will give a take-home final and ask that it be brought back within 24 hours.
  • Speaking tradition: people will greet you when you walk around.
  • Their endowment allows them to provide “robust services” to students: they have an MD running Health Services, a psychiatrist on staff, deans for every class. There’s a lot to be said for community building, support, etc.
  • Freshmen all complete alcohol education and “bystander education.”

Junior Village in the background beyond the stadium

Lexington is very much a college community: VMI is next door with 1700 students, and the law school has another 350. They have a loose connection with VMI in that they will attend speakers and some other events happening at the other campus. All the seniors live off campus which helps mesh town-gown relations. W&L now requires all students to live on campus for 3 years – but only for 3 years! They recently built a “Junior Village” with has a café and dining hall; a pool is being built. Some Greek housing is in town, and there are 6 sorority houses near the football field. Usually sophomores live there. Rush is in the spring.


Sorority Row

“I was surprised how integrated students are,” said our tour guide. “I was a little bit wary at first because of the 17% diversity rate, but it doesn’t matter. I wasn’t sure how the speaking tradition would play out, but people do talk to each other. I was shy. I didn’t know how to do that, but now I see that people go out of their way.”

wl-patioStudents tend to be more conservative but not exclusively, and there are a lot of liberal professors. “But everyone is civil. They talk about the issues, not about the people. Professors expect us to be able to have conversations and back up opinions, and students do.” A lot of people talked about civil discourse and the learning community while we were on campus. “I say community and opportunity a lot,” said one student. “It seems cliché but I don’t know how else to describe it. It’s not just about what we learn but the skills and experiences.”


Originally a stable, the doors are now left open because the story says that Lee’s horse Traveller haunts the building and will shake the doors when they are shut.

The average class size is 15. Only 5% have more than 25 students. “A few classes like organic chem and a popular geology class on climate change get higher.”

“There’s no one way to do a W&L education,” said the president. “We see some strange double majors. They get jobs because they’re unique.” The Core accounts for about 1/3 of a student’s curriculum. “We push against the idea that every class has to count for something. We want them to explore.” There is a Phys Ed requirement: “I can say with absolute certainty that every W&L grad knows how to swim.”

Students have a lot of school spirit. “We may be DIII, but we have football!” They have tailgates and an annual Lee-Jackson lacrosse game which both draw huge crowds. The Thanksgiving Dinner even draws community members.

© 2016

Hollins College

Hollins College (visited 11/2/16)


One of the Academic Buildings

Hollins “is transformative. We enhance what’s there,” said a faculty member.

Hollins, named the 3rd Most Haunted campus in the country (the Tinker ghost got particular mention), is celebrating its 175th anniversary this year. “We’re not going anywhere but up,” said one of the Deans. This beautiful liberal arts university, dedicated to educating young women, takes an approach based on depth and breadth, both academically and co-curricularly.


The indoor rink during one of the lessons

The equestrian program is of special note. A rider from Oregon told us, “I didn’t even know this place existed until they contacted me! They have one of the best writing programs and riding programs in the country; it’s great.” Usually they get about 45 riders per semester of all levels, “but we have the horsepower to do more.” The school-owned horses are donated, and students can board their own for $1100 a month (full-service including turnout: “if they need a buddy or are used to being on their own, we’ll make that happen,” said one of the riding coaches). The barn manager lives on premises.


Some of the outdoor areas for the equestrian programs

Riders are students first; they work lessons around academics. They teach hunter-seat but welcome riders from other styles (stock seat, dressage, saddle seat). They have a range of horses up to show-horses to accommodate all levels. Riders on the equestrian team pay $1195 per semester which includes 2 lessons a week, coaching, and all fees for travel and competition. “Students who ride regularly know that’s a deal.”

Beyond the Equestrian program, things that differentiate Hollins include:

  • The Internship program:
    • These often happen during January Term. Students get stipends, many from alumna who will come back to run workshops and other programs for students. “Speed Connection” (like speed dating) helps make connections. Alumna even help with small things like finding housing.
    • Students intern at places like National Geographic, Amas Musical Theater, Wiley Publishing, the National Cathedral, and the National Dance Institute.
  • Research: There is no honors program, but students have the option to participate in honors seminars starting first year.
  • Study abroad: they run specific historic programs in London and Paris
  • Leadership classes, including how to negotiate such things as their first pay raise. The Batton Leadership Institute comes with a scholarship. It challenges students to think outside the box.

hollins-quadI appreciate that Hollins is deliberate in their curriculum. A Dean said that they’ve been working with the following questions: What capacities do we and our students need to address the challenging issues of the 21st century? Are we doing what we need to do for students to be successful, in however they define success? Do we have the right co-curricular options in place? The answers to these have led to a few recent changes to curriculum:

hollins-libraryA few other academic programs worth mentioning include:

  • The 3-year Accelerated Program: Students need to elect this coming in, maintain a minimum GPA, and complete 40-44 credits per year.
  • Their Creative Writing program graduates 30+ seniors each year.
  • Certificates in Arts Management, Leadership, Piano Teaching, and Musical Theater Performance.
  • Their theater department has been ranked #19 for Best College Theater, and they offer a London Theater Immersion

hollins-chapel-2Faculty are teachers first and invested in the students. A handful live on campus. Students babysit for them and get invited home for breaks. However, they’re also experts in what they do and have a lot to brag about including being a 2015 National Book Finalist, having won a $100,000 Mellon grant for professional development, an NSF grant for technology in early education, and an award for best article in Critical Race Theory (Sociology).

hollins-5NSSE information allows Hollins to compare themselves to peer institutions: They’ve ranked Better or Much Better on: Asking questions, class presentations, working with classmates on projects, discussing academic work outside of class, writing and speaking clearly, and effectively working with others. Students here solve real world problems. The video “Women who are going places start at Hollins” is worth seeing.

The students like the all-female environment. “You can be yourself. You don’t have to fit into a group. People will love you for it. I’m shy. My roommate hugged me when I arrived. I’ve never felt so loved or accepted. You get the opportunities you ask for. Sky’s the limit. People do unimaginable things. If you take the initiative, they’ll figure out how to help you!” said a student sitting with us at dinner.


Some of the dogs at the barn

They also want people to know that a women’s college doesn’t mean they’re cut off from other people. Students get involved in the Roanoke community: “We have a cool downtown!” and shuttles take students to the mall, downtown, and Target. The Amtrak will start coming back through in 2017 and flights from the Roanoke airport go to major hubs. They can get taxi vouchers to the airport. Roanoke College (coed) and Hampden-Sydney (all male) are “right down the road, and they [HSC] have a Women’s House for people to stay in if we visit campus.”


Tinker Mountain from the Library

A favorite tradition is Tinker Day: classes get cancelled, and people get dressed up in wacky costumes and hike up Tinker <ountain (“The average person can hike it in 1.5-2 hours”). Another favorite thing is the Therapy Dog program (and several dogs hang out at the barn). Finally, there’s Ring Night: Seniors adopt juniors who get their rings. They have to “Earn” them: they’re given tasks (singing songs, etc) by freshmen and sophomores. Then the juniors get a box of things for senior year such as a bottle of apple cider for the beginning of the year. The “First Step” is when seniors step on the front quad in the fall: they decorate their gown, step on campus, and get sprayed with cider.

Last year’s 224 freshman was the largest incoming class in 17 years. The Admission office promises an answer (including scholarship information) in 2 weeks as long as applicants have submitted a FAFSA. They’re need-blind for admissions but aggressive with scholarships. “What does it hurt to apply?” said one rep; a student at dinner told us that it was cheaper for her to come here than to go to her state school. They have a special Secular Society Scholarship: it’s not just for the best grades but for students who show a “glimmer of moxie” and will contribute to the larger community and world.

© 2016

Ferrum College

Ferrum College (visited 11/5/16)

ferrum-chapel-2Ferrum is “small but has connections I appreciate.” It’s safe, friendly (“people talk to each other”), and not so big that you get lost in the crowd. The mission is about access for a range of abilities: “The college was set up by Methodists (a socially-engaged religion) to give students in this part of the state access to higher education. It’s about people and upholding the historical mission.” Students are 60% PELL eligible and 30% First Gen. It’s a diverse, inclusive community. Currently, they only have about a 60% retention rate that they’re actively trying to improve with the Gateway Seminar which provides mentors for freshmen.


An intramural field with a dorm in the background

Sports are a fairly big part of the culture here. “I was told that 75% play sports, but it’s less than that,” said one student on the panel. “Maybe it hits that high if you add in all the intramurals and clubs.” One student said he’s like to see more funding for club sports: “I had to pay for a lot of things out of pocket.” Ferrum live-streams away games so students can watch from campus. One of the students who came originally to play sports (and no longer does) says, “Sports were grueling, but one of the most rewarding things on campus.”

ferrum-fountainPeople do plenty of things beyond sports. This is a mostly residential campus so students are active in clubs and activities. Most upperclassmen dorms are great, but the students seemed to agree that the freshmen dorms could be improved. Off campus, there are plenty of outdoor activities; Ferrum definitely play up their location among the Virginia Blue Ridge Mountains. They do have “some equipment” that students can use for free, but it didn’t sound like a lot. Freshmen can have cars on campus, and they also have a bus system. Parking “is there, but it isn’t always great.”


The pond with dorms in the background. The Blue Ridge Institute and Museum are also on that side of campus

The overwhelming favorite tradition on campus was the Blue Ridge Folklife Festival. It’s an annual event with Appalachian Mountain activities. Everyone gets involved and volunteers. “I’ve been coming to the festival since I was born. It was another reason to come to Ferrum,” said one student on the panel. Another from out of state said, “I’m understanding more about the culture all the time.” When I asked our tour guide about any other traditions or annual events, she finally said that Homecoming and the bonfire on the intramural field was usually well attended, but other than that, there wasn’t much.

ferrum-chapelChapel services are held on Monday nights (“What college student wants to get up on a Sunday morning?” said the tour guide) and are optional. However, students do need to take a Bible-based class (“We use the King James version”) and a religion/philosophy-based course.

ferrum-labThe tour guide’s classes ranged from 8-22 students. Her anatomy class was her favorite: they got 2 bodies from the Body Farm in Kentucky to work on. Some students would like to see the academic programs expanded. The majors that are offered are fairly standard with a few exceptions: In their School of Natural Sciences and Math, they offer Agricultural Sciences (“ the farm has 12 head of cattle and 6 sheep. I’d like to see the livestock numbers improve,” said one student), Forensic Science, and Environmental Planning and Development. Democracy, Justice, and Civil Engagement as well as Recreation Leadership are housed in the Social Sciences and Professional Studies Department.

ferrum-dorm-extThere are a few more unusual minors such as coaching, ecotourism, and Russian Area Studies.

The Honors Program requires students to study abroad (it can be in the E-term, a semester, or a year); they’re provided with a $3000 scholarship to go abroad. Honors students live in the same dorm.

E-Term, a 3-week term in May, lets students go abroad or study away. One student went on the International Comparative Law trip to England. Others have gone to the US Virgin Islands (Tropical Marine Ecology) and to Ireland. Other students take advantage of semester and year-long study abroad or study away programs. One of the students on the panel was planning on spending a semester at the American in DC and wants to intern with the Supreme Court.

© 2016

Bluefield College

Bluefield College (visited 11/4/16)

bluefield-chapel-1This is a very small, very “Christ-centered school.” They’re associated with the Southern Baptists, and they make no secret that they bring Christian values into everything they do. There is a complete integration of faith and learning. People seem to come here specifically for that reason.

Several faculty said that they were so glad that they could openly talk about their faith and Christ in the classroom. One faculty member said, “We have the freedom to be openly Christian here. You hear about crazy turns at public school. We can pray in class and share our opinions in class. It’s refreshing to have open discussions. I don’t have to think about it much. We can talk to students about faith.” Another professor in the biology department said, “We bring both perspectives into our discussion. Students learn about evolution, but we’ll also bring Scripture in and have a discussion about what they think different passages might teach us, or how we can interpret them within the bounds of sciences. Can these coexist?”

bluefield-walkwayThis is a mission- and faith-based institution “but open to everyone.” However, we didn’t talk to anyone who was not seeking this specific environment; people who didn’t want a constant discussion of Christ/Scripture (or at least willing to put up with it) will not do well here. There are 2 required classes: 1st is “Biblical Perspectives” (a foundation class); the 2nd class is the student’s choice. Students must attend 15 Chapels (religious; Wednesday) and convocations (academic) per semester. One person said that the 15 could be any combination, but another said that at least 10 had to be Chapel services.

The students’ favorite things about Bluefield are:

  • bluefield-walkway-2Everyone is so open to new ideas. People are willing to make things happen.
  • How easy it is to make friendships even with faculty.
  • Faculty work with you to help make sure you’re doing what you’re doing.
  • It’s a place where Christ can work with and through us.
  • The first month of school, the faculty stood around the perimeter and prayed over the students. “I’ve never heard someone say, “If you aren’t sure, pray about it” in a classroom setting before.”
  • There’s always something going on around town, including a Lemonade Festival.

bluefield-quadWe visited on a Friday morning when the 179 first-year students were in their weekly Common Core lecture. Throughout the semester, they hear 15 lectures from professors across the curriculum, getting exposed to the breadth of liberal arts, and even the business department. They take a common course for the first 3 years; Bluefield is 1 of 3 colleges in VA to get an A rating for their core curriculum placing them in the top 2.3% of all colleges.


The grilling area near the new dorms

Freshman year Core is “Invitation to Inquiry.” The speaker on the day we visited was an expert in Appalachian poetry, talking about Speaking about Creativity and Spoken Word. Sophomore core is “Character Formation;” 3rd year is “Civics and Global Response” (students are paired with community services to help out).

Bluefield became a 4-year school in 1975. They grew to 540 students this year and hope to add more. The male population is currently higher (56%) because they added football a few years ago. They’re 36% racially diverse and have 59 international students.


Tennis courts with the new dorms in the background

Surprisingly, given the tiny population, they’re DI athletics in the NAIA, explaining why they draw so many athletes (69% play a varsity sport). Athletes can’t superscore their standardized test scores: the NAIA looks at single score (940 or 18) and 2.0 GPA. Teams often have competitions to see who has the highest GPA.

Other applicants can have test scores superscored. Bluefield uses only their application (no Common App) and it’s free. They talked a lot about both open-door access and making tuition affordable. Their Pathways program help students within a 50-60 miles by cutting tuition by 50% (about 75 students take advantage of this). A significant number have PELL grants. Students can earn up to $12,000 in academic scholarships and unlimited athletic scholarships. The Economist ranked Bluefield #44 for overall value (cost, scholarships, salary upon graduation, etc). They also offer Fine Arts, graphic design, music, and theater scholarships.

Some favorite classes are:

  • bluefield-art-studio

    The art studio

    Character formation: “I didn’t know what to expect. I learned a lot about myself and why I am the way I am and do what I do.”

  • “The same. Before I took it, I said, ‘I know my character. Why do I have to form it?’ But I learned so much!”
  • Media Writing: “we spent the semester working on newspaper. I went out of my comfort zone and interviewed a lot of people around campus. I’ve made a lot of connections and learned about all sorts of stuff happening.”
  • Media and Society: “This was an ethics in media class right when the election was starting. I did research all sorts of issues.”

A professor on the panel said that she liked teaching the Serial Killer class and the Business Law class: “In that class, I bring in lots of real life stuff like wills, real estate, etc. I see the students’ eyes light up; they know they can use this.”


A greenhouse on the science building

Students and staff talked a lot about principled learned and the honor code. “Transformational leadership is a vital part of who we are,” said a rep. With the Honor Code, “we hold each other to high standards,” said the tour guide (other people reiterated similar sentiments during the visit). Students agree to live lives of integrity academically and in personal lives, including no drugs, alcohol, or tobacco (on or off campus).

Two new dorms have gone up with apartments housing 4 people in 2 single and 1 double rooms. There’s a kitchen in each one, but students living here must have at least a commuter meal plan. Students must be upperclassmen in good standing and not having broken any inter-visitation rules. Coed visitation is strictly regulated including hours, doors open, “and all clothes remain on.” In the apartments, the blinds must also be up. I asked why the honor code (aka the trust, hold each other accountable, and “lives of integrity”) didn’t extend to visitation. The tour guide had no idea how to answer that, but the admissions rep tagging along on the tour said, “Well, we are a Baptist school. We don’t have to have visitation at all. We offer it but hold to the standards of the church.”

© 2016

Southern Virginia University

Southern Virginia University (visited 11/3/16)

svu-flowersSVU is a Latter-day Saints school; they are not owned by the church but have adopted their honor code, and 90% of their students are Mormons. “We get no money from the church which means we can do things our way,” said the Director of Admissions. Students do not need to attend any church services, but they do need to pledge to live by LDS values such as not using alcohol, tobacco, drugs, and not engaging in pre-marital sex. “This is an environment of clean living; it’s a safe faith-based environment.”


The original resort hotel which is now on the Registry of Historic Landmarks

“We’re not going to have a lot of the bling or flash that you might be used to,” the Admissions Director told us. This began as a finishing school for girls in 1867. The current property was built up as a hotel resort but turned over before it ever operated as one, becoming Southern Seminary (still all female) and kind of a partner school to W&L and VMI (both all male). The main building is beautiful and fancy; the barn/stables for the resort has been turned into the athletic center. In the 1990s, financial problems caused the school change its name to Southern Virginia College and go coed, but was still about to close when a businessman in Richmond bailed them out in 1996. He felt that there needed to be another option on the East coast for an Honor Code based environment.

svu-3With 800 students, the school is still small; they would love to grow and be more diverse. Geographic diversity is already big. Half the students come from Virginia and surrounding states, but there were more out-of-state plates than I’ve seen at any other school. Not surprisingly, several were from Utah. In terms of religion, “We don’t care what religion people are, but all applicants do have to sign off on the Honor Code.” LDS members will have a bishop sign the statement as well stating that the students will be willing and able to abide by this; non-members have another adult do this. “People here don’t necessarily know who is and who isn’t a member of the Mormon Church because they’re all good kids.”


Lots of kids were outside playing sports in their free time. 

The sports-culture is huge here, and about 50% of students are on a varsity team. The Director of Admissions is a former football player for Oklahoma (which he mentioned a lot). Although we never got to talk to any students directly (the tour was given by the Director and there was no student panel), we saw a lot of kids around, and many of them were introduced briefly, and almost all were on a sports team. The university has 20 teams which was an enrollment-based decision; they’re 4 years into the NCAA experience, playing in the NJAC for football and CAC (Capital Athletic Conference) for others. There are two new grass fields and an artificial turf field. They have a strength/conditioning coach for each sport and 4 athletic trainers. “It’s not about winning championships. It’s about being engaged.”

svu-chairsI did get to talk to a student for about a minute when I split off from the group quickly; she loves the opportunities here. “I came here from Idaho without ever seeing the school. I’m an RA and play sports.”

Beyond sports, a lot of students participate in music. They offer scholarships, and students can submit videos to be considered for these. They also have a dance studio.

svu-1“This is a small liberal arts education without the normal cost.” Almost everyone is out in 4 years if not 3.5. They get one of the highest student engagement rates in the country. There are scholarships for returning students like the Nice Scholarships (just be nice!) or Cowboy/Cowgirl Ethics Award. Students can get a mission scholarship; this can be granted for Peace Corps service; it doesn’t have to be religious.


One of the dorms taken from up the hill where the new dorms are located.

Academic offerings are standard for a small liberal arts school. The Education program – Music, Elementary, and Spanish – in done in conjunction with Washington & Lee.


The dining hall

Dorms are single-sex (and apparently there are no kitchens in the male dorms). Many students are housed up a hill on the side of campus where some new dorms were recently constructed. The dining hall is very small with limited food options; food is served on movable heating carts reminiscent of Chinese buffets. The couple kids I asked said that the food “was good.”


Averett University

Averett University (visited 11/2011)

I had never heard of Averett before visiting as part of a counselor tour. This is a well-maintained campus that serves students well. Students were everywhere around campus and interacting with each other; people seemed genuinely happy to be part of campus. Although there are fewer than 900 undergraduates, the campus feels busier, in large part because of the non-traditional and graduate programs. Students who want small discussion-based classes and a hands-on education will do well here. They combine the liberal arts with strong programs. It’s truly a hidden gem, and I wish more people knew about it.

Most unusual for a Liberal Arts school, particularly of this size, is their Aeronautics program, which includes an FAA-approved flight school. Their direct-entry Nursing program and the Medical Technology program are both noteworthy, as are the Equestrian, Sports Management/Physical Education, and Biomedical programs.

This is one of the few schools I’ve encountered that had severed ties with its founding church (in this case, Baptist) and then reestablished it. However, there’s little about the college that indicates that there are any ties at all. It does not permeate the culture on campus. Students who want a strong religious culture would probably not be as happy here as on some other campuses, but for those who are interested in having something around if they want it will find what they’re looking for

Danville is a small city of about 45,000 people in southern Virginia near the NC border. There is enough to do in town when students want to get off campus, and there’s an Amtrak station in town allowing for relatively easy access to Charlotte, NC and Washington, DC when students are looking for a larger city. Things are walkable, but there’s also plenty to do on campus. Students said that they didn’t feel the need to get off on a regular basis, but did appreciate the availability of other options.

Dr. Tiffany Franks, the President, is welcoming and engaging. She opened her home to the group of counselors visiting the college; she does this regularly for students, as well. She clearly cares about the success of the students and has done wonders for the college.

© 2016

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