campus encounters

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Archive for the category “Washington”

Evergreen State College

Evergreen State College (visited 6/20/17)

ESC quad 2“This will probably be the most unusual school you’ll visit this week,” said the rep, and she wasn’t wrong. This is an interdisciplinary liberal arts and sciences school which does not offer traditional majors. Rather, students earn an emphasis if they’ve earned 45+ credits in one area; otherwise they get an emphasis in Liberal Arts. Students with at least 72 credits (out of the 180 required) in math/science will earn the BS; others get a BA. Additionally, students do not earn grades but get narratives reports which then are placed on the transcript; one grad’s transcript was 27 pages long! This does not hinder entrance to grad schools: about 90% get into 1st or 2nd choice schools, and if grades or a GPA are absolutely mandatory, they have a system in place to make sure that happens. “That’s extraordinarily rare, though,” said the rep.

ESC student“If you need someone to tell you what classes to take, this isn’t the place for you,” said one of the tour guides. Students who don’t like to interact don’t last here … or they quickly develop the skills to manage! Students like working with each other and the faculty. “There’s not a hierarchical relationship here. We call faculty by their first names.” Also, true to hands-on and interdisciplinary work, they don’t use a lot of books for class and can generally get what they need through the library.

ESC sculpture 2Program” is their word for the classes students take. Generally, they sign up for 1 program per quarter which is worth about 16 credits and links 3-5 disciplines. Freshman can have up to 30 to choose from, and there are 150 or so offered every year. Some are specific to freshman; others have prerequisites and/or are offered to upperclassmen. “I took a class in my first year that was open to everyone,” said one of the tour guides. “There are definite pros and cons. I liked meeting people from several years, but it was definitely tough. I don’t know if I’d recommend it to everyone.” Titles are catchy and indicate the theme. For example:

  • ESC organic farmers market

    Organic Farmers Market

    Into the Woods links forestry, biology, sociology, and philosophy. Students looked at sustainable agriculture, economics, and the human elements of the logging industry: who are the people involved (and who isn’t as involved)? Who depends on this for the economy? Who are the environmentalists and politicians making policy about how to manage the forests and sustaining the towns? What’s the right thing to do?

  • ESC ampetheater

    Rec Center

    Environmental Analysis took an extended field trip to Yellowstone. “We can go off campus for 3 weeks and they aren’t missing other classes.” This class focused on geology, analytical chemistry, and environmental microbiology along with some public policy “because you can’t get away from that.” Students have the flexibility to work within interdisciplinary curriculum with a lot of theory-to-practice, seminars, projects, and collaborative work instead of competitive.

ESC media studio 2

A media center

Students tend to remember more if it’s contextualized and they see how it links together and see how the classic liberal arts play out in the real world and how they link to careers.


Some of the academic buildings

Faculty get assigned to Programs at a ratio of no more than 25:1 (freshman are 18:1). Programs create an automatic cohort; students and faculty get to know each other really well because they’re seeing each other every day in labs, field trips, and classes. “We probably get to know the students more than they’d like!” said one of the professors. Teachers, like the students, must want to work interdisicplinarily. They practice what they preach. If students have to work together, so do the faculty. They’re here because they want to teach. “I get to team teach with people outside of my discipline which means I get to learn alongside the students.” Faculty go through a 2-year planning process for each class. This means the classes are also announced 2 years in advance so students see what’s coming down the pike.

ESC geoduck

The Geoduck (pronounced “gooeyduck”) is the school mascot which regularly makes the Top 10 Strangest Mascots

Students who have an interest not offered in a program can create an Independent Learning Contract as long as a faculty member is willing to sponsor it. This, too, must be interdisciplinary. One of the students did Creative Writing/poetry project centered around the color blue by looking at color theory, the ocean, the Virgin Mary, etc. “I got the experience of being a working writer with the safety net of still being in school.”

ESC 3I typically ask students at CTCL schools how it changed their life. One student said: “ I came in wanting to be a Physicians Assistant, and now I’m writing poetry. It exposed me to things I didn’t even know I was interested in. I took a program called “What is she saying?” in my sophomore year – it was so cool reading things by all women. The support I got after my first project by faculty and peers was amazing! I never thought of myself as a writer, but having people believe in you and what you create is life-changing.”

ESC Longhouse 2

The exterior of the Longhouse

This is a public school with only about 3800 undergraduates, just over half of whom come from out-of-state! Only 50% of the entering fall class are freshman – they get a lot of transfers who are looking for a different experience.

ESC art studio

One of the art studios

There are amazing scientific resources available to the students including mass spectrometers, infrared spectrometer, polarograph, and a scanning electron microscope. Their arts (including digital media) have studios for Media Engineering, a Center for Creative and Applied Media, Audio Mixing, and Video Editing among others. The art spaces are naturally lit with filters on the windows for true color. Only 1 program per term will use any given studio so students can leave their work and have unlimited access to the space. Once students are certified in particular areas like metalworking, they can use the facilities and can buy materials at cost. They have to prove proficiency on a particular resource (cameras, etc) and then can check them out at any point. They have a Natural History Museum and a Longhouse which is used for artist and community space. They’re adding a glassblowing program, and will soon offer an MFA in Indigenous Arts.

ESC path

A trailhead

Campus is 1000 acres, only 200 of which are developed. There are 5 trailheads right on campus. 1 leads to the organic farm used for classes. There are fire-pits, shrines, ropes, and more in the woods. One of the trails leads to 1.5 miles of beach. The outdoor stuff is amazing and students can rent out gear. There’s not much in town that is walkable, but there are buses to get them around to places they need for shopping or entertainment.

Housing is never required but highly recommended. 80% of first year students and about 25% of sophomores through seniors live on campus. There’s no Greek life but lots of clubs (including a sheep club! I’m not sure what they do …). They have one of the last freeform radio stations (KAOS) in the country where students can become certified DJs. Eggplant Café is an organic student-run coop.

© 2017

Central Washington University

Central Washington University (visited 6/21/17)

CWU 2CWU was a surprise in the best possible way. I walked away knowing that I’d be comfortable recommending this school to students: it’s a welcoming, modern, attractive campus with a lot of unusual majors that would appeal even to students coming from across the country. Check out this YouTube video put together by the Arts and Humanities Departments – made entirely (including the music) by faculty and students in that school!

CWU mascot 2

The mascot in front of the student center which also houses their Outdoor Pursuits and Rentals office

All first-year students are required to live on campus and therefore get priority for housing. Many live in 4-person “pods” (like suites). There are about a dozen LLCs available; our tour guide lived in the Aviation LLC his first year even though he ended up not majoring in it. There are some university-owned apartments available for upperclassmen. Off-campus housing is relatively easy to find and not expensive. Ellensburg is a small, easily manageable city with things to do and with lots of access to outdoor activities. Students can fly into Sea-Tac airport and get school shuttles for the 2-ish hour trip to campus.

CWU sculpture

One of many such sculptures on campus

Despite being a medium-sized university of about 11,000 students, they take excellent care of students and work hard to make sure they don’t fall through the cracks. Students get both a Major and a Support Advisor so there are plenty of people checking in on them. They are dedicated to providing accessible education for students, particularly those who historically have not had easy access to higher education. Their first-gen students graduate well above the national average, for example. One student spoke to us at dinner; he was extraordinarily grateful for the opportunities and support he received at the college, saying that his success came due to the support he got from faculty and the institution as a whole.

CWU sci 1

One of 2 new science buildings

The evening we were on campus, one of the physics students gave us a mini-lecture on Dark Matter… we couldn’t believe he wasn’t a professor! The Astronomy Club gives monthly presentation, so this was something they would have available to students and the community at large. A physics professor then let us crawl into their portable planetarium (who knew that was even a thing!?); it looked a bit like an igloo and easily fit 25 people. (We also got to go into their permanent planetarium but the equipment was being upgraded so we were unable to see it in action). He gave us a great presentation followed by an extensive tour of the geology and physics labs and ending at the telescope and observatory on the roof.

They offer a number of interesting and/or unique majors such as:

  • CWU museumMuseum Studies
    • They’ve excavated a mammoth about 30 minutes from here and will most likely keep the bones on campus since students did a lot of the work.
  • Law & Justice
  • Para-medicine
  • Aviation/Aerospace/Aviation Management
    • Aviation has been going on for about 40 years; there’s a pilot shortage and they’ll get jobs, but it’s a lot of money up front for the training.
    • There are additional admissions requirements such as a physical for flying.
    • There are 60 incoming freshman bringing it up to 160 total. They’re hoping to bring even more in next year.
  • CWU mammoth

    The first mammoth bone excavated


  • Sciences (College of Sciences combines Computational, Natural, and Social Sciences)
    • They have a Cadaver Lab!
    • The geology department is the largest in the state
    • A physics professor has a grant to discover exoplanets.
  • Primate Behavior and Ecology: Washoe, one of the original chimps that was taught ASL lived here.
  • Integrated Energy Management
  • CWU japanese garden

    Part of the campus Japanese Garden

    The Business School is AACSB accredited (less than 5% of more than16,000 schools get this). Admission is not competitive but must keep a 2.5 GPA to stay in the program; students can declare after 30 credits.

    • There are 8 concentrations including HR, Economic Forecasting, Supply Chain, and Managerial Economics
  • Safety and Health Management: they have the top program in west. Two professors got awarded National Educators of the Year awards.
  • Apparels, Textiles, and Merchandising: graduates can work as designers or buyers.
  • Global Wine Studies: This is not meant to teach students how to make wine (although they do learn how) but focus on the marketing.
  • Craft Brewing: Students do learn how to make beer in this major! “They get a lot of science.” They can also get a certificate in this if they don’t want the whole major.
  • They’re starting Hospitality Program and will incorporate the beer and wine programs into the event management. This will be an international program where they can work in Spain, too. Getting a dual degree from each institution will be a possibly.
  • Their Army and AF ROTC programs win awards across the country.
CWU creek 1

This stream runs through campus. “You could swim in it, but I’m not sure you want to,” said the tour guide. “However, it is tradition for seniors to float down it in tubes right before graduation.”

Admission to the university is automatic – without the test scores – if a student has a 3.4 and will have completed all the College Academic Requirements by graduation (but they still need to submit test scores; they just aren’t used for admissions, but are looked at for scholarships and for placement). All others go through the comprehensive review process. This is already one of the most affordable institutions in the Pacific Northwest. On top of that, they offer WUE to qualifying students who then pay in-state tuition x 1.5. The average incoming GPAs for WUE students was a 3.31; overall was a 3.1.

© 2017

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