Evergreen State College (visited 6/20/17)
“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.
“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.
“Program” 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:
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.”
I 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.”
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.
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.
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.