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Birmingham-Southern College

Birmingham-Southern College (visited 4/2/14)

~BSC quadOne of the counsellors asked our tour guide, a senior majoring in religion, if she agreed with the reputation that Birmingham-Southern students “are smart and out-there.” She said yes: “You can be nerdy, and that’s cool here.” BSC, a CTCL school, does place a lot of emphasis on the whole student and making sure that they aren’t pigeon-holed. For their senior capstone, students have to complete a major project outside of the major. Our tour guide’s project was writing about modern issues in the style of Camus.

The college President is General Krulak, a dynamic leader who is well respected by the students and staff. He spoke to our group; he’s funny, well-spoken, has great ideas, and clearly cares about the college. He impressed us with his energy and ideas for the college as well as his plans on how to carry them out.

~BSC quad 2One complaint students seemed to have about BSC is that it’s not ethnically diverse – “but it is intellectually diverse. Students are open to diversity. There are plenty of passionate discussions.” BSC doesn’t have a great deal of religious diversity, but it is there. One of my colleagues went to BSC and loved it; as a Jewish student, she felt supported and had a community that met her needs. The city of Birmingham also has a great deal of diversity, so students can attend local Synagogues, Hindu Temples, Mosques.

Dorm room

Dorm room

Dorms are (mostly) new and comfortable. Freshmen are housed in traditional dorms; all other students live in suites. They have a relatively new Frat Row with 6 buildings (built mostly with private donations), each housing about 24 students. BSC also served as the Olympic Village for the Soccer players, and they have an Olympic torch in the fitness center. Basketball and baseball get best fan turn-out, and lacrosse is getting more popular. Their lacrosse, Track & Field and football field is called The Battlefield.

Some of their notable academic points are:

  • Frat houses

    Frat houses

    A new Human Rights and Conflict Studies Minor. Current students interested in this program can use previous classes towards meeting the requirements because it’s so new. They complete classes in 4 categories: History, Personal experience (internship), lit, and writing.

  • Their arts program. Students can earn a BA (Art History, Art Education, Film and Media Studies, or Studio Arts), a BFA (Studio Arts, Print, Photo, Sculpture, Painting, Clay), or both. A portfolio is needed for scholarships.
  • Their Critical Languages cross-registration with Samford and UAB. Our tour guide is studying Hindi, and BSC has Arabic-speaking Fulbright Scholars on campus. One of the professors at dinner said, “Here’s something you aren’t going to hear anywhere else: Sanskrit on Demand!”~BSC hammock
  • The Science Center purposefully put large windows for all the labs to make it a “science on display” building.
  • The Birmingham Area Consortium for Higher Education allows students to cross-register at UAB, Samford, Miles, and the University of Montevallo.
  • Their Urban Environmental Studies major is strong and fairly unusual.
  • They maintain an archaeology site at Turkey Creek (an old mill).
  • They offer 3-2 programs in Nursing (in conjunction with Vanderbilt) and in Engineering (at several institutions)
  • Their Honors Interdisciplinary classes include choices such as: “Lit, Medicine, and the Body,” “American Art and Conventions of the Body” (Art History), “Harry Potter Bigger than Jesus” (religious themes in HP), “Crucible Steel” (Human Rights/Creative Writing), Senior Research
  • Hess Fellows Advocacy Internships gives $3000 stipends/scholarships to selected sophomores and juniors. They are partnered with companies and non-profits in NYC, DC, San Fran, Birmingham, and Montgomery in order to work on projects for two months over the summers.

~BSC bikesThe student panel was enlightening. Students were articulate and forthcoming about information:

1) BSC is one of the Colleges that Changes Lives. How has BSC changed your life?

  • Study abroad opened my eyes to the rest of the world. I grew up in a small town, and I have a much more global view now. I appreciate that BSC is so supportive – financially and otherwise – of students who want to go abroad.
  • I’m friends with everyone. It’s not cliquey here. I get real world interactions.
  • I got involved in things I never thought I would or could do. I was really shy in high school, and here I’m pushed out of my comfort zone. In high school, I wouldn’t be up here talking to you or leading a club, but now it’s just what I do.
  • It’s empowering. They give us opportunities and expect us to take them.
  • I’m less apathetic than in HS. I’ve learned so much about people and the world.

2) What should BSC never change?

  • The small classes.
  • January term (BSC works on a 4-1-4 system. J-Term is “the exploration term.” All students must complete 2 of these, although many students do more. Some majors require specific ones, including freshmen education majors who are placed in schools (and later, they can teach in Ghana), or pre-med students who work in the hospital. This is to make sure it’s what they want to do.
  • Greek Life. I wouldn’t have rushed at a bigger school.

3) What needs to change?

  • Diversity
  • The caf. The food is ok, but it gets boring.

© 2014

Millsaps College

MILLSAPS COLLEGE (visited 4/22/13)

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A view of the wooded Millsaps campus

Millsaps is the most wooded campus I’ve ever seen. Lots of campuses have trees; Millsaps has TREES – to the extent that it’s hard to see the buildings sometimes! Seven gardens and several statues are scattered through campus. One statue is of Gandhi; students have a tradition to fist-bump him on the way to an exam if they want an A. One of the gardens has both the “M-Bench” (rumor says that if you kiss your girlfriend/boyfriend on the bench, you’ll get married) and Major Millsaps’ tomb (and yes, he’s really there. He and his wife didn’t have their own children, but wanted to be buried among the students who studied at the institution he helped to found). The campus is gorgeous and feels calm, even with students walking around.

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1 of the 7 gardens; this 1 has the M Bench and Major Millsaps’ tomb.

Campus is small, easy to get around, and safe. There are very few blue lights, but the tour guides don’t feel like that’s a problem. They can call 1234 from any phone on campus to get help if necessary, but they didn’t know anyone who had ever needed to call. The campus landmark is the Bell Tower; there’s no bell in it, but it is wired for sound. Someone once hacked in hip-hop music that played all over campus. The three-story “Academic Complex” is the only unattractive building on campus. Students can swipe into several buildings over the weekend to work there. Both tour guides like to study in the classrooms because of the whiteboard access. The Bowl is their main quad with a large student center on one side (which houses the Post Office, Career Center, the main dining hall, a grab-and-go food station, the nurse and more). The Seal is located in The Bowl. One of the tour guide’s favorite traditions happens on the last night of Orientation (night before classes start): “Reverse graduation” welcomes freshmen into the campus community. They walk the over the seal in the opposite direction that the seniors do on graduation and they get greeted by upperclassmen and faculty.

A view of a divided Freshman dorm room. Beds are on the far side of the closets.

A view of a divided Freshman dorm room. Beds are on the far side of the closets.

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One of the freshman dorms with the courtyard where students bbq.

The freshmen dorms leave a lot to be desired. All the freshmen live in these traditional cinderblock buildings. However, it’s not one of the things that the tour guides said they’d improve. “It was a bonding experience.” The nice thing about the dorm rooms was the divider in the room with the beds on one side and desks on the other which allows one roommate to sleep in relative privacy and darkness if the other one is still up working. Another nice thing is the Baco Courtyard outside the freshmen dorm with grills and other amenities. After freshmen year the students can move into suites.

Millsaps is a member of Colleges that Change Lives and it’s clear why. The admissions rep talked about “our scholars” not “our students.” This is the first college I’ve visited that requires all students to complete Senior Comps comprised of a paper and both a written and an oral exam. We asked the students what they thought about them; although they may not like them, they appreciate having to do them. One of the tour guides said that they’re actually a good way to pull together everything they’ve studied over the four years. Most people are really well prepared, and the students see them as a “unifier” or a “common enemy.”

Millsaps fountainMillsaps quad 5The admissions rep said that choosing a college is like a choosing life partner: you want to pick someone who will challenge you to be your best self but who is comfortable to be around. Millsaps works hard to be inclusive both through their mission and through their admissions process by selecting students they believe will live the mission. They’re intentional in making sure that all people on campus feel valued; one person described it as “a big hug of a school” and their welcoming attitude is seen even in the little details like adding visitor’s names to the reserved parking spots in front of the admissions office. This is one of the few colleges I’ve heard mention sexual orientation during their “diversity spiel.” One person told us that “A lot of the “–isms” are not a big deal here. People want to know: ‘Are you a smart person? Are you a good person? Are you going to help us to raise money for philanthropy?’” They’re clearly doing something right with an 80-83% Freshman-to-Sophomore retention rate over the past 10 years. Students who leave either are looking for a bigger experience (they don’t leave for a similar school) or because of family or academic reasons. Interestingly, males leave more often than females.

Millsaps quadImpressively, everyone who gets into Millsaps gets some sort of scholarship, most falling in the $10,000 to $18,000 range. The major scholarships usually go to students applying Early Action; students offered these usually score a 30 or better on the ACT (or an SAT equivalent) and a 3.9 GPA. They will super-score for both the SAT and the ACT; if a student retakes the test after the scholarship decision has been made, the student has to formally appeal for Millsaps to reconsider the scholarship amount. For admissions, students can apply Early Action or Regular Decision, with a rolling cycle after that if beds are available. They look to bring in about 230 incoming freshmen and another 40 transfers. International Students only have to take the TOEFL if the scores are borderline (under 21 ACT).

Millsaps acad bldg 1Campus activities are what you’d expect of a campus like this. Greek Life (6 frats and 4 sororities which have “sorority lodges”) is fairly popular and inclusive (many parties and activities like the Fashion Show are open to the community), but not mandatory to feel part of campus. Freshmen rush during the second week of classes after they’ve had a chance to settle in. Student Life Committees plan lots of typical types of events and will bring in big name speakers like Myrlie Evers. Students also take advantage of being in Jackson. The admissions staff took us to lunch at a trendy new tapas restaurant frequented by the students, and several students joined us so we had more time to get their perspectives on the school and town. They love First Thursday in the artsy rehabilitated center downtown. The reservoir about 20 minutes from campus is also popular to hang out, study, kayak, and more. A large percentage of students are active in the broader world, as well. There is a stopped clock tower on campus which the students have pledged not to restart it until the clean-up from Katrina is complete, but “more hurricanes keep hitting, so it’s going to take a while.” Lots of students go on alternative spring-break trips to help the rebuilding efforts.

Milssaps 5

The Millsaps stadium

The Millsaps athletic teams (9 DIII teams each for men and women) play in “The Brain Bowl,” in which Rhodes, Birmingham Southern, Hendrix, Sewanee, Oglethorpe, Centre, and Barry also play. Their players are “Renaissance student athletes,” and 98% of them graduate in four years. They emphasize the experience of playing over winning. About 40% of each incoming class declares intention to play, and approximately 35% actually play when they get to campus. The students say that fans rally around the football stadium. There’s a plaza with a fountain just outside the stadium which attracts people before games and hosts lots of events (activity fairs and the like).

Millsaps 3

The Business building which houses one of the full fully accredited programs at at undergraduate liberal arts schools.

Although there’s no consortium in which students can take classes at nearby colleges (except for ROTC students who do their work at Jackson State), students can enroll in Dual Degree programs such as the 3-2 (BS) in Engineering and Applied Science with Auburn, Columbia, or Vanderbilt; a 4-2 (BS/MS) with Columbia; a 2-2 (BSN) or a 3-2 (BS/BSN) with the University of Mississippi; or a 4-2 (BS/MSN) with Vanderbilt. There is also an Honors College. Students get invited after sophomore year and complete a three-semester program in which they develop an honors thesis proposal in addition to comps and participate in a symposium at the end. About a dozen students participated this year. Finally, they also offer a Ford Fellowship in which invited students can develop a syllabus and co-teach a class.

(c) 2013

Agnes Scott College

AGNES SCOTT COLLEGE (visited 3/6/13)

P1010222I was excited about visiting Agnes Scott because my cousin graduated from here. AS did not disappoint. The college sits on a beautiful campus with lots of brick and open green space, about ten minutes away from downtown on the MARTA. It’s so nice, in fact, that 30 movies have been filmed on campus, including The Blind Side.

Agnes Scott is a school for go-getters. They’re looking for women who will get engaged on campus, both in and out of the classroom. Our tour guide told us that a Morehouse student once told her that Agnes Scott women have the reputation for “being smart and playing hard.” From what I saw, this held true.

P1010223

Library

Academics are amazing here. Students get involved from the very beginning, and what students end up doing – both as undergrads at AS and as graduates after they leave – is incredible. The astrophysics professor recently got a grant from the NSA and put six students, including two first year students, on the project. Agnes Scott ranks in the top 6% of PhD earners since the 1920s. The Economics Department is 2nd in the country for producing PhDs. Last year, TWO students were awarded Goldwaters – Georgia Tech only had 1! Students are getting high-profile internships such as with the CDC and big governmental agencies as well as major corporations. Students can enroll in joint MPA and MBA classes as undergrads, or enroll in a Dual Degree (3-2) program for Computer Science (with Emory), Engineering (with Ga Tech) or Nursing (with Emory). Additionally, the ARCHE (Atlanta Region Consortium of Higher Education) program is open to the students so they can cross-register at Emory, Georgia Tech, Kennesaw State, Spelman, Morehouse, and many others. Shuttles run every 10 minutes.

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P1010225

Chapel

Students seem really happy here. We talked to several on the student panel and more during lunch, but beyond that, the campus was humming with activity. The students were outside, even though it wasn’t the nicest of days, and they were interacting with each other. I didn’t see too many people using iPods between classes; instead, they were talking to each other. It felt comfortable on campus. I asked the tour guide if she knew people who transferred out of AS; she said there were a couple people during the first year that she knew. People who leave, she said, tend to get here and decide it’s either too small or that a women’s college isn’t for them. However, with all the resources in Atlanta, even those issues don’t seem like a big deal. The students tend to socialize with students from other campuses, particularly Georgia Tech. The tour guide said that people assume that they would go to Emory more because it’s right around the corner, but they go there less so than some other campuses.

AS 1P1010221Princeton Review has ranked AS #8 in the country for Quality of Life. Ninety-two percent of students live on campus, helping to create a great community feel (and they have no Greek Life – students say that they have enough community without it). The school has a ton of traditions such as Pancake Jam (professors make pancakes at midnight during finals week), HubSing (students and alum get together in the Hub to sing school songs), being able to ring the bell in the bell tower as a senior when they get a job or grad school offer, or being thrown into the pond for engagements. The biggest thing, though, is the Sophomore Ring. In the fall of sophomore year, the students are given rings with a black stone and the seal, and they can get it engraved with their year and degree. Apparently they wear it “facing them” while they’re a student, and at graduation, they turn it around to “Face the world.”

P1010226

Dining Hall

A couple things that students really seem to like about campus are that the gym facilities are improving (they just built a new facility) and that finals are self-scheduled. The students work on the honor system, so they can take the finals in any order they want, wherever they want, and at any time during finals week. The food also ranks highly here. We got to eat lunch in the dining hall on the most popular meal-day of the week: fried chicken and mac&cheese. People from the community also come to eat there, so there were middle school students, business people, and others in the dining hall. Our tour guide said that students rush over after class because the line can get long – and she wasn’t exaggerating! The only thing that the tour guide said that she would like to improve on campus was the strength of the wi-fi in some areas. She lives in an older building on one of the floors above the admissions department, and she said that the signal strength up there isn’t great.

(c) 2013

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