campus encounters

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Michigan State University

Michigan State University (visited 1/30/15)

MSU bus

One of the buses circulating around campus

~MSU tree and bldgAlthough there’s a lot of traffic around this 2-mile x 2-mile campus, the middle of MSU is lovely and feels cohesive. They boast about their 10,000 feet of sidewalk (portions of which are heated). “Walking from place to place is a good call-home time!” said one guide, but if they don’t feel like walking, there are plenty of buses circulating around campus and through town. A bus pass costs $50 a semester or 80c a ride. Freshmen cannot have cars “which is just as well – parking is located a 15-minute walk away. You aren’t using cars for quick trips anywhere.” Both guides agreed that cars just weren’t necessary. Even getting to the Detroit airport is easy: the university runs shuttles there at breaks.

MSU sculpture 3The tour guides (a junior from Denver and a freshman from Philly) were some of the best I’ve had. They both came from small high schools and were looking for the larger, Big-10, rah-rah sort of school. They clearly loved MSU and used personal anecdotes to illustrate what life was like for them rather than spouting statistics or generalities. I walked away with a good sense of who would thrive here: smart, independent students who are willing to ask questions (not just in class) and get involved in something; it seems like students here have found a really good balance between the academic and the extra-curricular.

A freshman dorm lounge

A freshman dorm lounge

Although campus can seem overwhelming, the guides said that participating in Orientation was key in figuring out how to get around but it’s also on them to make the effort; someone suggested to them that they “walk their schedule” before classes to really learn where they were going. One guide didn’t do that and panicked the first morning – but was able to pick up a map and get directions from the service desk in the res hall. All freshmen are required to live on campus; the dorms are attractive and comfortable. The only complaint is that many rooms don’t have wifi yet (but all common areas have it). They are working on this. Currently, students can request which “Neighborhood” or dorm they want; next year, they’ll be able to pick their exact room.

One of the many dining halls

One of the many dining halls

Each neighborhood has at least one dining hall for a total of 10 around campus. They’re open at different hours (some opens at 7am, some are open until midnight, etc). Students get unlimited swipes so they can grab a coffee or snack between classes. There are also grab-and-go places, coffee shops, etc on campus; many fast-food places directly off campus; and a food truck comes on campus (which only serves food sourced from within 2 miles of campus!). There’s also a bakery in town that provides baked goods to the dining halls.

Even students living off campus often buy a partial meal plan for the convenience and because the food is good. One guide lives in an apartment about a 15-minute walk from campus. “It’s so easy to find a place! There are housing fairs, advertising, stuff like that.” She’s on her own lease even though she shares the apartment with others. “It’s a nice piece of security because I don’t have to count on anyone else if they leave or whatever before the year is up.”

The River

The River

The Art Museum

The Art Museum

It’s hard to get bored on campus with 650 clubs available (which includes Greek life and a Squirrel Watching club). Sports are popular, of course. Students do have to pay for tickets to men’s hockey, basketball, and football games, but all other sports are free. The Red Cedar River, which cuts the campus in half, also provides recreation: students play hockey on it in the winter and can raft down it in the summer. They have an excellent museum designed by a world-class architect. They movie Batman vs. Robin was filmed here; the students are really excited about seeing the final product after seeing the filming!

MSU bikesStudents can take traditional, online, and “hybrid” classes (usually 1 class a week in a lecture hall and the discussions and homework online). One of the guides took a 600-person hybrid business class; her microeconomics class was also huge. However, they also had classes of 17 (writing) and 8 (hospitality/cooking class). Their “Engagement Centers” (there are several around campus) provide tutoring, writing centers, and more for students needing extra help with academics.

MSU began as Michigan’s land-grant institution; not surprisingly, the agricultural programs got mentioned several times, and the Agricultural College is popular and strong. Notable majors include: Fisheries and Wildlife; Construction Management; Landscape Architecture; Sustainable Parks, Recreation, and Tourism; and Entomology. The James Madison College offers 4 interesting majors including Comparative Cultures and Politics, Social Relations and Policy, and Political Theory and Constitutional Democracy.

(c) 2015

UC Riverside

UC RIVERSIDE (visited 1/16/14)

some of the citrus trees

Some of the citrus trees

UCR students“Riverside is up and coming – it’s the place to be,” said our tour guide, Sierra, a local third-year student majoring in biology with hopes of being a large-animal vet. Although now one of the 9 UC campuses, UCR started as a Citrus Research Station extension of UC Berkeley just over 50 years ago. They still have extensive citrus groves on campus with 2 trees each of 1000 different citrus trees on campus (we got to sample the kumquats!) – and we learned that Cuties were developed on campus!

UCR 3There are a lot of wonderful academic things going on at UCR. The College of Arts and Sciences is the largest on campus, housing about 2/3 of the majors.UCR 2 This is the only UC that offers a major in Creative Writing – and they house the world’s largest collection of fantasy, SciFi, Horror, and dystopian literature with 100,000 volumes. They offer a Law and Society program combining Sociology, PoliSci, and Anthropology. This corresponds to the current year’s “theme” of Justice; the campus hosts activities, lectures, and other special events to highlight this theme.

One of the Engineering projects

One of the Engineering projects

Sciences are strong, particularly Health and Agricultural departments, with UCR ranking “Top 2 in Bugs.” There’s a seismograph on campus, and they boast the most complete mastodon skeleton. One of the Botany Profs worked as an advisor creating the plants on Avitar. Biology is one of the biggest majors, and the university opened a med school this year, setting aside 24 seats for UCR students.

UCR studentsTen percent of their students are in the Engineering program (which is also the most-funded department). They offer a BS/MS in 4 of their 9 engineering programs; students major in physics and then the engineering of their choice. Their facial-recognition program is better than MIT’s! Students interested in business (another of the three biggest majors) start in the pre-business track for two years; with a minimum GPA, they can continue on and then concentrate starting the 3rd year.

UCR 6The student body is diverse, with UCR ranking #1 in California and #12 in the country in terms of diversity. The Student Activity Board works towards building school spirit, particularly revolving around the 17 DI sports teams with things like bonfires and sporty birthday parties. Seventy-five percent of freshmen live on campus, and housing is guaranteed for two years. 4000 students total live in the dorms. UC owns apartment complexes on and off campus, but there are no RAs in these buildings like there are in the traditional dorms. There are a lot of things do around campus; the Transit Authority is free for students with their IDs (the metro station is close to campus), and students can rent Zip Cars (and can have their own cars on campus).

© 2014

Ohio State University

The Ohio State University (visited on 4/17/12)

OSU 1

One view of campus from the top of the library.

Driving onto campus, one of the other counselors said “It’s clear to see where Ohio is spending its resources . . . and it’s not Kent State!” It’s true that OSU is flashier and feels newer, but they are also very different campuses in more way than one. Physically, yes, OSU seems to have many newer buildings, but it’s also a much larger, busier university with high-rise, institutional dorms and buses that are constantly loading and unloading students. The edges of the OSU campus, although as rough as Kent, quickly gave way to an impressive campus; buildings were newly built or renovated, new construction was underway (apparently the President said that if there weren’t at least 3 cranes on campus, not enough was happening), and campus was clean and well-maintained. I was much more impressed with the University than I had expected to be. I assumed that it would feel much larger and more impersonal because of its huge size (with 40,000 undergraduates and 16,000 graduate students, I think it has the 3rd largest student population in the country after Arizona and Florida? By comparison, Penn State with several thousand fewer students, felt more overwhelming and sprawled much more than Ohio State).

OSU 6They started our tour at the top of the 15 floor library (which, by the way, has about 10,000 people a day come through its doors . . .) where we had panoramic views of the entire campus – not a bad first impression! I asked the director of admissions how far the main campus stretched, and he pointed out the four boundaries. The compact size of it surprised me; he said that you can walk from corner to corner of the main campus in 15-18 minutes, although there are other satellite buildings that fall beyond the borders.

OSURecently, there has been a big push to increase student engagement and happiness which is paying off in retention, currently at 93% from freshman to sophomore years. Their First Year Experience gives students a chance to learn how to navigate OSU and Columbus and to feel at home and engaged in the opportunities around them. There is some recent impetus towards adding a “Sophomore Year Experience” of sorts, including a sophomore residence requirement. Currently, only freshmen are required to live on campus unless they are from Columbus. Clearly, OSU is already doing something right since their five-year graduation rate falls in the mid-high 70s, above the national average. They are very intentional about tracking freshmen, especially those who come as Undecided Majors – they have an office dedicated to one-on-one meetings with undeclared students, checking in on their progress with classes (what they’re registering for as well as how they are doing with their grades), and providing a lot of guidance.

OSU 3

Another view of the campus from the library tower.

Unlike a lot of schools, they separate out their Honors and their Scholars programs even though the two programs overlap in terms of who qualifies. Students in the Honors program tend to be more academically focused while the Scholars lean towards community service and global learning; they also live in a cohort and many tend to stick together for more than just their first year. For both programs, they look for people who want to push themselves and are looking for rigorous academics as well as opportunities for leadership, research, service, and global experiences. In terms of general admissions to OSU, their profile has been steadily going up for the past 20 years. The biggest admissions factors are grades, high school curriculum, and test scores. They will consider leadership, extra-curriculars, and other factors, but they are less important. They offer several merit based awards including the Buckeye Award (worth $10,000) to students in the top 40% of the class and a 28+ ACT or 1260+ SAT. They also have the Eminence Scholars Award which is a full ride plus a one-time stipend of $3,000. Specifics of these awards are listed at meritawards.osu.edu.

Several people – students and staff alike – bragged about the diversity offered to students both in terms of who is around them and what is available to them. Students can choose from 175 majors, 475 specializations/minors, and over 12,000 classes a year. The School of Arts and Sciences is the most popular with almost 39% of students in there (not surprising for this type of school); engineering has just over 15% and business has almost 14% of students. Their Agriculture, Pharmacy, and Nursing programs are also strong. They push internships and co-ops hard, which are not hard to come by since Columbus is so large (1.7 million people); students can also go abroad for internships. On-campus research is available; they are 9th in country among public universities for research expenditures which gets a lot of kids involved.

OSU 2I was very impressed with OSU; for students looking for a large university, I would definitely recommend it. They seem to have their acts together; kids don’t fall through the cracks nearly to the extent that I had thought they might at such a large school. Students seem happy with their education and the resources on campus, and the retention and graduation numbers back up what I saw and heard on campus. The location is fabulous since so much of Columbus is available to them. It’s definitely worth checking out.

(c) 2012

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