SOUTHERN OREGON UNIVERSITY (visited 7/16-17/13)
Southern Oregon is a cute, medium sized school located within miles of the California border. There’s a lot of great things to be said about this interesting school. Unfortunately, the first impression our group got was from the worst dorms on campus (which were old and rundown) where we were staying for the night. Later, we were told that these dorms were being torn down to make room for new ones (so I’m not sure why we there, but it was what it was). Not a fabulous first impression but easily overcome by the other things about the school.
Ashland, located halfway between San Francisco and Portland, hosts the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Although fairly small, this is a touristy town with lots of things to do (including a lake that’s ten minutes away). Downtown is about a mile away from campus. There are several restaurants right off campus (Mexican, Chinese, Subway, etc) on the way towards downtown, which has several blocks of restaurants, cafes, stores, and other things to do. Downtown was hopping, even on a Tuesday night. Ashland is accessible via the Bedford airport (15-minutes away), and a ski resort is 15 miles (about 30 minutes) away. Ashland’s climate is good: there’s lots of sun, and snow usually melts off the same day, but there’s a 5000 foot climb in elevation starting almost immediately off campus. Outdoorsy kids would love it here. The campus Outdoors Program is active and popular. Surfing, kayaking, white-water rafting, hiking, skiing, and other trips are offered all the time. EPIC (Event Planning Involvement Committee) gets students involved on campus; in addition to the usual advertising outlets you see on any campus, they publicize events by printing a calendars on bookmarks for students to take with them. On the weekends, students take advantage of the off-campus trips, play in pickup games, go to the parks, or take advantage of downtown. Several students bring cars to campus which makes it easy to do things around the area; parking costs $180 a year.
Students who want strong hands-on learning experiences would find SOU to be a good fit; theoretical, self-teachers should go to a school like OSU or Texas A&M. As you can imagine because of the Shakespeare Festival, the Theater program is particularly strong, as are the other arts programs. They put on at least six plays a year, mostly casting theater students because this acts as their senior thesis. Others can do tech/behind the scenes stuff or will take on smaller roles. This is just one illustration of what sets SOU apart from some other universities: there is plenty of access to hands-on opportunities. SOAR (Southern Oregon Arts and Research) is a program designed to showcase what students and faculty have done over the year, and is open to everyone. Students can opt to do this as part of their capstone. The Chemistry department has recently added $10 million in equipment. Sophomore chemistry majors are already running equipment worth three-quarters of a million dollars. The National Fish and Wildlife Forensics lab is on campus; this is the only one dedicated to crimes against animals. SOU also is the school in Oregon with an open cadaver lab. The Communication department has a Journalism focus, providing students with plenty of opportunities for real-life experience. There’s a myth that the Criminal Justice building looks like a prison to get students used to working in that environment. Business and Education are also strong, popular majors that provide a lot of real-world experience. The Nursing program gives priority to Oregon students. Only 5% get accepted into this program as a sophomore; many more get in as incoming juniors.
One of the admissions reps was an SOU alum. Part of the reason she chose to come here was that they let her study abroad in her first year. Our tour guide transferred from UC Davis which was too big for her and not a good fit. She finds the academics here perfect. Faculty members teach every class on campus and know the students’ names; there are no TAs. Classes average 25 students; our guide has been in classes ranging in size from 13 to 120 students; the large classes are Intro to Bio or Chem which break out into smaller labs once a week. Even though freshmen do get some bigger classes, they also have small ones like their Freshman lit class which has a specific theme, and the professor is their advisor. SOU provides a lot of support for students through a variety of programs. Trio provides support for low-income, first gen, and LD students. They have 5 Resource centers (including multicultural, GLBTQ, and commuter) that anyone can use; students don’t have to be a member of a particular group. The rooms are comfortable, safe spaces for people who want to strike up a conversation, hang out, or eat. Most have couches and fridges; students can even fall asleep and people will wake them up.
I had a few minutes as I was waiting for the rest of the counselors to check into their rooms, so I picked the brains of the student workers responsible for helping us check in. Two of them were criminal Justice/criminology majors and one was in the business department. Two were from Oregon and one was from northern California. They said that this is very much a regional university, but they love it. They couldn’t tell me what people complain about at the dinner table which is a good sign. When asked what they’d like to change, they said that they wished there were more sports and better gym facilities. The work-out facilities are small and located under the football stadium, but there’s rock climbing, racquetball, and a pool. The school is building a new athletic center for general use; the old one will be used only for athletes who participate in one of the eleven varsity sports at the NAI DII level. Club and intramural sports are available, and athletes are highly involved on campus. There are about 80 clubs and organizations encompassing a range of academic, social, ethnic, and athletic interests including one of the more unusual ones I’ve seen: SOUPS (SOU paranormal society). One of the most popular events is the annual luau thrown by the Hawaii Club. There is no Greek life on campus.
The campus is small and walkable with several nice buildings; the older ones are slowly being renovated or replaced. The library is a gorgeous new three-story building with an intricate tiled floor in the lobby; across from this is a stucco building across from the library was THE school at the beginning. The campus has the largest Art Museum on the I-5 between Portland and San Francisco, and directly across from this is a dorm reserved for students who are 21 and older. They are building the North Campus Village, a new $15 million dorm complex which includes a new dining commons. Currently, SOU is considered a suitcase school, “but we hope that with the new dorms, more students will stay,” said one admissions representative. One of their initiatives revolves around creating “Houses,” which is a project/cohort based approach to education for the entire time on campus.
Last year’s entering freshmen class averaged a 3.24 high school GPA. Upon admission, students from WUE states automatically get awarded the WUE tuition. Nursing students only get WUE for two years; once they’re in the nursing program, they lose it, but can get other specific Nursing scholarships. It’s common for students to have jobs on campus. If they want one and don’t have one, they aren’t trying very hard. Students who are admitted into the Honors Program have their full tuition, room, board, fees, and books covered. They have an advisor dedicated to the program, and students are also given a Major Advisor and a community mentor who works in their field.