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Gannon University

Gannon University (visited 3/18/19)

Gannon archThis is more urban than I had expected it to be, but it still has enough of a campus feel to make students feel like they have “a place.” Campus is about 2 blocks wide and 5 or so long. “You can walk across campus in 2 Spotify songs!” said the tour guide. Having the size of a campus described that way was a first for me – and I think that sums up Gannon in a lot of ways!

Gannon student cntrErie is the only port city in Pennsylvania. They get a lot of traffic from Routes 90 and 70, but it’s not a major city. Costs are reasonable, and the city opens up lots of options for social life including “funky brew pubs and lots of cool museums,” said the tour guide. The rep said, “The city and the college grew up together in the 1920s, and now we’re adults and we help each other out. We’re a weird city! It’s cool to be in Erie as a young person. This is an international place. 18% of the population isn’t from here. That’s also reflected in our student population. In the time it takes you to walk across campus, you’ll hear 5 or 6 languages.”

Gannon upperclass housingStudents are typically involved in 5 or 6 things on and off campus. The tour guide told me that “student like Greek Life. It’s there but not overarching. Many groups are volunteer based, and often dues are donated to community organizations. You join knowing you’re going to be involved. There are no rowdy parties because we’re in a residential neighborhood.” They discourage rushing Freshman year because there are so many other opportunities to take advantage of. “Greek Life isn’t the umbrella. It’s just one thing UNDER the umbrella of our entire experience.”

Gannon 2Gannon is a 5 minute walk to Presque Isle bay on Lake Erie. “The freshwater and marine biology students and the crew team don’t mind the lake access!” said an admissions rep. In addition to having access to the lake for their crew team, they have an amazing interior turf field on campus. They take athletics seriously and have strong (DII) teams: “We can put ourselves on par with the lower 20% of DI schools.” They offer women’s wrestling (the 1st in the state and still 1 of only 3 in PA). Football, baseball, lacrosse, women’s soccer, and volleyball tend to pull in the most crowds, but they also offer water polo, competitive cheer (co-ed and all female) and competitive dance teams. Inner-tube water polo is the most popular intramural “and it is hilarious! They’re bouncing all over the place,” said the tour guide.

Gannon chapel 2This is the only university in Pennsylvania run by the Catholic diocese. It’s named after its founder who saw an influx of homeless newspaper boys so “he rounded them up to give them an education.” Catholicism is still a part of the identity with about 50% of students self-identifying as Catholic. There are very few things around campus to indicate that this is a relisious institution (there are a few small crucifixes around, but no statues, the chapel is not obvious, etc). The tour guide said that the religious aspect “not in your face. It’s there if you want it, but really easy to ignore it if you don’t.” She’s not Catholic and hasn’t felt isolated, pressured, or anything else. Students do have to take two theology classes of their choice; nothing is scripted, and mass/chapel attendance is never required.

Gannon atriumThere are about 4000 students on campus, 1000 of whom are grad students. Many of these are Gannon undergraduates who move right into grad programs. “A lot of our engineers are torn between here and RIT for graduate school. We’re not unhappy about being in that league.” The average class has 19 students; the largest classes will cap at 60ish because the largest lecture halls aren’t really bigger than that but those classes are rare. Professors are known by their first names. “It’s peer to peer. Students are walking their dogs, having coffee with them, babysitting their kids.”

Gannon performance lab 1One of the coolest things I saw on my tour was the Human Performance Lab. The tour guide said she normally doesn’t get to take people in there, so she was excited to show it off. She was raving about the director of the program who happened to be in there working out on the treadmills. “Come on in! I’m just killing time before the next group comes in!” He showed off the amazing technology and machines in there, and also had the tour guide chime in about some of her labs that she did in the room. This is absolutely an incredible facility that a lot of undergraduates do not have access to and most universities.

Gannon library“Gannon is riding the sweet spot of becoming a top-tier university without being elitist.” There’s no shortage of offerings for students, and Gannon provides strong job training without losing the ethos of who they are as a personalized, liberal arts institution.

Gannon stained glassAdmissions is rolling but “most students apply in the fall.” They will superscore both the SAT and ACT. Tuition is affordable, and they’re generous with scholarships. “The top price anyone will see is $48K with the highest tuition for health sciences, engineering, and CompSci because of the labs, but there are scholarships for those, too.” Some other scholarships include:

  • Diversity Service and Leadership (diverse racial backgrounds; $1000 for just applying as a student of color; if you visit and write an essay, you get an additional $2000)
  • Schuster Memorial Music/Patron of the Arts. Some stipulations apply such as a commitment to community service in the arts
  • MUN Scholarships (up to $3,000)
  • Full Tuition (students must apply by 12/15). The top 10% of applicants get invited to be in a full-tuition program. Those who choose will come to campus to give a presentation (could be everything from Irish Dancing, bringing in models they built, etc).

Athletes can be recruited with scholarships, as well, since they’re DII.

© 2019

Colby-Sawyer College

Colby-Sawyer College (visited 10/19/16)

colby-sawyer-chapelThis is one of those schools that fits the quintessential “New England College” stereotype. The campus is pretty and the academics are solid. Students who put in the effort to do the work and be involved will fit in here.

colby-sawyer-studentsThere’s always stuff going on around campus and most students stay on weekends. There’s not much going on in the town of New London; there are a few restaurants and small stores: “You have to try a little bit, but there is stuff around. You find the little hole in the wall with a grill that makes the best breakfast sandwiches,” said one of the students. The college is located between Concord (state capitol) and Lebanon, both about 30 minutes away. Everyone gets a free ski pass to Mt Sunapee, and shuttles run there regularly. The college will offer trips to cities, and there’s a local bus stop if students want to go to NYC or Boston.


Solar panels

Their sustainability effort is about the only thing I could find to differentiate Colby-Sawyer from several other small New England (or really any) liberal arts colleges. I even asked several faculty and other people what they’d like me to walk away with to help me differentiate. Most had a hard time saying anything substantial. Community and faculty involvement were common threads, as they are at most schools. One faculty member said, “This is maybe a little harder” than another local college.


Inside the Sugar Shack

Sustainability at Colby-Sawyer comes in many forms (and they’re looking to be Carbon Neutral in the next couple decades). There are several outdoor classrooms including 2 in the woods and a student-designed sustainable classroom. The sugar shack (which we would never have known about if we hadn’t walked right by it on tour and specifically asked what it was) is run by a wind turbine – and students run the entire process of making the maple syrup from the tapping of the trees to the designing of the labels!


An outdoor classroom

Not surprisingly, they have a strong Community-Based Sustainability major. The Permaculture Class is open to the community: “When I took the class, it was like a pot-luck because it was an evening class. People brought food to share, and we got to know people in the community while we were learning.” Students can earn a certificate in Permaculture Design, and there’s even an Aquatics Studies minor.


One of the rooms in the library

Some buildings are fit with solar panels, and the college is committed to keeping old buildings when possible instead of tearing them down. The library is one of the coolest buildings on campus (and one of the best libraries I’ve seen on a college campus): the college refurbished two Civil War era barns and created a single building out of them. The pub building is over 200 years old. During the day, students can grab a snack or to-go meal, and many hang out by the fireplace to study. They will serve beer in the evenings.


The college mascot, which students “dressed up” with the Headless Horseman for Halloween (check out the horse’s red eyes!)

They’re looking to grow their student population from its current level at just over 1200 students to the 1400-1500 range. They went coed in 1991 and are still about 2/3 female. “The only time I notice the gender imbalance is in class, but it depends on the major,” said a student on the panel. The students accepted here represent a wide academic range.

The college ethos revolves around experimental education, capstone and internship experiences, and hands-on real-world education. They can tailor education, and they’re good about helping students. Professors know the students and will work with them. Their 78% freshman-to-sophomore retention rate is solid, and show that faculty and staff talk to each other and watch out for the students, but “Kids who need too much hand-holding won’t make it,” said one professor.

colby-sawyer-quad-1The First Year Seminar revolves around “This is how you survive in college.” One student took Anthropomorphism: “It was so much fun and a great transition to college. It helped us learn what to expect in college.” Another student took The Psychology of Friday Night Lights (Texas Football). “The professor was from Canada. I could be a help because I was from Texas.”

colby-sawyer-chairStudents complete a Third-Year Project, an 8-credit class that meets 3 times a week and 8 hours on Friday. “It’s a lot of work, a lot of stress, a lot of time out of the class, but it’s great. We’re bringing work to the President who’s helping put things into practice. It’s not just writing things down and having it thrown away later.”

Most academics here are fairly standard for a small liberal arts school with a couple exceptions.

  • They offer both a BSN and MSN; they have a partnership with Dartmouth Hitchcock medical for nursing clinicals. “Would you come here for part of the cost, or go there for more money? You’re doing the same clinicals,” said a nursing student.
  • Their Child Development major (also a minor) combines psychology, child development (biology), education, and even some sociology.
  • colby-sawyer-cowArts are strong, both studio arts and graphic design.

About 10% of the students are invited into the Honors Program; in addition to special classes, they get an additional scholarship and have access to an Honors Suite on the top floor of the main building for studying and hanging out.

Final piece of advice: apply by 12/1: these students are eligible for a $4000 Early Action award!

© 2016

Southern Vermont College


~Southern VT pond 2SVC sits on a sprawling, open 370-acre campus surrounded by mountains. Bennington, a small city of about 20,000 people, is about a mile down the hill from campus. The campus is divided into two sections: a modern residential section at the bottom of the hill, and a large stone mansion at the top of the hill which houses academics. The college was founded in 1926 as St. Joseph College but became independent when it was turned over to an independent board. Although it is a private institution, the tuition usually is about on-par with in-state tuition after aid is granted. About 90% of students receive Financial Aid; 35% are Pell eligible. The school only enrolls about 500 students, almost 2/3 of whom are first-gen students. They offer excellent student support on campus including LD support, tutoring, and career services.

~Southern VT 1Admitted students average about a 2.8 GPA and 940 SAT. Admission is rolling, and the do a holistic, portfolio approach to making decisions. On-campus housing is guaranteed for first-year students. Sophomores, juniors, and seniors can have cars on campus for free because many of them commute, and so many of them have internships in town. However, even for students without cars, getting around isn’t an issue. They can walk into town, and there’s a lot going on on campus. The Activities Board plans lots of things on the weekend, including trips off campus to NYC, Boston, and Northampton.

~Southern VT fire pitBefore the tour, I spoke with two of the tour guides: Stephanie, a senior from Massachusetts who is majoring in Health Care Management, and Bridget, a sophomore Nursing major from Connecticut. Stephanie was one of the few guides I’ve met who shook hands – initiated! “We came because it’s small. Instead of being another face in the crowd you can be your own person here.” Bridget said, “I can know everyone if I want to. We’re on first name basis with professors and they give us their cell numbers. They’re here to support us. If I miss class, the professor will call me out on it later!”

~Southern VT dining hallBecause of their limited enrollment, they only offer 16 majors, but they do them all well. Nursing is Direct-Entry (min 2.8 GPA, 500 per section on the SAT, and a C+ or better in Bio and Chem). The Healthcare Education Center is located 1.5 miles away. Clinicals can be done at the VA hospital, the hospital in town, at Pittfield, Mass., the SW Regional Cancer Center, and more. Our tour guide (in Health Care Management) did a 130 hour practicum with a Women’s Advocacy Center.

The Radiological Sciences, creative writing, criminal justice, healthcare management and advocacy, and business (with concentrations in management, sports management, and entrepreneurship) are also worth noting. “Business is strong because of our ability to integrate with the community. Bennington is a wonderful town. My classes always have a community component.” The bank in town provides $5000 for philanthropic funds. They do needs-assessment, write requests for proposals, solicit applications, create scoring rubrics, and do site visit checklists. Basically they go through the entire grant process.

The Castle located up the hill

The Castle located up the hill

Five things are happening this year that they wanted to highlight:

1)      They’re launching a new Women’s Lacrosse team (which will be the 11th varsity team on campus)

2)      They’re starting a new BSN program

3)      A Vet Scholars program is being initiated

4)      They’re opening a new admissions/welcome center

5)      The Everett Mansion turns 100

~Southern VT stairs 4The President was very proud of their “Book Ends of Your Education” program. Students get a book (signed by the faculty) when they enter the community and another when they leave. It seems like a wonderful idea – but I found it interesting that our tour guide, a junior, couldn’t remember what her freshman book was.

This is an excellent college choice for students who might need a little bit of academic or social support as they transition into college. It’s a small, supportive community in a beautiful location with excellent hands-on educational opportunities.

© 2014

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