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Wilkes University

Wilkes University (visited 3/5/20)

Wilkes sign 3Wilkes was a great surprise. Students who want a solid education in a medium-sized school on an attractive, well-maintained campus that’s integrated into the surrounding city without losing campus integrity, this could be the place for you. Wilkes offers a liberal arts education as well as great professional programs, and they do both well. “This is a place where you can make a stand for yourself, be known, double major in just about anything, get help if you want it, and figure things out. This might not be the place if you just want to hunker down, get a degree and get out. This is a place to shine.”

Wilkes banner 1My tour guide was a local student who loved being here and told me some great stories about growing up around campus. She was a dual-enrolled student in high school which went a long way in helping her decide to come here. She loved the classes before she got here, and even got to know the president as a high school senior. “If he was that nice to someone who wasn’t even really a student yet, you can imagine what it’s like when you get here!”

Wilkes statue and bell tower

A state of Wilkes, the city and campus namesake, with the bell tower and quad in the background.

This is an easily navigable, accessible campus across the street from the Susquehanna River. The central quad was redone in 2018. “They opened it up a bit, fixed up the sidewalks, put in more grass,” said the tour guide. There are some buildings across the streets into the city, but most of campus is relatively contained. Because of the location, there’s never a shortage of things to do. The student center had a multitude of posters advertising events, including 2 banners from the main activity boards with a list of upcoming events for the spring. Off campus, students can get discounted movie and bowling tickets (among other things), both located a block or two off campus.

Wilkes apts

The apartment tower

They have some historic buildings in addition to new, renovated, or repurposed buildings. The university wants to preserve and renovate these buildings, my tour guide told me. Kirby, an old house complete with original murals, sits on one of the first plots of land in the city. Across the street from the main part of campus sits a high-rise apartment building; this had been Senior Living apartments, but is now owned by Wilkes and are now apartments for students (complete with balconies!). These usually house 3-4 students in 2 bedrooms. The Business building is new and has some impressive spaces including a Student Product Store: the school funds and sells student-developed merchandise; all profits are donated to charities!

Wilkes walkway

Central walkway to the academic side of campus

“We have the flexibility and the advising to help you develop interests and follow passions and dreams,” said the rep. Wilkes is listed as having ‘More programs per student’ (it’s on a banner on campus, but I couldn’t find additional information when I searched the website) and they add more options every year according to the rep. My tour guide’s class sizes ranged from 6-100 students. “Bio lectures can be large,” said the tour guide. “All freshman are together for lecture but they’re split into smaller discussion and labs. It’s great because have a lot of exposure to the material.” She also told me that the curriculum is set up for student success (including a 90% matriculation rate to medical and other professional schools), and faculty members are highly accessible. “The English classes teach us how to use the library – this isn’t your high school library. They want to make sure we’re comfortable accessing everything that’s available to us.”

Wilkes lab

One of the science labs

Engineering has been one of their longest standing (and one of the largest) majors, starting when this was still Wilkes College, Bucknell’s Junior College. They offer three specialties: electrical, environmental, mechanical (all accredited), Engineering Management, and 4+1 bioengineering where they can graduate in 5 years with a masters degree. “You can’t beat it,” said the rep. This is all done on campus so students don’t have to transfer like with a 3+2 program. Students get hands-on experience in the first year, and Lockheed Martin is nearby, providing easy access to internships as well as being an employer of many grads. Wilkes students know how to use the equipment; “not to speak bad of the big schools, but a lot of them have the GAs running the programs.” For admissions into an engineering major, they look for a 1080 SAT/21 ACT and a 3.25 GPA with higher grades in math and science. They recommend that students complete Pre-Calc in high school in order to take Calc 1 (a pre-req for many of the sciences) in first semester.

Wilkes 4Nursing has the top NCLEX pass rate in northeast PA on the first try (around 98%). Incoming students can declare nursing as a major and can be admitted as long as they have at least a 1020 SAT/21ACT and a 3.3/88 GPA. Once in the program, they can continue as long as they meet the grades for each class. Wilkes doesn’t cap the number of students in the program but are strict with the standards. Students start clinicals in their 2nd semester of sophomore year, mostly at the local hospital 5 minutes away; another is less than 15 minutes away.

Wilkes engo bldgTheir Pharmacy school was also a great surprise. It’s unusual to find a school this size – and one that doesn’t simply focus on health sciences – offer this. They offer an accelerated 6-year PharmD with a cap of 90 seats. This is a different application process with additional requirements such as 3rd rec letter and a special pharmacy essay; applicants will get the prompt through the app when they indicate they’re interested in the program. If they meet requirements for admission to the university, the Pharmacy department will review the applications and invite people to interview. Applicants need at least a 1080 SAT and a 3.0 (although usually they won’t be as competitive unless they’re above this).

Wilkes screening room

The Screening Room in the Communications building. They have extensive resources for students in this program.

The arts majors are also good. BFAs are offered in Musical Theater and Digital Design and Media Art (a BA option is available in DDMA) which combines graphic design, animation, game design, Virtual Reality, and website design. Some business students tack this on if they’re interested in branding, billboard design, etc., or Communication Studies will add it to focus on PR or marketing. All Communication students must complete 3 separate experiences with a co-curricular program like the radio station, the newspaper, or the TV station for a total of 3 credits. They also need to put in some hours for a grade for several classes. There’s a possibility to work with an on-campus PR agency, as well. Theater Arts and Theater Design and Tech are BA degrees, not BFA. Anyone can participate in productions, regardless of major. Music, Dance, and Studio Art are offered as minors.

They have some interesting minors including Global Cultures, Sports Psychology, Policy Studies, Workplace Writing, Environmental Policy, Sustainability Management, and Business Analytics.

Wilkes dorm quad

A dorm quad

There’s a 2-year residency requirement for students living more than 60 miles from campus, but they guarantee housing for all 4 years. About 70% of students do live on campus. They have a range of housing options, including 12 old mansions that house 10-50 people in doubles, triples, and quads. Freshmen are allowed to live in these as well as in more traditional suites or hall-style dorms. There are also apartments above the YMCA and the Vegan restaurant across from the Comm building. “You have to be pretty lucky to get those!” Usually housing is done by deposit date. Freshmen have unlimited meal plans; others get options. The food is good; I ate lunch in the dining hall on the 3rd floor of the student center. It has great views of the quad, and even though it was spring break with limited service, the food quality was excellent and there were students in the dining hall.

Wilkes banners

Some of the signs in the student center advertising events

There’s some major school spirit here. “People definitely go to games!” said the tour guide. Football in particular gets packed. The stadium is located across the river, about a 10 minute walk over the bridge, but there are shuttles as well. (This is also where freshman can park if they bring a car; commuters and faculty get the parking spots closest to campus). Each sport team gets paired up with another team and is required to attend another team’s events, but people generally attend anyway. My tour guide is a golfer; she said that usually the golf teams support each other because it’s such a specific type of competition. “No one wants to be standing around for 6 hours watching people golf, particularly when you need to walk the whole course.”

Wilkes 3There are some good athletic facilities on campus, but not enough, according to the tour guide. She’d like to see some money put into expanding these. There’s a good gym with a basketball court, a small gym, the hanging ropes course, etc, but no workout facilities for the students. They get memberships to the YMCA, about a block away from some of the res halls. She likes the facility, but would also like something that’s just for students.

Students are active around campus and in the community which makes sense since campus itself is integrated into the surrounding city. Events on campus are open to the community; performances and the art gallery are big draws – in fact, they bring some big deal exhibits to campus, including Andy Warhol and Picasso. Students volunteer at after-school programs which serves over 500 local students. The Wilkes Adventure Education group is a big deal; they have a hanging ropes course, rock climbing wall, etc. They do offer Air Force ROTC on campus; they’ve paired with King’s College (about 2 blocks away) which hosts Army ROTC.

© 2020

University of Iowa

University of Iowa (visited 12/5/19)

Iowa students 4“If you’re interested in health sciences or STEM, this place is a gold mine,” said one student – but Iowa is well-known for many other things, including their Honors and Writing programs. Named in the Top 5% of public universities, Iowa is one of the smallest Big 10 schools. Campus is highly walkable and split by the Iowa River. West Campus has mostly the medical complex, athletics, graduate programs, and a few underclassmen res halls. East campus has most of the undergraduate programs and res halls. Iowa City is an amazing college town with a lot going on (and Cedar Rapids, the 2nd largest city in Iowa, is 25 minutes up the road). You just can’t go wrong here!

Iowa quad 3

The view towards West Campus from the Pentacrest

Iowa City has been ranked the #1 College Town; 70 restaurants, cafes, bookstores, etc are alumni owned! It speaks volumes for the town (people want to stay) and town-gown relations. The town and university grew up together in the mid 1800s. “When you’re thinking about a university, you should be thinking about the town as well,” said the tour guide, and there are lots of places to go directly off campus, and 3 bus systems (campus, city, and county) run along or through campus. There are enough students (24,00 undergrads/31,656 total) to almost make campus a city unto itself. The 4,800 first-year students participate in On Iowa!, the extensive orientation program which includes Target and Froyo runs, Kickoff at Kinnick stadium (with fireworks!), food crawls (sample foods around the city for free!), and more.

Iowa old main

The old capital building

Cars are welcome, but not for getting around campus. “This is a very walk-able campus and city.” During the Honors College Presentation, the Director asked one of the students, “When do you have to leave for your 9:30 class?” She quickly said, “9:23” – and she wasn’t kidding! The middle of campus is the Pentacrest: “We’re cooler because we added the 5th side,” said a tour guide. The old Capital building (which had been the capital before it moved to Des Moines and is now a functioning museum) sit in the middle of the Pentacrest. It’s a defining building and a good landmark. The East Side res halls are about a 3-minute walk to the middle of campus where most of the academic buildings are located. It takes 6-10 minutes from the West Side halls. Most people do walk; the Campus Bus (with 18 routes) gets used more in the winter.

Iowa 7“As a college town, this is a more liberal community, but go 20 minutes south, and it’s super conservative,” said one of the reps. “Adult-wise, we’re more liberal. Students seem to have a better balance politically.” This is also one of the most racially diverse cities in the state. “When I was a student here, there weren’t a ton of other people with my skin color, but I’ve always felt safe and comfortable here. Even my father said he was ok leaving me here for 4 years. I’m raising biracial children here and it’s fine.” There’s a huge LGBTQ community which gets plenty of support: in fact, Iowa was the first campus to have an organization. “It can be a transition from a cultural standpoint if students are coming from a heavily Hispanic or black high school, but it’s ok. There are communities,” said another rep. There are cultural houses (there’s lots of food there), events open to all, and groups which tend to be some of the most popular on campus. The university is even adding some transportation options to get them home on weekends and breaks.

Iowa honors dorm

The honors dorm

They have an impressive Honors Program with lots of facilities ranging from a separate dorm to a building with lounges, libraries, and more. The only thing students need to do is apply to Iowa. After being admitted, students are eligible to apply to Honors via the application on the Honors or Admissions website. There’s no GPA or score threshold; “We don’t have a checklist we’re ticking off.” Just over 90% of those who completed the application last year were admitted. The students who take the time to do this are striking students. “If you look like qualified Honors students, we’re going to admit you.” The total number ranges from 10-15% of a class. “Right now, it’s hovering around 12%.” There are essays involved. “Have fun with the prompt!” said the program director. “We want a peek into who you are based on the essay – and yes, it’s different from the other essay on your application. Think about how you want to introduce yourself to us. Be selfish. Be yourself. If you’re funny, be funny. If you aren’t, don’t force it! If you like research, show that off. If you don’t … maybe you don’t want to go to college.”

Iowa Greek

One of the multiple Greek Houses

They have both honors within majors AND an Honors Program – students can do either or both. To graduate with University Honors, they need 12+ Honors credits and 12+ experiential learning credits. “Experiential learning is a trendy phrase, but it’s vague.” There’s no limit to the number of classes, and students can also turn anything into an Honors class with a contract with the professor. Joining Honors right out of high school isn’t your last chance – if you regret not joining, you can apply once here. However, there are 3 opportunities that are only available in the 1st semester: “there’s no getting these back if you join later.”

  • Iowa quad 1Students can participate in the 1-credit, 4-day Prime Time program in August before classes start. They get 1 credit. “Parents love it because we avoided all the traffic.” They select top 3 areas of interest and can do some research. Varsity athletes and members of marching band will have conflicts with this.
  • Honors-only First-Year Seminar, often led by professors rather than TAs. “In Honors Classes, you learn more and have fun. It doesn’t feel like more work. It’s not accelerated. College is already hard!” Once student chose Volcanoes because it was totally different from her majors.
  • Living in the Honors Res Hall (there’s space for 350 students). “You can only live there right out of high school. Plenty of people DON’T live there and are perfectly happy; it’s just one option.”
Iowa mosaic

Mascot and mosaic in the Athletic Center

Over 95% of first-year students live on campus, but it is not required. There are no designated first-year housing. Students must apply to housing with a $75 non-refundable (but also non-committal) fee; it just secures your spot in line. There are LLC options and huge Greek Houses, some of which are located up to a mile off campus; I passed several driving into campus. There were multiple houses overlooking the Iowa River, not a bad place to spend a few years!

Campus food is some of the absolute best I’ve ever had in a dining hall; the rep said that faculty and staff often eat there because it’s so good! The counselors ate with 3 reps, and we were there at a busy lunch time, but we had a very short wait for food. The stations are well set-up and staffed, and there are plenty of tables for students. They had a spectacular noodle bar with choices of ramen, rice, and udon noodles with multiple vegetables, meats, and sauces to choose from. The coconut red curry sauce was spectacular! Students said that the River Room at the hotel is the best place to use their meal plan. “They alternate between pasta and stir-fry bars.”

Iowa brain rock 2

The Brain Rock that students will rub for good luck before exams

Admission decisions are based on the Regent Admission Index (RAI) Scale: (3xACT composite) + (30xCumulative GPA) + (5 x number of years of HS courses completed in the core subject areas). Different colleges have different requirements. “Always know which one you are applying to!” A&S is the easiest. Students must apply before 3/1 for scholarship consideration; “this is a hard deadline.” The priority deadline for need-based aid is 12/1.

There’s no shortage of academic offerings. Students say that they’re challenged (a popular tradition is to rub the “Brain Rock” sculpture for good luck before exams), and they can work in any interest they have. Business and education are competitive; Pharmacy and nursing are most competitive.

Iowa leisure pool

The Leisure pool – the hot tub is in the back left; the rock climbing wall and tv are on the right.

There’s plenty to do on campus. They field 24 Varsity (Big 10) teams which bring out a lot of fans. Most games are free, but basketball is $70 and football costs about $150 for season tickets. “Volleyball gives the best t-shirts,” said a tour guide. There’s a movie theater on campus, and the ‘Leisure Pool’ (“we’re not allowed to call it a lazy river,” said one of the tour guides) has a rock-climbing wall on the side, a gigantic screen for movies/tv shows, and a hot tub (students will laminate their notes and bring them as they watch ‘The Bachelor/ Bachelorette.”) Students will play Canoe Battleship in the main pool: “picture 3 students in a canoe armed with buckets, all trying to sink the other people first.”

© 2019

Widener University (Take 2)

Widener Old Main 2

Old Main, the original building when this was Pennsylvania Military College

Widener University (visited 2/25/19)

(Click HERE to see notes and pictures from my previous visit on 11/20/15)

What makes students a good fit for Widener?

  • “We’re told by co-op employers that our students have grit and no sense of entitlement. There’s a drive that pushes them.”
  • “Kids come in with so much on their plate – but they keep going. They’re all passionate about something. They’re resourceful and innovative. They want to try new things and to connect.”
  • “We’re a smallish campus and a family style environment. People aren’t anonymous. You know the groundskeeper, the president, the person serving you in the dining hall, the student next to you in class.”
  • “We’re plugged in here. We’ll do wellness checks.”
Widener mascot

One of the Pride mascots (female, male, and cub)

“Student success is at the core of everything we do,” said an admissions rep. This ranges from a 3-year residency requirement (“data points say that students are more successful if they live on campus”) to experiential education “which is harder to find than you think!” Some students have never engaged in diverse environments, dealt with communities struggling with hunger insecurity, etc. They work with students to appreciate civic engagement for what it is and deal with it as career preparation. Students deal with privilege and power on a variety of levels.

Widener 1Widener uses their location to their advantage; some people worry about safety in that area, but “No one talks about all the rich things that happen in terms of service. All major cities have stuff. If you go to a rural campus, there are rural issues. If you go to an urban campus, there are urban issues. We talk to kids about being savvy about where you are. Because of all the lights, it’s like Yankee Stadium in the middle of a game. There are more than 100 cameras. There are tons of ways to keep campus safe.”

Widener hospitality cooking lab

One of the Hospitality lab/classrooms – the top slides back to expose stovetops

Widener students are 20% more likely to participate in research, internships, and high impact practices through Civic Engagement, hands-on education, Co-ops, and more. In the Philly region, Drexel and Widener are co-op powerhouses with two significant differences:

Widener tv studio 1

One of the student-run tv studios in the communications department

Although I had visited Widener several years earlier, I was glad to revisit and see many of the departments I hadn’t before; they did an amazing job getting us the academic facilities and talking to professors who were passionate and clearly care about the students. I can see why students do so well here! A professor told us that “one of our competitors on the accreditation team said, ‘We say we care; you guys really care’.”

“This is the place where you have dinner at the President’s House. You get that up close and personal. More than 1000 students have dinner there every year: she invites sports teams, Bonner’s Program, etc. The dogs come out and the pool is open.”

Widener computer forensics

One of the Computer Forensics labs

We asked the students on the panel, “Why should we send students here? What’s appealing?”

  • “During a revisitation day, two science professors sought me out. I’m 1 of 7 biochem
  • “It’s the only school in the area that goes to the European Simulation. It’s one of the most life changing things I’ve done.”
  • “Family and Growth. I’ve seen myself grow compared to my friends at other colleges. You can create your own legacy and leave your mark.”
  • “I run track and miss random classes for meets, but it’s easy to work with professors to make sure I keep up.”
  • “They’ll work with you to match you with internships because professors have connections. They have no problem helping out and linking students with their contacts.”
  • “I came for the accelerated PT program. I’ll starts grad classes in senior year to shave off a year of my graduate studies, but I keep my scholarship as a senior.”
Widener geology lab

A geology lab

With 3,000 full-time undergrads and 3,000 graduate students, Widener provides what many larger schools offer while giving students a smaller college feel and personal attention with an average of 25 students per class. “It’s a blessing and a curse because we’re put in with larger institutions, so we get hit with rankings.”

Student panelists said that their favorite classes were:

  • Genetics: “my research prof teaches it. She’s helped with med school, MCATs, shaping me as a person. This taught me resilience.”
  • “I don’t have a specific favorite, but I’ve taken 4 classes with one professor. He embodies the involvement faculty have =. He checks in with how I’m doing. He knows I ski.”
  • Constitutional Law: “The Prof engages without PowerPoints for 3 hours. I’m learning the same things as Villanova Law students.”
  • “I had one professor in fall of freshman year who helped me find my internship. We got close because I was always missing his class for meets so I was working a lot with him.”
  • Business Law: “I want to go into that. I took it with a professor who’s a lawyer. I learned things I could apply in the field.”
  • Environmental Engineering: “I had the professor for 3 classes and did research with her.”
Widener nursing 1

The nursing building

The largest major is nursing: about 200 of the incoming 750-800 freshmen declare that major. Overall, they have strong Health programs (especially PT) and are starting OTD and PA programs. They accepted 16 into next year’s PT accelerated 3+3 cohort: to be offered a spot, students need 570 math SAT (1200 composite) or 24 math ACT (24 composite). If they don’t meet that but are admissible to Widener, they’re offered a 4+3. PT students work in a pro-bono clinic and complete in-patient, out-patient, and 1 choice internship; some do sports, pediatrics, even abroad (currently in Belize or Italy; Costa Rica and China are potential future possibilities).

Widener library 1

The library

All majors can study abroad: “going abroad should not delay your education.” Students can also study away in the US. “There’s a diversity of options without even leaving the North America: HBCUs, sea grants, French-speaking in Quebec, Spanish speaking in PR.” Widener owns property in Costa Rica, often used for short-term abroad programs, research projects, etc.

Over 90% of students live on campus in a variety of options including gender-neutral. Housing is guaranteed all 4 years and required for 3 unless they live with family within 25 miles. All students can have cars; permits are $230/year. There are 2 nearby train stations (Chester and Swarthmore) and buses to get around town.

NCAA athletes (23 DIII teams) make up 25-30% of the freshman class. “Academics and graduating are the most important. That being said, we hate losing more than we love winning.” Just over half of the athletes made the honor roll, and athletes are the highest retaining cohort.

Widener has been named among the top 150 most affordable colleges (out of 1700 researched by LendEDU) for freshmen with financial need. The “Average Joe” gets about $26,000 in merit aid.

© 2019

 

Old Dominion University

Old Dominion University (visited 1/31/19)

√P1110926

The new Education building

I can’t say that my initial impressions of the university were stellar (although I think they redeemed themselves so keep reading!). The Welcome Center (the actual admissions dept is elsewhere) was hard to find; I found out that they weren’t even offering a tour on the day I arrived despite it being listed on their website; and they had no record of me coming, even though I had confirmation from the admissions rep that I was welcome to join the (non-existent) tour/info session. The Welcome Center was a small office on the side of a large atrium in a large building off the quad … with almost no signage to get people to the right place. When I got into the right building (after calling the office to get directions which at least got me to the right building), I asked a CNU employee for help … and she had no idea that the office was even in that building. The people in the welcome center (when I finally found them!) were confused as to why I was there, although they were incredibly nice and went out of their way to help. When I went to put the parking pass in my car (visitors park on the 4th or 5th floor of the garage more than a block away), they arranged for the student intern, a senior, to give me a personal tour since there were no tours that day.

 

P1110920

The main quad (with 70s architecture)

All that being said … the student spent 90 minutes giving me an amazing tour, and he was one of the best ambassadors that ODU could have asked for. He was not at all scripted (so many tour guides can’t get off “the script” to save themselves), and I feel like I got the real scoop on what it was like to be a student. He didn’t hold back when he felt that there was room for improvement, and he didn’t sugar coat his experiences. When he got excited, that was genuine as well.

 

P1110937I think this is one of the most racially diverse campuses I’ve ever seen (and I’ve visited over 420 schools at this point). Fewer than 50% of students self-identify as Caucasian; about 1/3 self-identify as African-American and almost 10% as Hispanic. I mentioned this to the guide, and he agreed. “The mix of students you see in the classrooms aren’t staged. That’s how things are here.” In the new Student Center, there are multiple Affinity Rooms (not just for race), and students can use whichever one they identify with. I asked the tour guide about the less-visible diversity (religion, political views, socio-economic status), etc. He thinks it’s impressive; he loves that he knows all sorts of people with all sorts of backgrounds and views.

P1110941

This “monorail” was built to help move students around campus — but the builders never tested to see if it would run off the ground!

ODU is technically classified as a residential campus, but doesn’t seem to be the reality. My tour guide said that there are only about 2000 beds on campus; the university says that 24% of the undergraduate population (hovering around 19,500) – and 75% of freshmen — live in “university owned, operated, or affiliated housing” (aka not necessarily on campus). As a senior, he lives off campus, and says that there’s no issue finding housing. There are a lot of houses to rent as well as apartment complexes. Because of the high number of students commuting from home or living off campus, “parking is an issue.” However, it’s easy to walk and bike – in fact, it’s ranked #7 “most bike friendly campus” in the country. Campus is flat “and you’ll see a lot of people biking and skateboarding.” Students can get free weekly bike rentals or pay a fee of $35 a year to guarantee a bike.

 

P1110943

Some of the dorms

Only about 10% of the student go Greek. “I’m not affiliated and I’ve never felt like I’ve missed out.” There’s no Greek Housing – and they have a rule that no more than 5 (6?) members of a chapter can live together. I asked if they really enforced that, especially with the number of people living off campus. He said no, but in practicality, there were few rental places that would accommodate more than that anyway. Food on campus “is good! They even have a hibachi grill and a conveyer belt with fresh-sushi and other things to grab-and-go. You just wait for what you want to come around!”

P1110945

Freshly made sushi on the grab-and-go conveyor belt in the dining hall

Their 6-year graduation rate isn’t wonderful. Only about 55% of their students graduate within this time frame. “I think that commuting is a big reason for people who transfer out,” said the tour guide. “It’s just not conducive to the college experience.”

ODU started as the Norfolk division of William and Mary in 1930, and became its own school with university status in 1969: the main quad architecture definitely has a 1970s vibe! However, campus outside of that main quad has lots of new buildings and a modern feel. Academics are impressive, and the new buildings have amazing classrooms geared towards discussion and group work. The tour guide’s largest classes (intro level) had “about 75 students.” The smallest had 10.

© 2019

College of William and Mary

William & Mary (visited 1/31/19)

√P1110917No doubt, W&M is an amazing school with a beautiful, historic campus and strong academics. I was disappointed that along with that, I got a strong “We don’t have to try” vibe during the visit. I was glad that the info session didn’t have a PowerPoint (and therefore more of a conversational feel) but there wasn’t much insight into the college during this time. The thing that the rep got the most excited about was the Cheese Club which was started because a student liked to buy cheese and share it with his dorm-mates.

P1110905

The Sunken Garden where a lot of campus-wide events take place

 

This is the 2nd oldest college in the US (after Harvard), but they’re quick to point out that they are first in lots of other areas: oldest law school, honor code, honor society, and the oldest academic building (Wren) still in use. “It’s a tradition to take a class in there before graduation,” said the rep. With a school as old as this, there are lots of traditions. The rep highlighted a couple favorites:

  • Yule Log: In mid-December, the community (including people from town) gathers in the courtyard where there are bonfires going. Everyone gets a sprig of holy, and there’s singing, hot cider, and more. Someone reads “’Twas the Night Before Finals” and the university President shares a story, as well.
  • P1110910

    The Wren Building – the Oldest continually used academic building in the country and is used for many of the campus traditions

    Opening Convocation welcomes freshman to campus. The Provost and President give speeches, then students get ushered through Wren into the Courtyard on the other side where all other students and faculty cheer. First-years go single file and get high fives. At graduation, they basically reverse this walk and exit campus as a group.

  • The Raft Debate has 4 faculty members appealing to the audience – in highly theatrical fashion – why they should be the sole survivor of shipwreck to use the raft to get off the desert island on which they’re stranded.
W&M bridge 2

The iconic (and infamous?) bridge – as with any campus, there are legends. At W&M, if you kiss someone on the bridge, you’re going to marry that person. To reverse this, you have to push that person off the bridge.

One of the most interesting bits of information I got was that W&M operates a joint program with St. Andrews. Students spend two years at each institution and have some flexibility in the order in which they do these. I spoke with two first-year students while waiting for the info session to start, both of whom are in the incoming class’ 27-person cohort. They are both planning on spending their first and last years at W&M with the 2 years in between at St. Andrew’s. Students have a limited number of majors from which to choose if they’re in this program (Film Studies is the most competitive; others include English, History, Econ, International Relations, and Classical Studies). In order to be accepted to the program, they had to submit an additional 2000 word essay with their W&M application. They said that there’s no special orientation other than a brunch and dinner at the beginning of the year, but they’ve been taking a class throughout the semesters that covers things like culture shock.

P1110882In terms of academics, “We’re a liberal arts institution while still being a research university,” said the rep. They take an interesting approach to the Core requirements: all students take “Coll” Classes (the College Curriculum): there are 2 First-Year Experiences classes. In the 2nd year, the classes focus on academic disciplines to provide breadth of knowledge. The 3rd year has a global focus and can be covered by study abroad. The 4th year is a capstone for the major.

W&M solar charger

Solar Panels run the outlets on this picnic table!

The majority (70%) of students do research (but she had a hard time coming up with examples outside of the sciences when asked – psychology (the major is technically Psychological Sciences) was mentioned, which is another fairly common research area – and not surprisingly, the new Integrated Science building includes the psychology department). About 25% of those who do research are published before graduation.

As a medium sized university (6,000 undergrads, about 2/3 of whom come from Virginia – many people forget that this is a public institution!), they offer a good range of majors, including some more specialized ones that you’d expect to see at larger schools:

P1110902Students have the opportunity to apply for an Early Assurance entry into VCU or Eastern VA Medical School. Eligibility requirements differ between the schools, but both a 3.5 GPA from W&M and must get a minimum score on the MCAT (505 or 507) in addition to other things.

Campus is bike-friendly and easy to navigate (regardless of how you get around!). A few areas of note include “Ancient (or Historic) Campus” which has 3 of the 4 oldest campus buildings in the country. Martha Barksdale Field was created to give women a place for sports; although men were not specifically banned from this space, the stipulation she put on it was that cleats could not be worn – and since the men wore cleats to play, they had to stay off.

© 2019

Le Moyne College

Le Moyne College (visited 8/23/18)

LeMoyne statue

Statue of St. Ignatius

This is a small (just under 2,800 undergrads) liberal arts, Jesuit college in a residential section on the edge of Syracuse. It’s a quiet area, but Erie Blvd, a main drag full of restaurants and stores, is less than a mile away. Because of its Jesuit heritage, they stress the development of critical thinking and thinking outside the box; students who embrace this are likely to thrive there.

LeMoyne chalk 2Students who choose Le Moyne come because they don’t want a massive school. The Admissions Rep for my area told me that there’s a stronger sense of community here than anywhere else he has worked; he thinks it might be a Jesuit influence and the ingrained idea that people are important. “I got that sense the first time I visited.” At some large places, “you have world-renowned faculty who you may only see as a grad student and sometimes not even then. Here they want to teach the undergrads, and that comes through loud and clear.”

LeMoyne jesuit residence

The Jesuit Residence

The Jesuit influence is there, but “it’s not heavy-handed,” said the rep. There is a Jesuit Residence on campus and the priests are active. I spoke to several students before taking the tour; 2 of them said they were not looking for a Jesuit school at all; they chose this for other factors. About 60% of students self-identify as Catholic, “but there are all sorts of religions represented including Jewish, Muslim, and nothing at all.” There is no religious requirement other 1 class in religion or philosophy; there is one required community service trip usually during freshman orientation. The tour guide said that he was taking a class on Buddhism to fulfill his requirement. There is a beautiful chapel and masses are offered but never required. However, Mass on the Grass (usually at the beginning of the year) and the Blessing of the Brains (held before finals) are popular events to attend.

LeMoyne chapel 2

The Chapel

Most freshman live on campus, and dorms are fairly typical. They’re slowly renovating them. The most coveted dorm (for underclassmen) is on the top floor of the Business School which has beautiful rooms and AC. They used to alternate years between male and female, “but they guys messed that up,” said the tour guide. “I’m a little annoyed about that!” There are some townhouses and other specialty dorms for upperclassmen, but many also move off campus; there’s plenty of places for rent in the area and plenty of parking. No complaints from students about that. Food “is an 8, mostly because of the options,” said the tour guide.

LeMoyne quad 3

The Quad

Students are pretty happy with the social life on campus. Their sports teams are DII and are popular (participation and to watch). Shuttles run regularly around town to Wegmans (a favorite grocery store), Target/Walmart, and Destiny USA (a massive mall with ropes courses and more inside). There’s a pub on campus; students need to show their school ID and a license to get alcohol. Underage students can get free soda. A favorite tradition is “Dolphy Day” (their mascot is the Dolphin – an early symbol of Christianity). This is a day in the spring, usually late April, when classes get canceled. The actual day is a secret until it’s announced at midnight. The next day, students gather on the quad for barbecues, music, and more.

LeMoyne athletics 1One of the Academic programs that the Rep stressed was the Madden School of Business. “Programs are excellent, and the faculty are terrific,” which leads to a 98% job placement rate coming out of the program. They offer the typical/expected majors, but in addition to those, they also have also one of the top programs for Management Information Systems (ranked 18th in the country), Business Analytics, and HR Management. All students in the school complete at least 1 internships; several do 2-3. There are opportunities around the world, and they can take advantage of the Jesuit school network in India, Mexico, and other parts of the world.

LeMoyne Innovation labIn terms of performing arts, Theater is the only major in visual and performance arts. Minors in dance, visual arts, Arts Administration, and music are available. Auditions are not required for theater or any of the minors, but they are required to get a role in plays or in the music groups. They have several a capella groups: “My favorite is called ‘From Out of Nowhere’,” said the rep.

LeMoyne new science bldg

The new Science building addition

Health Sciences are particularly strong for a school this size, and they even have a cadaver lab. They have Direct Entry Physician Assistant, Occupational Therapy, and Nursing programs as well as a 3+3 Physical Therapy program. PA requires a 1250 SAT; the application deadline is 1/15. They will interview by invitation only; students must have completed at least 10 shadowing hours at that point (and 50 total at point of entry). Nursing is done in conjunction with St. Joe’s School of Nursing in Syracuse, located about 2 miles away. Students complete pre-reqs and capstones on Le Moyne’s campus and the nursing-specific classes and clinicals at St. Joe’s. However, they live on Le Moyne’s campus all 4 years.

© 2018

Florida Atlantic University

Florida Atlantic University (visited 2/24/18)

FAU mascot

The mascot, a burrowing owl, with the football stadium in the background

This seems like a fairly run-of-the-mill large school with about 21,000 undergraduates on the main campus in Boca Raton. “We aren’t a college town. We’re in Boca which happens to have a major state institution in it,” said the Admissions rep at the info session. They’re only 2 miles from the beach and located almost exactly between West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale (each 25-30 minutes). If students are looking for a school with solid (but not at all overwhelming or competitive) academics, warm weather/access to a beach and time to enjoy it, and a bit of a rah-rah atmosphere without the intense tailgating atmosphere of some of the SAC schools, this might be a good choice. Athletics are D1 (students get free admission to home games) with football domineering the scene, particularly after they became the 2017 conference champions. Fun Fact: their stadium is the only one in the country with a view of the ocean.

FAU walkway 2

The Breezeway

In regards to the main campus, one of the tour guides said, “It looks like such a big school, but it’s not! I can get places in 10 minutes” (although a trolley runs around campus if they don’t want to walk). Partly this comes from only 25-30% of students living on campus (about 5000). The rep described FAU as, “A bigger school with a smaller-school feel. We have resources, and we’re growing. Students can be part of that, making traditions, stuff like that.” FAU was founded in 1961 on an old Air Force Base – “in case you’re wondering why the Breezeway is so long and straight, it was built on the old runway,” the tour guide said.

FAU student union

The main entrance to the Student Union

That being said, I don’t get the sense that there is a vibrant campus social life. There is stuff going on (things you’d expect: clubs, speakers, and a movie theater with $2 tickets) but the students indicated that most of the fun is found off campus. No doubt that stems from a majority of students not living on campus, but it could also be a feature of the location with so much off campus to choose from. The beach, obviously, is a big draw. There is free bus that gets students around the area.

FAU runs five other campuses including:

  • SeaTech: FAU was the first to offer Ocean Engineering
  • Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute
  • Honors College: This is its own campus. The rep likened it to a private liberal arts college. “It’s all honors, all the time. Courses are more rigorous across the board.” Students can major in many areas, but not engineering, music, nursing or other “specialty” majors. There is an Honors Program on the main campus for students who do not want that particular environment, or who want to major in an area not offered at the Honors College.
  • Architecture: This is a 5-year program in Fort Lauderdale. Architecture isn’t capped “but is limited access.” I had to prod the rep a bit to get her to explain what that means: “there’s a supplemental application process. You have to have selected architecture on your application. Once admitted to the university, it’ll trigger the next step. Students need to do supplemental work like submitting drawing, etc.” This appears to be more like a portfolio process: if a student is qualified, they’ll be admitted into the program
FAU freshman housing

One of the freshman dorms

Freshmen are required to live on campus unless living with parents within 30 miles. There are 3 freshmen housing options: Parliament is a little newer but a little further away. Suites house 4 students (in 2 double or 4 single rooms) with 2 bathrooms. Glades and Heritage (4-person suites but 2 doubles or 1 double/2 singles) only have 1 bathroom and separate vanity. They’re at 100% capacity for freshmen but they’re adding housing. Off-campus housing is relatively easy to find. “It’s expensive around here, but it’s not more than living on campus.” The students I talked to before the tour said that they wish they had Greek housing.

FAU quadThe tour guides said that campus food is generally good, and there tends to be enough choices so it’s not boring. They love The Burrow which serves food late-night and has trivia nights, karaoke, etc. In the main dining hall, mac-n-cheese tends to draw the crowds.

FAU 3Admissions is rolling (they only accept their own application), but “merit aid is competitive, so it’s better to apply early,” recommended the rep. No essay is required, but students must self-report grades. Students can check their Application Status directly on the application page. The university can admit students for either fall or a summer-start option. Generally, the GPA requirement is higher for the fall (the incoming class averages a 3.8-4.45, summer averages 3.4-3.9). They will weight the GPA on their end, counting major classes and electives. If admitted for fall, students can switch to summer, but cannot switch back (only 1 switch is allowed). If admitted for summer, they can ask to be reevaluated for fall-entry if test scores or grades go up.

FAU 2Decisions take about 4 weeks, give or take. Decisions for Limited Access Programs like nursing or architecture take a little longer. Nursing is capped at 120 students. Art and music applicants need a portfolio or audition for admission into that program, and applicants into engineering require need a 3.0 in their math classes and have completed at least 1 math above Algebra 2.

There are a few academic programs worth noting:

FAU 1Freshmen classes can run 100-200, but the average lecture class size is 39; average labs have 20 and discussion classes are 30. The tour guide’s smallest classes were 10-13 (both English); largest classes were 125-140 (general lab science).

I asked one of the guides about the types of students who might not fit in at FAU: “People who are ignorant and unwilling to go out of their comfort zone won’t do well here. People are accepted here; they’re safe to be who they are. The people who judge or make them feel safe don’t last.”

© 2018

 

Boston College

Boston College (visited 9/14/17)

BC quad 3

Quad on Middle Campus

BC’s architecture, at least in Middle Campus, consists of beautiful stone buildings. The campus tour focused mainly in this part of campus which houses most of the academics. Lower Campus houses the athletics facilities, and most of the upperclassmen live there. Upper Campus has freshmen housing. “There are a lot of steps here,” said the tour guide. “They don’t go away!”

BC bell tower

One of the iconic buildings

This Jesuit college sits in Chestnut Hill on the outskirts of Boston; the last stop of the T’s red line gets students easily in and out of the city (it’s about a 25 minute ride to downtown). The tour guide said that he “didn’t come here because it’s Jesuit. I’m not even Catholic, but I’ve come to appreciate the culture and values here.” This is a highly residential and involved campus. Almost all freshmen (~99%) and 85% of students overall live on campus. Housing is so good that seniors tend to move BACK to campus if they moved off in junior year. Food is also great, according to the tour guide. They have a pastry chef who used to work at the Four Seasons, and the dining hall makes a New York Times rated steak sandwich!

BC sculptureThis campus falls on the “smaller size of Tier 1 Research Institutions” but it’s still a liberal arts institution at heart. “We’re trained to think in different ways,” said one of the students. There are 15 core requirements but with at least 30 choices within each one. Complex Problems is a 6-credit core co-taught classes: topics include Race, Gender, and Violence and Global Implications of Climate Change. Students are ask to grapple with critical questions of global significance, looking at where they fit into those issues and what steps they may be able to take to address them. Enduring Questions classes are similar, but are paired, thematically linked 3-credit classes such as Epidemic and Disease. This used to be a small program; now they save 1000 seats for First Year students.

BC walkwayStudents must take 2 theology courses as part of their core requirements There are plenty of options including Person and Social Responsibility Perspectives on Western Civilization. Students can enroll in the Pulse Program to fulfill this. Classes has15-20 students who do service-learning work in Boston in their choice from one of 15 or so placements. These range from GED tutoring at a Correctional Facility to suicide prevention to working in a nursing home. They connect to social justice issues and to life outside the university.

BC interior

Interior of one of the Academic buildings

Some academics worth noting:

BC library reading room

A reading room in the library

There are 2 traditions that bring all members of a class together: at Convocation (during orientation), students come together for the Common Read (the 2017-18 book is A Backpack, a Bear, and Eight Crates of Vodka). Students group together by Res Hall with banners and march down to the hockey arena where they hear the Common Read author speak. To book-end things, students come together again at commencement: they stay up all night and watch the sun rise from the top of the parking garage. After changing to cap and gown, they march together through the rotunda to graduation.

There is a lot of school spirit when it comes to athletics, and the teams don’t disappoint. The yearly “Holy War” football rivalry against Notre Dame draws a huge crowd. Hockey is particularly huge here: “It gets cold and dark here in the winter. What else are you going to do?” said the tour guide. They also play in the Hockey Round Robin with Northeastern, BU, and Harvard. Last year they lost in overtime to Harvard.

© 2017

Western Washington University

Western Washington University (visited 6/23/17)

WWU 7WWU quickly became one of my favorite schools. I’m not sure what the vibe is, but whatever is going on there is working — and with an 82% freshman-sophomore retention, the students like it, too. Driving up the hill to campus, we decided it felt a little like a summer camp. We later learned that there’s a designated arboretum along the edge of campus. The wooded area opened up to a beautiful campus at the top of the hill. “This is the Goldilocks of campuses,” said one student. “It’s the right size.”

WWU dorms 1In many ways, this is an artsy campus “but that’s not all-encompassing. I wouldn’t describe the engineering department like that!” said one of the reps when we asked her if our impressions were accurate. There is a general sense of inclusive access and closing gaps starting with admissions and carrying through the way the students treat each other and the wider world. This is an open, accepting community. About a dozen students attended the counselor reception so we had time to talk to them. Their nametags listed preferred gender pronouns.

WWU 4Students are aware of and interested in what’s going on in the world. “I haven’t met an apathetic person on campus and I appreciate that,” said a tour guide. Students mobilize themselves. They’ll help get people registered to vote and hold protests for the Dakota pipeline. “There’s a general sense of wanting to talk about events and differences. Yeah, you see things that seem skewed towards the liberal, but there are also posters up about conservative talking-points as well.” It’s not surprising that for 3 years running, WWU has been #1 nationally among mid-sized universities sending graduates to the Peace Corps.

WWU sculpture 3This is a medium-sized university with 15,000 students, about 95% of whom are undergrads. Not surprisingly, most students are from Washington. Just over half (52%) self-identify as some sort of under-represented student (including low income, students of color (25%), and first gen (31%)). “People might have multiple identities: we don’t look at diversity in a compartmentalized way. It’s intersectional,” said the President.

WWU quadOne unique academic aspect stems from this approach of intersectionality: the Fairhaven College of Interdisciplinary Study is a bit like Evergreen State College in that students can collaborate with faculty to create a course of study. There are significant differences, but the spirit is there. These are students who want to look at things intentionally and systematically, usually with some component of social justice/change. Advisors help students acclimate to the learning style, the narrative evaluations, and grappling with creating their own degree. Students write an evaluation at the end of the quarter; the professor responds and decides if they get credit. “I felt like I learned so much more because there was more dialogue and in-depth conversation with peers and the professor.” It’s good for students who want to share their views and learn from each other. The college is physically located on South Campus, but not all classes are there. Students still have to take a certain number of “Main Campus” classes. Most students apply during freshman or sophomore year but can apply as an incoming freshman. Their core requirements differ from Main; they mirror each other but are specific to the campus.

WWU fountain

The fountain controlled by a sensor on top of one of the buildings; if it’s windy, the fountain height goes down

The university’s tag-line is Active Minds Changing Lives. “Students love learning and doing something meaningful,” said one of the students. Teachers are here because they want to teach, and just over half of the students will do research with a professor. Academics of note are:

  • Unusual majors include Canadian-American Studies, Decision Sciences, Manufacturing and Supply Chain Management, and Behavioral Neuroscience.
  • Unusual Minors include Arts Enterprise & Cultural Innovation, Business Analytics, Disaster Risk Reduction, and Sustainable Design
  • WWU science

    One of the science buildings

    The College of the Environment was one of the first in the country; they’ve been ranked in the top 2% in the nation for number of grads who go on to earn research doctorates. “Environmental Sustainability = Human Sustainability!”

  • Theater is ranked as #10 in the country. There are several professional theaters within 10-15 miles where students can intern.
  • There are about 150 students in Honors each year; an honor-housing option is available.
  • IDEA: Interdisciplinary Entrepreneurship in Action
  • They offer a Leadership Minor open to all students, and they’re working on a Masters. The curricular and co-curricular work together. They’re trying to get a leadership conference going through UNESCO.
  • WWU maker space

    One of the maker-spaces on campus; students do much of the engineering work in hands-on labs like this

    Engineering: All tracks are accredited (except vehicle design; there’s no accreditation for this). Students aren’t admitted directly into the program; they apply as soon as they finish the pre-reqs, much of which depends on where they start with math. This is a highly hands-on department. Students who invent/create things here will retain intellectual property (but are asked to acknowledge the school)! There’s a patent office on campus to help them with this process.

  • WWU quad 2The Fine Arts department takes advantage of the fact that this is the 2nd largest number of artists in residence after Santa Fe: film, painting, sew/knit/quilt/crochet. Art classes are open to non-majors, but majors get first pick. Open spots are then available to others.
  • A student designed the weather meter on Bond Hall – if it’s windy, the fountain gets lower so people don’t get sprayed with water. There’s a tradition that if they win at intramurals, they’ll jump in the fountain.
WWU Rockies 5

Canadian Rockies as seen from campus

The school has a strong Learning Support program. “The first year is very hands-on and progressively becomes hands-off. They’re coming out of K-12 where it was SO directed. We teach them how to ask for accommodations and how to advocate for themselves. It’s to help them move forward into being independent with this.”

WWU seatingThere’s no football and no Greek life on campus (although their rowing and soccer teams are national champions!). “That really helps town-gown relations!” Bellingham (population 82,000) is a beautiful place to live. Students get a free bus pass to get around town. The Canadian Rockies are visible from campus, and students can be at the mountains in an hour! The ocean is “right there”. The border is only 15 minutes away; Vancouver is another 30 beyond that. Students can catch the Amtrak for an easy day trip. Mt. Baker is an hour away, and Seattle (without traffic!) is 90 minutes. So many outdoor activities in the vicinity: skiing, snowboarding, kayaking, fishing, and even “hammocking if that’s your thing!” There are only 3 national chain restaurants (Starbucks, Pita Pit, and Jimmy John’s). The rest are locally owned.

WWU 1Admissions uses their own application requiring a personal essay and activity list with an optional “tell us more” section. They require a math-based course in senior year. However, if students have completed an advanced math beyond Algebra 2 before senior year, they are exempt from this requirement. This is a WUE school, but it’s treated almost like a competitive scholarship-based program. Only about 15% of students will get WUE, but then they offer 2 other award tiers for others.

© 2017

University of Mount Olive

University of Mount Olive (3/13/17)

UMO sign

The entrance to the main campus; you can see headlights from cars on the highway behind it

UMO’s main campus is small and located along a highway, tucked behind a shopping plaza. Luckily there’s a sign pointing visitors down the entrance road. Once you’re on campus, though, you would never realize either of those things. It is a lovely, well landscaped campus with low buildings and lots of lawn space.

UMO chapel

Campus Chapel

The chapel sits centrally located in the middle of campus. As a Baptist affiliated school, UMO holds onto its Christian mission. There’s a clear religious feel on campus, and students are encouraged to explore their faith. Students attending here should be aware that this will be a big part of the culture on campus and among students.

UMO 2

Student Center and dining hall

Students say that people are generally pretty friendly here. It’s not an overly competitive environment. Social life got mixed reviews. Students are required to live on campus for the first two years if they aren’t in commuting distance from home. Because it’s still very much a regional university with almost all the students coming from North Carolina, only 40% of freshmen (and less than 20% of the total study body) live on campus. Since there are so many people who don’t live on campus (or are close enough to leave on weekends), sometimes it’s too quiet. The town is very small, but there are plenty of stores and restaurants that are walkable. Raleigh, the closest city, is an hour away. Cars are allowed and parking isn’t much of an issue.

UMO quadBusiness programs are good here and provide several tracks including Human Resources, Agribusiness, Healthcare Management, and Business Analytics. Students wanting to go into Agricultural fields at a small school would love it here: they offer Agricultural Production Systems as well as Agricultural Education certification. However, I’d steer away from here if you’re interested in sciences! There are places that will serve you better in those areas.

UMO offers the typical athletic teams at the DII level. There isn’t any Greek life.

Graduation rates are low, and I’m not sure there’s much in place to correct that at this point in time.

© 2017

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