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Plymouth State University

Plymouth State University (visited 10/17/16)


Robert Frost Statue

If you want to study meteorology in a small school or brag that Robert Frost taught at your alma mater, this is a place for you to check out.

“I was surprised at how friendly the place is. It’s a hold-the-door sort of place,” said one of the students. It’s a homey atmosphere, the type of place where a professor will run a Stitch-and-Bitch on a Friday evening in a dorm and have 40 kids show up.

psu-2People describe Plymouth as a transformative place: “it’s almost a “do-over/start-over” place where students who maybe didn’t think that they were college material come and realize that they are. They can hit the reset button here. They can move into a future that a lot of them never imagined for themselves,” said one of the reps. A student agreed: “I’m a better student now. I’m actually doing my work and getting As and Bs.”


Typical fall colors when the morning fog burns off

Students who haven’t found their voice yet often do well here. They have to engage in the process and understand what they’re learning because they apply it in a lot of classes. They’re responsible for it during group projects. “My biography does not preclude my destiny. If you’re not good at math, you know what? We have math classes here!” said another student. “No matter where they start, development happens,” said a rep.


Early morning walk to class in the fog

Lazy doesn’t work here. Students are “gritty and willing to work hard. Most are not coming from affluence. They’re willing to work for things and want to take advantage of the opportunity because they know that not all kids get that,” said a rep. The kids here are “often on the cusp of finding their passion. We do really well with kids who have heart and spirit. They’re good kids. That doesn’t mean they don’t have their hot-mess moments, but they have heart.” That being said, they recognize that their graduation rates need some work.

There are several things in place to help PSU students succeed. One is the existence of first-year success coaches. They take the “GPS approach: think of it as a roadmap. We know the way and what’s ahead.” Students get a nudge/reminder via text, email, etc when something is coming up “or missed a turn.”

psu-acad-bldg-2Plymouth has taken a deliberate stance towards “rebuilding the liberal arts.” They spend time asking themselves, How are they going to let students be transformative, to come out of school and be ready to take on challenges? The result is a redesigned core curriculum (starting the 2016-17 school year) revolving around 7 multi-disciplinary clusters:

  • Education, Democracy, and Social Change
  • Tourism, Environment, and Sustainable Development
  • Justice and Security
  • Innovation and Entrepreneurship
  • Arts and Tech
  • Health and Human Enrichment
  • Exploration and Discovery

For a school this size, 50 majors and 60 minors is impressive. The largest enrolled departments are: business, CJ, Education, Envi Sci & Policy, and Health and Human Performance. Things to brag about include:

  • psu-meteorology

    The meteorology building


  • Adventure Education
  • The Allied Health majors: Athletic Training, nursing, and Social Work. A PT department is in the works. Students from all majors come together four times before graduation to work on a “virtual patient;” they have to come up with solutions for cases as a group.
  • Theater Arts: Dramatic Writing, Acting, Musical Theater, and Design-Tech tracks
  • DHL now only recruits at Arizona and Plymouth State. They love the kids’ authenticity and that many of them have been working since 15 or 16. Some of these kids have never been on an airplane, and they get to live in AZ for the first 18-24 months of their careers.

Class sizes for students on the panel ranged from 9 – 32. Their favorite classes were:

  • Mind, Brain, and Evolution (psych). “It’s just fascinating.”
  • Event Management: we learn how to market and run fund-raising events by raising money for a local event.
  • Disney: Magic Kingdom or Evil Empire (FYS). The professor gave both sides of the arguments, we learned how to formulate arguments, etc.
  • US Feminism (history). I decided to minor in women’s studies because of this. We didn’t learn the stereotypical things.

One of the biggest dorms, and the tallest point in town.

Over 40% of the 4,100 students come from outside NH, although 90% of the population is from New England and the Mid-Atlantic. There are some buses running to Logan, Concord, and Manchester. They’re seeing an increase in the international population including a lot from Sweden: “I think they come for the hockey and maybe soccer,” said the tour guide. There’s an athletic culture here: about 80% of students participate in some form of athletics, whether on one of the 24 DIII teams or in club/intramural sports.


One of the dorm kitchens

96% of students live on or within 1 mile of campus. Housing is available all 4 years. A new Res Hall with 288 beds is opening fall of 2017. Freshmen are integrated into dorms; there’s no separate building. Weekends are less than busy, but there are certainly things to do. Skiing is popular (Cranbrook is only 20 minutes away). Before graduation, the students on the panel said that students have to:

  • See a movie or go stargazing on Lynn Green while drinking hot chocolate.
  • Take a selfie with Robert Frost (the statue on campus)
  • psu-chairsFloat the river!
  • Learn to ski or snowboard. “There’s no point coming to school here if you aren’t going to do that!” Students often come here because they’re active and/or enjoy the environment and being outside. There’s an outdoor center where students can get equipment for free to get outside whether it’s on the lakes or mountains.

Admission is Rolling; their app is free (Common App costs $50). Students only need 1 letter and NO test scores: they won’t look at scores even if they’re sent in!

© 2016

Clarkson University

Clarkson University (visited 7/27/15)

Fire pit and the main quad

Fire pit and the main quad

The old campus center and the school mascot.

The old campus center and the school mascot.

Clarkson’s campus looks like anything but a school known for its engineering programs. It’s a spacious campus with modern buildings and lots of open space. This surprise doesn’t just extend to the physical plant; it also applies to the people. I was shown around campus by an admissions rep, himself a recent Clarkson graduate and a Business major. “What surprised me about Clarkson is how many people aren’t doing engineering, and how many things not related to this field they’re interested in.”

The on-campus ice rink

The on-campus ice rink

The school is great at “repurposing” buildings and other things on campus. The old campus center now houses the Ice Rink – right in the middle of campus! Their men’s and women’s hockey teams both play at the DI level (all other sports are DIII). The women were the 2014 national champs, beating the University of Minnesota. They have a pub in this building, too, “which is mostly open during games,” said the rep. It’s not a dry campus. “We know they’re college kids. As long as they’re of age and responsible, we don’t have an issue with it.”

One of the dorm options

One of the dorm options

A vast majority of students (86%) live on campus. Only 10-12% of students choose to affiliate with fraternity or sorority; rush happens sophomore year. There is some Greek housing, much of it on the perimeter of campus. I passed several of the houses when I mistakenly turned into campus too soon, so I wove my way through a fairly wooded area where the Greek houses were, finally emerging onto the main part of campus by large new dorms and academic buildings.

Freshmen dorms

Freshmen dorms

Students can have cars on campus all 4 years for no fee. If they don’t have a car, Adirondack Trailways stops on campus, and they can get to Syracuse and Albany (and from there, really anywhere).

The school has several divisions that deserve more recognition but are overshadowed by the engineering:

  • ~Clarkson 4The School of Arts and Sciences offers many of the typical undergraduate majors you might expect. The surprise major is Social Documentation which combines the social sciences or humanities with Communication and Media.
  • The School of Business offers interdisciplinary programs including Engineering and Management.
  • The Institute for a Sustainable Environment offers only 2 majors: Env. Health Science and Env. Science and Policy but offers several minors and 2 graduate programs

If Clarkson doesn’t have what students want in terms of course offerings, they can cross-register at St. Lawrence University, Canton, and SUNY Potsdam, all of which are within 15 minutes of Clarkson.

An Academic Building

An Academic Building

Engineering is, of course, the “crowning glory” of the school and what they are known for. Many first year students aren’t sure which specialty they want to pursue, or they think they know but mistakenly pick the wrong one. For example, students who are interested in Wind Energy should study aeronautical engineering, but those who want to look at sustainable energy should go into chemical. However, students have until the 3rd semester to declare which of the 9 specialties they’d like to pursue. This gives them a chance to explore a bit or change their mind if they started a program and then learned that it wasn’t what they expected.

Concrete canoe

Concrete canoe

As I was touring, one of the engineering professors was in the hall, so I talked to him for a few minutes. He was engaging and interesting. I asked him what he’d like students to know or do to be better prepared to enter engineering at Clarkson: “Writing is really important! I don’t think they think they’ll need this skill for this field, but they do.” Students do need to take a writing class at Clarkson, but this can be fulfilled through technical writing

Student-made snowmobiles

Student-made snowmobiles

I got to talk to a student who stayed on campus to do research over the summer. She told me about all the hydroponics and the great projects she was working on. She showed me the watermelon, hot peppers, and cucumbers being grown and how they were comparing using certain water and fertilizers . . . there was something in there about fish in the water that she was super excited about, but I’m not quite sure what was going on there 🙂 .

Here are some other cool things about the Engineering program:

  • They have wave machines.
  • Their Wind Turbine testing facility is 1 of only 4 that has actual turbine blades.
  • Students work on actual Distillation towers for work with fuels, alcohol, etc
  • Many of their students work with Engineers without boarders.
  • Students have built an Electric snowmobile and a Clean snowmobile with 0 emissions.
  • Teams from Clarkson have been FIRST Robotics winners and have competed in concrete canoe races, SPED, and other competitions.

© 2015

University of Memphis

UNIVERSITY OF MEMPHIS (visited 4/23/13)

One of the many tigers statues from campus placed prominently in front of the new Union.

One of the many tigers statues from campus placed prominently in front of the new Union.

For a medium-sized, urban, public school, this was surprisingly attractive (and safe! They’re ranked as the #1 safest metro school in TN [they’re proud that they beat Vandy] and Campus Security patrols campus and a two-block radius around campus, which is where much of the off-campus housing is). The campus is designated as a Level-2 Arboretum with more than 60 types of trees, and there’s lots of open space on campus. Prominent in the middle of campus is the impressive new 3-story union which opened in 2010. The middle is open with grand staircases all the way up to the top floor, and much of the social life goes on there. Not only are there various offices, but they have several food options, both to-go (such as Dunkin Donuts) and their own sit-down restaurant fashioned like a Chili’s that’s open for lunch (the nachos are a big thing there). There’s a full-sized theater on the second floor that shows recent movies and gives out free popcorn and soda. The Post Office is here – something that surprised me (and I’ve never seen on another campus) is that students have to rent a PO Box if they want one, even if they’re residential students!

An academic building

An academic building

I visited on a Tuesday morning; because there was only 1 family and I visiting that morning, the admissions staff sent me out on my own with two tour guides so I could really pick their brains. One of the tour guides came to Memphis for the nursing program and the Greek life; it didn’t hurt that her parents both came here. The other one was from Memphis, had gone to another school first, and then transferred back. He couldn’t be happier. Both are currently commuter students, but say that they don’t see this as any disadvantage at all. There are lots of ways to get involved, and because there are so many people who commute, they’re not left out of campus life. There are plenty of places to study and hang out between classes, so it’s easy – and because they’re so involved, they’re on campus most of the day by choice. Off-campus housing is easy to get either through the Greek system or the rentals (which are plentiful right off campus). The tour guides said that the Greek kids tend to be the most involved in campus live in general. Girls rush the second week of classes, the guys are summer recruits: “it tends to be a lot of who you know.”

The lounge and kitchen area of the Honors Dorm

The lounge and kitchen area of the Honors Dorm

Currently, only 3000 of the 16000 undergrads live on campus. The university is trying to get more residential students as well as deal with the “parking convenience” issue (there is parking, but it’s sometimes far away which the students say can be difficult and requires that they get to campus earlier to give them time to park and walk to class). They’ve recently built Honors Dorms which are fabulous! The rooms are traditional doubles, but the bathrooms, although located in the hall, are private (you can close and lock the doors); each bathroom is a complete unit (sink, toilet, shower). In the rooms, the “dressers” are two stackable components of two drawers each that can either be separated and go under the bed or stacked to be a more traditional dresser. The halls are set up in circles, and there are kitchens and lounges on each floor. It’s a clean, comfortable set-up.

Memphis quadI asked the tour guides about diversity on campus; it’s clear from just walking around campus that there’s a lot of racial diversity that reflects the nature of Memphis, but they said that there’s a lot of political and religious diversity as well. They have “Religion Row” which houses buildings dedicated to all sorts of different religions, so everyone has a home. I also asked them what sort of student tends to fit in and which tend to leave. Neither one of the guides knew more than a couple people who have left; they said that the students who don’t fit in tend to be close-minded or they don’t like the city. They also agreed that students who transfer tend to go to smaller schools.

Memphis 1They have carts that they use to take people on part of the tour. This was fun, but not entirely necessary since the campus isn’t that big. However, despite that fact, they do run shuttles around campus fairly continuously – but this seems to be a response more to the commuter population and people needing to park farther away sometimes. There’s even an app that tells student where each shuttle is, which the students find particularly useful in bad weather.

The lobby of the library

The lobby of the library

They have quite a few majors and academic programs to brag about. They’re #1 in the state for nursing, and their other med programs such as Pre-Dental and Pre-Med are also strong; Memphis has a lot of hospitals (many of which are close to the university) which provides a vast range of clinical experiences for students, so they graduate with a lot of different types of hands-on experience rather than just 1 or 2. Their Business program is solid (and they have particularly strong links to FedEx so students do a lot of internships with them, as well). There’s a music conservatory which requires an audition for admittance. Psychology is their most popular major and gets the most funding (and the psych lecture hall is the biggest on campus with 450 seats, although most classes cap at 300 with break-out sessions). The ROTC program is large, and they’ve just started an Asian Studies Program, as well. As a college, they’re ranked #7 in the country for internship experience (as defined as participation as part of a credit-baring course), and their job-placement rate is high because so many of their students graduate with real-life, practical experience.

The Administration building where Admissions is located

The Administration building where Admissions is located

To be considered for admission, they use the following formula: (GPA x 30) + ACT score. If the student has a 95, the rest of the application will be looked at. The only time they will look at letters is if they’re denied and people feel that the application needs to be reviewed. They don’t superscore either the SAT or the ACT, and applicants need at least a subscore of 16 in English on the ACT. There are several scholarships available, and Non-Resident scholarships are stackable with the other scholarships which are dependent on GPA and ACT scores (23 ACT and a 3.0 gets you $8000 a year; 25ACT and a 3.25 = $11,000; 30ACT and 3.25 = $13,000). Two of their scholarships need separate applications and the deadline is moving up next year, probably to 12/1. The TOEFL is required of all international students, even those graduating from a US high school.

(c) 2013

Colorado State University: Pueblo

CSU- Pueblo (Visited 10/2/12)

CSUP acad bldg 2A theme that seemed to run through many of the universities in Colorado is that students like to do things outdoors, and the institutions like to help them do this. Pueblo is no different. Their Outdoor Club is very active; for a $25 fee per year, students can “rent” – aka, borrow, any equipment they want, including snowboards and other things that would normally cost them quite a bit more.


A Communications building housing the PBS station.

Everything on campus is relatively quickly accessible. You can walk from one side to the other in about 10 minutes. Parking is not a problem, and freshman can bring cars on campus. Cars are more important for getting around off campus since nothing is really in easy walking distance. I liked the feel of campus; it had a lot of green space and was homey. Buildings, for the most part, were not the flashiest, but they have been updating and putting up new buildings, including a communications building that has state-of-the-art broadcasting facilities. The PBS station works out of there and pairs up with the college to give students hands-on radio experience.

CSUP patioThe campus felt relatively sedate. There weren’t a ton of kids out-and-about on campus, but it was during class time. However, it wasn’t as vibrant as a couple other campuses with students studying on quads, bustling between classes, etc. That could have been a timing issue since we were there mid-afternoon, not during meal-time or popular after-class time. The Student Center did have things going on, including students doing lip-syncing and making videos as part of Homecoming Week activities. The students we did see walking around were dressed fairly typically of college students, but I saw more students with brightly dyed hair than I think have at almost any other campus.


The new dorm complex

CSUP just built 3 new suite-style dorms in order to expand the housing options past the traditional hall-style dorms that are right next door. The new dorms are particularly nice, and each one has a different “extra” in it; for example, one has a bistro in that runs very much like a 7-11. Most of the campus is wireless except in the older dorm; the lounge is wireless but students need Ethernet cords in the rooms. One student said that one way he would improve the campus by improving the internet situation – make everything wireless and make it more reliable. Sometimes it cuts out during busy times.

CSUP psychStudents in the 15 participating western states can get WUE tuition at Pueblo which runs 150% of in-state tuition. Pueblo does not use the Common App, but their own application is actually quicker and easier than the CA. Students will also have to complete a separate application for scholarships which is available online. Admissions will not superscore either the SAT or ACT; they’ll take the highest single sitting score. However, they’ll use separate scores for placement. They do not need or look at writing.

CSUP3The business and the nursing programs both got high accolades from several sources. The Business department has about 800 students who have declared that as their major. They have a 3-2 BA/MBA program. If they meet the requirements, they can start their Masters during the senior year, and actually complete the program in 12 fewer credit hours, all for the undergraduate tuition rate. They also have a 3-2 program in biology, chemistry, and biochem. Nursing is their only real competitive major, getting about 150 applications for 60 spots. However, those who get in get a top-notch education, including access to three full simulation labs.

CSUP tv stationI asked one of the reps what he would tell a student from the east coast who maybe has never heard of Pueblo: one of the first things he said was that Colorado is affordable. The winter is fantastic: there’s lots of sun, not as much snow as people think, and it melts quickly. There is very little crime and virtually no traffic issues (at least outside of Denver!). In addition to the specific programs already mentioned, he said that CSUP has an early alert system based on GPA so if students are struggling, people will intervene quickly to help them. They look out for their students and really do want them to succeed.

Overall, the university receives very high satisfaction scores. I asked two different students what they would like to improve about the campus. They had to think about it a bit before answering. Other than the internet issue, they wanted some more food options (like Subway, Einstein Bagels, etc) and want better sidewalks (sometimes they end at weird places). I asked the students about the quiet feel to campus, and both like it – they said there was a lot to do but because there wasn’t a constant “party” atmosphere, they could get their work done, too.

(c) 2012

Saint Mary’s College

SAINT MARY’S COLLEGE, Moraga, CA (visited 7/16/12)

St Mary's towerWhat a great school! This is a LaSallian (Catholic) college, and one of the things that the Director of Admissions talked about was the difference between the different types of Catholic schools (very helpful – I had no idea). LaSalle schools are run by the Christian Brothers, and there are no priests. They view themselves as “brothers to each other and big brothers to the students.” They came out of France in 1684 and are very intentional about education. They’re more collaborative and democratic, hence the seminar style classes that make up the Core curriculum at St. Mary’s. There are only five Christian Brother/LaSallian institutions in the US (vs 28 Jesuit). There is a definite community feel here; there are just under 3,000 students, most of whom live on campus.

St Mary's courtyardI appreciated that we got to participate in a mock Seminar Class as part of our tour. This is a Great Books College but not in the St. John’s sort of way. Students take four seminars in the Great Books (reading books by/about Dante, Freud, Wolfe, Marx, Shakespeare, etc). There are no lectures or tests; instead, participation and papers make up the grades. The idea is to pull in a lot of perspectives and look at things through different lenses. I asked one of the professors at the pre-dinner reception about how grades and feedback is done – how do they keep track of participation, etc? He talked about an extensive process meant to give direct, relevant feedback to the students, including a discussion with/among several of the professors/discussion leaders in front of the student. Although it’s time intensive, he said it was well worth it since it gave the students so much to work with; they’ve seen real improvement with the level of engagement and growth among the students.

St Mary's 1Approximately 1/5 of the students are in the business program. Pre-med is very strong, with 80-100% acceptance rate to med schools in any given year. Their dance, theater, and music is of conservatory quality but they do not offer a BFA, going back to their interest in education and the “whole person.” They want students to have a broad base to their education, hence the liberal arts focus. Creative Writing is also popular, and students can continue to an MFA. Study Abroad is a big deal here; travel-learning classes are particularly popular during this time. Approximately 90% of students will do some sort of international study during their four years.

St Mary's muralAlthough this is a very Eastern-feeling Liberal Arts college in many ways, it has its own style with Spanish architecture and “wild turkeys that patrol campus. They’re unimpressed with us.” They are an athletic powerhouse, best in the West Coast Conference. Sixty percent of students participate in some sort of athletics, and is one of the biggest employers of students on campus. School spirit is huge (Go Gaels!). Fordham and Notre Dame used to be their big rivals; now it’s Santa Clara University to the south of them. On the hillside overlooking the campus, there is a big SMC. Students from Santa Clara used to hike up and throw the rocks forming the ‘M’ down the hill (to turn it into SC instead of SMC). The letters are now concrete, and the freshmen will be sent up with red paint during orientation to give it a facelift.

As is typical of some of the smaller schools, they completely wined and dined us: hors d’oeuvres and wine in the atrium, and dinner in the faculty dining room (complete with California moscato with the crème brulee). They gave us copies of a novel by one of the professors who is also an alum. She joined us for dinner and was amazing to speak to. She also read a short excerpt from her book after dinner which gave a great flavor for the characters and how she pictures things in her head, and she signed copies for anyone who wanted it.

(c) 2012

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