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Mercyhurst University

Mercyhurst University (visited 3/18/19)

Mercyhurst M and Main

The main entrance

Sometimes visiting a college without knowing much about it first is the best way to approach this. This is definitely the case here. I loved driving onto campus under the metal arch and up the drive leading to the stunning main, original building. This has the feel of a strong faith-based community – there’s no question that this is a religious institution with the statues and the chapel – but I never got the heavy-handed feeling that some other religious institutions have. It just had a sense of calm and purpose permeating much of what goes on.

Mercyhurst chapel 1

The main chapel

The Sisters of Mercy (the first non-cloistered order) started Mercyhurst with 23 female students in 1926 (they went coed in 1969 with the addition of a men’s crew team). Their 2 major tenets include health care and education. If people needed help, they got it. They took care of soldiers on both sides of the Civil War, for example. Someone described them as being on the liberal edge of Catholicism, telling me that it was the Campus Ministry that started the LGBTQ group years ago. “They see the problem, not the details of who the person is. They want people to feel welcome and at home. If you want to be here, they want you to be here. Students seem respectful of people’s opinions and people can say what they feel.” The tour guide agreed: “It’s a supportive environment where you can be yourself.”

Mercyhurst lab

One of the cybersecurity labs

This is still something of a regional school with many students coming from a two-hour radius. Much of this is program driven: the academics have strong reputations, and the university has specialized majors such as Interior Architecture and Design, archaeology/anthropology (including concentrations in Bioanthropology and Bioarchaeology), and Applied Forensic Sciences (with concentrations in Criminalistics/Forensic Bio, Forensic Anthropology, and Forensic Chemistry). They’ve developed majors that enable students to train for jobs that industries need, and have done a great job of being future-focused by creating programs in data science, cybersecurity, and Business and Competitive Intelligence.

Mercyhurst Applied Politics

Institute for Applied Politics polling room

They have created specialized institutes as well, including one for Ethics and Society and one for Applied Politics (Students can work here to conduct public opinion polls on a variety of things, including politics and environmental issues).

Mercyhurst offers a strong Learning Support program as well as Institute for high-functioning students on the spectrum. I met with representatives from both programs and ate lunch with 3 of them. They’re wonderful and clearly love what they do!

  • Mercyhurst nontrad apts

    Some of the non-traditional apartments where students in AIM can choose to live

    LDP (Learning Difference Program) offers two levels of academic support.

    • Students with a current documented disability will be able to get accommodations such as extended time for testing, Assistive technology, etc. For extended time, students get a form that indicates which accommodation they’ve been approved for; they have that signed by the professor and comes back to the office for scheduling at least 5 days before the test date.
    • The Academic Advantage Program is a fee-based program with about 10 openings for the coming year. “Sometimes it’s hard for kids coming from a high school with a real reach-around program. This service focuses much more on organization and executive functioning to make sure they’re getting things done on time and then making sure that they seek out the content help somewhere else. They need to be advocating for themselves.” Students get weekly check-ins with academic counselors who will help create a document to track what they have due, create a weekly time management calendar, and other things to help students stay on track. They’ll also track grades through an early alert programs. Counselors can help students get tutoring.
    • Freshmen also have the option to participate in the PASS summer program; 12-15 students each summer move in at the end of July and take a 3-week, 3-credit class. It counts for the REACH (see below), and it alleviates the fall course load. They can move into their dorm room to get settled early. They also have workshops so they know what the accommodations look like.
  • The Autism Institute at Mercyhurst (AIM) provides support for students on the Spectrum; they support the students’ adjustment to college and provide social and other support to make sure they’re successful. There is specialized housing available, but this is optional. Students can choose to live there or in other available dorms.
Mercyhurst 1

The library and an academic building connected by an overhead walkway

The Core Curriculum is called REACH in which they take 10 classes in 10 disciplines, 2 in each of the following areas: Reason & Faith, Expression and Creativity, Analytical Thought, Contexts & Systems, and Humans in Connection. Freshman also take two semesters of Intro to Mercyhurst classes which purposefully mixes students of different majors and different geographic areas so they interact with people they might not have. These classes help to ensure that students know where resources are on campus.

Mercyhurst sky roof

The “sky ceiling” in one of the academic buildings.

The university has recently revamped their academic calendar to incorporate “mini-terms” into their semesters. This effectively splits the semester into 2 8-week sections, and students can go on “mini-semester travel.” They also have a campus in Dungarvan, Ireland “that’s really an extension of our campus.” Freshmen can go if they’re in the honors program (but this option is not always available every year). Depending on the major, they might be able to take some of the requirements for the major. About 25% of students will study abroad.

Mercyhurst reading room

One of the reading rooms

They do have a 4-year residency requirement. “People aren’t leaving en masse on the weekends. They’re here and doing things.” Freshmen are not allowed to have cars on campus, but all students get passes for public transportation. There’s a lot to do in Erie including an indoor water park, mini-golf, theaters, Target, etc. “There’s cool local music downtown,” said the tour guide. Presque Isle (about a 15 minute drive; the bus line also goes there) is a popular spot with walking trails and beaches; sometimes the college hosts events there. “Erie is like Buffalo, Cleveland, and Pittsburgh,” said the admission rep. “We’re trying to come back from being primarily an industrial city so things are getting revitalized.” Gannon University is also in Erie, so a lot of places cater to college students.

Mercyhurst motto

The college motto

A couple fun campus traditions mentioned by several people are:

  • The Sister Damien Spirit Bell is a fixture at hockey games. The tour guide told me that she was such a supporter of the Mercyhurst teams (and about 30% of students are athletes) that “she would tell the opposing team that they’d go to hell if they beat her boys.” The bell is still rung at athletic (“and personal”) victories. They have 3 DI sports (men’s and women’s ice hockey and men’s crew). All other sports are DII.
  • The new President (well, sort of new – he’s in his 4th year) established Hurst Day. On a random fall day, he cancels classes with a big scavenger hunt (based on the history of campus, etc), games, activities, competitions, and a big dinner.
Mercyhurst quad

The quad

Improvements are student-focused (such as the new sophomore res hall being built). “Things aren’t done blindly on campus; it’s done on purpose.” They just opened a bar on campus in Mid-March. It’s run by the cafeteria so food can be bought with their card; they need cash for alcohol which is served with a 2 drink limit “for student safety,” said the rep. The tour guide said, “It’s great. It’s been open 3 days and I’ve been there twice.”

Mercyhurst birds 2

Artwork by one of the art professors (also a Mercyhurst alum)

Admissions is fully test optional; those who don’t send scores are still eligible for Honors Programs, scholarships, and any major. They’ll superscore both the SAT and ACT if sent, and admissions will counsel students if they aren’t sure if they should send in scores. “We’re not super selective. We work well with students who aren’t your traditional A student or who needs more hands-on.” They have a 15-to-finish initiative: they work with students to take at least that many credits per semester so they’re on track to graduate. “But it’s not just random credits. We have advisors who make sure they are taking the RIGHT 15 credits.”

© 2019

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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

Mount St. Mary’s University

Mount St. Mary’s University (visited 10/17/18)

MSM chapel 3“Lots of good things are happening at the Mount because of the people here,” said the Director of Financial Aid. Their President who retired from the army in 2016 has been here for 3 years; he concurs with that assessment: “We’ve done surveys; the best part of students’ experiences has been the care and concern from the faculty and staff.”

MSM dining hall

The dining hall

Enrollment has grown over the last 2 years. Two years ago, they increased by 24% percent with the 2nd largest class in the history and then surpassed that last year. “It’s happening because our students are succeeding. They’re competing for Fulbrights and the Marshall,” said the President. Most students complete internships, and in 2018, Zippia ranked MSM as the #1 school in Maryland for post-grad employment, “and that’s competing against places like UMD and Johns Hopkins.”

MSM quad

The main quad

Business (including Forensic Accounting) and Criminal Justice are strong, and Education also got a shout-out by the tour guides, one of whom is in the program. “Sciences are the weak link,” said another counselor who sends several students here, but hopefully that will change. They do have a Health Science/Nursing dual degree program as well as an Osteopathic Medicine 4+4 program.

MSM from grotto

The top of the chapel and the surrounding countryside as seen from the Grotto

Campus is beautiful and built on the side of a hill; it earns its nickname of The Mount. (There is a beautiful grotto at the top of the hill overlooking campus; there are 121 steps up to that). “There’s nothing in walking distance,” said one of the tour guides. Campus is about 2 miles from Emmitsburg, the closest town, but Frederick and Gettysburg are both about 15 minutes away, and the school will run shuttles to BWI and the train station for breaks. A lot of freshmen don’t have cars, but are allowed to, and parking is accessible.

MSM grotto pond

One of the fountains in the Grotto

Both tour guides raved about all there is to do on campus, and events are very well attended since about 80% of students live on campus. They offer optional pre-orientation trips such as camping or service-oriented activities. Move-in weekend has parties, food trucks, and more. A favorite tradition is the Tiki Dance that starts off the year; this is “bookended” by Rampage which is held on the last week before spring finals. Bingo is really big. “Be there an hour in advance or you aren’t getting in.” They also do Canoe Battleship! They said that if they could, they’d spend money on smart classrooms and add even more activities, “particularly building a bigger space for the popular events so more people can fit in.”

MSM main 1The college offers tickets and transportation to a lot of events ranging from apple picking and Six Flags to NYC and the Gettysburg Battlefields. Basketball is really big here; “it’s a struggle to get a seat for a game.” Soccer and lacrosse also pull in a lot of fans. They have 22 DI sports (they’re the 2nd smallest DI school in the country) including rugby. There’s also an active intramural scene. “The Seminarians will kick our butts!”

MSM fountain 2I asked them about how religion played out in the day-to-day experience on campus. “Yes, it’s Catholic, but there are options and non-denominational stuff. If you’re looking for the Catholic community, it’s definitely here. There are emails from the Catholic ministry and some rooms have crosses. There are lots of Seminarians around; they mostly have their own classes, but they’re often in ours, as well.” There are 6 chapels on campus and masses are offered (including in Spanish), but there are no chapel requirements. The Gen Ed requirements include a theology class, but there’s some choice.

© 2018

Providence College

Providence College (visited 9/12/17)

Providence 5I appreciated that the admission reps and other people presenting information to the visiting counselors made efforts to help differentiate Providence from other solid, similarly-sized liberal arts schools. According to them, their 4 pillars make PC different:

  • Human Flourishing: learn to take of yourself now so you’re able to do it later!
  • Cultural Agility: help to see through your lens AND how to learn from those people around you. “Erase the fear. Help include people who might feel different or alienated.”
  • Contemplation and communication: “We do this in the Dominican tradition. We want people to be intentional about contemplation. Take the time to do it. Share that with others.”
  • Integrated learning: “learning is important, but it’s not all you do. How do you put everything together – the internship, the extra-curriculars – to build yourself and get where you want to be?

Providence outdoor seatingA large part – really, the cornerstone – of their core curriculum is Western Civ. This is a 4 semester, team-taught, interdisciplinary course of study pulling together Theology, Lit, History, Philosophy, “really, the entirety of western civilization.” Students take this every semester of their first 2 years. The first 3 semesters cover ancient, medieval, and modern times; in the 4th semester, students complete a colloquium to “bring knowledge into a contemporary topic.” They can choose classes such as Our Monsters, Ourselves (how do we define monsters?), Ethical Practices in Business, Sustainability and Profits, etc. This is a huge part of PC’s culture and community and is almost a rite of passage: students will sport T-shirts saying things like “Done with Civ.”

Providence quad 2This is a Roman Catholic institution, and 50 priests live on campus. This dictates much of what happens around campus from class work to student services. There are options in some aspects of how religion plays out on campus. For example, teachers could opt into having a crucifix in the classrooms but most did not. “Religion is not heavy-handed here” but it’s clearly around and available. Students must take 2 religion and 2 philosophy classes, one of which must be ethics-based, but Mass or chapel is not required. “It’s is more of a social event,” said one of the tour guides. “We have a post-mass bash.” Catholic policy does dictate other things: “We’re a Catholic school, and our Health Center follows Catholic guidelines. I’m not sure you want me to be more specific … students aren’t always happy about this, but there are referrals for outside things as needed.”

Providence hockey

Practice time for the hockey team!

Although diversity and inclusion are, on paper anyway, part of the Dominican tradition, people we talked agreed that the college was not as diverse as they’d like but it’s gotten a lot better in recent years. “It’s the #1 strategic goal. We’re 18% non-white. We’d like to get to 25%.” The LGBTQ community is “not a closeted presence” and seems to be well supported. “Our students are overwhelmingly involved in service, athletics, etc. That’s a major characteristic.” They’ve put a lot of money into athletic facilities: all of them are new within the last 10 years (most within 5). PC has been ranked as the #1 school for intramural involvement. This is also a big hockey school.

Providence business int

Interior of the Business Dept

Academic programs worth noting include:

  • Arts and Sciences: every person takes classes in this school regardless of major.
  • Providence 8Professional Studies is the smallest school and consists of Applied Programs such as Education (Secondary and Elementary/Special), Health Policy Management (one of the fastest growing majors), and Social Work.
    • The BSW is so strong that students can often start their MSW with advanced standing. “We’re the liberal arts in service to others.” This school gives them flexibility to pursue things like pre-med, MPH, hospital admin, etc.
  • Business: Students become proficient in writing, oral communication, civic engagement, and diversity. They offer 4 majors in a new building (opened in January 2017).
    • First-year advising workshops are offered every other week for the first semester covering career education, study abroad, the curriculum, etc. They bring in alumni and faculty to talk about what they do with the majors.
    • The Finance lab has 12 Bloomberg Terminals. They’re pushing for more people to get certified on these

Providence 1Admissions is test-optional: “It doesn’t drive the process. Almost 40% of applicants didn’t submit them last year,” said an admissions rep. “It will not affect merit awards” (given to about ¼ of the students). They recalculate transcripts based on a 4.0 unweighted scale looking only at academic subjects. Last year was the first time admissions didn’t pull students from the waitlist, and in fact, they’ve been slightly overenrolled. 31% came from the ED pool which they’d like to max out at 35%. “We’re talking about the people we want to bring to our community, be part of our family. They want to be here because they love the place!”

© 2017

Emmanuel College

Emmanuel College (visited 9/12/17)

Emmanuel quad

The quad with the skyline of Boston in the background

“This is a small school, but there’s something for everyone.” As part of the Colleges of the Fenway, Emmanuel students have access to 5 other schools, and its campus is located right in between Wheelock and Simmons. “It feels a lot bigger because of the consortium,” said the tour guide. “Students from other schools are walking through campus because we’re right in the middle of things.” As part of the consortium, students can take classes (including travel courses!) and even complete full minors at another school. Intramurals are held against teams from other COF schools; students have access to libraries, some clubs and activities, and some dining halls although “We have the best food on the Fenway! It’s a 12,” said one of the tour guides. The other one agreed: “A lot of it is organic, and meals are made fresh right in front of us.”

Emmanuel chapel

The Chapel

This is a Catholic institution with 40% of the students self-identifying as Catholic, but “the Catholicism isn’t heavy-handed,” said one of the students. Mass is never required, but students do need to take 2 religion classes as part of their distribution requirements. With so many choices to fulfill this including “What is Religion?” and “Women in Religion,” there’s something for everyone. There are several priests and nuns still involved on campus, including the President (a nun) and several teachers (“Father John is cool!”).

Emmanuel lounge and quadThe Sisters founded the school as a women’s college in 1919. They went coed in 2001 and are still 73% female, but have tripled their overall population since going coed. Part of this also comes from a deal made with Merck Pharmaceuticals made about the same time as when they went coed – the college leased space to the company for a research lab which makes Emmanuel the only college in the country with a pharmaceutical lab.

Emmanuel 1Campus is attractive and easy to navigate (it is small and can’t grow because of its location in Boston). Housing is guaranteed all 4 years. 88% of first-year students live on campus with 70% staying on all 4 years. “This is not a suitcase school.” Students get involved in a great of service on and beyond campus. Saints Giving Back is a popular club; one of their big projects is providing meals for families with kids in the hospital.

Emmanuel tables“Students are just nice here. This is a door-holding school” While students seem to think that there’s room for some growth in diversity, they also say that “there’s lots of open dialogue.” Students are willing to engage in dialogue with each other and come out in droves to the speakers brought to college (Shawn King recently came).

Classes are capped at 35 but average 21. One tour guide’s largest class was 30 in Freshman Writing. His smallest was 13 in a higher-level psych class. Although on the surface, their majors seem fairly standard and straightforward, they offer a great deal of interesting concentrations within those majors:

© 2017

Seattle Pacific University

Seattle Pacific University (Visited 6/21/17)

SPU clockSPU is Christian university affiliated with the Free Methodists. They hope people committed to faith – in whatever form that means to them – will come here. “If they are connected to their faith, great. If not, we hope they understand why other people have theirs. We want people to engage with people who are different. Our faith compels us to be a different type of institution and to be engaged: we engage the culture in order to change the world,” said one of the reps. The YouTube video Celebrating 125 Years at SPU is worth a look (as a side note, a lot of colleges in the area are celebrating their 125th year …).

SPU 1Knowing that there are plenty of liberal arts schools to choose from, the reps did a good job addressing what sets them apart. They brought up 3 points of distinction:

  • Location: “We’re in a major city but tucked into a safe neighborhood of Queen Anne Hill with connections to local business. Ten Fortune 500 companies are here. Amazon is a 10 minute walk away.”
  • SPU Blakely Island

    Classes offered at Blakely Island

    Rigorous academics and good resources: “We own half of Blakely Island in the San Juans for research.”

  • Transformational Experiences: “Christianity is at the core. Faculty and staff have to sign a faith statement, but students do not. We appreciate all the places they’re coming from.”

About 80% of the students do self-identify as Christian. There is a lifestyle expectation here, including not drinking on campus. As part of the Common Curriculum, students need to take a series of 3 religion classes including a Scriptures class. “We’re graded on how well we interact with the material, not if we believe it,” said one of the students. University Series: Formation (of the church), Scriptures, and Theology (why do we believe what we believe? What does it mean to be a Christian?).

SPU dorm

One of the dorms

The climate on campus is one of acceptance. “We even have an active LGBTQ group which some people don’t expect at a Christian college,” said a student. Like much of the Pacific Northwest, the overall atmosphere is relatively liberal, but conservatives have a home here, too. “We like having discussions.” Campus is active, and the city is even to navigate. “There’s no need for a car here. I’d recommend a bike if anything,” said the tour guide.

SPU 6Currently, SPU is granting enough PhDs in relation to the undergrad population to be classified as a National R3 university. “We train students to solve problems,” said a faculty member. “We’re small enough to be intimate but large enough to offer the same breadth and depth as a larger university.” Academics are strong across the board, but some of their particular strengths are:

  • SPU music tech

    One of the Music Tech studios

    Pre-med students get into medical schools at a 95% acceptance rate with most students scoring in the 90th percentile on the MCAT.

  • Nursing boasts a 100% employment (and most nursing students get multiple offers before graduation).
  • Theater: “This is the 3rd most important theater city in the country. The PT faculty in the arts are very strong. They’re able to offer all they do because of location.
  • Music Therapy – take 2 classes then apply. There are about 20 spots available per quarter.
  • Engineering majors participate in year long design projects.

SPU 4Unusual Majors and minors include:

© 2017

Saint Martin’s University

Saint Martin’s University (visited 6/19/17)

StMU chapel 1This is a very Catholic school with a Benedictine monastery on campus. The school was here before the town, founded when a student canoed up the Hood Canal; he was the only student being educated by the monks for several months. This then served as a boys’ boarding school for many years; the original location of the school is now an organic garden which provides food for a local food bank.

StMU statue 1

The statue at the top of the steps by the main building on campus

Some of the 20 resident monks (ages 27-90, we were told) teach while others have different duties such as tending to the gardens, raising chickens, etc. We ran into one of the monks in the library who was highly personable and happy to talk to a random group of counselors. “I’m in my informal summer garb. I guess I don’t look very monk-like!” he said, wearing short sleeves and a collar. I asked him if he wanted to give us a 30-second spiel about the students, college, or anything else he thought we should know. “The monks here take a vow of stability. This is home; we aren’t going anywhere. The goal is the buried in the cemetery here. This is our house. We tell the students, ‘Welcome to our household for 4 years.’”

StMU dorms

One of the dorms

Fewer than half of the 1324 undergrads self-identify as Catholic, and there are 24 faiths (and students of no faith) represented on campus. Regardless, the school holds tight to the values of Faith, Reason, Service, and Community. There is quite a bit of outreach since access to education is one of the hallmarks: 38% of students are first-gen college-goers, 35% are students of color, and 32% come from outside Washington. There is a 2-year residency requirement and just over ¾ of first-year students live on campus. The newest dorm on campus is all first year students. There are a few triple rooms which are designed as such; “they’re mostly corner rooms. There aren’t forced triples here,” said the tour guide. Juniors and seniors have access to apartment style housing.

StMU quad“It’s a unique atmosphere here,” said the monk we talked to. “It distresses us when they fall through the cracks. It’s rare when that happens.” Average classes have 12-14 students. The largest lecture hall holds 75 students; our tour guide’s classes ranged from 6-30.

They offer a fairly standard selection of majors with a couple exceptions:

  • StMU engo bldg 2

    The Engineering building; the award-winning concrete canoe is displayed under the overhang towards the left

    They have ABET accredited Civil and Mechanical engineering programs with a minor in Electrical and a 4+1 in Engineering Management (they’ll start their grad work in senior year). There’s a new building that’s partly exposed so it’s a learning lab, as well – they can see how it was constructed. The Engineering Innovation lab was donated by Boeing, and the SMU team beat UW in the concrete canoe competition.

  • Nursing is only an RN to BSN program.
  • Environmental Studies is pending approval. They’re hoping that classes will be available in fall of 2017 with the official major in 2018. Parsons Farm Partnership, Sustainability & Stewardship, climate change.
  • Although not a major, they’re designated as an official Peace Corps prep school.
StMU deer

Much of campus is wooded or undeveloped; this isn’t an unusual sight.

Campus is located in Lacey, only 8 minutes from downtown Olympia (the state capitol). They’re centrally located between Seattle (an hour north) and Portland, Oregon (2 hours south). Their ID is their bus pass for public transportation. “Students don’t need a car, but it could help,” said the tour guide. “It’s easy to have fun if you know where to find it.”

StMU 4They offer a range of merit, athletic (they’re a DII school), and other scholarships (including a Campus Visit scholarship of $400). Merit scholarships do not transfer for study abroad. One notable award is the Benedictine Scholarship to award strong students who value service. Finalists are invited to campus for the final round; up to 10 scholarships of $10,000 are awarded per year and are stackable with other merit scholarships. They also have an Honors Floor in the residency hall.

StMU mt rainier

Mount Rainier, when it’s “out,” is visible from the Chapel on campus!

We asked some of the faculty to describe the students here:

  • They put their hearts into whatever they do
  • They’re incredibly caring – about what’s going on in the world and in regards to each other. They’ll rally around others and will help.
  • Competitive: but we’ll help
  • Dynamic
  • Leaders

StMU gardens 3I asked students what their favorite class has been:

  • Complexities: It covered a lot of social justice, being aware of privileges, and how that changes people around us. It’s really poignant with what’s going on. I’m more cognizant of who I am and how I can use my voice and position to help people get where they need to go.
  • Communications/Religion class: This is one of the of gen ed classes. We learned about religions and how they communicate. It’s nothing I’d learned before.
  • History 142 which was linked class with English 102. The professor talked about major social and political issues and perspectives. In English, we’d write about that so we could research the topics. It gave us a way to think critically about different issues.
  • Theater and Buddhism: We meditated, talked about mindfulness, and performed scenes.

© 2017

Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College

Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College (visited 6/13/17)

SMWC 1The students who attend SMWC love it here… but it is a self-selecting sort of place. “People who come here pretty much know what they’re in for,” said the tour guide. For the student who is looking for small and Catholic – and possibly an equestrian program – this is the school. Most of campus is pretty with attractive buildings and amazing landscaping (making parts feel very wooded – go figure!); however parts of it raise eyebrows such as the weeds on the tennis courts. “You can tell we don’t have a team,” said the tour guide.

SMWC statues

Some of the statues around campus.

This liberal arts college sits 10 minutes outside of Terra Haute which is very much a college town (Indiana State and Rose-Hulman are both here). “We’re trying hard to keep kids here on the weekends. We have a great student-life staff,” said an admissions rep. There are things to do, but it’s not a bustling campus, and nothing is walkable from campus. “I would rank the craziness factor at about a 3,” said the tour guide. “There’s definitely a social life and I’ve made lots of friends, but events end early. But that means that I can also get my work done. It’s kind of the best of both worlds.” Anyone can have cars and there are currently no shuttles offered to students to help get around town. It’s also a dry campus.

SMWC dorm room

One of the dorm rooms; many are suite-style and some even have balconies!

SMWC is growing with the largest incoming class to date entering this fall. This is also their 3rd year of being coed. “In real numbers, that’s about 40 guys out of about 380-400,” said the rep. They’re actively trying to change perceptions about the school (particularly in terms of them accepting men), and they’ve added golf last year with Cross Country and Equestrian (Western Hunt Seat) starting this fall (2017). In 2018, they’ll add soccer. Our tour guide didn’t pick the college because it was all-female, “but I ended up loving it!” However, she thinks that going coed is also a positive change for the school.

SMWC chapel ext

The chapel; the dining hall is in the building attached at the left

They can currently accommodate 400 students in the dorm (there’s only 1), but there are two floors in another building that can be renovated to re-use as dorm rooms as the need arises. About 240 will live on campus this fall. The single dorm building also houses security, the chapel, some departmental offices, mailboxes, and a place for breakfast to be served. Lunch and dinner are across campus in the building attached to the convent. “Meals are good! I’d rank food as about an 8. The community can eat brunch here on the weekends. We get that as part of our meal plan.”

SMWC shell chapel

The interior of the Shell Chapel

Campus is very clearly Catholic, although mass is never required and the only religious requirement is 1 philosophy or religion class. There are statues (including a walkway with the Stations of the Cross), a large chapel, a small chapel, a churchyard where many of the nuns are buried, a grotto, etc around campus. Campus was founded by the Sisters of Providence from France, and many still live on campus, “but it’s like a retirement home. They don’t teach, but will sometimes come in to do guest lectures on campus,” said the tour guide. This order is very liberal, and they’re often seen protesting the death penalty and other social justice issues. The nuns run an alpaca farm and use the wool in fair-trade goods. Students and community members can take spinning classes.

SMWC horses

Some of the horses on campus with the barns in the background

Classes average 11 students with an option for online classes for undergraduates. Their strongest program might revolve around the extensive equestrian center. They offer Equine Studies, Equine Training and Instruction, and Equine Business Management as majors with Equine Assisted Therapy and Equine Science as minors. Students in the equestrian programs/majors are assigned a horse which they must take care of as part of their grade. The school also gets a number of yearlings that students train as part of a class.

SMWC grotto

The campus grotto

Other notable programs include Music Therapy, Professional Writing, Human Resource Management, 3+1 Leadership Development program (pairing any major with a Masters in LD), Healthcare Administration, and Nursing. Music is coming back; it had been gone for awhile because of budget cuts.

SMWC staircase

The main stairwell in the dorm

One of the favorite traditions is the Ring Ceremony. Juniors get class rings towards the end of the year during a formal ceremony after a dinner where they’re wearing their caps and gowns. This ring is presented to them by an alum, and they can choose who gives it to them. At this point, they wear it with the letters facing towards themselves. At the end of senior year, they have the Oak Leaf Ceremony where they wear oak leaf crowns (“I’m not sure if this will change now that we’re coed,” said the tour guide) and they turn their rings around to “face the world.”

In addition to regular merit scholarships, they offer a competitive, full-tuition scholarship. Students write essays for the first round; from these, admissions will select students to interview; 4 get the scholarship.

© 2017

College of Saint Elizabeth

College of Saint Elizabeth (visited 3/23/17)

COE main 2

The main building on campus

This is a small, Catholic school that had been single-gender until last year when it became “fully coeducational” in 2016. The male population quickly jumped to about 40% within the year. It’s a safe campus in a residential area, and while there are no longer shuttles around town provided by the school, the train station is right outside the school gates. NYC is an hour away. Only about 2/3 of students live on campus and they pull a lot of students from the local area.

COE chapelThis is still heavily Catholic with Sisters living on and around campus. There is a Mass during orientation, and they’re offered daily but not required.

COE train

The train station just outside the gates

I’m not sure about this school. It’s definitely small (both in size and population – they enroll under 1000 students) and manageable. Students were out even on a chilly morning around 9:30. There weren’t a ton around, but that’s normal for that time of day. However, graduation rate hovers around 50% in 6-years. I get this impression that students want a larger campus, and some students who came here for the single-gender experience left when it went coed. I’m not sure it offers anything unique to draw students from a distance; there are other small Catholic schools around. I just didn’t have a sense of what distinguished this one, unfortunately.

COE greenhouse

The campus greenhouse; don’t see too many free-standing ones on campuses!

I talked to a senior majoring in Sociology, “I still have no idea what I’m doing after graduation.” She loved that it was a small school. “It’s easy to get around and I know everyone at least by face if not by name.” She was surprised at how welcoming everyone was. “You’re not an outsider here.” She told me about how during orientation, she ended up having to go to an event before her mother left and was unable to say goodbye. She was in tears, but people she didn’t even know came over and hugged her.

COE dormThe academic offerings are limited, but students are allowed to take classes at Drew and at the nearby Fairleigh Dickenson campus. “There’s a path that leads right onto their athletic fields. It’s easy to get over there.” Drew is about 10 minutes away. She had a friend take music classes there; she didn’t have a car, but the school got her transportation over.

© 2017

Rivier University

Rivier University (visited 10/18/16)

rivier-archRiv is a place where faith matters – and ALL faiths matter. Started by the Sisters of the Presentation of Mary and Sister Madeleine of Jesus, this is a Catholic college, but they want students of all faiths – and of little faith – to find a home; they’ve created an environment in and out of the classroom for students to explore their own traditions (including having a Hindu Convocation; they have a lot of Indian students). For students who haven’t found a tradition yet, where do they find a spark that has meaning to their lives? Students can be who they are and figure out who they want to become.

rivier-gardenStudents at Riv can bump up against the edges; people are here to redirect and say, “try again!” Part of this exploration takes place in the Core Curriculum: Journeys of Transformation, a 4-year path to look at the big questions: Who am I and What is the World? Who is around me/who is my neighbor? How shall we live? What, then, shall we do? This is designed for students to build a reflective understanding of their lives and how they can contribute. The 2 required classes are Social Justice and World Religions.

rivier-dorms

Some of the dorms

“Students here are in the Striver Class. Our students are not entitled. They’re multi-taskers, and they’re focused. They generally aren’t political. It’s about life: getting the car fixed, picking up the younger brother.” From NSSE data, they know that there are a lot of students who work, and this is a supportive place for that. Many help out with families: grandparents, younger siblings, etc. There are a lot of commuters, so they’re intentional about when and where the co-curricular offerings happen. “About 50% live on campus and 50% commute, but 100% are busy,” said the college President.

rivier-therapy-dogs

One of the therapy dogs regularly on campus

If you walk into the dining hall, you see an engagement that goes beyond clique. Students intermingle with faculty. “This really is a place where we live the mission of transforming hearts and minds to serve the world.”

They recognize that students have a lot of options in terms of which college to choose: “You can get a business or nursing degree at a kazillion places between here and there.” Students tend to come here for a specific reason: a coach, the inclusive environment, the school’s willingness to work around students’ schedules. Many come simply for the location: They sit on the outskirts of Manchester (the airport is only 15 minutes; Boston (and Logan) are 45 minute south; buses to NYC are less than $20.

rivier-lab

One of the labs

This is an international community so they have strong global initiatives on campus, and they’re taking intentional strives in diversity.

  • Grant program: they’ve received several grants such as an NSF grant bringing in $600,000 for underrepresented students in the life sciences and a $900,000 grant for underrepresented students in Nursing. This provides Scholarships and internships.
  • Experiential Learning trips to Senegal, St John’s (USVI), Costa Rica, China, and more.
  • Global Scholars (Honors): qualified admitted students (3.4 high school GPA or higher) will be invited to participate after being admitted to the university. It focuses on looking beyond self: students engage in interdisciplinary academic seminars, leadership development, intercultural/service immersion, and trip participation. International travel as an option.
rivier-sand-volleyball

“Riv Beach,” the sand volleyball court

Career development is rolled into the content of classes. The Employment Promise is relatively new (I sat at breakfast with the Executive Director of University Career Services and the college President so I got a lot of information about it): if a graduate doesn’t get a Baccalaureate level job within 9 months of graduation, they’ll pay $5400 of SUBSIDIZED student loans or 6 graduate classes. (If a student does not have a subsidized loan, the only option is to take the graduate classes). To be eligible, students sign a contract that says they’re committed to being in the program; students must maintain at least a 3.0, meet certain yearly benchmarks (going to Career Development, meeting with advisors, etc.) and complete the 4-year, 4-tier program: 1) acclimation 2) learning 3) preparing 4) putting it together and reaching out. This year, 253 people are participating (out of 280 freshman).

rivier-entrance-signRiv is test-optional except for nursing. The minimum qualifications (this does not guarantee entry) include having earned at least 77% in math and science (including algebra, geometry, bio, and chem). The Pre-Professional Health core is the same curriculum as the nursing program. Students can reapply at the end of freshman year if they didn’t get accepted directly into nursing.

© 2016

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