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Centre College

Centre College (Visited 9/24/19)

Centre quad 3There’s a reason that Centre is on the Colleges that Change Lives list. Students are “Happy, successful, and grateful” which shows in their freshman-to sophomore retention (in the low 90s). Combined with a 4-year graduation in the low-to-mid 80s, you have a recipe for a lot of success. When visiting a CTCL school, I ask students how the school has changed their lives. Here’s what 2 said:

  • “I come from a community where education hasn’t been important. Being able to see the world as it is, I’ve grown closer to my culture and community, but it’s inspired me to give back to a world that has accepted my identities. I came here as a refugee, and I understand myself better. I will treasure the mentorships.”
  • “The people change the lives of Centre students whether it’s a faculty member who says ‘try something new, don’t assume you know your path yet’ – or a student who gets us involved in something. We’re challenged to be better and go outside our comfort zone.”
Centre 3

The college’s “200 years” banners

This is Centre’s bicentennial year “which we celebrated by raising $200 million” – not bad for a small school of 1410 students sitting on 150 acres in a small Kentucky town! For the last 30+ years, they’ve landed in the Top 10 for percentage of alumni who give back to the college. This has helped grow their endowment to over $330M.

One counselor asked, “What’s here that offers opportunities to people from non-college going cultures?” We got what I think is one of the best, most thoughtful, well-reasoned answers I’ve heard: “We think it’s important and it’s intentional. They find people who are like themselves here. We’re not a place of privilege like many places like this. We aren’t overweighed with rich kids – that just hasn’t been the culture here. That matters. There’s an incredible culture of personal concern for students here. Faculty are invested in success of students that is different from a lot of places.”

Centre dining hallAlmost ¼ of the students are Pell-eligible, and about ¼ of domestic students self-identify as students of color. Just over 20% are First-Gen. “This is a great place to be a first-gen: they graduate at higher rates than continuing gen students,” said one of the professors.

Centre is almost entirely (98%) residential (even though only 40% come from out of state) which builds community, and it shows from walking around campus. New dorms are gender-inclusive. Students are happy and engaged with each other. We saw few people alone or plugged into their music. Campus is gorgeous and traditionally styled with meticulously maintained brick buildings.

Centre 4Although Presbyterian by heritage and maintaining “a loose connection,” you’d never know it by being on campus. Centre is open spiritually with multiple groups representing different identities. There’s a spirituality center and plenty of opportunities to reflect various beliefs. They create a safe space to foster faith (or non-faith). “You can be who you are while still learning about the other. They’ll often open convocations with prayers in native languages, in different faith traditions, etc. It breaks down the fear and mistrust of what they maybe don’t understand yet.” The tour guide said that she’d like to have a central intercultural center, a one-stop shop. Two years ago, they hired 3 diversity people and today they see lots of programming, training on how to be an ally (such as pronoun use), etc.

Centre lincoln 3We asked the students and faculty, “Why here?”

  • Students learn to perform: “They put themselves out there and learn to fail and succeed.”
  • “It’s the Centre Commitment: Students will graduate in 4 years, they’ll study abroad at least once (85% do it once, 50% do it twice; record was 7 times with graduation in 4 years), and/or do an internship or research. Study abroad is built into the fabric of the college. We’re not doing superficial tourism. Students dive into the culture and place. We balk at the word “trip” – students complete a rigorous academic course. They hit the ground with questions to ask. This is important especially because of the college’s location in Kentucky. We want to expose people to a wider context. Over half of the students come from KY and sometimes have never left the state. This is the way to open them up.”
  • Centre quad 2

    A view of one of the quads

    “We kind of own the high impact practices – our experiences in the classroom, the labs, etc – is off the charts. We’re really, really good at this.”

  • “We’re taking young people and shaping them as citizen leaders in whatever they choose to do going forward. They’ll have 3 or 4 more careers, live in several places. It’s the norm. The placements they get are to be envied which is a credit to a lot of people, including career services and the faculty.”
  • “It’s way more than providing an education. It’s creating an adventure. It’s a first-rate undergrad education, prepared for work in service, but be given a chance to go places socially, emotionally, academically to move beyond. We give them practice to be a person of adventure.”
Centre Norton 1

Norton Center for the Arts

Everything we heard from students, admission reps, Deans, professors – spoke to an educational experience that’s off the charts, in and out of the classroom.

  • “People can pursue diverse interests whether it’s cutting-edge research, the arts, or athletics.”
  • They operate on a 4-1-4 calendar that allows for 10-12 classes to be taught overseas in January. Pre-med students, athletes, etc go abroad which isn’t always the case.
  • The average class has 18 students with 60% having fewer than 20. The largest class maxes at 30. Teaching is prized: “It’s rewarded in merit pay and in tenure and promotion decisions,” said one of the Deans. Faculty members here have received many Kentucky Teacher of the Year awards.
  • The Norton Center for the Arts is an exceptional space, rivaling several I’ve seen at larger schools. It provide space for Visual/Fine Arts and Dramatic Arts majors and minors, and the venue brings the wider world to the students, part of the mission they do so well: they’ve hosted the 2000 and 2012 VP debates, Shanghai Ballet, Architecture festivals, and a myriad of nationally and internationally known performers. “The Norton Center is one of the most phenomenal things I’ve seen on a college campus: students can get behind the scenes, have international acts in their classrooms, etc,” said a Professor.

The students’ favorite classes include:

  • Centre skeleton 3

    Some of the skeletons in one of the Science buildings

    A study-away trip to Morocco and Spain: “We studied the three major Abrahamic religions. We talked to Jewish communities, the Conquistadors, the history attached to the other places and how they created community. Interactions with locals were amazing.”

  • Islamic America: “We traveled 10 days from here to Denver to see different states and how the Muslim community works there. I’m not from the US. To learn those facts and stories and to experience the emotions was fascinating.”
  • “Urban Economics in London, specifically learning how a local economy develops, why certain business develop close together, the banking system, etc. was great!”
  • “Churchill’s World about his life and world. I read more than I have for any other class and I loved it. I was eager to write the next paper.”
  • Acting Storytelling Class: “For my final project, I told an immigration story through my Dad’s eyes. It was powerful to learn his story and then share it.”

Centre quadAcademics to note include:

  • Over 200 students major in Economics & Finance, which is almost unheard of at a school this size. Students can prepare for finance and business careers without a business degree. They also offer a minor in Global Commerce.
  • “We have good participation in the sciences” including Chemical Physics and Biochemistry & Molecular Biology. They provide strong prep for professional schools: over the last 5 years, med school acceptance has ranged between 80-100% with 11-25 applying each year.
  • They have several new programs including a Data Science Major/Minor and Arabic
  • They’ve developed a graduate nursing partnership with Vanderbilt and an MAT partnership with University of Louisville and Vanderbilt.
  • This is one of very few liberal arts colleges with a Hot Glass program!
Centre arch

The arch between academics and athletics

Not surprisingly, they’re strong with service and leadership, including Bonner and Posse Scholars. “We’re engaged communicators, collaborators, leaders, and are community-driven. We get involved in a lot. We’ve earned our spot here and want to be challenged,” said the tour guide. There are over 100 organizations on campus and 23 DIII teams competing in the SAC. There’s a bridge arch “that symbolized the connection between academics and athletics,” said the tour guide. Centre beat Harvard in football in 1921 by one touchdown but haven’t played since: “I think I think they’re scared!” About half the students join Greek Life with deferred rush until spring. Frat houses sit on 1 side of Greek Row, sororities on the other “except the ones that switched awhile ago. I’m not sure why that happened,” said the tour guide. “They have a good track record of being safe, mentoring, taking care of each other.” A couple favorite traditions include:

 

  • Centre flame statue

    The infamous Flame Statue

    The Open and Close processions. Students are given a token with the seal to give to someone who made an impact.

  • Students run from dorms to the Flame Statue, around it 3 times, and back to the dorms – naked.
  • They put pennies on Lincoln’s feet for good luck.
Centre lincoln penny

Penny for good luck placed on Lincoln’s shoe

“Most students are curious. They want good grades but also want to understand what we’re talking about. We bring up controversial issues; students engage. They dig into literature and high-level arguments that don’t have yes or no answers. The students are ready, and we push them higher. We’re sensitive to the way we use test scores in admissions. We can say yes to people who are qualified to be here.” Only about 15% of the class get admitted through Early Decision. Common overlaps include Vandy, Rhodes, Miami of Ohio, Sewanee, Davidson, Kenyon, and Furman.

 

There are three significant programs worth mentioning:

  • Grissom Scholars: 10 full tuition awards per year plus a $5000 enrichment stipend are awarded to high-achieving, high-need, first-gen students. They’re looking for academic excellence (although test scores rarely play into that: they see a gamut of scores). “The recipients are good citizens, have significant school or community involvement, and are mature, kind, determined, joyful, supportive, and show exceptional potential for leadership.”
  • Lincoln Scholars: 10 recipients per year receive full tuition, room & board, and 3 funded summer experiences. “This is for students who believe they have the desire and capacity to change the world.” They look for students who are bold, selfless, unafraid, and passionate; who have integrity, courage, curiosity, drive, vision, and talent to change the world; and who are high-achieving students who are “bright enough” academically to fulfill their vision.
  • Brown Fellows: this is a more traditional merit-driven “big ticket” scholarship: there are 10 awarded per class, covering full tuition, R&B, fully funded summer travel and projects (~$6,000), and faculty mentorship. Students are intellectually curious, ambitious, focused, disciplined, and trustworthy. The University of Louisville is the only other school in KY with this program; sometimes they do joint cohort things. This is the only scholarship that has a score minimum (31 ACT/equivalent SAT) required by the funding partners. Recipients almost always have maxed out their high school curriculum and often gone beyond. “They’re typically more apt to be generalists. We’re drawn to the well-rounded kid rather than the ‘angular’ highly-focused kid.”

Centre “can be a bit of a bubble but town-gown relations aren’t bad.” Greek organizations and athletics do a lot of community service. The Bypass has lots of restaurants. Downtown Danville is walkable. “Dan Tran [public transportation] isn’t great but it works.”

© 2019

 

Ursinus College

Ursinus College (visited 11/12-13/2018

Ursinus chapel ext 1J.D. Salinger attended Ursinus (although never graduated). In recognition of him, the college offers a $40,000 (per year) scholarship to an outstanding creative writer; the winner also gets to live in his old dorm room for a year. There are also 9 finalist awards (thanks to Salinger’s 9 Stories!).

“We’re a 150 year old start-up,” said the President. “There are great traditions, but we also need to think ahead.” They’ve done that, and they did a great job showing us what made them different from many other small liberal arts institutions:

  • Ursinus studentsThe Common Intellectual Experience (CIE) started in 2000. “I can’t imagine another place where students are watching something that combined physics and dance in connection with the Galileo work that they were reading,” said one professor.
    • The syllabus, voted on by the faculty, is the same for every section. Only 25% of the curriculum can be changed in any given year, ensuring that all students – freshmen to seniors – have at least some of it in common.
    • Sections are capped at 16 students to keep the focus on close reading of texts, writing, and discussion. How that happens within the class differs. “Texts are springboards for them to think about their own experiences and lives. It creates a culture of students who are able to discuss things.” Discussion counts for 40% of their grades; the remainder is from writing, including required first drafts and extensive revisions.
    • Ursinus mascot

      Ursinus’ mascot (the college name comes from the Latin for ‘bear’)

      Four essential questions thread through the experience: what should matter to me, how should we live together, how can we understand the world, what will I do?

    • CIE classes are taught by faculty across the college and supported by upper-class leaders (Writing and CIE Fellows). “We don’t see it as interdisciplinary – we see it as transcending disciplines,” said a professor. Topics are integrated into campus life with regular Common Events (lectures, etc).
  • Ursinus sculptures

    Sculptures are found all over campus

    Experiential Learning Project (XLP): students must apply what they’ve learned through an Internship, Study Abroad, Summer Fellowship, Independent Research, or Student Teaching. These is done in junior or senior years to ensure a solid academic footing.

    • Students have completed internships at places like Mote Marine Lab & Aquarium, Chewy.com, a microbiology lab at Johnson and Johnson, and BigStuff Studios. One student interned at the NJ Festival of Ballooning, dealing with all the vendors; he ended up with multiple job offers including with Coke.
    • The Philadelphia Experience “Philly Ex” takes a small cohort to live in Philadelphia (at Drexel) and use it as a classroom. Classes (often core requirements) are taught by Ursinus faculty, and students complete internships (including Office of General Counsel, National Museum of American Jewish History, radio stations, Drexel Athletic Departments, Penn University Hospital, Broad Street Ministry, Dance Fusion, and Wilma Theater).
Ursinus housing

Some of the housing options on campus

“You can’t pigeonhole people here,” said one rep, but students who want a smaller environment (there are 1500 undergrads) and are willing to engage are most likely to arrive and thrive. “It’s a great place to explore things and figure yourself out,” said a student. They offer a huge diversity in extra-curriculars created for a variety of students. “Even if you aren’t a stereotypical extrovert, you can still find like-minded students who are looking for the same things you are.”

Ursinus chairs 2Students have to be accountable for themselves and to others. They need to ask questions and be curious. “Being able to connect to others and express thoughts is important,” said one professor. “It doesn’t mean you have to be good at it right away, but you should have curiosity and you have to be willing to work with others to figure out answers.”

People tend to be kind and encourage each other. A counselor asked the student/faculty panel, “What happens at Thanksgiving if you can’t go home?” Without missing a beat, one of the professors said, “Come to my house.” If students have a social anxiety or disorder, they often do well here. One student has severe ADD and loved the support. Clearly things are going well: they have an impressive 89% retention rate and 77% graduation rate, both well above the national average.

Ursinus 2Ursinus definitely deserves its spot on the Colleges That Change Lives list.

  • “I came in a hotshot senior thinking I was going to be a neuroscience double major. Then I took FYS and went head-to-head with a world-class philosophy professor. I lost. My world got turned on its head. I figured things out.”
  • “This isn’t an extension of high school,” said one of the professors. “I do hold them accountable. There’s a lot in there to do, but don’t have a fear of failure. The more small failures you have, the less likely it is you’ll have a colossal one later.”
  • Students get real-world experiences such as being put into a group of 4 (without a choice of who they work with!) to solve a problem for a real client. “That was the hardest part!” said one of the students which is exactly the point of the exercise. “You don’t always know who you’ll work with or get along with them, but the job has to get done.
  • Ursinus 12A student on the Diversity Panel was transgendered, they’re a member of the first Frat to go gender-neutral (as a side-note, 60% of students join Greek Life, mostly in local chapters). “They’ve been doing better with the gender-neutral bathrooms,” they told us. “I’ve been fortunate that my professors have validated my identity.”
  • Study abroad experiences must be at least 6 weeks (or 4 weeks plus another significant component) – this is not one of those schools that uses spring break trips to pad study abroad numbers. They hold a pre-departure class to address culture shock, safety, and health. 26% complete a semester or yearlong experience for credit!
  • Ursinus walkwayEach year, 70-80 sophomores and juniors get selected as Summer Fellows with stipends up to $4000 stipend and free housing. They work in the sciences, social sciences, and humanities. “Abstracts can look scary; I show them to first-years and tell them that this will be them in a couple years. We’re the school that can get them there. This isn’t the recipe for McDonald’s Secret Sauce. We spent 20 years building a culture where the history, psych, English, and other professors want to do the research with the kids.”

© 2018

University of Puget Sound

University of Puget Sound (visited 6/20/17)

UPS quad 2Puget Sound offers students a juxtaposition of the natural beauty within the city of Tacoma. It’s idyllic but still accessible. Students choose Puget Sound because there are a lot of resources that impact their educational journeys and prepare them for jobs. They have flexibility to be career-focused without giving up chances to explore and be creative. This school provides an immediacy and practicality to their education. Students are heavily involved in experiential learning: restoring habitats in the backyard, traveling abroad, interning at Boeing or Amazon. However, those don’t mean much if there’s no reflection involved: “this is what I did and learned; here’s how it’s important to me, my career, and my work.” Puget Sound both provides this opportunity AND expects students to do this. This goes a long way in helping the school stay on the Colleges that Change Lives list (although it’s far from the only reason).

UPS 8I usually ask students at CTCL schools how the school actually changed their lives. Here’s what Puget Sound students said:

  • It’s a different environment from my high school which was very driven, very Ivy-focused. When I first got here, I was less comfortable with myself. Now I don’t feel like I have to worry about what I’m doing or wearing. I’m used to a cutthroat environment but no one asks your GPA here. They’re personally motivated. They care about their school. They came here because it’s the most comfortable, not because they’re trying to impress anyone. I’m excited to be back in this environment after Study Abroad.
  • UPS 11The amount of support I’ve received from professors, my job in catering, my coach is just amazing. I can call on any of them. My best friends are here. I can ask for a pushback of a due date, and they will allow it because they want my best work. I’m ready to go back into the real world and have something here to fall back on.
  • I was much less independent. One of the best things is that I feel cared about by students, faculty, staff. We promote a culture of caring. It’s not about holding your hand. It’s still challenging intellectually and emotionally, but it puts me in a mindset so I know what I can expect from others. I can have educated discourse while maintaining empathy and a positive outlook on life.

UPS gardenStudents are curious, engaged, reflective, and committed. Academics are practical and rigorous without being cutthroat, and the school is large enough (2600 undergrads) for choices without being overwhelming. “You’ll see students spending hours in the library, but also they’re involved in so much! It’s very typical to see people over-involved, including professors,” said one of the reps. A student said, “Professors are a little quirky here; that made me even more happy.” Some examples include:

  • UPS observatory

    The bell tower built up around the observatory

    One of the Chem professors. In the mornings, he’s always a little disheveled, always entertaining, and uses examples that just make you say, “What??” … but you kind of get it, even though you don’t feel like you should! You’ll see him wearing a helmet and riding his scooter around campus.

  • A Musicologist has been teaching here since the ‘70s. He has every presentation memorized and his mind moves a mile a minute. It’s hard to follow him because his mouth doesn’t keep up with his head. He’s so excited, he’ll start dancing around the room. He’s downloaded his presentations to cassette tapes just to make sure it works since he seems to destroy AV equipment.
  • A Sculpture professor. This is a tough guy you don’t think you want to mess with. He has 9 fingers so you take his safety lectures seriously! But he’s the sweetest guy ever. I’ve cried in his office when I got really stressed but he’ll talk me through it. I know he’ll be a life-long friend.
UPS science quad, gazebo

The Science Complex courtyard. The glass “gazebo” is in the shape of a salt crystal and holds one of the campus coffee shops.

Academic offerings are varied, including lots of interdisciplinary programs. The tour guide’s largest class, History 101, had 27 students in it (the smallest had 3). Programs worth mentioning are:

  • The Music School attracts a lot of people, even though it’s a smaller program. About 1/3 of the total student population is involved in music is some way because it’s open to everyone. They offer Music Education with a 1-year Masters. It’s one of the most credit-intensive programs. “I don’t have much room for electives,” said one student
  • UPS theater

    The theater building

    Bioethics which you rarely see at liberal arts schools!

  • Gender and Queer Studies
  • International Political Economy
  • Global Development Studies
  • An 84% acceptance rate into med school (the Biochem & Molecular Bio major is particularly strong).
  • The natural history museum has a whale skeleton that the students helped clean and put together.
UPS hanging art

Glass artwork hanging prominently in windows

Passages is a special Orientation program where students go to the mountains for 3 days (orientation itself lasts over a week). It becomes part of the culture to experience nature. Freshmen continue building community through their 2 First-Year Seminars. They also get to experience Tacoma and learn what’s available.

UPS dormsCampus keeps people busy, and students like sticking around. “Students will get what they’re looking for, but this isn’t a party school.” Many campus programs have generous budgets are student-run to provide jobs (44% of students on campus work). Students took the initiative to found club sports. Scuba and kayaking classes/clubs use the pool. Varsity sports are DIII, and PLU is their big rival. They’re the Loggers which came about early in the school’s founding when the football team was hired by a logging company to replace workers gone to war. Football, basketball (men’s and women’s), and women’s volleyball bring in the crowds.

UPS greek housingAbout 35% of students go Greek with spring recruitment; they have a 2.6 GPA requirement, although most are higher. Sophomores are usually the ones to move into Greek Housing (the beautiful houses have about 30-40 beds each). Students not affiliated or who don’t want to live in Greek Housing can choose themed houses (like the “OutHouse” for outdoor-themed activities). They have a gender-neutral house and floors.

UPS 5

Dorms

Some of the students we talked to wish there were more international students and more study abroad options. Another said that she wished more students would take advantage of the UPS Pacific Rim program. This runs every 3 years; students spend 9 months in Asia studying in at least 8 countries.

Admissions is test-optional but there are 2 100-word essays to replace test scores.

© 2017

Evergreen State College

Evergreen State College (visited 6/20/17)

ESC quad 2“This will probably be the most unusual school you’ll visit this week,” said the rep, and she wasn’t wrong. This is an interdisciplinary liberal arts and sciences school which does not offer traditional majors. Rather, students earn an emphasis if they’ve earned 45+ credits in one area; otherwise they get an emphasis in Liberal Arts. Students with at least 72 credits (out of the 180 required) in math/science will earn the BS; others get a BA. Additionally, students do not earn grades but get narratives reports which then are placed on the transcript; one grad’s transcript was 27 pages long! This does not hinder entrance to grad schools: about 90% get into 1st or 2nd choice schools, and if grades or a GPA are absolutely mandatory, they have a system in place to make sure that happens. “That’s extraordinarily rare, though,” said the rep.

ESC student“If you need someone to tell you what classes to take, this isn’t the place for you,” said one of the tour guides. Students who don’t like to interact don’t last here … or they quickly develop the skills to manage! Students like working with each other and the faculty. “There’s not a hierarchical relationship here. We call faculty by their first names.” Also, true to hands-on and interdisciplinary work, they don’t use a lot of books for class and can generally get what they need through the library.

ESC sculpture 2Program” is their word for the classes students take. Generally, they sign up for 1 program per quarter which is worth about 16 credits and links 3-5 disciplines. Freshman can have up to 30 to choose from, and there are 150 or so offered every year. Some are specific to freshman; others have prerequisites and/or are offered to upperclassmen. “I took a class in my first year that was open to everyone,” said one of the tour guides. “There are definite pros and cons. I liked meeting people from several years, but it was definitely tough. I don’t know if I’d recommend it to everyone.” Titles are catchy and indicate the theme. For example:

  • ESC organic farmers market

    Organic Farmers Market

    Into the Woods links forestry, biology, sociology, and philosophy. Students looked at sustainable agriculture, economics, and the human elements of the logging industry: who are the people involved (and who isn’t as involved)? Who depends on this for the economy? Who are the environmentalists and politicians making policy about how to manage the forests and sustaining the towns? What’s the right thing to do?

  • ESC ampetheater

    Rec Center

    Environmental Analysis took an extended field trip to Yellowstone. “We can go off campus for 3 weeks and they aren’t missing other classes.” This class focused on geology, analytical chemistry, and environmental microbiology along with some public policy “because you can’t get away from that.” Students have the flexibility to work within interdisciplinary curriculum with a lot of theory-to-practice, seminars, projects, and collaborative work instead of competitive.

ESC media studio 2

A media center

Students tend to remember more if it’s contextualized and they see how it links together and see how the classic liberal arts play out in the real world and how they link to careers.

ESC 4

Some of the academic buildings

Faculty get assigned to Programs at a ratio of no more than 25:1 (freshman are 18:1). Programs create an automatic cohort; students and faculty get to know each other really well because they’re seeing each other every day in labs, field trips, and classes. “We probably get to know the students more than they’d like!” said one of the professors. Teachers, like the students, must want to work interdisicplinarily. They practice what they preach. If students have to work together, so do the faculty. They’re here because they want to teach. “I get to team teach with people outside of my discipline which means I get to learn alongside the students.” Faculty go through a 2-year planning process for each class. This means the classes are also announced 2 years in advance so students see what’s coming down the pike.

ESC geoduck

The Geoduck (pronounced “gooeyduck”) is the school mascot which regularly makes the Top 10 Strangest Mascots

Students who have an interest not offered in a program can create an Independent Learning Contract as long as a faculty member is willing to sponsor it. This, too, must be interdisciplinary. One of the students did Creative Writing/poetry project centered around the color blue by looking at color theory, the ocean, the Virgin Mary, etc. “I got the experience of being a working writer with the safety net of still being in school.”

ESC 3I typically ask students at CTCL schools how it changed their life. One student said: “ I came in wanting to be a Physicians Assistant, and now I’m writing poetry. It exposed me to things I didn’t even know I was interested in. I took a program called “What is she saying?” in my sophomore year – it was so cool reading things by all women. The support I got after my first project by faculty and peers was amazing! I never thought of myself as a writer, but having people believe in you and what you create is life-changing.”

ESC Longhouse 2

The exterior of the Longhouse

This is a public school with only about 3800 undergraduates, just over half of whom come from out-of-state! Only 50% of the entering fall class are freshman – they get a lot of transfers who are looking for a different experience.

ESC art studio

One of the art studios

There are amazing scientific resources available to the students including mass spectrometers, infrared spectrometer, polarograph, and a scanning electron microscope. Their arts (including digital media) have studios for Media Engineering, a Center for Creative and Applied Media, Audio Mixing, and Video Editing among others. The art spaces are naturally lit with filters on the windows for true color. Only 1 program per term will use any given studio so students can leave their work and have unlimited access to the space. Once students are certified in particular areas like metalworking, they can use the facilities and can buy materials at cost. They have to prove proficiency on a particular resource (cameras, etc) and then can check them out at any point. They have a Natural History Museum and a Longhouse which is used for artist and community space. They’re adding a glassblowing program, and will soon offer an MFA in Indigenous Arts.

ESC path

A trailhead

Campus is 1000 acres, only 200 of which are developed. There are 5 trailheads right on campus. 1 leads to the organic farm used for classes. There are fire-pits, shrines, ropes, and more in the woods. One of the trails leads to 1.5 miles of beach. The outdoor stuff is amazing and students can rent out gear. There’s not much in town that is walkable, but there are buses to get them around to places they need for shopping or entertainment.

Housing is never required but highly recommended. 80% of first year students and about 25% of sophomores through seniors live on campus. There’s no Greek life but lots of clubs (including a sheep club! I’m not sure what they do …). They have one of the last freeform radio stations (KAOS) in the country where students can become certified DJs. Eggplant Café is an organic student-run coop.

© 2017

Earlham College

Earlham College (visited 6/12/17)

Earlham swing“The pool here is too short for competition because …. Quakers!” said the tour guide. Earlham does, however, have an excellent club equestrian team and an Equestrian Center where students can board their horses.

Earlham rain gardenAs a CTCL school, it’s not a surprise that Earlham is known for its cutting edge integrated learning (and Money magazine has ranked them as top college in Indiana). They are vocal in their support for a liberal arts education: “You should be able to parachute into any situation and figure it out. You need to listen to others. It doesn’t mean you have to change your core values, but you need to understand what other people are talking about. They might have ideas you want to incorporate. Liberal Arts gives you the critical thinking and multi-disciplinary perspectives you need in today’s society,” said the college President.

Earlham zen garden

Zen Garden

Earlham is a Quaker-affiliated school; other than perhaps the Japanese Garden in the courtyard of the Student Center (“students like to go there to get their Zen on,” said one admissions rep), there’s no visual indication that there’s any affiliation at all. However, they do embrace Quaker values: respect for one another, integrity, social justice, simplicity, and creation of community – they work particularly hard at this. The Peace/Justice mindset was evident even on the outskirts of campus where “War is Not the Answer” signs sat on lawns of houses, many of which (we later learned) were owned by Earlham and used as an upperclassmen housing option. A professor said, “Students can learn to protest on any campus, but this is one of a few where you can learn to do it and build community, not destroy it. Students will do what they need to do, but they’ll be asking questions along the way.” One student said, “I’m not a Quaker, but it’s what I treasure about the school.” Another said, “We aren’t a quiet student body.”

Earlham quad 2This is primarily a residential campus with most students (about 95%) living on or adjacent to the 800 acre campus. “We’re unapologetic about the 4 year residency requirement.” There are 7 dorms (2 all-female, 1 all-male) including gender-neutral housing. They provide “graduated living options” where first-years are in cohorts in traditional dorms or floors. Seniors can live in one of the 20 houses on the perimeter of campus, many of which are themed housing options. About ¾ of these are consistent every year (cultural or language, faith-based, etc). The others are Friendship Houses: students petition to live with friends, and they have to explain what this group will do to contribute to campus. Applications are read without names attached by groups of other students. “Students get comfortable living in ambiguous environments. This is where self-discovery happens which can take time. We specialize in helping them do this,” said the dean of residential life.

Earlham playing fieldsThe main part of campus sits on 200 of the school’s property; the remaining 600 acres are called “Back Campus” with trails for hiking/biking/running, educational research, horseback riding, and more. Campus is never quiet: “Students tend to get over-involved. Most people here don’t know how to say no,” said a tour guide. 30% participate in NCAA DIII varsity sports. The student-athlete experience is positive here. The town of Richmond is welcoming of students with jobs and internships.

Earlham sci cntr

Science Center

Earlham provides an intellectually stimulating environment which is also close and nurturing. One of the students said, “Academics are so much better than I thought! Maybe also a little less fun …” although he said this good humor with a smile on his face! The stand-out program at Earlham is EPIC: Earlham Plan for Integrative Collaboration. It focuses on:

  • Intellectual Inquiry through Liberal Arts explorations, the major, and Integrated Pathways combining curricular and co-curricular opportunities such as
    • Medical Humanities (ethical and social aspects of medical sciences)
    • Peace Corps Prep School for international development, offering courses in 6 sectors of the PC (Agriculture, education, etc). They get a notation on their transcript.
  • Earlham stu cntr

    Student Center

    Immersion Experiences: internships, research, off-campus study

    • The Border Studies Program is a unique study-away experience; students are based in Tucson but spend time on both sides of the border. This program takes a sociological, ecological, and economical approach to immigration and migration, human rights, food, indigenous cultures, and more. This is open to students from all majors as long as they have completed at least 1 year of college level Spanish.
    • Other immersion experiences include semesters in India (Tibetan Studies), Jordan, Ecuador, and more.
  • Integrated Learning including diverse collaboration, skill and competency development, career explorations

Earlham 3There are 5 Centers for students to choose from within this program:

  • Center for Global Health (looking at things ranging from the degradation of natural habitats, food shortages, and health issues). Students have collaborated with Departments of State, School Districts, and more.
  • Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation
  • Social Justice
  • Global Education
  • Career Education and Community Engagement

Earlham 11EPIC’s purpose is to advance the schools’ commitment to interdisciplinary scholarship, innovative teaching, learning, and transformative social action by funding internships or research for all interested students. These are transformative experiences; by funding them, it addresses an equity issue. Some students are in a position to do exciting internships, but others are precluded from those opportunities due to economics. This program makes it available to everyone, not just the privileged students.

Earlham solar chargingThey’ve recently built the CoLab (CoLaboratory) which allows a physical space for interdisciplinary work to happen. Stemming from this type of work, a team of 4 Earlham students won the Hult Prize, a student competition for Social Good. This was an international competition against 25,000 teams; they were in the top 6. The four students created an interdisciplinary team (one of the requirements) representing majors in Econ, Business, and Peace & Justice. They had to create a project to double the income of 10 million people by 2017; they created an “UberBus” in Kenya and are now expanding it with the $1million in start-up money they won!

Earlham qud 4They’ve been named as a Top 10 Most Diverse Campus. International students are well taken care of here. There are 3 dedicated international advisors, and students will even get shuttled from the Dayton airport. 70% of students will study abroad.

Their Museum Studies program (run jointly by the Art, Biology, Geology, and History departments) is amazing! Students curate exhibits and run the museum tours. Many combine this with a business program for marketing and advertising.

The New Arts building has individual studios for the Fine Arts students. They offer Fibers and Weaving concentration and Photography (about half of the art majors have a photo concentration) as well as extensive metalworking and ceramics labs. “We used to be kind of invisible,” said the Chair of the program. “We had studios and offices and darkrooms scattered across campus. The new building changes that.” The theater and music departments are also well outfitted; Michael C. Hall (Dexter) is an Earlham alum.

© 2017

Hendrix College

Hendrix College (visited 3/27/17)

Hendrix bellHendrix sits right on the edge of Conway, about 30 minutes from Little Rock (they run shuttles to the airport before and after breaks). The town is large enough to provide opportunities but small enough to get around easily. There are 3 colleges in Conway; UCA is more visible because it’s bigger. Fun fact: Conway has more roundabouts than traffic lights. Campus is gorgeous (and even has a Creek Reserve): “Our facilities are exceptional; the people are more so.” This isn’t surprising as a school on the Colleges that Change Lives list!

Over breakfast on our Counselor visit Day, we were greeted by President Tsutsui (prounounced “suitsuey”). “How many people have been to Arkansas before? Not bad! Thanks for wanting to come back!” He went on to talk about the Top 5 questions he gets asked (as well as his answers to them) about Hendrix:

  • Hendrix quad 2

    Students outside enjoying the weather in one of the many open spaces on campus

    “Was it founded by Jimi Hendrix?”

    • Nope, but Bishop Hendrix of MO gave as much money as Jimi Hendrix so he might as well have!
  • “Wow, Arkansas, huh??”
    • There isn’t a single 17-year-old who wakes up and says, ‘I want to go to school in Arkansas, including people in this state!’ But it’s beautiful. It’s green. There are some of the friendliest, most curious people you’d ever want to meet. It’s not the saccharine, deep-south sweet. People here have time for each other. People who care about each other means something. This is a one-phone-call state. There’s someone on this campus who can pick up the phone and call anyone to arrange internships, an interview for a project, etc.
  • Hendrix class hallway

    One of the classroom buildings; classes are on the upper level with a hallway looking over faculty offices on the left. 

    “What’s that Odyssey Program all about?”

    • Students learn to take risks and craft personally meaningful learning experiences outside the classroom. They learn which paths may not be such a good fit. They prepare through research, skill building, leadership. Not all of these are unique, but here it’s not cookie-cutter. Students take charge and responsibility. We give them the power AND RESOURCES to create something that is meaningful.
  • “So what are your big plans for Hendrix?”
    • A clear student-centered mission that delivers on the rigorous Liberal Arts education that celebrates and encourages differences. There won’t be a business or engineering school or an online or graduate school. We aren’t going to grow. We want people to know each other. We’re adding a new center for teaching and learning (creative work), enhanced career services, expanded multi-cultural centers, more growth in diversity, some construction (dorms), new music/film/visual arts facilities.
  • “What makes Hendrix different than other colleges out there?”
    • It can’t be distilled down. We’re authentic and grounded. Students and alumni are smart and are good people. Staff want to be here. Watch the staff in the cafeteria. They know the students’ names. They give hugs. They ask how breaks went.

Hendrix 15Hendrix is a bubble. Compared to much of Arkansas, it’s pretty liberal, but “compared to the coastal areas, it’s much less so!” It’s a good halfway point. “Football has diversified us. There are a number of evangelicals on the team which makes us look more like America as a whole,” said one of the admission reps. “It’s not about us and them, it’s about interacting person-to-person,” said the President. He told a story about 2 students becoming good friends: “She was the first Muslim I ever met; I was the first scary-rural-American she met.”

Hendrix dorm

One of the dorms

This is a mostly residential campus with almost 90% of the 1,300 students living on campus. Campus feels vibrant with students everywhere. SOAR runs trips every weekend: ice skating, movies, etc. There are also tons of festivals around town: Toad Suck Daze Festival got rave reviews from several people, especially catching toads in the creeks to race! Students are never short of activities on campus or around town.

Food is excellent; they’re highly ranked on several lists. It’s all locally run, not a corporation. Students can – and do! – bring in recipes from home, and they get a cake on their birthday. They periodically bring out food carts: gyros, soft pretzels, etc. Tuesday Talks are held in the dining hall, bringing in people to talk about what jobs they do and how they got there.

Hendrix tunnel 1

A pedestrian tunnel with music and lights; if you know the secret code to tap the sensors, you can make it play specific songs — you need 2 people, 1 at each end!

Odyssey is their signature program, started in 2005. All students participate, not just the few who can fit it in. It’s integrated, connected to the classroom, and goes on the transcript (Research and Internships). They provide over $400,000 in support (not including study abroad). Students start with a course called Engaged Citizens and then must complete at least 3 of the 6 categories (a handful graduate each year having completed all 6):

  • Artistic Creativity: opportunities are spread across spectrum to produce something. There has to be a publicly-viewed product at the end.
  • Hendrix art 2

    Their art complex is extensive with 3 buildings. They offer everything ranging from ceramics to sculpture to woodworking

    Undergraduate Research: disciplinarily based. One professor does research on ants (social organization, etc). Students can get Odyssey credit if they do a public presentation such as a conference (even on campus).

  • Global Awareness: study abroad but can be domestic (did Somali community work)
  • Service to the World: at least 30 hours of volunteer or civic engagement (work on a campaign, animal shelter)
  • Professional and Leadership Development: They have a partnership with Heifer International (headquartered in AR) for leadership, global awareness,
  • Special projects:

“The secret sauce is reflection,” said the Odyssey Director. “You can’t just do the thing. You have to THINK about the thing. We have a lot of failed internships … they completed it fine, but it turns out that this isn’t what they want to do! If you have to present it, you have to think about it first.”

Hendrix gazebo“I’m struck by how earnest students are here and how hard working. It’s a great combination. They aren’t just falling back on being smart. They’re engaged… not that that’s 100% true across the board, but I don’t really find negative experiences with kids not wanting to be here,” said one of the professors. Academics are good across the board, but pre-Med and sciences seem to be particularly good here, including majors in Chemical Physics, Molecular Biology, Health Science, and Neuroscience. “I’ve been challenged almost too much,” said a student. There’s a 3+2 program with physics (at Hendrix) and engineering at WashU, Vanderbilt, and Columbia. can get their . “If they aren’t 100% sure they want to do engineering, it’s a great place to start. Often they think they want engineering and don’t,” said a physics professor.

Hendrix 16Students on the panel were asked about their favorite academic experience:

  • I was in an 8:15 class. People were late or overslept a lot, one in particular. One day, the professor had us call the student on speaker phone and told him we’d wait until he got to class.
  • Zoology: “We had literally thousands of things to memorize. All bio majors have to take it, usually in sophomore year. I just about quit college. I spent hours in the lab. I would sleep there. I eked out a C and am proud of that. The next summer, I found that I could identify all the shells on the beach during a family vacation. I thought I got nothing out of the class, but realized that I remembered so much.
  • Advanced Cell Bio: “The lab was the most challenging thing I’ve done. We had to think critically and design our own lab. We also learned how to read scientific journals.”
  • “I spent a semester in Oxford studying Tolkien and Lewis.”
  • “The school takes the advising process seriously.” The first year advising is sort of random to mix it up a little. They get training. Teach an Explorations class.

Hendrix quad 1What makes this a place to be unique:

  • I came out of my shell. Now it’s cool to tell people I write fiction.
  • This campus has spaces where things can happen. “I’m a queer person of color and I’m here. Like any campus there are issues, but there’s a willingness to check themselves, to realize they aren’t ready to talk about it, to want to learn. There are also a ton of alternative spaces on campus where students can be who they are. They may not be that visible, but they’re there. You can also occupy multiple spaces at once.”

 

© 2017

 

 

 

St. John’s College, Annapolis

St. John’s College, Annapolis (visited 1/5/17)

st-johns-4This small, historic campus sits on the outskirts of downtown Annapolis, across from the Naval Academy; from the front lawn, you can see both the Academy Chapel and the State House. The college sits on the original site of King William’s School (started 1696); in the 1780s, St. John’s merged with it, making it the 3rd oldest college in the country! McDowell Hall was the first building on campus (and the country’s 3rd longest continually-in-use academic building).

st-johns-6

The Front Lawn

Campus is mostly brick and easily walkable; “We’re pretty well locked in in terms of land,” said the rep who showed me around campus, who is also a 2016 alum. However, it works well for the population: the average graduating class hovers around 100 students.

 

st-johns-fs-key

Key was a Johnnie: “We have a monopoly on anthem writers!”

The Front Lawn is a popular place to hang out and where several traditions are held including graduation and the annual Annapolis Cup, a croquet game against the Naval Academy Middies. Last year, over 6000 people flooded campus: “there were tents, picnics. It was great!” Although there are varying stories of how the Cup started, one of the favorites was that sometime in the early 1980s, Middies said that Johnnies couldn’t beat them in a sport so Johnnies challenged them to croquet. “Students take it really seriously here! Last year after a snow storm that dumped almost 2 feet of snow, we saw a shoveled out square on the front lawn. It was done so they could practice!” Johnnies have won 10 National Intercollegiate tournaments at this point. “Navy has become more serious about it now because they hate to lose!”

 

st-johns-great-books-room

The Great Books study room in the library

In terms of curriculum, St. John’s is one of the most unique schools out there. Students do not have majors; instead, they all follow a common Great Book-based curriculum and graduate with a BA in Liberal Arts. That being said, they rank in the top 4% for students who complete science and engineering degrees as well as in the humanities. Law school is also a big deal; they know that Johnnies are able to think critically and formulate well-reasoned arguments.

 

st-johns-library

The interior of the library which had been the MD Hall of Records before being turned over to the college.

“There’s a weird shift in thinking here. What we read and are expected to do seems intimidating at first, but it’s done in a way that’s accessible. It’s not easy, but we know we can do it.” Students write major essays every year (each getting a little longer) followed by an oral defense: “it’s really a 15 minute discussion about what you read and wrote rather than an exam.” Students definitely need to know the whole text well, because the discussion could be about any part of it, not just on the portion covered in the essay.

 

st-johns-5

Foucault’s Pendulum

A major form of evaluation is the “Don Rag”: Freshman through Juniors meet with tutors who give a report on how things are going, both positive and negative. Students always have a chance to respond and ask questions. Juniors have the option of doing a flipped conference when they tell the professors how they believe they’re doing. Grades, however, don’t come up.

At the end of the 2nd year, all students go through Enablement. Tutors meet to discuss the students; they will recommend for them to continue, to maybe complete some work elsewhere or completion of another requirement, or rarely, that students not continue at St. John’s. “Usually students know way in advance if this is coming, if they’re at risk. You really have so much contact with tutors all the time here. It should never be a surprise.”

st-johns-exam-room

The exam room; friends and family are invited to watch the seniors defend their final papers

In the spring of senior year, students are given a month to read, research, and write a 20-40 page essay. This often comes from the canon, but sometimes not. “This is a good chance to write about something still bugging you.” They have a committee of 3 tutors who will evaluate it and then lead their final panel.

st-johns-lab

One of the science labs

Students take both Seminars (2 tutors and 16-20 students) and Tutorials (1 tutor and a maximum of 16 students). Math, Language, Music, and Lab science are taken in Tutorials (held like regular classes during the day); everything else is covered in Seminars (held Mondays and Thursdays from 8-10pm). “Often the quad is packed well past midnight after seminars with people continuing the discussions we’ve had; we’ve big on discussing things here – in and out of class!”

st-johns-concert

The room where the First Concert is held; upperclassmen pack the balcony

Required classes include 2 years of Greek (translating Plato and Aristotle among others), 2 years of French, 3 years of science (organized more thematically rather than the traditional bio/chem/physics), 4 years of math (they start with Euclid and move forward through Ptolemy, Decartes, and Einstein among many others), and 2 years of music: Freshman chorus and Sophomore Chorale. All students become familiar with basic notation and have to pass an exam in this. “That and Algebra are the only exams we take in the traditional sense, but we have as many chances as we need to get through it.” Music classes are mostly singing-based “but no one is required to sing well. Chorus was my favorite class. It was fun without having to worry about being good.” The annual First Concert is put on by the freshman music class. Upperclassmen pack the balcony to watch. “It’s a great welcoming tradition on both sides.” Often, the singers will go through songs twice – once by themselves and once when upperclassmen join in.

st-johns-conference-room

Conversation Room

The Conversation Room has a large harkness-style table with more chairs around the outside. It’s used for meetings, long music classes, and even long labs (specifically done in a long block to combine experiments and discussion at one time). On Friday nights, there are often lectures which are not required but are well attended. Students are invited to continue the conversation in this room afterwards: “they often last longer than the actual lecture; the longest I’ve been to ended at midnight.” Because of the placement of the microphone, this is usually the only time that a tutor or lecturer will sit at the head of the table.

st-johns-dining-hall

Dining Hall

The dining hall is small, but “there’s never an issue with seating, and the longest I think I ever had to wait for food was about 5 minutes.” There’s a private dining room on one side which can be used for club or student government meetings or other events; if it isn’t reserved, students can use that as “overflow” seating if needed. He pointed out the ice cream case on the way out, telling me that it was a requirement of a donor that there always be ice cream. Outside the dining hall are some cubbies for people to leave belongings; they had been asked not to bring bags into the dining hall, but “this year is the first time in my five years on campus that there have been thefts. I don’t know what’s going on, and I hope it stops – it changes the tone of things around here. When I was a student, I never worried about leaving a bag or a laptop out here.”

st-johns-planetarium

The planetarium with the Ptolemy stone on the left side. “I don’t remember exactly how it works, but the circle turns to show the angles of different astronomical features.”

Both campuses have operational Ptolemy stones – the only working ones in the country. There is also a Foucault Pendulum used in freshman science “and we use the area in other classes when we need to drop things from a height.” There’s an Observatory and a planetarium which are used in sciences and by the Astronomy Club. They have a boathouse right on College Creek (running along the edge of campus); their only sports are crew, sailing, and fencing.

st-johns-college-creek

College Creek on the back side of campus.

The only study abroad option they have is a new program offered 2nd semester in France; they send over St. John’s professors to teach the classes since the curriculum is proscribed. If students want a more traditional experience, they’re welcome to do a summer program. Students can take advantage of the Pathways program which offers a $2000 stipend or a $4000 internship program; students are eligible for 4 summers starting after freshman year (so they can do one after senior year).

© 2017

Emory & Henry College

Emory & Henry College (visited 11/4/16)

eh-quad-1This is the only college I know of that has a “retirement home” for horses – and the only I’ve heard of that enable students to earn a semester’s worth of work for through-hiking the Appalachian Trail (or another of similar scope).

eh-barn-1

The Equestrian Center barn

When E&H bought Virginia Intermont University in 2014, they took over their barn and equestrian program. One student rider we spoke to told us, “I’m glad they bought it because I wouldn’t have achieved this success without it.” About 50 horses live at the Equestrian Center, 16 miles from the main campus (3 shuttles a day run back and forth). All the horses are donated, including “some famous ones” like a horse from the Beijing Olympics. An alum, concerned about what would happen when they got too old for the 60-ish riders in the Equine Studies program, donated $250,000 for a retirement barn for the older horses. That barn, currently with 5 residents (and room for 6 more per year after this) sits adjacent to the main campus.

eh-studentE&H is another CTCL school that did not disappoint. Students we spoke to – ranging from tour guides to random kids in the café to the singers performing for us over dinner – couldn’t say enough about the school. One said, “People are so nice, it’s almost creepy!” Another one had this to say about academics: “Classes are challenging but not so much that you get down on yourself.”

It’s no wonder kids rave about their classes: E&H has more Virginia Professors of the Year than UVA and VTech combined!

eh-quad-and-chapelAt any CTCL school, I ask students how the institution has changed their lives. Here’s what I got:

  • “I can be myself here.”
  • “The music program is amazing and I’ve learned so much. It’s pushed me well beyond my comfort zone.”
  • “Individual attention I get here is outstanding. I really didn’t expect that from college.”
  • “People are really accepting. We’re not labeled here. We can spend hours in rehearsals or in a practice room. People don’t see that as weird. They just say that we’re hard working.”
  • “We go to a lot of auditions. We met people from schools where the students there didn’t even know each other. Here we do, and we support and help each other all the time.”
eh-statue-henry

The Patrick Henry statue

E&H is named for Patrick Henry (yes, of “Give me liberty or give me death!” fame – also the 1st Governor of Virginia) and John Emory (a Bishop of the Methodist Church); statues of the 2 men stand prominently in the middle of campus facing each other (and will often get dressed up

eh-statue-emory

The John Emory statue

by students for special occasions). A third statue of Ephraim Wiley (the longest standing college president) sits on top of one of the main buildings. This statue and the Chapel are the same height to show Wiley’s belief of their equal importance in the students’ education. E&H is associated with the Methodist church, and students must take 1 religion course. However, that’s where the religious requirements end.

There are a few academic programs worth highlighting:

  • eh-tech-workshop

    The theater tech workshop

    The music and theater programs are great, with BFAs offered in Acting, Directing, Musical Theater, and Production & Design. They put on 4-6 productions a year. They were putting on Rocky Horror Picture Show right after we visited (including a midnight performance!), so the students performed several numbers for us during dinner. There are several scholarship for music based on audition. The Chorale competes internationally (they went to South Africa last year). Students tend to get involved cross-disciplines (ie, the marching band Drum Major is in chorale).

  • eh-art-displayThe Art program is developing a Museum Studies Track. Students curate shows from the college’s permanent collection. They bring in visiting artists who give talks to the students (the community is invited as well). When we visited, the art on display in the main gallery was fresh from Renwick Gallery (Smithsonian). 30-35 students from all disciplines including EnviSci helped to install it. The insects are all real, mostly from SE Asia and the Pacific Rim. The exhibit is meant to make a positive out of negative; the Skull symbolizes what could happen and the eye is meant to represent the Evil Eye.
  • Lyceum Program: students must attend a certain number of lectures and cultural events. All arts count towards this.
  • Along with standard majors, they offer unique programs like Civil Innovation; Politics, Law, and International Relations; and a 5-year, BA/MA program in Community and Organizational Leadership. Students can build their own major if they choose to do so.
eh-debate-room

The Hermesian Literary Society room

Something unique are the debate rooms set aside for the 2 main Literary Societies/Debate clubs on campus. The Hermesian Literary Society (Lincoln-Douglass style debating) was founded when the school was founded; it stopped for awhile and was restarted 4 years ago; students interested in joining must take part in an introductory debate in which they can decide the topic. The Calliopean Room is across the hall; they debate in Parliamentary Style. There’s a friendly rivalry between them, and they’ll have intersocietal debates.

eh-dorm-1

One of the new dorm buildings

Most freshmen and 80% of all students live on campus. Two new apartment-style dorms have been built recently, both having about 250 beds. About 35% of the students join one of the 15 Greek organizations. While there’s no Greek Housing, members can choose to live together on a floor (although the college limits the number of students from any particular organization who can live on a single floor). This used to be a dry campus but that’s been rescinded, although a clear alcohol policy remains in effect.

eh-outdoor-arena

One of the outdoor riding areas

This has been named a Best Small School for Outdoor Activities. The Outdoor Program is well utilized by students. They’re located near the 2 highest peaks in Virginia, and they have a 9-hole golf course on campus. One of the most amazing programs is the Semester A.T.rail which lets students hike the length of the Appalachian Trail for a semester. They plan their program with the Director, but Nature Writing (an English Course) is required of all hikers.

eh-chapelStudents admit that there’s not much going on in the town of Emory, but “There’s a good farmer’s market in town.” On campus, however, there’s plenty to do. Football brings out big crowds. Homecoming is a big deal; lots of alumni come back for it. Tailgating becomes a networking event in addition to just being fun.

© 2016

Hope College

Hope College (visited 11/11/16)

hope-signI always ask students who attend one of the “Colleges That Change Lives” just how that college changed their lives. Here’s what Hope students said:

  • It’s helped me grow in ways I can’t even describe. I joined The Pull [description later]. We practice 3 hours a day and longer on weekends. I’ve met my best friends because of it. I’ve become so much more confident in my faith, my friends, and who I am here.
  • In Basketball, I’ve been challenged and pushed to be my best. Same in the classroom. Along the way, so many people encouraged me and pushed me. To look back to where I was a freshman, there’s been so much growth and people to help along the way.
  • hope-7Professors constantly push us even when we’re struggling. They believe in us. They know we’re capable of doing more. Friends do that, too. People want the best for others.
  • The faith aspect. I grew up Catholic but wasn’t close to my faith. It’s not shoved down your throat, but it’s present and I was able to grow in that area.
  • I’ve met amazing people. It’s an interesting culture – genuine and open. The community was attractive to me; I didn’t have that at my previous college. I have coffee with the chair of department and dinner at professors’ houses all the time. That’s how invested they are. I feel 100% prepared for whatever comes next.
hope-student-circl

Part of the student circle in the Pine Grove

Hope is ranked as the friendliest college in the US: “every person feels welcome, fully included, and will flourish in the way that they’re gifted by God to flourish,” said Hope’s President. On the day I visited, days after the election, there was a student-run silent demonstration in the pine grove to make a statement: No matter your background, your beliefs, your politics: you’re supported and welcome here.

It seems like students actually walk the walk here: they’re inclusive and support each other in whatever endeavors they choose to undertake. Some examples:

  • hope-music-bldg

    The Music Building

    The basketball teams (women’s and men’s) led the nation in DIII attendance last year.

  • I saw Jane Eyre: The Musical on opening night. Although well-supported by the community (and, I assume, parents/families), a huge part of the audience was comprised of students. Beyond that, I was highly impressed at the talent and the theater They bring in guest artists (actors and back-stage techies) to expose students to experts and benefit from their experience and talent. For this musical, the guest artist played Rochester, but all the others were students, including the musicians.
  • hope-archThe Pull, the oldest campus tradition in the US, is a massive tug-of-war across the Black River between freshmen and sophomores and coached by juniors and seniors. They dig trenches and build barricades so they can’t see the other team; the 18 pullers are helped by “cheerers” who can tell them what’s going on.

Hope makes the Top 10 of “Colleges where Students are Most Satisfied with College Choice,” tying with Stanford! Students come and persist until graduation. In fact, they have one of the highest in retention and graduation rates in the state, competing with UMich.

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Friday morning Chapel Service

Although affiliated with the Reform Church, the largest self-identifying group is Catholic (20%). An optional 20-minute Chapel is held on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings. The building fits about 1/3 of the study body, and these events tend to be standing-room only. “It’s a fun atmosphere because the people who are there have chosen to be there. No one is ever forced – but no one is made to feel bad for not coming, either.”

hope-quadThe President said, “We encourage all students to explore Christianity and figure out their own faith. We don’t expect you to fit a mold, but we want you to seriously consider what it might offer you.” The two required religion classes don’t even need to be Christian based. There are “tons of opportunities to grow in your faith if you want it” such as mission trips and Bible studies. Several students on the panel mentioned that they liked the Christian aspect on campus.

The town of Holland is a wonderful bike- and pedestrian-friendly community. Several blocks of locally run stores and restaurants sit right off campus, and students can get some discounts in town. Hope owns about 30% of the apartments in town as housing for students (with the same expectations as dorm living such as being a “dry campus”). The white sand lakeshore beaches are a couple miles away; shuttles run there as well as to stores. The train station is 2 blocks from campus running to Chicago and Grand Rapids.

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An off-campus cottage about a block from campus

Students were out and about on campus, including on Saturday morning. Freshmen and most sophomores live on campus. Juniors and many seniors often move to one of the 80ish off-campus, Hope-owned houses (mostly upperclassmen live in these, but sometimes sophomores get in). “It’s a nice transitional period.”

About 20% of student join Greek Life. Rush is in the spring; “No one feels left out if they aren’t in it – it’s just another club,” said one student. Another said, “Our chapters don’t have the negative connotations that come with some of the bigger schools.”

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Some of the academic buildings

“You get a personal hand-crafted education here. We’re focused on helping you discern what’s important. We want to make sure that your time here will help you consider all the options available to you and help you prepare for them.” Students’ favorite classes have been:

  • Religion and Atrocity: “it explores hard issues that would be easy to sweep under the rug. It focused a lot on Holocaust. They talk about where god fits in: did he let it happen? Did he not? It was a deep thinking class and changed how I looked at things.”
  • Social Work Interviewing: “I was so nervous for the class. Once I got into it, I loved it. We worked through scenarios, got strategies, etc. It was difficult but in a real situation, you know how you need to prepare.”
  • hope-leavesFrench 3: “I took this freshman year, and once a week, a native speaker came in. It was cool to speak with her, learn about France. We did group projects, recite poems, etc. I didn’t get any of that in high school.”
  • PE and Health for Elementary School teachers: “as a math person, that was different. I learned how to integrate movement in the classroom. Lots of speakers talking about dance in the classroom, and I can apply a lot of things I learned.”
  • Marketing Management: “I love business and marketing. I’m involved in analytics and creative thinking, thinking outside the box. The director of the program talked to companies who want to hire the class. We have to dissect everything – branding, logo, everything. It was a real hands-on experience.”
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One of the Engineering labs, complete with a Maker-bot and 3D printer

Management is the biggest major (175/800 graduates this year were in the major). Nursing and Education are next in size. Engineering requires a comprehensive core before students specialize. “It’s hard to find a job that’s strictly in 1 discipline; you’re going to work with a lot of other types of engineers,” said the head of the department. “This isn’t the typical engineering department: people are engaged in other things. They’re athletes, in student government. People minor in languages, dance, etc. It’s a tight major. You have to plan carefully but it’s doable!” Seniors in the department complete a 2-semester design project from a needs statement all the way through to building the design.

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One of the dorms

Hope runs an off-site center in Philly with more than 800 options for internships and experiential education. There’s a New York City internship for theater: on- and off-stage (including the business side). Summer terms allow students to spend 3-4 weeks abroad (I spoke with 3 students who did this. They studied: Spanish in Avila; Northern Ireland and Scotland: Peace and Reconciliation; and Mental Health issues in Liverpool: “I want to do international social work, so this was a great opportunity.”) Some scholarships are available.

“Hope is not the most diverse campus, but they look it in the face and deal with it. At a Christian school, it’s easy to sweep things under the rug. Here, they want to talk and deal with it. I have a lot of respect for them not shying away from tough problems,” said one student. Another student said she was helping to get more people involved in the Latino Student Union: “It’s open to everyone, not just Latinos. It’s a great way to learn the cultures.” Other groups put on cultural talent shows or International Food Fair: “Eat all you want for $5. I never had African food until I came here. Best thing ever!”

© 2016

Eckerd College

Eckerd College (visited 2/8/16)

Eckerd beach“Eckerd brings out the good in us,” said the student sitting at our table at lunch. “It taught me that I’m pretty tough. I can roll out of bed at 2:00 am and go save people off a sinking boat.”

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Skateboard “Parking” can be found around campus

Eckerd sits on about a mile and a half of waterfront property; not a bad place to spend 4 years! However, the administrators are quick to point out a line from Colleges That Change Lives: “On a sunny lush plot of land on Florida’s Gulf Coast, Eckerd College might seem like the perfect spot for an easy college career, four years marked by sun, surf and sand. But if you’re looking for a vacation, you should enroll elsewhere” (http://www.eckerd.edu/about/colleges-that-change-lives). Students describe classes as “intense and rigorous.”

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Hammocks are all over campus

People are excited about being here and are genuinely nice. “Very few places make the homesickness worth it. This is one of them,” said our tour guide. Less than ¼ of the students come from Florida (and about 5% are international); in fact, the average distance a student travels to attend Eckerd is about 1000  miles. The best way to describe students here are “beachy,” and students will even take extensive use of the yellow bikes on campus to get from place to place … they just grab one that’s free and scoot off to wherever they need to go! If they prefer to use a skateboard, there are even places provided to “park” them inside the buildings. The overarching feel is liberal, according to several students. They’re definitely relaxed and outdoorsy, taking full advantage of their surroundings, but not at the expense of their studies.

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Waterfront equipment

The Waterfront substitutes for a campus rec center, and students come here for both fun and academics. Students, faculty, and even relatives can rent tents, coolers, fishing rods, and other equipment. In addition to a multitude of organized waterfront events (Fall FunFest, Hoedown, SplashBash, and the Talent Show to name a few), they have daily 2-hour windsailing and waterskiing trips and frequent overnight trips throughout the year such as a 4-day snorkeling trip to the Keys. Classes (wind-surfing, sailing, etc) are discounted for students, and anyone can sign up assuming they’ve passed the swim test. Clubs will also go scuba diving.

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Boats at the waterfront

Faculty will bring classes to the waterfront; students will go out in kayaks or boats as part of their academics. Students may paddle to islands and read or write there for an English class. Environmental or Marine Science classes use the water and coast as a lab.

EC-SAR (Eckerd College Search and Rescue) is the only college water rescue in the country. It’s entirely student run (with some staff oversight!); they train and certify students to go out. They’re on-call 24 hours a day and go on about 500 calls a year (2nd to the Coast Guard). There’s also a land-based rescue: dispatch for 911 calls to help stabilize people on campus.

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The campus chapel

This is a Presbyterian-affiliated school, but you’d never know it; although there’s a chapel on campus, it’s non-denominational and there are no other statues or paraphernalia to indicate a religious affiliation.There are no attendance requirements or classes dealing with religion. They have an active Hillel and a club called “Scubie Jew” in which anyone (they don’t have to be Jewish) can get Scuba Certified. “I think they may be changing the name because people thought you did have be Jewish, but it’s kind of catchy so I hope they don’t,” said a tour guide. Students can get free transportation off campus to any service they want in the area. The school also holds alternative services on the beach sometimes.

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Part of the Academic Quad

Admissions looks to bring about 500 first year and about 50 transfer students in a year. “It’s a challenge not to grow,” said one of the admissions representatives. Admissions decisions are done holistically, but scholarships are awarded based on grades and test scores (they’ll superscore ACT and SAT). The application fee is waived if the application is submitted by November 15 – with a guaranteed answer by 12/15. International students need a 550 CR SAT, a 79 TOEFL, or a 3000 word essay.

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The study room on the main floor of the library

First-year students arrive 3 weeks before upperclassmen to complete orientation and the first class. This is called Autumn Term: “It should be called Sweaty term. There’s nothing Autumn about it,” said a rep. Transfer students CAN do an Autumn term but are not required to. Class runs from 9-12, and then students participate in orientation activities in the afternoons. Of the 25 classes offered, students can choose 6 classes that they’re interested in. Completing this class is a requirement for graduation, but it does not count towards the major. Orientation helps them learn about balance and other things.

Instead of “General Education” requirements, students complete Perspectives. The largest classes for our 2 tour guides were 40 (Chem 1) and 23 (Introduction to Anthropology); smallest were 2 (Latin) and 6 (Religion). Eckerd awards AP credit for 4 or 5 on the exams. Students can come in with up to 9 classes worth of AP, IB, or Dual Enrollment.

Eckerd Sci Cntr 1

The entry to the new science building

The most popular majors are the Natural Sciences (about 1/3 of students), followed by the Social Sciences (just under 1/4 of the students), Business (about 20%), then Arts & Communications and Humanities (both just over 10%). Marine Science, Geosciences, Human Development, International Business are particularly strong. They offer a 3-2 Engineering & Applied Science program with Columbia and Wash U; “Not as many people take advantage of this as we’d like. Usually they’re here for a reason and will stay for all 4 years to take advantage of the opportunities here.” There’s also a 3-3 Pre-law program.

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The Music building

They’re getting a new Arts center in the Spring of 2017. “You might see a building coming down today. It’s intentional … if they hit the right one,” said the Dean. The main Academic Quad is fairly small; all the buildings have classroom doors that open to the outside. There are no long halls in the buildings. They have recently built a new science center. However, much of the campus is in need of a face-lift; people are mostly willing to overlook it because of the natural beauty of campus, and students see that improvements are being done over time.

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The Marine Science building

Experiential and Service Learning components are built into the fabric of life here. Research is everywhere, and a Mellon Foundation grant allows up to 25 freshmen to start researching immediately. All freshmen have to attend career services and complete 40 hours of reflective learning by junior year. The 2 aspects of this include both course content (1 example: Becoming Visible: Sex and Gender in American Society in which students look into how people can work with diverse populations) and an individual project or alternative spring break trip. They run trips to places like Cuba (looking at faith and lifting the embargo), Panama and Quito (working in orphanages), and Kentucky (poverty in the Appalachians). They’re ranked the #12 college in the US for short-term study abroad and study away: they travel internationally, but also at Ghost Ranch, NM; the Sundance Film Festival, UT; the United Nations, NY; and Woods Hole, MA. They’ve recently partnered with the University of Havana, Cuba so students can study Marine Biology there.

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One of the bigger dorms on campus sits right on the water

The dorms (all of which are mixed-classes: there are no freshman-only dorms) are named after Greek letters “partially to thumb our noses at Greek Life.” 86% of students live on campus, even though they only are required to live there for the first year. They have themed living, including Gender Neutral dorms. They opened their first one last year, and it’s so popular that they now have a 2nd one.

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Another set of dorms

There’s also Pet Friendly living; the Department of Pet Life provides oversight, health and wellness checks, flea and tick medication, and vet visits twice a year. Ten buildings allow pets; dogs have to be at least a year old and owned by the student for at least 10 months; Cats have to be 6 months old and owned for 3 months. “This is to make sure that the students know the pets well and how they react to things.” Usually parking is fine, but it’s been more of a challenge this year with the construction. Kids who fly in will usually take SuperShuttle or have friends who pick them up.

 

When students get sick of campus and/or the water, there’s plenty to do off campus, and the school runs free shuttles off campus to various locations and runs buses downtown to First Friday every month.

© 2016

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