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Old Dominion University

Old Dominion University (visited 1/31/19)

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The new Education building

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

 

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The main quad (with 70s architecture)

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

 

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

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

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

 

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Some of the dorms

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

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

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

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

© 2019

Virginia State University

Virginia State University (Visited 1/27/19)

VSU 10I arrived on Sunday to walk around and talk to some people; I was pleasantly surprised to see how active students were on a weekend. Students were playing football, walking across the street to the church, hanging out in the gazebo, walking between buildings. It had a lively vibe that not all campuses have on a weekend, particularly on a relatively chilly day in January.

VSU 9This HSCU is located in Petersburg, a small city about 20 minutes south of Richmond. Campus is very pretty – and is completely gated which surprised me. They’re in a slightly more residential area less than a mile from the downtown area of the city; there is public transportation available, and the train station is about a mile away. Students said that there’s been an increase of things to do on and around campus recently. They still say that a lot of it is “make your own fun,” but if you put some effort in, it’s fine. There are just over 4,000 undergraduates, about 2/3 of whom come from Virginia. Most freshmen (and just under 2/3 of the total study body) live on campus which explains part of why there was still a vibrant feel on campus on a weekend.

VSU 8As a land-grant school, it’s not surprising that majors within the College of Agriculture are strong here (Hospitality Management and Dietetics fall within this school in addition to Agriculture and other more traditional majors you’d expect). They also run a 400+ acre Agricultural Research Station about 2 miles from campus.

VSU 4However, students had a lot to say about other departments, especially Business. The College of Engineering and Technology offer 2 engineering majors (Computer and Manufacturing) as well as 3 in Engineering Technology degrees (Electronics, Information Logistics, and Mechanical).

I’m a bit concerned about retention and graduation rates; fewer than 45% of students graduate within 6 years. However, for students looking for a good bargain (tuition is less than $6,000 for in-state and less than $16,000 for out-of-state) at a medium-sized university where faculty will likely know who they are, this might be a good option.

© 2019

Point Park University

POINT PARK UNIVERSITY (visited 5/24/16)

point park signs

Signs lining the streets around the campus

Point Park is a small, very urban university set right in the heart of Downtown Pittsburgh. The modern, well-maintained buildings are clustered mostly within about 4 blocks, although there are a couple outliers located another block or two away from the main part of campus. There are several plazas (including one with a “water-wall,” a fountain running down the side of the building) that were well utilized by students. Students and people from town were using the areas to socialize, read, and study. Security is good; all buildings require a swiped ID card or signing in with a security guard.

Point Park mascot

The school mascot

This is still a regional school; about ¾ of the 2500 undergrads are from Pennsylvania. Just over 1000 live on campus in 5 dorms and an apartment building (reserved for upperclassmen). We spoke with 5 grad students who were sitting on one of the patios during a break from class. Two had done their undergrad work here, as well. When we asked them if we should send students here, they enthusiastically said, “YES!!” Students are happy on campus: “there are tons of activities, and of course, Pittsburgh has lots to do, too.”

point park COPA

The performance center

Students who do well here are quirky and artsy, even those not in COPA. Students really must want an urban environment. One of the students we talked to was from “really rural Western New York.” I asked her about her transition to PPU: “My first year was tough. I’m not going to sugarcoat it. There are lots of parties here, but I got it figured out. I had to adjust to the urban environment, too, but I made that choice. I wanted to come here. I wouldn’t have done it any other way. I grew up here.”

Point Park bridge

A walkway connecting 2 academic buildings.

Graduation rates hover around the national average. “A lot of people leave because it’s TOO urban. They thought they wanted a city campus, but they don’t quite get what it’s really like until they get here. There’s no traditional campus, and they want that AND a city.”

Point Park fountain wall

A plaza with a “water wall”

I had always pictured Point Park as a performing arts school, and it is best known for these programs, but it is so much more than that! It has a surprising number of “academic” majors (in the students’ words). “A lot of the professors are have worked for a long time in the field they’re teaching. They really know what they’re talking about. They make it real.”

Point Park acad bldg

One of the Academic Buildings

A few non-performing arts majors worth noting include several in their School of Communication: Broadcast Production and Media Management, Photojournalism, Environmental Journalism, and Public Relations and Advertising. “They’re putting in new media outlets. I didn’t even know that they had a School of Business, but it’s going strong with Economics and Finance, Human Resource Technology, and Sports, Arts, and Entertainment Management among other more traditional programs. The College of Arts and Sciences is robust. Psychology may be the one of the strongest programs, but they offer some really unusual programs such as Funeral Service, Global Cultural Studies, Engineering Technology (specializing in Civil, Electrical, or Mechanical), and Intelligence and National Security.

Point Park courtyard 1

One of the plazas on campus

COPA, the Conservatory of Performing Arts, does remain the “flagship” college of Point Park, offering majors within 3 main areas: Dance, Theater, and Cinema Arts. Some of the more unusual programs include Dance Pedagogy, Theater Production (with concentrations in Technical Design/Management, Stage Management, or Design), Screenwriting (they also offer an MFA in this), Animation and Visual Effects, and Cinema Production.

Point Park courtyard

Another plaza

Applicants to COPA have to be admitted to Point Park AND to COPA. Students must have a complete application on file before scheduling an interview, but should not wait have their acceptance or that could also delay the audition and admission process to COPA.

One of the students summed up Point Park this way: “It’s completely worth it!”

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