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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.

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