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Houghton College

Houghton College (visited 3/19/19)

Houghton quad 2This school is a well-kept secret which is unfortunate. I drove to campus from Erie, and I had quite the scenic drive heading north off Interstate 86. There were plenty of small towns and farms; I checked my GPS at one point to make sure I had programmed it right because I didn’t see any signs for the town of Houghton (pronounced “Hoe-ton” not “How-ton”) or a college of any sort … and then suddenly, I was there.

Houghton chapelThey do NOT make a secret that this is a “Christ-centered education.” While definitely religiously focused, nothing on campus is “in-your-face” or screams “Religious School!” However, students must attend 2/3 of the chapel services held on M, W, and F; the tour guide described a lot of music happening at chapels. Masses are not required, although they are offered on campus (many of which are student-led). Many students choose to go to church in the community. The student worker in the office talked about having a group of friends that she went to church with. Students also have to take 3 religious classes as part of their Gen Eds, including Biblical Lit (“basically an intro to the Old Testament”), Intro to Christ, and an upper level elective.

Houghton 7The directions sent by the admissions office were spot-on – the brick building with the bell tower was one of the first buildings I got to. Parking was plentiful and well marked, something I appreciate more and more as I go on these visits. The welcome center, located right inside, is lovely and warm. Coffee and cookies were set out, and a student was staffing the desk to greet people.

Houghton dorm 2

One of the dorms for females, the biggest on campus. “I think about 300 people live here.”

This is a mostly residential campus. There are 4 dorms (2 each for males and females) and some townhouses for upperclassmen. There are very few commuters mostly because of the rural nature of the community. One of the students I talked to said that she’d like to improve the dorms a bit. “A couple of them are older. They aren’t terrible, but they could use upgrades.” I asked her about the food – “It’s the best I had when looking at colleges. It’s maybe an 8, but I’m not picky.”

Houghton walking trail

One of the walking trails leading from campus. 

The central part of campus is easy to navigate and has a great feeling about it. The athletic facilities and a couple dorms are a bit more of a walk, but even the furthest fields and the new athletic center weren’t any more than a 10 minute walk at a fairly leisurely pace. There are lots of wooded areas and trails for students to use for hiking or running. “Outdoorsy students will definitely like it here,” said the rep (and Letchworth State Park, the “Grand Canyon of the East” is only about 15 minutes away – lots of opportunities for hiking, rafting, camping, etc). The only part of campus that isn’t walkable is the Equestrian Center, a fairly major area a couple miles away; I drove over to see it after the tour and was impressed at the size of the facility. They offer an Equestrian Studies major and minor and an Equine-Assisted Therapy minor.

Houghton equestrian cntr

The equestrian center

I talked to the student at the admissions desk for awhile. She said was surprised her the most was how much of a community this really was. “I chose it for the community but didn’t know just how open people would be.” The 1000 undergrads do become a truly tight-knit community and people tend to get involved; the ruralness of the campus pretty much guarantees that. There are lots of traditions and community-building events, and the Rep who showed me around, herself a recent grad, couldn’t say enough about it.

Houghton 7

Students talking between classes

“Students who want a community are going to do great here. You can’t help but get involved.” Several of the major traditions revolve around the dorms. One of the male dorms always dresses up in wacky costumes and bang on drums during home games. Even the website lists that dorm as “Home of Shen Bloc, a high-energy, raucous cheering section for Highlander athletics.” One of the female dorms always throws a Thanksgiving feast and another throws a party. Other traditions that people brought up were the Bagpipes that are played at graduation and “Scarfing” for freshmen. “We get a scarf; we’re supposed to give it away at graduation to someone meaningful to our experience here, but that doesn’t always happen.”

Houghton Hammock Village

The “Hammock Village” – the only one I’ve ever seen of these on a college campus!

An area for growth that the rep sees is that “we’re predominantly white. We’re trying to increase that. Some of that happens in chapel. We’ll talk about things even if it makes people mad or uncomfortable. We hold forums and have the hard conversations. We’ve had a record high number of students of color coming in.”

Not surprisingly, they have several religiously-themed majors and minors such as Pastoral Ministries, Bible, and Theology. Their music and arts divisions are strong (offering BFAs and BAs in typical areas as well as Music Industry and Applied Design and Visual Communications); the large arts building has an EMA recording studio, practice rooms, and galleries. Students wanting to combine this with Business can earn a bachelor’s in Integrated Marketing Communications.

© 2019

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Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College

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

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

SMWC statues

Some of the statues around campus.

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

SMWC dorm room

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

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

SMWC chapel ext

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

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

SMWC shell chapel

The interior of the Shell Chapel

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

SMWC horses

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

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

SMWC grotto

The campus grotto

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

SMWC staircase

The main stairwell in the dorm

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

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

© 2017

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