Keene State College (visited 10/20/16)
Keene surprised me in the best possible way. What I saw during this visit is vastly different from the impression I had based on students who attended 15 or 20 years ago. Keene has transformed, and I’m excited about what they offer students academically and socially. Buildings are modern, and the atmosphere is vibrant with active kids and an array of academic and social options. Their motto, “Enter to Learn, Go Forth to Serve” is lived here.
The city of Keene has 23,000 people with an additional 4,200 students when school is in session. (As a side note, Jumanji was filmed in town, and a mural of the shoes is still on one of the buildings.) Campus sits on Main Street. “This is a cool area. A lot of stores are locally owned; we have very few chain stores, at least in downtown,” said one of the reps. Students love the accessibility of having several blocks of stores within a 5-10 minute walk. 26 restaurants sit on the main drag including Thai, Japanese, and Mexican. There are also shuttles: “Even Target is technically walkable, but who wants to haul all the stuff back?”
Students become a real part of the greater community; partly this is intentional on the part of the university. “We share a Main Street address with Keene. We take that seriously.” Students contributed over 119,000 hours of service last year starting with a full day of local service during orientation every year. Students, even those who may not have been service-oriented before arriving, quickly find ways to contribute talents. It becomes part of the culture, and students get excited about what they’re doing.
Students get equally involved – if not more so – on campus. The prevailing attitude is, “You’re on the team. You’re here to play the game. Get involved.” One of the favorite traditions is kind of a “bookmark” – during orientation, new students walk through the archway and through a line of clapping faculty; graduates do this in reverse: they walk out through the arches past the clapping faculty.
Living on campus is required for the first two years; 98% of freshmen live on campus (the remainders commute from at home within 30 miles of campus). Overall, 60% live on campus. Off campus housing is easy to find; there are plenty of nearby rentals, and there’s an off-campus housing office. Campus food is “a solid 8;” Wednesday chicken patties are a big hit.
The Integrated Studies Program (ISP) is their core; students take both an integrative quantitative literacy and a thinking & writing course in their freshman year and at least 2 courses in the upper levels (300 or 400 level). Maybe because of this interdisciplinary program, students aren’t pigeonholed at Keene. For example, a film student last year presented research at a biomed conference: “The Prof thought I was good at it,” he told the rep who was surprised to see him there; he encouraged the student to do biomedical research despite not being in that major. Both research and internships are often self-designed projects, and much of this work is showcased at the Student Symposium.
Seniors get surveyed every year, and they consistently give high marks for faculty involvement. Some of the students’ favorite classes include:
- Genocide class: “the professor has written books and knows so much. It was a good overview.”
- Inequality of Political Economy. “I don’t math, but I learned ideologies and how they factored into Economy. It didn’t feel like work. Everyone wanted to be there.”
- Global Engagement: “This was a sociology-based class, and we went to Poland and Romania for 14 days. When else would I be able to travel like that for $750?”
- “My Spanish Conversation and Composition class. We had to put on a play entirely in Spanish.”
Keene offers several strong and/or unusual majors:
- Holocaust and Genocide Studies:
- Students asked to add Genocide when it became a major.
- This is the first major of its kind in the country.
- Students can study abroad for a semester in Poland (Center for European Studies)
- Film Studies
- Students participate in the American College Festival at the Kennedy Center.
- Faculty from American Studies, languages, and film studies worked with Ken Burns for his most recent document The Sharpe’s War.
Music: this is the only public liberal arts school in the area to be accredited by the National Association of Schools of Music.
- Safety and Occupational Health Applied Sciences:
The students who do best at Keene State are those who took every key subject in high school every year. Admissions likes to see sub-scores from the standardized tests to know strengths and weaknesses and how students might need support. The application is free until 12/1 for Out-of-State students.
Keene focuses on the first-year student to help the transition. Orientation is a Family program: there’s a mandatory overnight program in June, and a parent/guardian has to attend with the student (they recognize that it’s not necessarily parents who are the contact person for students). They all stay in dorms. During the year, they aren’t looking just to fix students’ problems but to give students resources and learn to self-advocate.