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Goucher College

GOUCHER COLLEGE (visited 12/10/13)

A student building a snowman on the quad

A student building a snowman on the quad

~Goucher art

Student artwork on a window ledge

“There’s an interesting mix of students here. Put ten of them next to each other and they won’t look or  sound alike,” the Director of Admissions Corky Surbeck told me. This rang true as I walked through  campus; people all had their distinct styles. Despite this diversity, there’s a real sense of community and pride in the school. Although there is no residential requirement, 85% of students choose live on  campus. The big question they’re looking to answer when admitting students is, “Are you willing to step  up?” The individuals look out for the whole, and the unit looks out for the individual. The school is built  on inclusion and cooperation; students integrate from Day 1 (and they’re doing something right; last  year, they had an 87.3% retention rate between freshmen and sophomore years). First semester, students take two required classes: a writing class and Frontiers (basically a FYE class). It’s capped at 15 students and the professor is the initial advisor. Topics are meant to be interests of exploration and interest and can range from Freedom of Speech to Biodiversity.

The observatory.

The observatory.

I asked Mr. Surbeck what distinguished Goucher from other CTCL schools. He listed two things:

  • Study abroad is required, and “127% of students study abroad.” About 15% go for a full year, and maybe 40% for a semester. Many do at least one 3-week intensive trip; many others will do more than one or the 3-week intensives plus a semester abroad. This year, they’re bringing back an International Business class in Cuba. One of their more popular classes is The Art and Science of Glass co-taught by a science professor and an art historian; they go to Romania for three weeks, but also do two weekends in Corning, NY before and after the trip.
  • Location: very few other CTCL schools are in such proximity to a major city (Lewis & Clark and Rhodes are the others that comes to mind). They are 2 blocks from I-695 (Baltimore Beltway) but you’d never know it. The highway gives easy access to several areas, and students can be in downtown Baltimore in very little time. However, shopping, dining, movies, or work all located within a couple blocks of campus. Towson University, a large state school, is only 1.5 miles away.

Goucher 5Goucher students can cross-register at classes at eight affiliated schools in the Baltimore area – Notre Dame, Loyola, JHU, Towson, MICA, UMBC, and Morgan State. Freshman cannot take academic classes  on other campuses, but can take advantage of any extra-curricular offering; after that, they can register for two classes in each of the following years. Technically, 15% of space is set aside for cross-registration but that rarely becomes an issue. Mr. Surbeck estimates that 15-20% of students will cross-register and wishes that more students would take advantage of that. Most are happy with the offerings on campus or are taking advantage of study-abroad options so they don’t go to other campuses.

I got to talk to several students before going on tour:

  •  A junior philosophy and sociology major from NJ. He is studying abroad in Prague soon. He said he found Goucher “serendipitously” when he got a postcard in the mail.
  • Hillel room

    Hillel room

    Yashe, a Junior from just outside of Pittsburgh, who is majoring in Psychology and Russian. He’s hoping to spend a semester in Russia next term and is waiting for his final visas and other paperwork to come through. He was looking for a small school with a Hillel.

  •  Liz, a sophomore from Virginia, who wanted a school with a good dance program. She came up to audition and then again for admitted student day. She loved the people here and made his final decision after meeting everyone.
  • Blake from NH was looking for a Dance program. He’s hoping to do the Dance Intensive program in Taiwan. He loved the location and the opportunities.
  •  An international business and Spanish student from Atlanta. She originally did NOT like the school and wasn’t going to come here, but her mother made her come back for admitted student day; she loved the interactions with students she had when she visited and that changed her mind.
Lounge with a whiteboard running the length of the room

Lounge with a whiteboard running the length of the room

The students’ favorite classes have been: Distress and Disorder (psych); 3 Frontiers classes (Surveillance in Cinema, one on Shakespeare in which it was related to today, other movies, etc., Apocalypse (looking at fears); Existentialism and Theater; Social Deviance; Art and Activism (the Beat poets, Woody Guthrie, etc).

Things they would like to change would be to get AC in freshman dorms, adding Greek life, scholarships, providing scholarships for study abroad programs, and perhaps making the student body a little bigger. “There isn’t a lot of personal time here; it’s good in some ways, but because there are always people around, there’s not much privacy.”

The forum in the Anthaceum (the Library)

The forum in the Anthaceum (the Library)

~Goucher treeThey have a “small but fabulous theater major and minor.” They put on 3-5 shows each semester.  Playworks, which is put on every fall, is completely student run. The black box theater is a great space  with chairs and platforms that can be moved around to create any configuration they want. It’s clearly  easy for students to get involved in any activity without majoring in a particular field: the Head Tech  guy is an English major and the Head of Student Government (and he gets paid for his work in the  theater!). Sports are DIII except the Equestrian program which is DI. Students can bring their own  horse or use one of the college’s horses. Students who want to learn to ride can take horseback riding as  one of their PE requirements. There are two a capella groups (one coed and one all women), and musicians take advantage of the non-denominational chapel which has great acoustics and a full organ. Performers also can showcase talent at the student-run Gopher Hole Café (open 9pm-2am) where thy have music and open mic like a club space. The library (Anthaceum) is a Gold LEED certified building with a Forum which seats 800 plus additional standing room.

(c) 2014

Davidson College

DAVIDSON COLLEGE (visited on 3/17/13)

Davidson 5I wish I had visited Davidson sooner. I was highly impressed with the campus and the opportunities available to students. It’s unfortunate that it isn’t on more people’s radars. I had heard a lot about it after moving to the state, and I finally had a chance to bring some students for a visit on the way to a College Fair. This selective school of just under 2,000 students sits on a beautiful sprawling campus in the city of Davidson, about 20 minutes outside of Charlotte, NC.

The dining hall

The dining hall

Davidson acad bldg 2We visited on a Sunday when the admissions office was closed, so a student from Hillel gave us a tour and took us to brunch. Although there weren’t a lot of students in the dining hall when we first arrived a little after 11, it was getting busy by the time we left a just before noon. The food was excellent and there were plenty of options. The student we were with said that the line to swipe in can be long during the busiest times, but it moves quickly. The “make your own” stations can take some time to get through because the food is made fresh to order. The most popular stations are the noodle and the omelet bars, but any of the hot food is good because of the variety offered. They’ll hold international theme days (Singapore, Russian Culture Night – including dancers, Peru, etc) which students really like since it’s different. The Thanksgiving Dinner is also well attended and tends to be a highlight of the year. Since the campus is small enough, they only have one main dining hall, but there are a few other dining options on campus. The Davis Cafe in the Union is available for late-night food (it’s open until midnight), and the Cats Den in Sports Center is open for lunch (mostly sandwiches and other “grab and go” options). Also, instead of fraternities or sororities, they have “Eating Houses” which give students a group to join. There are several small houses with kitchens where members can go eat, giving them a small social group to connect with. The multi-cultural House also has a kitchen which groups can reserve, but it has to be educational or part of a recognized group on campus.

Students eating and working outside during lunch

Students eating and working outside during lunch

The statue of the mascot in front of the athletic complex

The statue of the mascot in front of the athletic complex

The sense of community is strong here. Although it’s a smaller school, there’s something for everyone. There’s a lot to do on campus: parties in the quad, movie nights, speakers, clubs that sponsor events (often with food!). A regular email gets sent to students called the “Cryer” which lists the upcoming events including deadlines for grants, internships, summer opportunities, and other similar things. Tables get set up across campus to provide information about everything from clubs to special events to offices (such as Religious Life) on campus. It’s easy to get off campus since the college runs shuttles. Wi-fi is everywhere so students can work outside. Tables and chairs are everywhere, and students were all over on campus utilizing them. They even had tables with umbrellas for shade near the large outdoor stadium. I image those are highly sought-after on game days! Their entire athletic complex is impressive. Davidson is a DI school which surprised me since they’re so small.

One of the dorms.

One of the dorms.

Davidson 4Their freshman dorms are traditional style with bathrooms down the hall, but each room has its own sink. People work hard to create a feeling of community within the dorms, both formally and informally. Our tour guide said that during orientation week, one of the activities was a cake race. Everyone in the hall brought back the cakes they won and had a social. After the first year, students can choose from a variety of dorm styles, including suites. There are also other types of living halls, including “Sub (substance) Free” halls in which residents pledge not to bring in alcohol or come back drunk. New sophomore dorms have kitchens on each floor which other students can use, even if they don’t live there. Most students live on campus, but there are apartments right across the street from campus in which about 100 students are granted permission to live through an application process. All students are allowed cars on campus allowed; parking costs $50 for unlimited parking or $25 for the lots far away. Cars aren’t necessary, though, since campus is in town and things are accessible. The college will run shuttles to the Lake Campus daily and to the Charlotte airport before and after breaks for $30. Lots of students will bring bikes on campus, especially those living in the upperclassman dorms located on the outskirts of campus.

Davidson acad bldgDavidson artsClasses are kept small here; even as a freshman, our tour guide’s largest class (a music class) had 23 students in it; her smallest (Chinese) had 8. Even though this is a small campus, students are not limited to the academics which they can take. The Charlotte area has a consortium of colleges (including UNC-C, Queens, and Belmont) at which students can cross-register with the approval from the Registrar. This is easy to do if the class isn’t offered at Davidson, but harder for more popular subjects like History. Additionally, students can do independent studies for some languages that are less common and aren’t offered – although Davidson does offer a lot, including Chinese and Italian. Students do have a language requirement in which they have to successfully complete three semesters (through 201) of a language, but they can place out if they come in with enough competency. Other requirements include a class in Cultural Diversity, Religion and Philosophy, Social Science, Math, Science with Lab, and English. All freshmen take a Writing Comp class that has some sort of theme (Memory, Gender, Music and Literature, Revisiting the Library – about history and archives), and they’re taught from professors from all disciplines (history, religion, anthro, etc).

(c) 2013

Mount Holyoke College

Mount Holyoke College(Visited 10/16/12)

Nice building

One of the main old buildings on campus.

~MHC quadThis is a very different type of campus from Smith. Picture a typical, older, “typical New England” campus with a lot of grand old brick buildings, lots of green areas, and big trees. That’s Holyoke. The town is also a cute, small New England town with a little town square, although I sensed that we saw most of it driving in. I asked the tour guide what she liked to do in town, and after telling us how much there was to do on campus, she admitted that she rarely spent time in South Hadley, although “there are a couple places to go eat on the Square.” She said she’ll go to Northampton if she’s looking for a town or to the other campuses for things to do.

~MHC treesThe student panel at breakfast was interesting, but the students were not nearly as articulate or insightful as some on other panels I had attended. Maybe it was too early in the morning! Favorite classes tend to be the ones where they feel supported. One student had to present a self-developed NGO to the President of the college that she said was an amazing experience. Another said that her FYE about Politics and Self was eye-opening. A third talked about a professor not letting her drop a French class, saying “You can do it.” They all agreed that professors are invested in student success. They also appreciated the sense of internationalism on campus. Faculty members speak 55 languages, and the college brings in other students for Junior Year Abroad as well as sending their own students around the world for study experiences.

~MHC ampatheaterFaculty usually only teach two classes a semester to give them time for teaching well, advising students well, and do research well. They have an integrated advising program that starts with a First Year Seminar and a “Connections” break-out session (a 4th meeting a week) that is an extension of orientation to be well positions to make the most of their MHC experience. They fund internships so the students have a meaningful work experience. They’re hoping to be broader and more comprehensive so it’s not just an internship. There’s a Nexis program – set them up for the internship, and then after, they “unpack” what happened.

~MHC 3The Holyoke students we spoke to didn’t seem to take advantage of the academic benefits of the Five College Consortium. No one on the panel had taken classes on other campuses and gave the impression that it wasn’t popular or really sought after although “people do it.” Our tour guide said that she hasn’t taken any classes at other schools, but “there are always students from other colleges in my classes.” Social events seem a little more utilized, particularly because of the co-ed factor. The students we talked to really liked the single-sex education in a lot of ways and definitely felt supported in their growth as people, but they did seek out chances to meet and hang out with guys on other campuses. The students we talked to would like the reputation of women’s colleges to change; it’s not a convent or “a place for lesbians to hang out.”

~MHC 2One-third of students are in the sciences, and the science center is the newest building on campus; an alum gave $10million to build it. There’s the “Million Dollar Tree outside” that students and alums wanted kept, so an additional million was raised in order to keep it. The alumnae are a very strong force. I met up with one of my former students at breakfast, and she is clearly happy and relaxed here. She has found intellectual stimulation and a supportive community. This seems usual for the students we met. Some, however, were a bit over-the-top to the drinking-the-kool-aid level. The tour guide got a bit creepy about Mary Lyon, the school’s founder who is buried in the middle of campus. She went on for a long time about Lyon, traditions on campus (several surrounding Lyon or her grave such as putting garlands around on her birthday), and said “I LOVE Mary Lyon!” several times. The campus has a ton of traditions. For example, each class is given a color and icon. In the library, by tradition, 2 classes are assigned a staircase on each side, and if you use the other you won’t graduate (at all? On time? I can’t remember). The traditions definitely tie students together and give them a sense of belonging at the college. The alums I know from MHC still talk about things like Mountain Day and the class parades.

One of the quads on campus.

In terms of admissions to Holyoke, there’s an enormously self-selecting group of applicants. They use a 1-9 rating scale when assessing files, and about 95% of applicants earn a rating that suggesting that they’d be successful here. Most students will submit SAT scores, even though they’re test-optional. The offer thirty 21st-Century-Scholars awards each year which provides a $25,000 merit award every year.

~MHC shabbat posterDining halls on campus got fairly high reviews. They have a kosher/halal center which can get crowded because a lot of vegetarian students eat there too. Our tour guide told us that she would expand this if she could change anything about the school since it’s sometimes hard to get served there because of all the people.

Something we learned about late in the program, sort of by accident, was that MHC has an Equestrian Program. They had brochures available in the admissions office, so I asked the rep to expand on the program; she said they offer every type of riding (ie, Western, dressage) and have 60 horses and miles of trails available to students.

(c) 2012

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