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Archive for the tag “interdisciplinary majors”

St. Mary’s College (IN)

St. Mary’s College, South Bend, IN (visited 11/21/19)

St. Marys pond main bldgSt. Mary’s (South Bend, IN) is a small women’s college clustered in the neighborhood with Notre Dame (which is literally across the street) and Holy Cross (about 2 blocks to the south). Started as the sister school to Notre Dame when they were still all-men, St. Mary’s has held onto their single-gender identity. Unfortunately, they’ve been a bit lost in the shadow of ND as that grew in size and prominence which is too bad; they’re a moderately selective school holding steady with 1,600 students, good retention and decent graduation rates, fairly good geographic diversity (only about ¼ come from Indiana), and strong programs in nursing, communication science/disorders, accounting, and management among others.

St. Marys 1For students worried about attending an all-women’s college – don’t. With Notre Dame and Holy Cross so close, students get the best of both worlds – a small, nurturing, single-gender home base but with access to the large rah-rah feel of an athletic/academic powerhouse. They’ve retained a strong connection to Notre Dame; St. Mary’s students can cross-register for classes at either campus, and they can join clubs and activities (including the Marching Band) at Notre Dame. They can also attend the football (or other) games; tickets run about $330 for the season (the student thinks it might be an all-or-nothing deal unless you can find someone selling single tickets).

St. Marys 6Buildings are beautiful, as is campus. These are mostly made of the same yellow brick as Notre Dame, not surprising since they grew up at the same time. The mud for the bricks is local and was made at the foundry which is serves as Holy Cross’ chapel.

A few programs that are worth noting include:

  • BA/BFA in the Applied Arts and Design, including New Media, design, sculpture, photo media, fibers, Musical Theater, dance, and more
  • St. Marys 2Math/Computer Sciences – including Applied Math (in conjunction usually with Data Science, Computer Science, etc) and Statistical/Actuarial Math
  • Speech Language Pathology
  • Global Studies with concentrations in Anthropology, Economics, Justice and Human Rights, business administration, intercultural studies, and modern European Culture. Students must obtain intermediate proficiency in 1 language and introductory proficiency in a “less commonly taught language” (Arabic or Chinese are offered on campus) to be accepted into the major.
  • Their interdisciplinary programs including film studies, gerontology, justice education, among others.

© 2019

Evergreen State College

Evergreen State College (visited 6/20/17)

ESC quad 2“This will probably be the most unusual school you’ll visit this week,” said the rep, and she wasn’t wrong. This is an interdisciplinary liberal arts and sciences school which does not offer traditional majors. Rather, students earn an emphasis if they’ve earned 45+ credits in one area; otherwise they get an emphasis in Liberal Arts. Students with at least 72 credits (out of the 180 required) in math/science will earn the BS; others get a BA. Additionally, students do not earn grades but get narratives reports which then are placed on the transcript; one grad’s transcript was 27 pages long! This does not hinder entrance to grad schools: about 90% get into 1st or 2nd choice schools, and if grades or a GPA are absolutely mandatory, they have a system in place to make sure that happens. “That’s extraordinarily rare, though,” said the rep.

ESC student“If you need someone to tell you what classes to take, this isn’t the place for you,” said one of the tour guides. Students who don’t like to interact don’t last here … or they quickly develop the skills to manage! Students like working with each other and the faculty. “There’s not a hierarchical relationship here. We call faculty by their first names.” Also, true to hands-on and interdisciplinary work, they don’t use a lot of books for class and can generally get what they need through the library.

ESC sculpture 2Program” is their word for the classes students take. Generally, they sign up for 1 program per quarter which is worth about 16 credits and links 3-5 disciplines. Freshman can have up to 30 to choose from, and there are 150 or so offered every year. Some are specific to freshman; others have prerequisites and/or are offered to upperclassmen. “I took a class in my first year that was open to everyone,” said one of the tour guides. “There are definite pros and cons. I liked meeting people from several years, but it was definitely tough. I don’t know if I’d recommend it to everyone.” Titles are catchy and indicate the theme. For example:

  • ESC organic farmers market

    Organic Farmers Market

    Into the Woods links forestry, biology, sociology, and philosophy. Students looked at sustainable agriculture, economics, and the human elements of the logging industry: who are the people involved (and who isn’t as involved)? Who depends on this for the economy? Who are the environmentalists and politicians making policy about how to manage the forests and sustaining the towns? What’s the right thing to do?

  • ESC ampetheater

    Rec Center

    Environmental Analysis took an extended field trip to Yellowstone. “We can go off campus for 3 weeks and they aren’t missing other classes.” This class focused on geology, analytical chemistry, and environmental microbiology along with some public policy “because you can’t get away from that.” Students have the flexibility to work within interdisciplinary curriculum with a lot of theory-to-practice, seminars, projects, and collaborative work instead of competitive.

ESC media studio 2

A media center

Students tend to remember more if it’s contextualized and they see how it links together and see how the classic liberal arts play out in the real world and how they link to careers.


Some of the academic buildings

Faculty get assigned to Programs at a ratio of no more than 25:1 (freshman are 18:1). Programs create an automatic cohort; students and faculty get to know each other really well because they’re seeing each other every day in labs, field trips, and classes. “We probably get to know the students more than they’d like!” said one of the professors. Teachers, like the students, must want to work interdisicplinarily. They practice what they preach. If students have to work together, so do the faculty. They’re here because they want to teach. “I get to team teach with people outside of my discipline which means I get to learn alongside the students.” Faculty go through a 2-year planning process for each class. This means the classes are also announced 2 years in advance so students see what’s coming down the pike.

ESC geoduck

The Geoduck (pronounced “gooeyduck”) is the school mascot which regularly makes the Top 10 Strangest Mascots

Students who have an interest not offered in a program can create an Independent Learning Contract as long as a faculty member is willing to sponsor it. This, too, must be interdisciplinary. One of the students did Creative Writing/poetry project centered around the color blue by looking at color theory, the ocean, the Virgin Mary, etc. “I got the experience of being a working writer with the safety net of still being in school.”

ESC 3I typically ask students at CTCL schools how it changed their life. One student said: “ I came in wanting to be a Physicians Assistant, and now I’m writing poetry. It exposed me to things I didn’t even know I was interested in. I took a program called “What is she saying?” in my sophomore year – it was so cool reading things by all women. The support I got after my first project by faculty and peers was amazing! I never thought of myself as a writer, but having people believe in you and what you create is life-changing.”

ESC Longhouse 2

The exterior of the Longhouse

This is a public school with only about 3800 undergraduates, just over half of whom come from out-of-state! Only 50% of the entering fall class are freshman – they get a lot of transfers who are looking for a different experience.

ESC art studio

One of the art studios

There are amazing scientific resources available to the students including mass spectrometers, infrared spectrometer, polarograph, and a scanning electron microscope. Their arts (including digital media) have studios for Media Engineering, a Center for Creative and Applied Media, Audio Mixing, and Video Editing among others. The art spaces are naturally lit with filters on the windows for true color. Only 1 program per term will use any given studio so students can leave their work and have unlimited access to the space. Once students are certified in particular areas like metalworking, they can use the facilities and can buy materials at cost. They have to prove proficiency on a particular resource (cameras, etc) and then can check them out at any point. They have a Natural History Museum and a Longhouse which is used for artist and community space. They’re adding a glassblowing program, and will soon offer an MFA in Indigenous Arts.

ESC path

A trailhead

Campus is 1000 acres, only 200 of which are developed. There are 5 trailheads right on campus. 1 leads to the organic farm used for classes. There are fire-pits, shrines, ropes, and more in the woods. One of the trails leads to 1.5 miles of beach. The outdoor stuff is amazing and students can rent out gear. There’s not much in town that is walkable, but there are buses to get them around to places they need for shopping or entertainment.

Housing is never required but highly recommended. 80% of first year students and about 25% of sophomores through seniors live on campus. There’s no Greek life but lots of clubs (including a sheep club! I’m not sure what they do …). They have one of the last freeform radio stations (KAOS) in the country where students can become certified DJs. Eggplant Café is an organic student-run coop.

© 2017

Washington and Lee


W&L’s iconic building

Washington and Lee (visited 11/3/16)

“At the end of the day, I want the students to say, ‘it changed my life.’ I want it to be transformative. If they can say that, we’ve done our jobs.” The size of the school facilitates a lot of what they do, and “the faculty we bring on understand the pedagogy. Having famous faculty doesn’t help if they don’t want to know the students and work with them.”


Some of W&L’s academic buildings

Washington & Lee is a traditional Liberal Arts and Sciences university, “underscore the AND.” They combine professional programs in the Williams School of Commerce, Politics, and Economics and Journalism (both interdisciplinary programs) with a liberal arts education. “Students don’t apply to the business program as they might in larger schools. I don’t want the Williams School to be a Venn diagram with the Liberal Arts: I want it to be completely immersed. We’ll teach things like Business of Contemporary Arts (co-taught by a Tax Accountant and Art Historian), Land in Lakota Culture, Economics, and History (co-taught by Anthro and Economics professors), or Cybersecurity (co-taught by a PoliSci professor and a lawyer).” Along the same lines, they won’t offer a 3+2 engineering program because they want the students to have the full undergraduate, liberal arts experience. Students in these programs are interested in the liberal arts and complete the foundations/distribution requirements, including the language requirement.

wl-6Students who thrive here are curious, high-horsepower students. They’re near the tops of their graduating classes; they’re keyed into community and engagement. Loners/people who have an affinity to work alone won’t do so well here. Students seek out professors and like to argue/discuss points from class. “Teachers will instigate conversations that are uncomfortable for students. It makes us grow,” said a student on the panel.

wl-treewalkLast year they admitted 1200 of 5100 applicants. Just over half of the class of 465 were admitted through ED (I or II). Crossovers include UVA, William & Mary, Chapel Hill, Georgetown, Dartmouth, and Davidson. The Johnson Scholarship is awarded not just for outstanding academics but to those students who they believe will bring transformative leadership skills to campus. “We want them to be change-makers.” They bring 200 finalists to campus for 3 days and will end up awarding 70 scholarships.


The first floor of the Hillel building with the cafe in the back

“We want to have a broad range of students. The Office of Diversity and Inclusion does a lot of outreach. We’re concerned about affordability and accessibility. We meet 100% of financial need and do not include loans.” Almost every state is represented (there’s no one from ND in this freshman class); VA, TX, NC, GA, MD, FL, and NY have more than 20 students. Almost 10% are first-gen. Although only 17 of last year’s freshmen self-identified as Jewish, they do have a relatively new, large Hillel building; the E-Café inside is Kosher Dairy. They also have Salaam, a Muslim Student Association.

“We’re different because we have a sense of who we are,” said W&L’s President. “We produce citizens of honor who are ready to go out and make a difference.” Whatever they’re doing is working: they have a 98% retention rate, and 90% of students graduate in 4-years. He went on to illustrate a couple things that make them stand out:

  • wl-statueHonor System: “It’s a system, not a code saying that we will abide by the standards of the community.” This plays into exam schedules, too. Students can self-schedule their finals within the week, although some professors ask that their exams be done on a specific day. Others will give a take-home final and ask that it be brought back within 24 hours.
  • Speaking tradition: people will greet you when you walk around.
  • Their endowment allows them to provide “robust services” to students: they have an MD running Health Services, a psychiatrist on staff, deans for every class. There’s a lot to be said for community building, support, etc.
  • Freshmen all complete alcohol education and “bystander education.”

Junior Village in the background beyond the stadium

Lexington is very much a college community: VMI is next door with 1700 students, and the law school has another 350. They have a loose connection with VMI in that they will attend speakers and some other events happening at the other campus. All the seniors live off campus which helps mesh town-gown relations. W&L now requires all students to live on campus for 3 years – but only for 3 years! They recently built a “Junior Village” with has a café and dining hall; a pool is being built. Some Greek housing is in town, and there are 6 sorority houses near the football field. Usually sophomores live there. Rush is in the spring.


Sorority Row

“I was surprised how integrated students are,” said our tour guide. “I was a little bit wary at first because of the 17% diversity rate, but it doesn’t matter. I wasn’t sure how the speaking tradition would play out, but people do talk to each other. I was shy. I didn’t know how to do that, but now I see that people go out of their way.”

wl-patioStudents tend to be more conservative but not exclusively, and there are a lot of liberal professors. “But everyone is civil. They talk about the issues, not about the people. Professors expect us to be able to have conversations and back up opinions, and students do.” A lot of people talked about civil discourse and the learning community while we were on campus. “I say community and opportunity a lot,” said one student. “It seems cliché but I don’t know how else to describe it. It’s not just about what we learn but the skills and experiences.”


Originally a stable, the doors are now left open because the story says that Lee’s horse Traveller haunts the building and will shake the doors when they are shut.

The average class size is 15. Only 5% have more than 25 students. “A few classes like organic chem and a popular geology class on climate change get higher.”

“There’s no one way to do a W&L education,” said the president. “We see some strange double majors. They get jobs because they’re unique.” The Core accounts for about 1/3 of a student’s curriculum. “We push against the idea that every class has to count for something. We want them to explore.” There is a Phys Ed requirement: “I can say with absolute certainty that every W&L grad knows how to swim.”

Students have a lot of school spirit. “We may be DIII, but we have football!” They have tailgates and an annual Lee-Jackson lacrosse game which both draw huge crowds. The Thanksgiving Dinner even draws community members.

© 2016

La Salle University

La Salle University (visited 7/19/16)

La Salle walkway

The walkway over main street running through campus

This is a great school for students who want a real campus in an urban environment and are sports-oriented, either to watch or to participate in. Although this is in the city, it’s a safe area, and campus is well patrolled and gated; students and faculty swipe IDs to get through the gates at the entrances. A major street runs through campus, but the students seem to like it. “It actually ties the campus together,” said our tour guide. “Students hang out there.” In First Year Odyssey, students learn how to get around the city and use it as a resource. They can’t have a car as freshmen, so they really have to learn SEPTA (which stops just up the street) and the buses.

La Salle 1“We take the B+ student who plugs away and has potential. They thrive here,” said an admissions rep. This year, they’re bringing in 826 freshmen from 26 states and 11 countries.

“Students who are looking for a Villanova feel but maybe don’t have the grades will probably do great here,” said our tour guide. Currently, freshman to sophomore retention is at 78%, but they’re working to get it to 85%. They just hired a new person who can work with “those kids that all schools miss,” an admissions rep told us.

La Salle grottoThis is 1 of 6 Christian Brother colleges in the US. Part of the Christian Brothers’ ethos is to work with under-served students. More than 50% of La Salle’s students are First Gen and about 35% are PELL eligible. Serving people extends to the wider community, as well. A Community Service requirement is tied to the major.

About 35 Brothers live on campus, and many teach and work there, as well. (As a side note, they’re building a new retirement home on the edge of campus because “Brothers live forever. It’s a known fact,” joked our tour guide.) Our tour guide had a business class with one, and another works in Admissions and is charge of all the CB high school applicants. He talked to us and said that Community separates them from other schools. They’re part of the school, Philadelphia (“It’s our largest classroom”), and the CB community worldwide.

La Salle quadStudents eligible for the Honors Program are pulled during the admissions process based on GPA and test scores, but students can apply separately if they want to be considered. These students take an interdisciplinary Philosophy, History, and English class for all year. After freshman year, they have honors electives. Normally 2 philosophy and 2 religion classes are required, but the honors electives fulfill that.

In addition to the typical majors you would expect at a medium sized school, a few unusual (and most interdisciplinary) ones stand out: Integrated Science, Business, and Technology; Political Science, Philosophy, and Economics; Economics and International Studies; and Business Systems and Analytics.

La Salle 4This is the first school I’ve heard of that does completely random lottery selections for class registration; seniors might be last to register. Class sizes are pretty typical for a school this size. There are 3 lecture halls on campus which hold about 100 people; big classes have tutors and supplemental instructors. English classes are capped at 18.

International Students can take advantage of the English Language Institute and/or additional support with the English.

  • Regular Admit: Students need an 80+ score on the TOEFL can enroll without the extra support.
  • Pathways: First year students with a 65-79 TOEFL will receive tutoring and extra support as they start their classes.
  • ELI: This is a Conditional Admissions program for students without at least a 65 on the TOEFL. Students can enroll in ELI to gain proficiency and have to reach level 5 for undergrad or 6 for graduate work.
La Salle townhouses

Some of the townhouses for upperclassmen

About 80% of freshmen live on campus. Housing is guaranteed all 4 years; some students do move off campus, but many stay. North Campus has most of the freshman dorms along with some singles usually taken by upperclassmen. La Salle just put up a new dorm with mostly suites interspersed with some doubles. There are 5 frats and 5 sororities but no Greek housing. Students like the dining options.

La Salle baseball field

The baseball diamond

Their DI sports are strong here. There is no football team (except for an intramural, non-tackle team), but they have all the typical sports as well as water polo and crew for both men and women. They have lacrosse for women but not men. Rugby and softball are new. All events are free for students to attend.

© 2016

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