campus encounters

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Texas Christian University

Texas Christian University (visited 3/3/15)

~TCU main sign~TCU flowersOne of the big question a lot of us on the Counselor tour had was, how Christian is TCU? The general consensus was: as much as you want it to be. The school is insistent that students figure it out for themselves and be respectful of others. “We have really interesting conversations about God,” said one of the tour guides. Students are required to complete 1 theology class as part of their distribution requirements, but the choices range from Religion in the Arts to The Afterlife in Roman/Greek Traditions (taught by a German professor). One student on the panel wishes that the university were more Christian. “It’s in the name; no one is hiding that it’s part of who we are, but there’s 1 cross on campus. I’ve actively looked.”

~TCU main quad~TCU fountainThe campus is attractive with nice architecture and wonderful landscaping; daffodils were already popping up in early March, despite the chilly weather and dreary skies. Many of the buildings are made of yellow brick, and they’re making an effort to keep consistent to the general feeling as new construction goes up. The campus is located in Fort Worth, a city described by a student as a “booming suburbia.” It has a definite residential, family feel; students and younger professionals tend to like living here. “Dallas feels more business-like than here,” said one professors. Students can take easy advantage of the city with free bus rides with their TCU ID; they also have access to bike shares. However, there’s lots to do directly off campus, as well. Students get discounts at many places in town including free lunches at some places on Fridays. 35 places off-campus will take Flex Bucks.

~TCU dorm hallway

A dorm hallway

TCU has a two-year residency requirement but currently can’t meet demand for juniors and seniors. However, they’re committed to rectifying that and are building a new res hall per year for a decade; 4 new ones are up already. Students are happy that they’re working on the residential issues.

~TCU plaza 2Greek life is a huge part of campus life with almost half of students affiliating (it’s a higher percentage of women than men affiliating – about 55% and 40% respectively – which almost matches up with the general gender mix on campus). One student wishes that she knew how much Greek life was part of campus before she came here. She said that sometimes it feels like much more than half of the students belong to one of the Greek organizations. There is a bit of Greek housing, but many end up living together in regular dorms.

~TCU studentsStudents love the academics here, but “you need to want to learn. They can facilitate the learning, but can’t do it for you.” Favorite classes include:

  • Literature and Civilization: they spoke with a woman from Rwanda
  • Speech Pathology (she’s had her own clients for 2 years now).

~TCU main bldgAs with any university, there are a number of colleges to choose from including:

  • Business
  • Liberal Arts (notable programs: Geography, Criminal Justice, and Hispanic Studies). Students wanting to take classes in Aerospace Studies or Military Science can do so through the Air Force or Army ROTC (respectively).
  • Communications including Communication Studies, Film-TV-Digital Media, and Journalism.
  • Fine Arts: Art, Dance, Music, Theater, Interior Design and Merchandising, and Arts Administration
  • Education
  • Science and Engineering including Physics and Astronomy, Engineering, Computer Science, and the School of Geology, Energy, and the Environment.
  • TCU Honors volleyball

    Sand Volleyball Court

    The Honors College provides small classes and specialized housing (complete with a sand volleyball court!). Honors students have the opportunity to attend a special orientation and have access to Honors Study Abroad trips.~TCU mascot

~TCU mascot statue

Football stadium

Football stadium

Sports are a big deal here. Super Frog the Horned Frog is the beloved mascot (and listed in the top-10 weirdest mascots!); students rub the nose of the Horned Frog statue for luck before exams, and the university even owns a real horned frog. It’s housed at the FW Zoo because it’s an endangered species. TCU’s teams are DI; in addition to the common teams, there are women’s Equestrian and Rifle teams, and men’s DIA football. TCU ranks #1 in the country for attendance at women’s soccer and men’s baseball games. Their big rival is Baylor. Intramurals and club sports are a big part of life on campus, as well. They offer bowling, ice hockey, gymnastics, rugby, and water polo in addition to many other sports. There’s even an outdoor pool with kayaks and canoes available for students.

© 2015

Florida International University

Florida International University (visited 1/24/13)

As luck would have it, I sat next to a recent FIU graduate on the plane to Miami. She did her master’s work there, and while her experience was clearly different from undergrads, she shared insight and knowledge about FIU. She raved about her experiences, the campus, and the school. She was also a Miami native and knew a lot about FIU and the University of Miami and talked a bit about real and perceived differences.

The FIU admissions counselor literally went out of her way to help me. I had emailed her in advance asking if I could join the afternoon tour and info session; I told her I had planned on hopping on a bus to get to campus and asked for directions from the bus stop to the admissions office. She told me not to worry about the bus; she would pick me up on her way back to campus after a high school visit. She also took me back at the end of the day. I found that this friendliness was not uncommon; people seemed more than willing to help others. I walked away with a real sense of community – something I don’t often get when visiting such large schools.

FIU is a large public university. It opened in 1972 and has grown to 34,000 undergrads, but it feels smaller because of the high commuter population. Approximately 6,000 students live on campus, giving this the feel of a medium-sized university but with the myriad of opportunities of any other large state school I’ve seen. True to its name, there’s an extensive international population; Trinidad, the Bahamas, and China are the most-represented countries, and India is quickly catching up. Additionally, the cultural diversity of Miami is also well represented on campus. (As a side note, the TOEFL exam is not required for students who graduate from a US high school and who have been here for at least 2 years).

All dorms are apartment or suite style – none have communal bathrooms (another surprise at such a large school, but indicative of the lower residential rate). Suites have 3 or 4 single bedrooms with some sort of common space and a bathroom, often with at least 1 sink outside the bathroom. The upperclassmen suites tend to have a kitchen in the common area; freshmen dorms usually don’t. Each dorm has a mail room, a staffed front desk, and laundry facilities. New dorms are being built for upperclassmen which will increase the number of students living on campus. About 15% of the students are involved in Greek Life. Freshmen can rush; sororities rush in fall and frats rush every semester. There are only two frat houses on campus; they’re large, beautiful buildings near the entrance to campus that house 30-40 students each.

Scholarships range from 50% tuition to full rides (including R&B and fees) for National Merit Finalists. The percentage of tuition applies to either in- or out-of-state tuition, whichever the student would be paying. Scholarships are awarded at the time of acceptance with few exceptions. They super-score both the SAT and the ACT. If grades go up during senior year and the most recent GPA would help move them up for a higher award, they can submit updated grades for reconsideration. There is also an Honors program that students are invited to when they apply; students admitted to this program usually have a 4.0 GPA and 2000 SAT (or equivalent ACT).

The Biscayne Bay campus houses the Marine Science, Journalism, and Hospitality majors. Although these majors don’t seem to go together, they’re placed there because of availability of resources: the marine science obviously has the bay; the journalism is placed there because it’s closer to many of the major networks and newspapers, so students have easy access to internships and hands-on experiences. There’s also a separate Engineering campus. Shuttles run back and forth all day to all campuses until 11pm.

The main campus is beautiful, well-laid out, and easy to get around; the tour guide lived on campus her first year and said that it took “7 minutes at a normal pace” to get from her dorm to her furthest class. There is far more grass than I expected of such a large university; sculptures are everywhere. Visual and performing arts are active, and one part of campus has an “Avenue of the Arts” with the Fine Arts building on one side and the Music School at the end. The tour guide said that that the arts programs could use more money, despite all the theater productions and the multiple Art Expos each year showcasing student’s work. A farmer’s market is held on campus every Wednesday, and group yoga and tai-chi classes are often held around the fountain. The Architecture, Business, and Law schools are all centrally located among the other buildings. The law school has two working courtrooms which are used for actual trials as well as for teaching. The largest auditorium on campus holds 280 students. The tour guide’s smallest class had 18 students; the largest was 280. When students register for classes, they can actually see how big the enrollment is in that class. The entire campus is wi-fi accessible, and printing (5 cents per page) is available in all the buildings and can be accessed by swiping ID cards.

The library tower is the tallest building on campus and serves as a good reference point for finding your way around. The first two floors are “loud floors” with study rooms, group spaces, and lots of centralized seating. The rest of the floors are quiet. Under the library is a breeze-way with a mini-mart on one side – this is very popular for students wanting a study break. Clubs and organizations often set up tables for information or fund-raisers. One club was having a bake sale when we went by.

There are no obvious blue security lights around campus; the tour guide said these were mostly around the outskirts of campus and in buildings. There are two police stations on campus and 36 officers stationed solely on campus. Even though this is a city campus, she said that she has always felt safe on campus. Parking isn’t really an issue. People can get parking spots – but there is a “parking convenience problem.”

The tour guide is a big fan of the food, especially being able to get breakfast all day at the dining halls. She still buys into a partial meal plan even though she lives off campus. Students living on-campus must have a meal plan; those living off-campus can choose. The VIP5 allows students to get meals Monday – Friday, and includes $300 in Panther Bucks for use at satellite food outlets. The VIP7 meal plan is all week and includes $100 in Panther Bucks. On-campus locations that take Panther Bucks include Chili’s, a sushi place, Dunkin Donuts, Einstein Bros, Subway, Burger King, a Middle Eastern restaurant, Starbucks, mini-marts, and more. Many of these are located in the University Center food-court; it feels like a mall food court with lots of seating and even a fishtank. We walked through in mid-afternoon and it was being well-utilized. Clearly it’s a comfortable, central hang-out.

(c) 2013

University of Colorado – Boulder

UC-Boulder (Visited 10/2/12)

CU1I can’t remember being on any other campus and thinking, “This place really smells good!” I had been excited about seeing Boulder because I had heard nothing about good things about the university and about Boulder itself, named the Smartest City in the US by Forbes magazine because so many companies are based here including the universities, Lockheed Martin, Celestial Seasonings, etc. Boulder is a great city by itself, but they’re also only 30 miles from Denver (a city of 2.5 million) for students have access to a major metropolitan area; go 30 miles in the other direction and you hit the Continental Divide (population – 0). You really get the best of both worlds.

CU stadium

CU Ralphie

Ralphie statue

Football is huge here. Students do have to pay for tickets which is a bit unusual, but maybe not so weird at bigger universities. A season pass costs $175 which the students I talked to thought was reasonable. Their mascot is Ralphie the Buffalo – a REAL Buffalo who weighs in a meager 3500 pounds. Ralphie, who is actually a female, runs the field before all home games. She lives somewhere near campus, but her actual location is top secret, known only to her handlers, the “Ralphie Runners” (who, in order to become a handler, must prove that they can run extremely fast because of Ralphie’s speed); apparently students from two rival schools had once kidnapped her and spray-painted her with their schools’ names. Now, to keep her safe (and clean!), they don’t release her location other than to those people who take care of her. A statue of Ralphie is in the plaza outside the stadium; the stipulation of the donation was that she faced east towards Nebraska, the big rival. However, now that they’ve changed divisions and don’t play Nebraska anymore, it doesn’t mean so much (although the tour guide said that now her butt is facing most of their opponents, so maybe that’s ok!).

P1000866Sports in general are popular (both for spectators and to participate in) and strong (with 24 NCAA championships). Boulder has been named the 2nd healthiest city in the US and there’s more protected open space around the city than in other areas. There are 11 ski areas within 3 hours of campus. 70 Olympic Athletes live or train in the area. If you want outdoorsy options, this is the place for you! The campus is bike and pedestrian friendly. All students can have cars, but it’s discouraged because parking is limited. Lots of students have bikes, and buses run frequently. Like other big schools I’ve been to, there are a lot of bikes and bike-racks around – and I even saw 2 “bike-fixing stations” that have all sorts of tools if something goes wrong. The sidewalks are separated into a pedestrian side and a bike side because there’s so much of each type of traffic and they try to minimize back-ups and accidents.

CSU quadEven though they are the University of Colorado, most people call the school CU. When I asked why, the tour guide thought maybe so they weren’t confused with UC Berkeley since both places are UCB. This is the flagship campus of the UC system; the creation of the university was written into the state charter when Colorado became a state in 1876. The campus is one of the most uniform in terms of looks that I’ve ever seen. The buildings are all done in the Tuscan style with stone from Colorado; we were told that it’s actually mandated that all new buildings conform to the new style. When I spoke to a student about CU, she said “it’s so . . . cement!” which surprised me because I thought it was beautiful – but she was commenting on the lack of open green space and quads. However, there are grassy areas to be found; it’s definitely a beautiful place.

On of the quads on campus

On of the quads on campus

CU acad bldgThe kids walking around campus were mostly casually dressed but not in the “crunchy,” outdoorsy style that Boulder seems to have gotten a reputation for; a few were dressed up in dresses and fancy shoes. Very few students were plugged into iPods as they walked around campus which was good to see – they were interacting with each other. There’s a great deal of diversity in the student body. Racially, this was easy to see walking around, but they also have religious, socio-economic, and geographic diversity. Students come from all 50 states. This year, there are 2400 out-of-state freshman compared to the 3100 in-state. Surprisingly, only 4% of the population is international; I expected a bit more. Also surprisingly, the population is 54% male, unlike the trend found at many other universities. OOS tuition is locked in at the first year rate (to attract OOS students). In-state students see tuition increases every year, but it’s still cheaper than OOS tuition. There is a way for OOS students to gain independent status and therefor CO residency for tuition purposes, but the tour guide wasn’t sure how that happened.

CU2CU coffee signAcademics seem to be uniformly strong. Journalism and Mass communication merited specific mentions: students can get involved in advertising, broadcast news, production, and more. The business program (which attracts 12% of the students on campus) is ranked #36 in USNWR. 12% of the student body has declared a business major; they can concentrate in accounting, finance, management and entrepreneurship, marketing, and an open option. The Engineering and Applied Science department ranks is the 19th in the country. The aerospace program is #1 and is partially funded by the government. Two NASA astronauts teach in the department. The biology department has a cadaver lab in which undergraduates can take classes. The music program only has 250 students. Environmental Design allows students to do architecture, design, landscape, and more.

This is the first time that I saw students with “clickers” – small white plastic rectangles about an inch wide and about four inches long with five buttons labeled A- E. Many professors have students “log in” for attendance purposes in some of the bigger classes. We saw two lecture halls that actually had balconies that looked a bit like box seats at a theater. Professors can also have the students answer questions during lectures in order to check for understanding. It was supposedly developed by one of the physics professors on campus.

CU bikes 2There is more going on extra-curricularly than people know what to do with. Thirteen percent of the population is Greek, and Greek Life provides a lot of social activities on campus for members and non-members alike. The campus has the only ice rink and the only bowling alley in Boulder. There are hundreds of clubs, and if a student wants to start one that isn’t offered already, he or she can do so with $25 and three friends. Volunteering and community service is HUGE here. CU is one of three colleges that won “College with a Conscience” last year because of the number of community service hours completed by the students.

CU 4The dining hall is great. In the dining hall we ate lunch in, there were food stations from 8 different countries as well as a kosher station. One of the admissions people said that “ We’ve moved up from the Freshman 15 to Freshman 35.”

CU has an impressive 89% retention rate from first to second year. They attribute this in part to the 19 Residential Academic Programs and Living-Learning Communities. Many residential halls have classes attached to them. Two classes each semester are taught in these classes in small group settings. Study abroad is also big: 26% students study abroad for a year, a semester, or a 3-week summer program. They have 330 programs in 70 countries.

(c) 2012

University of Montana

UNIVERSITY OF MONTANA, Missoula (Visited 7/23-24/2012)

~.MSU panarama 1

A panoramic shot of the campus and town from the M Mountain

P1000437

The view of the main building and the oval from “The M Hike” on the hill behind the University

~MSU catapultUM has a classic university feel with big brick buildings and a large oval quad; it’s not only a beautiful campus, but it’s a manageable/ walkable size and it all seems to fit flow. As part of the counselor tour, we stayed in one of the traditional dorms for the first 3 nights. The rooms are a bit on the small side, but certainly livable. However, there was always a rush on the bathrooms which didn’t seem big enough to take care of the needs of the population on the hall. Some of the rooms were traditional doubles, and others were set up in “pods” – a common room with three single rooms off of it. None of the rooms had sinks, but the common rooms of the pods had a small fridge and microwave. None of the residential halls had AC, which students sited as one of the things they would change if they could. Only 2 of the dorms are higher than 4 floors, and all but 1 building are clumped together on one side of campus.

~MSU CSA sign~MSU farm 2Sustainability and locally sourced food is a big deal here. They have a garden on campus, and the food goes to the dining hall. The PEAS farm, about 3 miles away, is used by the university. In addition to 90 CSA shares, they provide 15-20,000 pounds of food for food banks. They offer classes on the farm for the environmental science and agricultural students. The class can be repeated three times: spring, summer, and fall so that students get the full range of what happens on the farm. The man who runs the program wants it to be meaningful experience for the students, and he’s clearly passionate about what he does. The farm is not organic-certified, but it is an organic farm: “we wouldn’t be doing anything differently. We already willingly adhere to all the standards, and becoming certified costs a lot of money and makes me jump through hoops, requiring hours of paperwork that otherwise could be spent on the land.”

One of the biggest issues I saw was that this is a very white campus, although that mimics the town, as well. Native Americans make up the largest minority population, but even that is low – like single digits low. However, there are 500 international students from 75 countries; one of the students on the panel was from Kenya and when asked about winters in Missoula, she said, “if I can survive it, anyone can survive it!”

~MSU main bldg and M

The main building with the M Mountain behind it.

~MSU stadiumMostly, students are really happy here. There’s a lot to do on and off campus. The Grizz-Cat (UM-MSU) rivalry is huge, and the annual football game sells out. One student said “I don’t even like football, but I look forward to the game every year!” Tailgating is huge, and people get really pumped up. School spirit is huge, and they turn out for a lot of games in different sports. They also like the accessibility of skiing and hiking, but say that even non-outdoorsy people fit in and find a lot to do. The movie theater is in walking distance as are restaurants, the local ice cream place, and pubs. Shuttles run frequently. First Friday (open art galleries) is popular. One of the on-campus perks that got a big shout-out is that there are resident IT students on call four nights a week who can be called to help trouble-shoot printer, internet, or computer problems. The biggest issues that students complained about was the parking situation(but that takes on an entirely different meaning here than on a really large campus), and off campus housing can be difficult to find, but not impossible. Most students find things close enough to walk or ride bikes.

~MSU acad bldg 2One of the first events we attended as a group was the Dean’s Panel where 9 Deans gave presentations about their respective colleges.

  • The Arts and Science college is the largest on campus with a lot of collaboration across departments and across colleges. Students can find their niche in the college but have the flexibility to try a lot of things. One of the most unique offerings in this college is Irish Studies which includes language study (the only place west of the Mississippi to offer it), culture, dance, etc. They offer exchanges with various places in Ireland. They also have a nationally recognized Native American Studies program in which student are engaged in the communities in Montana and around the country. Their Environmental Studies program is also nationally ranked, and there are lots of pre-programs (nursing, law, medicine), and advising for these programs is extensive. Their system of professional and faculty advisors for all majors is strong. The university also runs a biological research center on Flathead Lake (the largest freshwater lake west of the Mississippi). Why studying/doing research here, the students can live in university-provided housing.
  • ~MSU acad bldg 1The School of Business offers all the traditional majors which can be found on the website, but two are worth a special mention:
    • The Certificate Program in Entertainment Management (only Vanderbilt and Cornell offer this, as well). 600 students are enrolled in the program which is the most interdisciplinary in the business school. They’ve even been on the cover of Poll Star Magazine.
    • The Entrepreneurship Program which is an Endowed program. Students participate in a statewide competition in which 50-75 business plans get sent in. They pick 15 as semi-finalists who come for 2.5 days to compete for the $10,000 first prize; all of them get to present to investors, so even without winning, they get exposure to potential funding.
  • The College of Technology (soon to be Missoula College, Univ. of Montana) is a 2-year college attached to the main university. Students come from all over the country, and they become part of the university – they live on campus, they use all the facilities – so they get a two-year experience on a four-year Research-1 campus. They have access to smaller classes in 35 programs across five departments (including Applied Computing and Electronics, Culinary Arts, Diesel Welding/Heavy Equipment Operations, and Health Professions). Admission to the College of Tech only requires a HS degree or GED. If they earn 12 credits with a 2.0, they can transfer automatically into UM.
  • The School of Health offers complete accredited programs like Pharmacy (including a 2-4 PharmD program or a 4-3 program if they come in with a BS in a related area like kineseology), PT, Public Health, and Social Work (both BSW and MSW). All accredited. Only programs in the state.
  • In the Visual and Performing Arts College, students can do work in Fine or Visual Arts, Music, Dance, and Theater among other areas; they also have large offering for non-majors. Their $250,000 in scholarship money went largely to those majoring in the school, but some were offered to non-majors if they participated in marching band or for people who play “in-need” instruments. Many study abroad offerings for the majors include Vienna (Art History, Music, etc) and Bali. Dancers performed at Kennedy Center – selected 2/3 years to perform there. Some unique programs to be aware of are the Digital Art/Animation degree and the BFA in Sonic Art (recording engineers, sound in film or live concerts).
  • In Education and Human Sciences, students come in as a major in the particular subject and then apply to pick up licensure. Other majors include Communicative Sciences and Disorders (with a clinic open to the public providing lots of research and hands-on for the students), Clinical and School Psych, Health and Human Performance (athletic training, exercise science, health promotion) and Work physiology and Human Metabolism.
  • The Journalism School is one of the oldest undergrad journalism in the country. Students can major in print, online, photo, and multi-media areas as well as an interdisciplinary major combined with Native Studies. This is one of the schools that require internships, and students regularly get recognized with the Hearst Award. Over $110,000 in scholarships are awarded each year, largely alumni funded
  • ~MSU catapult

    This had been used to haul logs using horsepower; it now sits outside the Forestry Building.

    In the College of Forestry and Conservation, students can mix disciplines such as education, environmental law, and computer applications. It’s important to know that most students in this field will need a Masters for a permanent position. Wildlife Forestry is the largest program in the college (about 40%), and students can focus on terrestrial or water studies. The newest major is Wildland Restoration which deals with reclaiming land, invasive species, and fire control among other things. Students interested in more of a business side can major in Parks Recreation and Tourism Management to become such things as Park Rangers, Land Stewards, or work in a Nature Conservancy. Students can do work over the summer in Fiji, India, Vietnam, and other places, as well as learn winter rescue techniques in Montana and White-Water rescue in Costa Rica.

  • Finally, UM has opened up their Global Research Initiative to all students. When students are accepted to the University, they’re invited to express interest in joining the GRI. From that pool, UM gets a wide span of students and interests (not all business, not all honors, not all female). They look for a cohort that spans the range of majors and credentials. The pilot program took about 235 students in its second year. The program is privately funded, and they will keep it going as long as they can, which they hope will be a long time! Part of the program involves travel and international experiences; when accepted into the program, all US students will be given a passport (if eligible). Every year, the students focus on a specific project or theme:
    • The 1st year revolves around small seminars (examples: Doing the Right Thing, Truth vs. Truthiness) in which they explore a big, enduring question having to do with public health, world poverty, economics, etc.
    • The 2nd year moves into Models of Leadership. Students participate in retreats, lectures, workshops, etc.
    • During the 3rd year, the program will help fund an internship, study abroad, research, or service learning (maybe pay for airfare, etc). Students have to do one of those.
    • The 4th year is the capstone in which students work together in groups of about 15 on one of the big problems. For example: if they’re interested in malaria, they’ll be put into a multi-disciplinary group to problem solve, so they could be working with a biologist, linguist, business major, and education major. The project they complete could be an ad campaign, writing grants, etc.

(c) 2012

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