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Mercyhurst University

Mercyhurst University (visited 3/18/19)

Mercyhurst M and Main

The main entrance

Sometimes visiting a college without knowing much about it first is the best way to approach this. This is definitely the case here. I loved driving onto campus under the metal arch and up the drive leading to the stunning main, original building. This has the feel of a strong faith-based community – there’s no question that this is a religious institution with the statues and the chapel – but I never got the heavy-handed feeling that some other religious institutions have. It just had a sense of calm and purpose permeating much of what goes on.

Mercyhurst chapel 1

The main chapel

The Sisters of Mercy (the first non-cloistered order) started Mercyhurst with 23 female students in 1926 (they went coed in 1969 with the addition of a men’s crew team). Their 2 major tenets include health care and education. If people needed help, they got it. They took care of soldiers on both sides of the Civil War, for example. Someone described them as being on the liberal edge of Catholicism, telling me that it was the Campus Ministry that started the LGBTQ group years ago. “They see the problem, not the details of who the person is. They want people to feel welcome and at home. If you want to be here, they want you to be here. Students seem respectful of people’s opinions and people can say what they feel.” The tour guide agreed: “It’s a supportive environment where you can be yourself.”

Mercyhurst lab

One of the cybersecurity labs

This is still something of a regional school with many students coming from a two-hour radius. Much of this is program driven: the academics have strong reputations, and the university has specialized majors such as Interior Architecture and Design, archaeology/anthropology (including concentrations in Bioanthropology and Bioarchaeology), and Applied Forensic Sciences (with concentrations in Criminalistics/Forensic Bio, Forensic Anthropology, and Forensic Chemistry). They’ve developed majors that enable students to train for jobs that industries need, and have done a great job of being future-focused by creating programs in data science, cybersecurity, and Business and Competitive Intelligence.

Mercyhurst Applied Politics

Institute for Applied Politics polling room

They have created specialized institutes as well, including one for Ethics and Society and one for Applied Politics (Students can work here to conduct public opinion polls on a variety of things, including politics and environmental issues).

Mercyhurst offers a strong Learning Support program as well as Institute for high-functioning students on the spectrum. I met with representatives from both programs and ate lunch with 3 of them. They’re wonderful and clearly love what they do!

  • Mercyhurst nontrad apts

    Some of the non-traditional apartments where students in AIM can choose to live

    LDP (Learning Difference Program) offers two levels of academic support.

    • Students with a current documented disability will be able to get accommodations such as extended time for testing, Assistive technology, etc. For extended time, students get a form that indicates which accommodation they’ve been approved for; they have that signed by the professor and comes back to the office for scheduling at least 5 days before the test date.
    • The Academic Advantage Program is a fee-based program with about 10 openings for the coming year. “Sometimes it’s hard for kids coming from a high school with a real reach-around program. This service focuses much more on organization and executive functioning to make sure they’re getting things done on time and then making sure that they seek out the content help somewhere else. They need to be advocating for themselves.” Students get weekly check-ins with academic counselors who will help create a document to track what they have due, create a weekly time management calendar, and other things to help students stay on track. They’ll also track grades through an early alert programs. Counselors can help students get tutoring.
    • Freshmen also have the option to participate in the PASS summer program; 12-15 students each summer move in at the end of July and take a 3-week, 3-credit class. It counts for the REACH (see below), and it alleviates the fall course load. They can move into their dorm room to get settled early. They also have workshops so they know what the accommodations look like.
  • The Autism Institute at Mercyhurst (AIM) provides support for students on the Spectrum; they support the students’ adjustment to college and provide social and other support to make sure they’re successful. There is specialized housing available, but this is optional. Students can choose to live there or in other available dorms.
Mercyhurst 1

The library and an academic building connected by an overhead walkway

The Core Curriculum is called REACH in which they take 10 classes in 10 disciplines, 2 in each of the following areas: Reason & Faith, Expression and Creativity, Analytical Thought, Contexts & Systems, and Humans in Connection. Freshman also take two semesters of Intro to Mercyhurst classes which purposefully mixes students of different majors and different geographic areas so they interact with people they might not have. These classes help to ensure that students know where resources are on campus.

Mercyhurst sky roof

The “sky ceiling” in one of the academic buildings.

The university has recently revamped their academic calendar to incorporate “mini-terms” into their semesters. This effectively splits the semester into 2 8-week sections, and students can go on “mini-semester travel.” They also have a campus in Dungarvan, Ireland “that’s really an extension of our campus.” Freshmen can go if they’re in the honors program (but this option is not always available every year). Depending on the major, they might be able to take some of the requirements for the major. About 25% of students will study abroad.

Mercyhurst reading room

One of the reading rooms

They do have a 4-year residency requirement. “People aren’t leaving en masse on the weekends. They’re here and doing things.” Freshmen are not allowed to have cars on campus, but all students get passes for public transportation. There’s a lot to do in Erie including an indoor water park, mini-golf, theaters, Target, etc. “There’s cool local music downtown,” said the tour guide. Presque Isle (about a 15 minute drive; the bus line also goes there) is a popular spot with walking trails and beaches; sometimes the college hosts events there. “Erie is like Buffalo, Cleveland, and Pittsburgh,” said the admission rep. “We’re trying to come back from being primarily an industrial city so things are getting revitalized.” Gannon University is also in Erie, so a lot of places cater to college students.

Mercyhurst motto

The college motto

A couple fun campus traditions mentioned by several people are:

  • The Sister Damien Spirit Bell is a fixture at hockey games. The tour guide told me that she was such a supporter of the Mercyhurst teams (and about 30% of students are athletes) that “she would tell the opposing team that they’d go to hell if they beat her boys.” The bell is still rung at athletic (“and personal”) victories. They have 3 DI sports (men’s and women’s ice hockey and men’s crew). All other sports are DII.
  • The new President (well, sort of new – he’s in his 4th year) established Hurst Day. On a random fall day, he cancels classes with a big scavenger hunt (based on the history of campus, etc), games, activities, competitions, and a big dinner.
Mercyhurst quad

The quad

Improvements are student-focused (such as the new sophomore res hall being built). “Things aren’t done blindly on campus; it’s done on purpose.” They just opened a bar on campus in Mid-March. It’s run by the cafeteria so food can be bought with their card; they need cash for alcohol which is served with a 2 drink limit “for student safety,” said the rep. The tour guide said, “It’s great. It’s been open 3 days and I’ve been there twice.”

Mercyhurst birds 2

Artwork by one of the art professors (also a Mercyhurst alum)

Admissions is fully test optional; those who don’t send scores are still eligible for Honors Programs, scholarships, and any major. They’ll superscore both the SAT and ACT if sent, and admissions will counsel students if they aren’t sure if they should send in scores. “We’re not super selective. We work well with students who aren’t your traditional A student or who needs more hands-on.” They have a 15-to-finish initiative: they work with students to take at least that many credits per semester so they’re on track to graduate. “But it’s not just random credits. We have advisors who make sure they are taking the RIGHT 15 credits.”

© 2019

Marshall University

Marshall University (visited 4/12/12)

When I originally decided to go to Marshall, I was sure that I wasn’t going to be impressed, but I figured that I was going to be so close, I might as well see it. I was going to arrive late in the day because of other college visits, so I planned on stopping in the Visitors Center (the fancy term for Admissions Office that more colleges seem to be adopting), introduce myself to the NC rep, and then walk around campus a bit on my own. Instead, I found three talkative students in the main reception area who were more than willing to engage in conversation as I waited for the Assistant Director of Admissions to meet me for our appointment. Even though only one was “on duty,” they all joined in the conversation. They were articulate and positive about the school without “gushing” or seeming disingenuous. They told me what they were doing and why they chose Marshall. One is Junior nursing major; he was proud that Marshall had the highest passing rate in WV on the Boards. Another student was a Junior psych major and she said she loved the classes she was taking. The third specifically talked about how school spirit is big on campus; Homecoming and football games got special mention.

The woman from admissions spent a great deal of time with me about the university, including pointing out highlights on a map before sending me on my way to walk around campus after the office closed at 5. The fairly compact campus, occupying 4 blocks by 4 blocks, is a manageable size for a medium-sized university. Huntington’s official “downtown, filled with movies, restaurants, coffee shops, and more, is technically four blocks from campus but there are certainly a lot between campus and what the city would call “downtown.” I was impressed at how seamlessly the campus was integrated into the surrounding part of town while still maintaining an attractive traditional campus filed with lots of brick buildings as well as open green spaces. The quad, although it had a lot of grass, was not the traditional flat, grass-filled quad. Instead, it was a rolling area with a lot of trees, bushes, flowers, and brick walkways. A couple statues (one of John Marshall) and sculptures were in the area as well as a lot of benches and other seating areas, tables, and chairs. People were out on the quad interacting extensively. Students were using the seating areas to study as well as socialize, and people were talking to each other as they walked across campus (I saw very few people plugged into their music). Students were dressed in a variety of ways; it didn’t seem like there was a “type” of kid at Marshall – some were dressed up, some were in athletic gear, some in the stereotypical college sweatpants and t-shirt getups.

Marshall is the second largest public university in WV, but with 10,000 undergrads, it’s half the size of WVU. This is a largely residential campus, but not entirely since dorm space just doesn’t allow it at this point. All students who come from outside a 50-mile radius MUST live on campus for freshman and sophomore years, although there is talk of reducing that to a 30-mile radius. The freshman residence halls are only two years old – and each room has a private bathroom. They aren’t even suites, so students only share the bathroom with a single roommate! The upperclassmen halls are suites with either two or four single bedrooms, a bath, and a common space. They do have two large dorms called the Twin Towers which are 8 or 10 floors high. Only one residence hall on campus is all-women; the rest are coed. Freshman are allowed to have cars on campus; parking is accessible and costs $150/semester on a surface lot and a little more in the garage.

The Forensic Chemistry and the Computer Forensics are unique programs on campus. Education is huge; Marshall started as a Teacher’s College, so they have kept the program going strong. Their Business program is Internationally Accredited, which is rare. They have a new Engineering facility, as well, including some new programs that will be coming along shortly. Their Fine Arts/Communications (including Journalism) programs are also worth mentioning.

In order to attract more non-WV students, they have the Horizon Scholarship for out-of-state students who meet minimum requirements; this brings the price to about what an in-state student would pay (and I was told that this makes it cheaper than what a Penn resident would pay for Penn State). They also have the Yeager Scholarship which is a full ride: students need a 30+ on the ACT and need to fill out the application on the website by 12/15. They do not need a nomination. In terms of admissions, they basically look at GPA and test scores. There is no required essay. They do have an Honors College; applicants are invited based on their application. Generally, Honors College students have at least a 3.5 GPA and 26+ ACT scores.

The students who thrive at the college tend to be involved and who stand out; they also want attention in the positive sense: they want to talk to professors, they want to be able to ask questions, they want to discuss things. Marshall is invested in making sure that their students succeed at the college. The Student Resource Center, in addition to providing resources similar to those at peer institutions, also will track the freshman, and if they see that students are floundering, will reach out to them to offer help and set out plans for success (tutoring, study schedules, etc). They also provide excellent resources for students with specialized learning needs (ADHD, dyslexia, etc).

(c) 2012

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