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Archive for the tag “Liberal Arts College”

University of Indianapolis

University of Indianapolis (visited 6/12/17)

UInday 10“What happens in the buildings is way more important than the buildings (which are still phenomenal),” said the school’s President. UIndy is a comprehensive liberal arts school with about 4000 undergraduates. “Some kids come in with a laser focus, but many don’t, and we kind of like that! The first year is meant to expose them to the range of options so they can start to articulate passions. We draw an involved faculty who are interested in helping students see the relevance in what they’re studying and to help them articulate what they’re passionate about.”

UIndy 12This fall (2017), they’ll bring in 1,150 freshmen with 52 nations represented (China is the most highly represented with 250 students followed by 175 from the Middle East). Incoming freshmen had an average of a 3.52 GPA. Because UIndy is so focused on engagement, they’ve hired more staff and added more programs. Even with the enrollment growth, the student-faculty ratio dropped from 15:1 to 12:1.

UInday expressions wallThey’re committed to keeping prices down and providing robust financial aid. They feel that this is one way to demonstrate an ethos of “Education for Service,” their motto and something they want the students to learn to apply as well. Even their sports teams have won awards for being first in their conference for community service. The athletics tend to be strong here with 600+ students in 23 DII sports, 15 of which have gone on to post-season play.

UInday ampitheaterStudents are smart and interested in their educations. “We’ve redone the library, It’s is no longer a book depository. It’s an idea factory. There’s a line at the door at 8am and we’re kicking people out at midnight,” said the President. That doesn’t mean that academics are all they do OR that they have a single focus. Students tend to have multiple interests in and out of their majors. Francesca Zappia is one of their recent alums; she was a computer science major who also loved to write. Now she’s a published author with her second novel coming out this spring: John Greene said she’s the next big thing in that genre!

UInday 1

The new Health Pavilion

Health Sciences are strong here. They even have a cadaver lab for undergraduates! The new Health Pavilion is a gorgeous building with intentional architecture to give students a taste of what the professional life will be; it’s also a place for the community to come together. One of the community hospitals has space there providing clinics (PT, OT, and psychological) for students and the surrounding community. More than 96 clinical placements for students are available on site. This is the first school I’ve visited that combines a PT or OT program with Psychology, Anthropology, and Public Health Education & Promotion.

UInday 6They offer an accelerated 3-year BSN: acceptance depends on how they do the first year and then go year-round after that. Nursing itself is not direct-entry; students complete their first year and apply. The minimum GPA is 2.82; the GPA for a fall entry tends to be higher than that. There are 80 spots in the fall semester and 64 for a spring start; “there’s rarely not a spot for students who qualify and want to be in nursing,” said the Dean of Health Sciences. “Some may have to wait until spring to start, however.” If this is the case, they’ll graduate a semester late since there is no way to catch up over the summer with the clinical rotations.

UInday 3They added 6 Engineering programs 2 years ago, and they’re phasing out the 3+2 program because it’s no longer needed. The design aspect, project-based learning, and unique curriculum makes UIndy’s engineering stand out. They complete 10-week intensive courses followed by a 5-week design experience. The university built a new maker-space supporting collaboration in a realistic setting, and they are able to utilize engineering concepts on projects with real clients.

UInday stu cntrThe new living communities has driven engagement and increased retention. There are 7 dorms, 3 of which are predominantly for first-year students. They’re coed by wing with keys only for that wing. Food is “pretty good” according to the students, “especially Wing Fridays.” The tour guide said that he had 2 traditions he would miss after graduation: Homecoming and the Celebration of Flags, an event held at the beginning of every year where students from different countries hang their flags in the student center. He also said that “President Bob” is well liked by the students and holds highly-anticipated and well-attended events at his house every year such as Super Bowl and Election Result parties.

© 2017

Wagner College

Wagner College (visited 3/24/17)

Wagner 1The students who thrive here are those who are curious and who want a theory-to-practice experience, said one of the professors. The claim to fame for this college is that they’re the residential liberal arts institution of New York City.

The Wagner Plan is their 3-level general education requirement in which students related theoretical lenses outside the classroom. This is broadly construed ranging from work in the local community to trips to museums, mosques, or other cultural sites.

  • All first-year students enroll in one of 19-21 First-Year Programs co-taught by 2 professors. They both teach 1 content-specific class; the 3rd is a team-taught, reflective, writing-intensive class to connect content to experience. Recent combinations included Philosophy/Psych, Spanish/Business, and Ways of Thinking/Sociology. “From a faculty perspective, it’s fun. We get creative and it teaches us about another discipline.”
  • Wagner main 1

    The iconic main building. If it looks familiar, it’s because School of Rock and an episode of The Sopranos were shot here.

    The intermediate class can be taken as early as 2nd semester freshman year, but usually is done in sophomore year. Two professors often teach discipline-specific classes (with some team-teaching) with common assignments to connect them; there isn’t a 3rd class.

  • The last is a Capstone/Senior Reflective Tutorial. Departments have leeway in how they define this; they’re best know how to prepare the students for the next level. Some will do summer research; sometimes it’s internships or a thesis.
Wagner anchor and dorm

The anchor with an upperclassman dorm in the background

“Lots of social dialogues happen here,” said one student panelist. Like many campuses, there’s an item that gets painted. “We’re pretty politically involved. The anchor got painted for Black Lives Matter with body outlines on the ground, for Pride week, etc.” Students agreed that there were a lot of very progressive students. Another student on the panel said, “We’re passionate about anything about our living situation and our food. The changes made since freshman year have been amazing.” They now have a Gender-Neutral floor. “We argued for it. Really, under the traditional rules, I [a male] could live with my boyfriend. It would be “safer” if I lived with a girl!”

Wagner city

The view of Manhattan from one of the dorms

The tour guides agreed that this is not a quiet campus. About 85% of all students live on campus: “Moving off campus is an option, but they’re still looking at NYC rents. It’s not the Upper East Side, but it’s still steep.” Greek Life only pulls in 16% of students so people are involved in lots of other things. “There maybe aren’t as many organized events as other campuses, but the flip side of that is there’s the city. You get college discounts everywhere, but here, you get discounts in NYC. We can see Broadway shows for $30.” Shuttles leave campus on the :10 and :40 to take students to the ferry. “You go for the first time during Orientation. It takes away the stress.” There are things to do near campus, as well, but “we’re on a hill. Most students don’t like having to hike back up it!” The city buses are not free but are easily accessible, and there are shuttles to the mall, the movies, etc.

All theater and sporting events (DI!) are free, but students say that school spirit isn’t too high. Football doesn’t draw crowds, but basketball does. (As a side note, the Women’s Water Polo team has the highest GPA of any polo team in the country). They use the Staten Island minor league stadium for their home baseball games.

We asked the student panelists what they would like to change:

  • Wagner dorm 2

    Harborview Dorm, one of the older dorms on campus (but with great views!)

    Update living situations. The towers were built in 1963 and haven’t been renovated.

  • The Science department has lots of potential, but it costs money. The faculty put time into getting grants to help bring students into research. Lab space is sufficient, but not huge.
  • Food is mediocre. It fluctuates. “But at least I didn’t get the Freshman 15.”
  • “Some of the codes are grandfathered in because buildings are so old. Our theater is in a gym. They’ve done a bunch, but acoustically it’s still a gym. Dance studios don’t have spring floors.”
Wagner dorms 4

More dorms

Academics are overall strong; they look to hire teachers, not researchers: “That’s fantastic if you brought in a million dollar grant or published a paper, but if you can’t teach, we don’t want you!” This isn’t to say that there isn’t research, because there is, but learning is put first and foremost. Research is easy and not hugely competitive. “You just need to be proactive. If you’re a science major, you have to have a research experience in junior year, and even psych majors have 2 experimental classes. It’s very easy to go to professors and get involved.”

Wagner 4Unusual programs include Biopsychology, Microbiology, and Behavioral Economics. Strong programs include:

  • Education: Students get at least 25 hours of experience in every Edu class.
  • Theater: “It’s competitive, but we have fun and are friendly.” They receive 500 apps for 32 spots. Admissions first clears students and invite approximately 275 to audition. About half audition in person (they try to tie this in with the spring show) and another 50 or so send in a video audition. The department puts on 4 productions a year and get a lot of community support.
  • Nursing: This is not direct entry; students complete the pre-reqs and take the T6 (basic skills – everyone takes this) As long as they pass, they’re in the program. Nursing students can do research. One did a project looking at whole/non-processed foods in Bodegas and helped provide incentives to put this type up front.
  • The Art, Art History, and Film Department is strong and active with trips and internships (Met, Morgan Library, Neue Galerie, Marvel Comics, Rachel Ray Show, Downtown Community TV, Tibetan Museum of Art, Staten Island Museum). Students are successful studio artists, grad school, entrepreneurs (including publishing), education management in museums, fashion designer
    • Film and Media Studies offers 3 tracks (civically engaged, artistic production, criticism) as well as a dual track in Art and Education.
      • They’re looking at Public Art and bringing in the social engagement.
      • Several interdisciplinary classes like “Illustration, Sleep, and Dreams (w/ psych), Connecting Families through Documentary Film (w/ Philosophy), Food and Fasting in the Old and New World (Art History/Anthro), Cities and perversities (Art History/French)
    • Wagner statueThe Chemistry Department is ACS certified (only 30% of schools get this). Gen Chem maxes out at 28 students taught by senior level professors. “Fabulous things come out of lunchroom conversations. I’m changing the world in the way that’s valued by the liberal arts community. We send a couple students per year, many women, off to become PhDs.”
    • Wagner has 1 of 3 planetariums in the city! (“It’s part of why I came here, and I haven’t even gone to it yet!” said a tour guide).
    • Physician Assistant: They invite 90 students to interview (they usually get about 200 applications) and can take 40. This 5-year program includes 3 study abroad experiences: a week in London (psych and some clinical work in a hospital, and they can go back and do psych rotation for 4 weeks); Guatamala in the 4th year (they complete clinical care in local mountain towns); and Belize in the 5th “It’s an unbelievably collaborative group and team-oriented in the classes. Older students mentor younger ones.” Tuition is a little higher for PA, but includes all study abroad trips and some of the summer costs. They complete 2 full years of clinical work (1 of 2 in the country to do this).
    • The Expanding Your Horizons program allows for short term travel abroad, usually linked to a class.

Wagner picnic areaWe asked the student panel about their favorite classes:

  • “The Education class part of my freshman LC. We talked about the law behind Special Ed. We did community service, and I was partnered with an amazing girl! I got to see a different perspective when we worked on daily living skills. It was fascinating to have those conversations.”
  • International Filmmaker: “We learned about the impact people have had. We got an inside look on European and other films.”
  • Musical Theater Performance. “The teacher was a Tony Award Winner. I have 2 teachers who are currently on Broadway. The pianist we work with plays for Hamilton sometimes!”

Students were surprised by:

  • How much professors wanted to reach out. “I studied abroad. I was home for 5 days and got a phone call wanting to know if I was back and if I wanted to get coffee.”
  • The community of people. I felt really welcomed. Even football people came up and talked. It was very different from high school.
  • I was in a philosophy class freshman year with people with diversity of views. I started out thinking “How could you think like that?” I was in a bubble from my little Catholic school but I saw other bubbles and why people believe what they believe.

© 2017

Salem College

Salem College (visited 3/17/17)

Salem main buildings

Some of the main buildings from the historic park (people in costumes were doing school programs). The Moravian church is in the distance.

Salem is impressive and seems to have its act together. This historical women’s college sits in the middle of historic Salem (complete with people in period-costumes giving tours), minutes from downtown Winston-Salem. The Welcome Center is in the original building built in the 1700s by the Moravian Sisters who walked down here from Bethlehem, PA. Although founded on Moravian traditions, they’re no longer affiliated but hold onto some traditions. There’s a large Moravian Church adjacent to campus; they hold a candlelight Christmas service every year followed by a traditional chicken pie dinner for all students who want to attend.

Salem transwomen banner“The diversity here surprised me,” said the rep, herself a recent graduate of Salem. “It’s not the stereotypical southern school.” She says that it’s “heavily liberal” and estimates that about 70% would self-identify as Democrats. About half the students come from NC with the highest numbers of out-of-state students coming from Texas (accounting for much of their Latina population), then MD, VA, and SC. They have clubs for all faiths and ethnicities.

Salem historic park

The Center for Inclusiveness and Diversity sits on the far end of the park.

Their Center for Inclusiveness and Diversity sits physically in the middle of campus “because why not put it front and center? We want it to be important.” They hold Round Tables and Open Mics on Wednesdays, discussing everything from politics to current events to ethnic relations. “It’s all about education and discussion,” said the tour guide. “They even did one on hair once.” It’s a safe space, and sometimes faculty aren’t allowed to attend so students can openly discuss issues. Other times, faculty will lead the round tables.

Salem walkway“A lot of women don’t want to come to a women’s college because they don’t want the drama. Of course, you eliminate the men which often cause the drama.” This isn’t to say that they’re living in a bubble. They’re in a city with other universities around (UNC School of the Arts is a little over a mile away, and Wake Forest and Winston-Salem State are also in town; add High Point and all the Greensboro schools, and there are huge numbers of college students within 45 minutes). “The drama here is about people coming from different backgrounds. People learn from each other. They grow because of it.” The rep told a story about initially having problems with a woman on her hall until she realized the behavior was from upbringing and just not knowing anything else; the two of them ended up talking and learning from each other and were in each other’s weddings.

Salem porch

The back porch of the main building backing onto one of many courtyards

The fact that Salem is so centrally located among other colleges means expanded opportunities. Students get free tickets to Wake Forest and some Winston-Salem State games and are free to join their Color Guards among other things. Almost 1/3 of Wake’s Color Guard comes from Salem, including their Drum Major for the past 3 years.

Salem dorm 1

One of the dorms on campus

All students live on campus unless they commute from home or there are extenuating circumstances (medical issues, etc). There are some off-campus suites within walking distance that are college-owned. These are within easy walking distance (5-7 minutes according to the tour guide), but all students can have cars. Parking costs $60 a year and is relatively easy to find. They can also use bikes that they check out at the student center. Dorms have open visitation policies: in the freshmen dorms, males can visit 24 hours on weekends (until midnight during the week) with all-week 24-hour visitation in upperclass dorms.

Salem 1Food rates a 7 on a 1-10 scale. The main dining hall is the traditional all-you-can-eat, but there’s also the Café where students can get sandwiches and other grab-an-go items. They get 4 meal exchanges per week that they can use at the café, no more than 1 per day. On Tuesdays and Fridays, the school brings Chic-fil-a sandwiches to the Café. “It starts at 11:30 and goes until they run out.”

Salem fountainDowntown is a 7-10 minute walk from campus giving students access to the Innovation Quarter, film festivals, all the businesses and stores. They do lots of internships in town including working in the Wake hospitals or labs. There’s also a ton going on on campus (including movies in the theater, often with popcorn. “Students bring blankets and pillows. It’s great!” said the tour guide. “If you’re bored here, it’s because you aren’t leaving your room.”

Salem art bldg

The arts building with greenhouse windows to let light into the studios.

A favorite tradition is Fall Fest which serves as a type of homecoming (there’s obviously no football). The students get the Wednesday after Labor Day off (they don’t get that Monday off), and they hold a day-long competition between classes including skits, singing competitions, and more. The Freshman get their Big Sisters on that day.

Classes are actively discussion or hand-on based with classes topping out in the 20s. The January Term classes tend to be more experiential; these were the tour guide’s favorites. One of them focused on prep for law school and careers in the field; they shadowed people, had deans from law schools talk to them, went to court houses, etc. The tour guide’s largest class was 23 in an intro class and 7 in a seminar. The Honor Code allows them to self-schedule exams during the week-long exam periods.

Sciences are strong with the usual majors offered (bio, chem, biochem, and envi sci). Chairs in labs are built for a female body, taking into account the bigger hip ratio and shape of the back. The environmental, eco-friendly movement is strong around campus. For example, the confetti at graduation is all biodegradable, and students are given reusable coffee mugs when they arrive so they don’t throw coffee cups in the trash.

Salem art gallery

One of many gallery spaces in the art building

Arts are a big deal at Salem. The have a huge fine arts building; the bottom floor has greenhouse windows for light. The building is full of display spaces. Students can major in Art, Studio Art, Art Management, Design, and Art History with minors/certificates/concentrations in Historic Preservation, Interior Design, Architectural Studies, and Visual Literature.

Salem May Dell

The May Dell Amphitheater

May Dell Amphitheater is a central point on campus. Orientation and graduation are both held there (among other events in good weather). At orientation, this is where they sign the honor code. A couple years ago, they started a new tradition where students “get their daisies,” the signature flower of the school. “It’s a cool ceremony; I’m sad they started right after my year!” said the tour guide, a junior. “Students walk up, a little like graduation, and are handed a daisy by the president. The idea is that we get a daisy now and the diploma later. We come full circle at May Dell.”

© 2017


University of Evansville

University of Evansville (visited 11/15/16)

evansville-walkway-2Evansville is a surprising school; on the surface, it appears to be a low-key school, but they have amazing programs ranging from DI athletics to a highly selective theater department. “You have all sorts of people here. We all fit in. If you want a close-knit feel, this is it.”

This is a traditional, residential liberal arts college with additional professional options offering over 80 majors. The university is organized into 4 schools: Liberal Arts & Sciences, Business, Engineering, and Education & Health Sciences (the only division with Grad programs). They are currently starting several new programs:

Health sciences and pre-med are strong: they boast a 100% placement rate at Med School for the last 10 years). Many allied health programs are Direct Entry either for the undergrad program or for a spot in the graduate school (as long as benchmarks are met along the way). They’ll require an interview from some applicants (it can be by phone).

  • evansville-lab-2Nursing: They want someone who is passionate about the subject AND has a minimum skill set. They take about 25 students a year.
  • Physician Assistant (started last fall): This year, they brought in 20 direct-entry freshman on the PA path who will have a spot in the grad program.
  • Physical Therapy: This is a little more competitive than Nursing: applicants must have a minimum test score to get invited to interview for Direct Entry. Those selected will earn a spot in the DPT program. Students not accepted into DE can still come, do the program, and apply to the graduate school. The program averages about 70 students per year.
  • Baccalaureate to MD: This is an accelerated program only open to IN residents.

The theater building

More than 1000 students audition annually for 40 spots in Evansville’s Theater program; this number includes students interested in behind-the-scenes work (costumes, tech, etc), requiring a portfolio review/interview instead of audition. They put on a musical every fall (but it’s not a Musical Theater program) and Shakespeare every spring along with 3-4 other productions. Tech students do everything from making their own wigs and make-up to sets and ticket sales. There are several well-known alumni including Rami Malek, Ron Glass, Kelli Giddish, Kelly Preston, and Jack McBrayer.


The main building

UE now offers a 5-part Guarantee:

  • 4-year graduation: UE will pay for additional time if students can’t graduate in time as long as they’re in good standing with the university (not failing things, have met regularly with the advisor, not changing major in senior year, etc).
  • No classes are taught by TAs.
  • Scholarship guarantee: all freshmen this year receive one. Most scholarships range from $10K-20K. Some are more (ie, National Merit finalists get full tuition).
  • Internship or Co-op experience. Co-ops are mostly offered to Engineering students (Toyota is a big place for co-ops; there’s a plant about 30 minutes up the road).

Several engineering projects

About 2/3 of classes have 20 students or fewer; 18 is the average. The largest class (Organic Chem) has 40. Some of the students’ favorite classes have been:

  • Organic Chem (2 students chose this!): “It can be scary, but as a Pre-med, it’s applicable. The prof is one of those teachers who makes something so complicated seem so easy. He’s really personable and puts students first. He’s just awesome.”
  • Business Law: “The professor makes the class. He’s a full-time lawyer and takes real-world cases and applies them to what we’re learning. He’s also really funny.”
  • Intro to Theater and Intro to Ancient Greek Philosophy: “These are so different from my major and I get a bit of a break. I didn’t know how great the theater program was until I saw it in action. The philosophy makes me think in a way that I don’t in my math and science classes. It challenges me in a way that I’m not in math.”
  • Spanish Conversation: “We had to read, write, and speak all the time. We got to write and act out plays. We’re terrible actors, but we got to display the skills we had.”

The fountain commemorating the basketball team that was killed in a plane crash in the ’70s

Last year, they saw a 4% increase in the freshman class with 3 enrollment records:

  • 540 new freshman including an increase of international students (71 started this fall, bringing it up to 15% of the population).
  • Domestic Diversity is up from 10% to 15%. They’ve set a new goal of 18%.
  • Retention has gone up to 89% with the class that started in fall 2015.

UE owns Harlaxton, a “castle” (Victorian Manor) located in an hour north of London. “It’s our version of Hogwarts,” one student said. “Do you like Hogwarts? How about Downton Abbey? No? Then you can’t go.” Almost 60% of undergrads will study there, either for a 5-week summer program or a full semester, with150-160 attending per semester including 16 senior nursing students doing clinical rotations. To be eligible, students must have a 2.0 GPA after finishing 2 semesters at UE. Classes are not held on Fridays to encourage travel. Some trips are built in, and others are offered at a reasonable cost. Everyone takes a British Studies class taught by a British UE faculty member. There’s no difference in cost to study there (but students pay airfare and travel within Europe that they choose to do); all financial aid and scholarships get applied.

evansville-chapel-1We asked students what surprised them about the university. They said:

  • How friendly everyone was. People would smile and say hi, ask how you were and meant it, and asked if you needed help.
  • How challenging the academics were.
  • How different college is from high school. You don’t see the same people all the time. You can find your niche and spend time there.
  • How easy it is to get connected and meet people.

The opening basketball game of the season; the stands get increasingly full as the season goes on. 

This is one of the smallest DI schools in the country. Basketball and soccer pull in a lot of fans. They’re starting Track and Field (indoor and outdoor) this coming year; the coach they have on board was asked to coach the High Jump at the Olympics.

About 30% of students go Greek, and those tend to join a lot of other activities. They plan a lot of events open to everyone including philanthropic events. “There are lots of events to raise money” such as Friday Night Live, Watermelon Bust, and cook-outs.


The pep band at the game

Some favorite traditions include:

  • Road Trip: “I love meeting new people.”
  • Freshman orientation and being a leader: “you get close to other leaders and get to meet the freshman before other people which is cool – and going through orientation with them and helping them deal with things and seeing campus again through their eyes is great.”
  • “Basketball season!”
  • Fall Festival: This is the 2nd largest street festival in the nation after Mardi Gras in New Orleans.

evansville-4Evansville itself offers a lot; it’s a decent sized city with a population of 120,000 (300,000 in the metro area). Everything is close; students don’t need cars: There are bike-shares, buses, shuttles, and friends with cars.

© 2016

Roanoke College

Roanoke College (visited 11/2/16)

roanoke-main-signPut simply, Roanoke is a wonderful place for to live and learn. A junior summed it up well: “We’re blessed to be here and all they have done for us!”

Mr. Aaron Fetrow, VP of Student Affairs at Roanoke had this to say about Roanoke: “I’ve been around a lot of places with Mission Statements. They do their thing, and that’s fine. But this place is intentional. It’s collaborative. It’s real. And it’s fun. There has to be a complement to the academics outside the class. Not everything is perfect. There will probably be roommate conflicts. We’ll teach you how to deal with discomfort. It’s how you grow. We’ll teach you how to fix it; we don’t want you living in discomfort, but let’s face it – it’s life. You’ll have colleagues you disagree with and have to learn to deal with. We challenge students about diversity, conflict, whatever and then support them in the struggle to get through it.”

roanoke-entranceI appreciate that Roanoke is invested in ‘Whole Person Development’ – “It’s central to our mission statement. Most students don’t have a focused direction. We want students to be intentional with how different parts of themselves and different interests fit together.” People – students and staff – are encouraged to get involved in a variety of ways. For example, the Dean of Students is “a lawyer in a previous life. I teach when I can. I see students who are doing wonderful things, and it helps students understand that I’m not just here to bust up parties and deal with behavior.” In the coming spring, he and the Head of Security are co-teaching a Comparative Justice class in the UK. “I’m going to be that hippy anti-gun dude. He’ll play devil’s advocate. We’re not faculty, but we’re challenging and supporting students.”


The business school – this had been a bank across the street from campus; the college bought it when it went up for sale.

The Core – or Intellectual Inquiry Curriculum – is challenging, grounded in skill and knowledge development, and designed to promote student engagement across a breadth of disciplines; one of the faculty compared it to University of Richmond’s program. Students take a writing-intensive class 1st semester and oral communication 2nd semester. The Bio professor we sat with at lunch taught a 2nd semester class and loved it because “we got to discuss morally ambiguous things.” There are 7 required 200-level classes; students choose from a wide selection of topics-based (not survey) classes such as “Do Guns Save Lives?” which teaches the basics of statistics. Students in the Honors program may take classes with an honors designation instead of INQ (and high achieving students can take honors classes without being in the program). Students need to show competency through the 3rd semester of a language by taking the classes or testing out. However, there are a lot of language options for students wanting to branch out; there are so many that they’re housed in their own building!

roanoke-guitarOne student said that it’s “fairly easy” to get into required classes in bigger departments. “Business is one of the largest departments and offer classes all the time; the theater department is one of the smallest and may only offer classes every other year. You have to plan better and make a multi-year plan.”

Some of the students’ favorite classes were:

  • Music Theory Study: “I had hopes of being a pop star. That didn’t work out for me but music has been a part of who I am and I learned a lot.”
  • Religious Life of Young Adults: “It was very practical. I got to interview other students, read about what sociologists said about religion, and contextualize it in a broader context.”
  • How Organisms Evolve: this was an INQ class about evolutionary biology.

roanoke-4Last year, there were 617 research experiences for 349 students (many in the sciences, but not all). This work is supported with travel grants, course credit, works-study research assistantships, fellowships, etc. 42% of last year’s graduates did research, and 98 students presented at regional or national conferences. 35% of most recent grads did an internship at places like Merrill Lynch, NASA, the Smithsonian, NIA, hospitals, and banks. As with research, there are more internships than students to fill them. For mentorships, they often tap into the alumni base. More than 500 have already signed up to mentor sophomores through job shadowing, skyping about career options, etc.


One of the dorms

Students spend a lot of time studying away because the university makes it so easy to do. This year, 49 students are studying abroad for a semester or year; 17 are participating in the Washington Semester. MayTerm trips last 2-3 weeks. Last year, 179 students traveled in MayTerm. One student we spoke to went to Israel where they used the geography of the Holy Land to talk about the Bible: “Some things wouldn’t have happened if it were located anywhere else. It changed how I looked at my major [Religious Studies].” Some classes stay on campus such as another student’s class, Understanding Poverty Through Service: “We worked on gardens, built houses, and built a porch for an elderly couple.” Alternative Break Trips gets students off campus in fall, spring, and Christmas break; additionally, there are 30 courses connected to the local community. These are mostly service-learning trips; more than 500 students engaged in this, and 52% of students have done this at least once.

roanoke-stadiumAlmost 75% of students participate in some sort of athletics (25% are on varsity teams). Students involved in athletes and Greek Life tend to outperform others students in terms of grad rates, retention, and GPA. “It’s a hook.” Greek life is relatively small and gives students one more option to get involved. One student said, “I love it and would like to see it grow.” Rush is deferred to spring.


Main street is right off campus; some of the mountains are visible in the distance

The Outdoor Adventure Program has a new center opening, and they’re very proud of this. “Look outside! This is where outdoor stuff should be happening. If you have students interested in repelling, kayaking, wilderness rescue, hiking, whatever – this is the place to do it.” There are lots of outdoor activity trips offered throughout the year. They also have an equestrian program; the barn is about 15 minutes away.


The interior of a dorm with study nooks

Students like the activities on campus. “It’s hard to get bored.” One of the favorite things is Bingo: “It’s the best! You can win a lot of stuff.” One of the favorite traditions is the Senior dinner at the President’s House. They engrave names and messages into the bookcases. If students need a change of scenery, there’s plenty to do in the region with the city of Roanoke and several other colleges nearby. From Friday to Sunday, they can get taxi vouchers to get around town, including the airport. However, there’s also plenty within walking distance including Mac & Bob’s, a restaurant across the street that was a project started by seniors at the college who graduated and just continued!

© 2016

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

Ferrum College

Ferrum College (visited 11/5/16)

ferrum-chapel-2Ferrum is “small but has connections I appreciate.” It’s safe, friendly (“people talk to each other”), and not so big that you get lost in the crowd. The mission is about access for a range of abilities: “The college was set up by Methodists (a socially-engaged religion) to give students in this part of the state access to higher education. It’s about people and upholding the historical mission.” Students are 60% PELL eligible and 30% First Gen. It’s a diverse, inclusive community. Currently, they only have about a 60% retention rate that they’re actively trying to improve with the Gateway Seminar which provides mentors for freshmen.


An intramural field with a dorm in the background

Sports are a fairly big part of the culture here. “I was told that 75% play sports, but it’s less than that,” said one student on the panel. “Maybe it hits that high if you add in all the intramurals and clubs.” One student said he’s like to see more funding for club sports: “I had to pay for a lot of things out of pocket.” Ferrum live-streams away games so students can watch from campus. One of the students who came originally to play sports (and no longer does) says, “Sports were grueling, but one of the most rewarding things on campus.”

ferrum-fountainPeople do plenty of things beyond sports. This is a mostly residential campus so students are active in clubs and activities. Most upperclassmen dorms are great, but the students seemed to agree that the freshmen dorms could be improved. Off campus, there are plenty of outdoor activities; Ferrum definitely play up their location among the Virginia Blue Ridge Mountains. They do have “some equipment” that students can use for free, but it didn’t sound like a lot. Freshmen can have cars on campus, and they also have a bus system. Parking “is there, but it isn’t always great.”


The pond with dorms in the background. The Blue Ridge Institute and Museum are also on that side of campus

The overwhelming favorite tradition on campus was the Blue Ridge Folklife Festival. It’s an annual event with Appalachian Mountain activities. Everyone gets involved and volunteers. “I’ve been coming to the festival since I was born. It was another reason to come to Ferrum,” said one student on the panel. Another from out of state said, “I’m understanding more about the culture all the time.” When I asked our tour guide about any other traditions or annual events, she finally said that Homecoming and the bonfire on the intramural field was usually well attended, but other than that, there wasn’t much.

ferrum-chapelChapel services are held on Monday nights (“What college student wants to get up on a Sunday morning?” said the tour guide) and are optional. However, students do need to take a Bible-based class (“We use the King James version”) and a religion/philosophy-based course.

ferrum-labThe tour guide’s classes ranged from 8-22 students. Her anatomy class was her favorite: they got 2 bodies from the Body Farm in Kentucky to work on. Some students would like to see the academic programs expanded. The majors that are offered are fairly standard with a few exceptions: In their School of Natural Sciences and Math, they offer Agricultural Sciences (“ the farm has 12 head of cattle and 6 sheep. I’d like to see the livestock numbers improve,” said one student), Forensic Science, and Environmental Planning and Development. Democracy, Justice, and Civil Engagement as well as Recreation Leadership are housed in the Social Sciences and Professional Studies Department.

ferrum-dorm-extThere are a few more unusual minors such as coaching, ecotourism, and Russian Area Studies.

The Honors Program requires students to study abroad (it can be in the E-term, a semester, or a year); they’re provided with a $3000 scholarship to go abroad. Honors students live in the same dorm.

E-Term, a 3-week term in May, lets students go abroad or study away. One student went on the International Comparative Law trip to England. Others have gone to the US Virgin Islands (Tropical Marine Ecology) and to Ireland. Other students take advantage of semester and year-long study abroad or study away programs. One of the students on the panel was planning on spending a semester at the American in DC and wants to intern with the Supreme Court.

© 2016

Bluefield College

Bluefield College (visited 11/4/16)

bluefield-chapel-1This is a very small, very “Christ-centered school.” They’re associated with the Southern Baptists, and they make no secret that they bring Christian values into everything they do. There is a complete integration of faith and learning. People seem to come here specifically for that reason.

Several faculty said that they were so glad that they could openly talk about their faith and Christ in the classroom. One faculty member said, “We have the freedom to be openly Christian here. You hear about crazy turns at public school. We can pray in class and share our opinions in class. It’s refreshing to have open discussions. I don’t have to think about it much. We can talk to students about faith.” Another professor in the biology department said, “We bring both perspectives into our discussion. Students learn about evolution, but we’ll also bring Scripture in and have a discussion about what they think different passages might teach us, or how we can interpret them within the bounds of sciences. Can these coexist?”

bluefield-walkwayThis is a mission- and faith-based institution “but open to everyone.” However, we didn’t talk to anyone who was not seeking this specific environment; people who didn’t want a constant discussion of Christ/Scripture (or at least willing to put up with it) will not do well here. There are 2 required classes: 1st is “Biblical Perspectives” (a foundation class); the 2nd class is the student’s choice. Students must attend 15 Chapels (religious; Wednesday) and convocations (academic) per semester. One person said that the 15 could be any combination, but another said that at least 10 had to be Chapel services.

The students’ favorite things about Bluefield are:

  • bluefield-walkway-2Everyone is so open to new ideas. People are willing to make things happen.
  • How easy it is to make friendships even with faculty.
  • Faculty work with you to help make sure you’re doing what you’re doing.
  • It’s a place where Christ can work with and through us.
  • The first month of school, the faculty stood around the perimeter and prayed over the students. “I’ve never heard someone say, “If you aren’t sure, pray about it” in a classroom setting before.”
  • There’s always something going on around town, including a Lemonade Festival.

bluefield-quadWe visited on a Friday morning when the 179 first-year students were in their weekly Common Core lecture. Throughout the semester, they hear 15 lectures from professors across the curriculum, getting exposed to the breadth of liberal arts, and even the business department. They take a common course for the first 3 years; Bluefield is 1 of 3 colleges in VA to get an A rating for their core curriculum placing them in the top 2.3% of all colleges.


The grilling area near the new dorms

Freshman year Core is “Invitation to Inquiry.” The speaker on the day we visited was an expert in Appalachian poetry, talking about Speaking about Creativity and Spoken Word. Sophomore core is “Character Formation;” 3rd year is “Civics and Global Response” (students are paired with community services to help out).

Bluefield became a 4-year school in 1975. They grew to 540 students this year and hope to add more. The male population is currently higher (56%) because they added football a few years ago. They’re 36% racially diverse and have 59 international students.


Tennis courts with the new dorms in the background

Surprisingly, given the tiny population, they’re DI athletics in the NAIA, explaining why they draw so many athletes (69% play a varsity sport). Athletes can’t superscore their standardized test scores: the NAIA looks at single score (940 or 18) and 2.0 GPA. Teams often have competitions to see who has the highest GPA.

Other applicants can have test scores superscored. Bluefield uses only their application (no Common App) and it’s free. They talked a lot about both open-door access and making tuition affordable. Their Pathways program help students within a 50-60 miles by cutting tuition by 50% (about 75 students take advantage of this). A significant number have PELL grants. Students can earn up to $12,000 in academic scholarships and unlimited athletic scholarships. The Economist ranked Bluefield #44 for overall value (cost, scholarships, salary upon graduation, etc). They also offer Fine Arts, graphic design, music, and theater scholarships.

Some favorite classes are:

  • bluefield-art-studio

    The art studio

    Character formation: “I didn’t know what to expect. I learned a lot about myself and why I am the way I am and do what I do.”

  • “The same. Before I took it, I said, ‘I know my character. Why do I have to form it?’ But I learned so much!”
  • Media Writing: “we spent the semester working on newspaper. I went out of my comfort zone and interviewed a lot of people around campus. I’ve made a lot of connections and learned about all sorts of stuff happening.”
  • Media and Society: “This was an ethics in media class right when the election was starting. I did research all sorts of issues.”

A professor on the panel said that she liked teaching the Serial Killer class and the Business Law class: “In that class, I bring in lots of real life stuff like wills, real estate, etc. I see the students’ eyes light up; they know they can use this.”


A greenhouse on the science building

Students and staff talked a lot about principled learned and the honor code. “Transformational leadership is a vital part of who we are,” said a rep. With the Honor Code, “we hold each other to high standards,” said the tour guide (other people reiterated similar sentiments during the visit). Students agree to live lives of integrity academically and in personal lives, including no drugs, alcohol, or tobacco (on or off campus).

Two new dorms have gone up with apartments housing 4 people in 2 single and 1 double rooms. There’s a kitchen in each one, but students living here must have at least a commuter meal plan. Students must be upperclassmen in good standing and not having broken any inter-visitation rules. Coed visitation is strictly regulated including hours, doors open, “and all clothes remain on.” In the apartments, the blinds must also be up. I asked why the honor code (aka the trust, hold each other accountable, and “lives of integrity”) didn’t extend to visitation. The tour guide had no idea how to answer that, but the admissions rep tagging along on the tour said, “Well, we are a Baptist school. We don’t have to have visitation at all. We offer it but hold to the standards of the church.”

© 2016

Southern Virginia University

Southern Virginia University (visited 11/3/16)

svu-flowersSVU is a Latter-day Saints school; they are not owned by the church but have adopted their honor code, and 90% of their students are Mormons. “We get no money from the church which means we can do things our way,” said the Director of Admissions. Students do not need to attend any church services, but they do need to pledge to live by LDS values such as not using alcohol, tobacco, drugs, and not engaging in pre-marital sex. “This is an environment of clean living; it’s a safe faith-based environment.”


The original resort hotel which is now on the Registry of Historic Landmarks

“We’re not going to have a lot of the bling or flash that you might be used to,” the Admissions Director told us. This began as a finishing school for girls in 1867. The current property was built up as a hotel resort but turned over before it ever operated as one, becoming Southern Seminary (still all female) and kind of a partner school to W&L and VMI (both all male). The main building is beautiful and fancy; the barn/stables for the resort has been turned into the athletic center. In the 1990s, financial problems caused the school change its name to Southern Virginia College and go coed, but was still about to close when a businessman in Richmond bailed them out in 1996. He felt that there needed to be another option on the East coast for an Honor Code based environment.

svu-3With 800 students, the school is still small; they would love to grow and be more diverse. Geographic diversity is already big. Half the students come from Virginia and surrounding states, but there were more out-of-state plates than I’ve seen at any other school. Not surprisingly, several were from Utah. In terms of religion, “We don’t care what religion people are, but all applicants do have to sign off on the Honor Code.” LDS members will have a bishop sign the statement as well stating that the students will be willing and able to abide by this; non-members have another adult do this. “People here don’t necessarily know who is and who isn’t a member of the Mormon Church because they’re all good kids.”


Lots of kids were outside playing sports in their free time. 

The sports-culture is huge here, and about 50% of students are on a varsity team. The Director of Admissions is a former football player for Oklahoma (which he mentioned a lot). Although we never got to talk to any students directly (the tour was given by the Director and there was no student panel), we saw a lot of kids around, and many of them were introduced briefly, and almost all were on a sports team. The university has 20 teams which was an enrollment-based decision; they’re 4 years into the NCAA experience, playing in the NJAC for football and CAC (Capital Athletic Conference) for others. There are two new grass fields and an artificial turf field. They have a strength/conditioning coach for each sport and 4 athletic trainers. “It’s not about winning championships. It’s about being engaged.”

svu-chairsI did get to talk to a student for about a minute when I split off from the group quickly; she loves the opportunities here. “I came here from Idaho without ever seeing the school. I’m an RA and play sports.”

Beyond sports, a lot of students participate in music. They offer scholarships, and students can submit videos to be considered for these. They also have a dance studio.

svu-1“This is a small liberal arts education without the normal cost.” Almost everyone is out in 4 years if not 3.5. They get one of the highest student engagement rates in the country. There are scholarships for returning students like the Nice Scholarships (just be nice!) or Cowboy/Cowgirl Ethics Award. Students can get a mission scholarship; this can be granted for Peace Corps service; it doesn’t have to be religious.


One of the dorms taken from up the hill where the new dorms are located.

Academic offerings are standard for a small liberal arts school. The Education program – Music, Elementary, and Spanish – in done in conjunction with Washington & Lee.


The dining hall

Dorms are single-sex (and apparently there are no kitchens in the male dorms). Many students are housed up a hill on the side of campus where some new dorms were recently constructed. The dining hall is very small with limited food options; food is served on movable heating carts reminiscent of Chinese buffets. The couple kids I asked said that the food “was good.”


Saint Anselm College

Saint Anselm College (visited 10/18/16)

st-a-2This is the place for students who want to get away and try new things, who want a highly residential campus (students tend to stick around all 4 years) and access to lots of activities as well as strong academics with professors who say, “let’s try that!” This is also the place to be for studying politics!

St. A’s impressed me. The students were friendly and people were engaging with each other all over campus, even on a misty fall day. During the tour, I learned that they’re ranked 6th in the country for most involved students. That didn’t come as a surprise after meeting many of them. “There are opportunities to get involved in community service, be tough, be a dork … you can do it all.”


The main building on campus

“The faculty is the best part about this place. You’ll find at least that one person you can have the good conversations with when you’re freaking out about what you want to do with the rest of your life.” One of the tour guide’s favorite classes was his “Conformity and Rebellion in the 1950s” class (in the English department), in large part because he had a great relationship with the professor. “It was interesting and well taught. I loved going to that class.”


The Chapel

Socially there’s a lot to do beyond athletics. Skate Night, movies on the quad, weekly trips to different ski resorts, and plenty more options are offered. “If you’re going to have a problem, it’s because there’s too much to do. It’s actually good to learn stress and time management.” There are usually 5 or 6 speakers, panels, or movies each week on politics, Black Lives Matters, TED Talks, LGBTQ issues. Saint A’s was ranked #1 for Christmas Traditions: they have a gingerbread house competition, light the 30 foot outdoor tree, and more. One of the students we spoke to took part in “Walk a Mile In Their Shoes” – she walked 130 miles from Maine to NH for Road of Hope. “I never thought I could do that, but now I do everything! I figure if I can do that, I can just go on a 20 mile hike on the weekend.”

st-a-lower-quadFood here gets amazing reviews from students (and the dinner we had speaks to the quality of the food!). It’s not hard to see why they’ve been ranked #8 in the country for food! Crepe night is a particularly big hit.

There are plenty of opportunities for Interdisciplinary learning and research. Students get practical experience early.

  • One of the nursing students has already gone into the community as a sophomore. “I’ve gone to drug-addiction meeting, worked with low-income families, stuff like that.”
  • st-a-grotto-statue

    Statue in the Grotto

    Politics is the top major because St. A’s hosts the NH Institute for Politics. They host the DNC and RNC debates, and students often get to intern with these organizations. They turn the hockey rink into the press room!

This is a Benedictine college; 25 monks live on campus, 6 of whom are active on campus (not all professors). Monks do get involved: a recent email came out about a dinner/discussion about “How to be your best self.” Their mission revolves around service, hospitality, and respect. The religious requirement includes Biblical Theology (“It’s almost a history class, not about being indoctrinated,” said a student) and Biblical Literacy classes. These could be ethics, Christian Saints, etc. Mass attendance is not required.


The Political Library in the NH Institute for Politics Building

To help students adjust and acclimate, they have Transitions for Freshmen, a little like a pre-orientation, where students take trips, meet people, etc. Orientation leaders have to organize a couple activities every semester to check in with their group.

Admissions for non-nursing majors is test-optional; the average incoming GPA is a 3.3. Applicants to nursing, one of the top majors, will need to submit test scores; students admitted to this program have an average 3.6 GPA. All applications have 2 readers, and they give an “impact rating” – what will they give to the community? Things like leadership, work, family commitments all get factored in.

© 2016

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