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Archive for the tag “liberal arts”

Clark University

CLARK UNIVERSITY, Worcester, MA (visited 3/23 – 3/24/14)

~Clark main bdng“Challenge Convention, Change the World” is a hallmark of who they are, not just a marketing campaign. Kids know the motto – and really live by it, but they may have different ways of defining it. “Sometimes people joke – they put mustard on the fries and say ‘I’m challenging convention!’” said one of the tour guides, “but it’s really more an outlook. People are interested in making a difference.” They recognize that problems can’t be solved in the abstract, so they connect classroom experiences with the outside world, in the community, even on the other side of the world.

~Clark painting

Combining science and art

One of Clark’s distinctive programs is LEEP, Liberal Education and Effective Practice. They connect the traditional Liberal Arts with the new skills that employers want. The new president took office three years ago (after being Provost for many years), he visited a lot of CEOs and other business people to ask what they were looking for in hires. They wanted people who had the skills to cut across fields – communication, writing, teamwork, creativity, flexibility, and resiliency (“Who here has never failed?” he asked).

~Clark study areaClark is deliberately student-centered. They want to know what students are passionate about, and then validate those and make it a driving force. When people talk about Clarkies, that’s what they’re talking about. One of our tour guides, a junior from RI, is a biology and art-history double major who plans on going to med school. Another tour guide is majoring in PoliSci and will ultimately go onto law school, but plans on staying at Clark to take advantage of the 5th year Masters Program to get his MBA before that. Clark grants students a scholarship for a free 5th year to complete a Masters degree, provided they have a 3.4 GPA from their last 3 years (they do NOT count freshman year grades!) This is a draw for high schoolers who are also looking forward towards a Masters.

~CLark statueWith 2200 undergraduates, Clark is one of the larger CTCL schools, but “it’s the smallest research university in an urban setting in the country,” said an admissions rep. “No once comes to Clark for Worcester . . . but it grows on you. There are cultural opportunities, good ethnic restaurants.” The 13 colleges in the greater Worcester area are connected by a shuttle. One student said that there seems to be more kids coming to Clark rather than Clark kids going out.

~Clark bikesThe university has seen a 70% increase in applications in 3 years; correspondingly, the admit rate went from 70% to 52%. At the same time, they have taken great strides to increase student involvement and retention. First Year Intensive (FYI) classes have “funky, slightly offbeat topics” of interest to the professors such as “The Role of Baseball in American History,” “9/11 in Popular Culture,” or “Kitchen Chemistry.” The professor serves as advisor for the 15-17 students in the section until they declare majors. The largest classes are the Intro to Psych and Bio classes with about 100. The smallest classes our tour guides have taken have had 6 (“Temple Builders,” an art history class), and 9 (First Year Intensive on Socrates and Nietzsche).

~Clark intercultural cntr

Intercultural Center

Some of the FYI classes can fulfill the Program of Liberal Studies (PLS); this program requires that at some point, students take at least 1 class in each of 8 thematic areas designed to build competencies. No two classes can be taken in the same field.

  • Foundations:
  • o Verbal expression (good communication skills – English, theater, public speaking, etc).
  • o Formal Analysis (typically math, but could be stats, even philosophy focusing on logic).
  • Perspectives: allows students to see things from other people’s majors.
  • o Aesthetic (Art, music, theater)
  • o Historical (one Envi Sci teaches an Evolution class looking at why Darwin developed his theory when he did, looking at the colliding forces of religion and other things)
  • o Global (African lit, Asian studies, history, etc)
  • o Values (ethics, religion, philosophy)
  • o Foreign language and Culture (2 semesters if they’re starting new, 1 semester if they continue from HS


~Clark Bioscience bldg

Bioscience building

The student panelists were open and gave us a good sense of who the students were. A couple interesting questions and their answers are as follows:

1) What surprised you? What challenges did you find?

  • “The gap in my education and being able to keep up in classes.”
  • “Research and using multiple sources for papers.”
  • “The Food. It’s not bad, it just gets boring.”
  • “It’s hard to get my work done because there are so many people are around; I was used to alone time.”

2) When asked to complete this sentence: “I want to thank Clark for giving me ________,” their answers were:

  • “An Ivy League education without knowing it. Geography is #1 in the country.”
  • “The opportunity to grow as a student. My understanding of how to be a successful student has developed.”
  • “For being open. People are accepting.”
  • “The professors. They aren’t just teachers. I even play racquetball with one of mine.

3) Who won’t be successful here?

  • “Students who aren’t driven. People here have passion for something.”
  • “Students are grade-competitive rather than interested in actually learning.”

4) What are your favorite traditions?

  • Gallo – Dance recitals to represent different cultures
  • Spree – bingo in the morning, jello wrestling, mechanical bull, color war

© 2014

Tufts University

TUFTS UNIVERSITY (visited 4/10/14)

~Tufts student and skyline

Boston skyline from Tuft’s campus

Tufts’s traditional campus, located in Medford, Mass, has an open, well-used with brick buildings that are attractive and well-maintained. Several areas overlook the Boston skyline. This is a residential community with most people living on campus.

~Tufts quad and studentsWith 5000 undergrads (making them a bit of an outlier in the NESCAC conference with arguably the strongest DIII conference in the country), they can keep classes small with an average of 15-18 students. Even in the bigger Intro classes, professors go out of their way to make it personable. One professor tells the class that if he doesn’t learn their names by the end of the first week, he buys pizza for the whole class. The school also gives students incentives for getting to know their professors; for example, if they bring a professor to the Tower Café, both drink for free. Some professors hold office hours there just to get the coffee.

~Tufts quad 2Interdisciplinary work is valued at Tufts. The Experimental College has some of the more unique programs. Usually, these are taught by Juniors and Seniors who propose a class to the Board based on what they’re interested in (Lobstering or Deconstructing Rap, for example). EC classes are graded as P/F so it won’t affect GPA. Some professors, often one in the trade or from another university, will also teach these classes. One of them used to be the GM of the Boston Celtics and he teaches a class about the legal issues of owning/running a professional sports franchise. The admissions rep doing the info session majored in Community Health in which he combined biology, math, and politics. Don’t even get him started on Greek Yogurt, which he say is horrible for the environment! Yes, we asked why: for 4 ounces of milk used, only 1 ounce ends up as yogurt. The other 3 ounces is poison whey (not to us but to the environment). They’re doing work with enzymes to break this down so it won’t be harmful anymore.

~Tufts bridgeAnother example of interdisciplinary work includes the two 5-year dual degree programs that Tufts students can earn either with the New England Conservatory or the Museum of Fine Arts. Students spend half their time at each institution and will earn both n BA and a BFA at the end. Students do need to be accepted to both institutions. The rep said, “A lot of electives get cut out if you choose to do this: you still have to fulfill a major and do the distribution requirements for both degrees.”

~Tufts chapel 3When applying to Tufts, students choose to apply Arts & Sciences OR Engineering but it’s possible to transfer from one to the other once they’re enrolled. The engineering students’ classes are a little more tracked with 38 required credits in the major and at least 6 classes in the Humanities, but they are exempt from the language requirement. A&S students take ten core distribution requirements including 6 semesters of Language and Culture if they don’t have a strong language background.

During the admissions process, they look at 3 things in depth:

1) Numbers (GPA, test scores)

  1. Students must submit the SAT and 2 subject tests OR the ACT with writing. They even superscore the ACT. Students applying to the engineering department should submit Math 2 and Physics or Chem subject tests.
  2. 80% of the 17,000 applicants were qualified to do the work; 50% were “overly qualified. However, they have a 20% acceptance rate. They narrow down the qualified applicants by looking at the 2 sections other than numbers.

2) Extra-curricular profile

3) Applicant’s voice (the essay and the recommendations).

  1. Why Tufts? Don’t make it about Boston. Boston has 54 universities!
  2. Let Your Light Speak: Make it about you! College apps are different from other essay – you can start with “I think” or “I believe.” They want to know who you are, where you stand, what you’ve done, what you want to do.
  3. They give students the option to send a YouTube video or a link to artwork.
  4. What makes you happy? Pick one or two things and explain why; don’t just give a list.

~Tufts arch and bldgThe students I spoke to on campus were friendly and wanted to brag about their school. I asked them what they were surprised about when they got on campus. One said, “the willingness of students to get into discussions with others. There’s so much to learn here, and people want to know more. A couple weeks ago, there was a big presentation about Palestine, and it was full.” I asked if he felt that issues were balance here and if they heard multiple sides to issues – like in this case, were there both pro-Israel and pro-Palestine sides? “Absolutely. People are still talking about it, and they’re willing to learn about the other side of the issue.”

~Tufts acad bldg 2The other student said he loved that there was so much going on both on and off campus. “We’re close enough to downtown to take advantage of the city, but we don’t have to do there to have fun. The activities board also runs trips to destinations further away. They actually own a lodge in NH, and students can take trips up there for $5 which covers all costs: transportation, lodging, etc. Once they’re there, they can hike, kayak, climb Mount Washington, etc. Trips aren’t even limited to the US – several students took a mountain-climbing trip to Kyrgyzstan; they got to name the mountain because they were the first to summit it.

© 2014

Brandeis University

BRANDEIS UNIVERSITY (visited 4/10/14)

~Brandeis acad bldg 2

Freshman quad

Freshman quad

The best way I can describe campus is “eclectic.” Scattered over a hillside, the buildings seem to reflect whatever style was in vogue when it was built. The Student Center, for example, is a large building covered in sheets of copper (now green). Except for the two freshmen dorm quads, nothing really goes together. The two quads look like they came out of a traditional campus; one has a pond in the middle, the other has a large lawn.

I appreciated that they had a senior speak during the info session. Rayna was able to put a bit of personal perspective on what was otherwise a fairly bland discussion.

Science building

Science building

Classes average about 15 students and are designed to be discussion based. About half of the students double major and/or minor, and it’s easy to be part of multiple academic departments. There’s a great deal of interdisciplinary work, so students could be taking a class in their major that’s taught by someone in another area. Although they have a strong Liberal Arts focus, it’s also a major research institution, recently being awarded $20 million in NIH grants. There’s a big push to help students get to know professors, although they’re already accessible, according to Rayna. One of the programs that Brandeis has instituted is “Take your professor to lunch;” the university will pay for the food.

~Brandeis statueLouis Brandeis was “the people’s justice.” He gave back to the community in various ways; this is where the university gets its mission. They sell themselves as thinking outside the box. They send several students to do study abroad and internships abroad (including in places Rwanda). There are a few ways to travel. First is through CIEE Advanced Liberal Arts. Students needed to be fluent in the language for this. The senior who talked to us went to Barcelona; she had a Homestay and enrolled directly at University of Barcelona where she took 3 classes. She had an additional class in the Study Abroad program with the 27 students in the program. She volunteered at the Red Cross there and got to travel. For students who are not fluent and therefore don’t qualify for CIEE, they can take part in one of 350 approved programs and have no trouble transferring their credits back to Brandeis.

~Brandeis statue and observatory

The Castle (now a dorm)

The Castle (now a dorm)

Brandeis is now test-optional, giving students three options during the application process: 1) submit scores (they’ll superscore both exams); 2) Submit a combination of SATII and AP scores from 3 different subject areas; or 3) Submit a graded paper from Junior or Senior year, usually English or History. Students have to make a decision about which of these three options they want and indicate their choice on the application; they can’t submit everything and hope for the best. The optional supplement is, of course, encouraged, and hey do want to see demonstrated interest. Interviews are available but not required; they give a lot of options, including by a rep during a high school visit or by the Senior student interviewers.

Sign in a window of the Castle

Sign in a window of the Castle

Student Center

Student Center

Students seem fairly happy on campus. Several small groups of students were hanging out in the student center, but many more were simply walking alone on with one other person around campus. There was some interaction as people passed each other. Our tour guide said that there was lots of school spirit and involvement. Students enjoy going to athletic games (the mascot is the Judge and fans are called the Jury). Shuttles are easy to catch into Boston, but there’s plenty to do on campus. One of the favorite yearly traditions is the 24-Hour Musical. Students show up to audition for an unknown production about a week ahead of time; on Saturday morning, everyone shows up and are told what the musical is, what the roles are, etc. They have to learn lines, put a set together, gather costumes, etc. by Sunday when they put on the production. They do plenty of other regularly run productions throughout the year which anyone can get involved in. Students are highly involved in music, as well, here. There are plenty of practice rooms that individuals or groups can use. This is also only the 2nd university I’ve heard of who will allow students to rent art from the art museum on campus for $5 per semester (the other being Oberlin).

© 2014

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