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CSU San Marcos

CSU San Marcos (Visited 7/9/18)

CSUSM union 1

The Student Union on the hillside

CSUSM has a new, well-maintained campus sitting on a hillside. When I parked on the first floor of the parking garage during my visit, I was surprised to see a sign that said “Walkway to campus, 6th floor” – but that’s definitely indicative of its hilliness. “It’s nickname is CSU Stair Masters” said one student. Buildings and landscaping are attractive; this is one of the newest CSU campuses (the 20th out of 23) with the first class of freshman starting in 1990.

CSUSM 3Campus is easy to navigate; it’s a medium-sized school with just over 13,000 undergrads; they are steadily increasing their enrollment with record freshman classes for the past several years. It’s still primarily a commuter campus, pulling almost all of the students from California (about 2-3% are from outside the state). Because the school still pulls so many commuters, “Parking is a real problem,” said a recent graduate. “It costs something like $340 per semester to park on campus in the garages! I paid $270 for the dirt lot that was a bit of a hike to my classes.”

CSUSM quad

The main quad

The students I talked to said that the professors were the best part of CSUSM. “They’re really accessible and know what they’re talking about.” One student had transferred in from the local community college and loved his Sociology program. “I loved my classes! Academics are about the only thing to rave about there, but we are there for an education, so I guess that’s a good thing.” A few unusual majors include Global Business Management, American Indian Studies, Biotechnology, and Kinesiology. Because they’re so close to the Mexican border (they’re about an hour away), it’s not surprising that they offer a Border Studies minor. Cool minors include Electronics, Music Technology, and Arts & Technology.

CSUSM disc golfOther than academics, diversity is definitely worth mentioning. This is classified as a Hispanic-Serving institution, but “religion and the LGBTQ communities are very well accepted here.” Another student said that “anyone can find a home here.”

This is considered a less-selective school, maybe because they’re increasing their numbers. First-to-second year retention is almost 80% which isn’t too bad, but their 6-year graduation rate is just over 50% which worries me. However, they do tend to take in many transfers and part-time students, so that may not be as surprising.

CSUSM University Village

The Village Apartments as seen from main campus

The University Village Apartments are right across the street from the main campus. This is considered on-campus housing since the university owns this. There are a lot of amenities, including grills, a fire pit, a pool, and fitness centers. There are also some apartments affiliated with the school, but run independently. The food on campus is not well-liked by students. Much of it is run by outside venders (Panda Express, etc) but students say that “the food is horrible. It’s all pretty much centrally located with is good, but that’s the extent of it.” Apparently, breakfast and dinner options are limited because so few students live on campus. “Live in an apartment so you can cook for yourself.”

© 2018

Seattle Pacific University

Seattle Pacific University (Visited 6/21/17)

SPU clockSPU is Christian university affiliated with the Free Methodists. They hope people committed to faith – in whatever form that means to them – will come here. “If they are connected to their faith, great. If not, we hope they understand why other people have theirs. We want people to engage with people who are different. Our faith compels us to be a different type of institution and to be engaged: we engage the culture in order to change the world,” said one of the reps. The YouTube video Celebrating 125 Years at SPU is worth a look (as a side note, a lot of colleges in the area are celebrating their 125th year …).

SPU 1Knowing that there are plenty of liberal arts schools to choose from, the reps did a good job addressing what sets them apart. They brought up 3 points of distinction:

  • Location: “We’re in a major city but tucked into a safe neighborhood of Queen Anne Hill with connections to local business. Ten Fortune 500 companies are here. Amazon is a 10 minute walk away.”
  • SPU Blakely Island

    Classes offered at Blakely Island

    Rigorous academics and good resources: “We own half of Blakely Island in the San Juans for research.”

  • Transformational Experiences: “Christianity is at the core. Faculty and staff have to sign a faith statement, but students do not. We appreciate all the places they’re coming from.”

About 80% of the students do self-identify as Christian. There is a lifestyle expectation here, including not drinking on campus. As part of the Common Curriculum, students need to take a series of 3 religion classes including a Scriptures class. “We’re graded on how well we interact with the material, not if we believe it,” said one of the students. University Series: Formation (of the church), Scriptures, and Theology (why do we believe what we believe? What does it mean to be a Christian?).

SPU dorm

One of the dorms

The climate on campus is one of acceptance. “We even have an active LGBTQ group which some people don’t expect at a Christian college,” said a student. Like much of the Pacific Northwest, the overall atmosphere is relatively liberal, but conservatives have a home here, too. “We like having discussions.” Campus is active, and the city is even to navigate. “There’s no need for a car here. I’d recommend a bike if anything,” said the tour guide.

SPU 6Currently, SPU is granting enough PhDs in relation to the undergrad population to be classified as a National R3 university. “We train students to solve problems,” said a faculty member. “We’re small enough to be intimate but large enough to offer the same breadth and depth as a larger university.” Academics are strong across the board, but some of their particular strengths are:

  • SPU music tech

    One of the Music Tech studios

    Pre-med students get into medical schools at a 95% acceptance rate with most students scoring in the 90th percentile on the MCAT.

  • Nursing boasts a 100% employment (and most nursing students get multiple offers before graduation).
  • Theater: “This is the 3rd most important theater city in the country. The PT faculty in the arts are very strong. They’re able to offer all they do because of location.
  • Music Therapy – take 2 classes then apply. There are about 20 spots available per quarter.
  • Engineering majors participate in year long design projects.

SPU 4Unusual Majors and minors include:

© 2017

Duquesne University

Duquesne University (visited 5/26/16)

~Duq Power Plant and downtown

The “Power Plant” which houses the gym and other student services is connected by a walkway to the main campus. Downtown is right behind it.

I can see why students love Duquesne. School pride is high … yes, their athletic teams do well, but the school also looks after its students academically, socially, and spiritually. Although located in downtown Pittsburgh, Duq is a cohesive campus in its own right. “Duquesne feels like it’s own city,” said one student. Once on campus, you feel like you’re completely away from the city, but the views of Pittsburgh from around campus don’t let you forget where you are. “A 15 minute walk will get students almost anywhere they want to go in town,” said one of the reps, and students take advantage of all the city has to offer, from internships to Pens tames (student tickets cost $28), and using the river trails for walking, running, and biking.

~Duq statue 3Founded in 1878 by the Spiritans (Holy Ghost Fathers), Duquesne clearly holds onto its Catholic identity. Twice during the information session, people said that they “serve students so they can serve others” and they “serve God by serving students.” They also said that they are “Catholic by founding, Ecumenical in everything they do.” 50% of the students self-identify as Catholic. However, no one could give me statistics on how many of the other 50% self-identify as non-Christian. An admissions counselor said that they did have students of other faiths, but wasn’t able to quantify anything to give a sense of how many.

~Duq housing for priests

Housing for some of the priests living on campus.

The campus is attractive with some parts prettier than others; some of the larger buildings have an institutional, concrete feel, but other parts are gorgeous with green quads and brick buildings. These older parts of campus have a much stronger sense of the Catholic identity with more sculptures and a large crucifix on the lawn of one quad. Other part of the campus have almost no reminders of the Catholic heritage. Priests still live on campus, but we didn’t see any walking around as we were touring.

~Duq dorms 3

Some of the dorms on campus

Almost 2/3 of the 6,000 undergrads live on campus, including 95% of freshmen. Freshmen and sophomores who live at home with families can commute; they are assigned a Commuter Assistant, an upperclassman who acts as a mentor (sort of like an RA for those living on campus). The Commuter Center in the union offers a study room, lounge, and computer room, and they organize special events to allow the commuters feel connected to each other and the school. Students can move off after sophomore year, but the college sets aside two dorms (1 suite-style, 1 apartments) specifically for upperclassmen.

~Duq rock gardenThe retention rate from 1st to 2nd semester freshman year is well into the 90s; freshman to sophomore year retention is in the high 80s. Students want to be here. The average class size is 28; they made a very big deal about this, seemingly skirting the issue of how that translates into actual class sizes. I did learn from the tour guide that Honors classes are capped at 18. All of her non-Honors classes have been bigger than that. There are plenty of lecture classes, as well, particularly at the intro level. Her largest class had 170 students.

~Duq fountain 3Students had lots of good things to say about the college and had a hard time thinking of anything they’d like to change. One tour guide said that it’s sometimes hard to find gluten-free food options … but did say that the food tends to be great, a fact supported by the fact that the school is ranked as “1 of the best 75 college for food.” Another student said, “Sometimes public transportation can be difficult, but everything is walkable, so it’s really not that big a deal. There’s a bus stop on the corner of campus that goes right to the airport.” Also, the subway (which is limited in Pittsburgh) is free! An admissions rep said, “It goes under the river now. Prepositions are important: you pay to go OVER the river, but you don’t pay to go UNDER.”

Students can choose from 80 majors within the 9 schools, including several interdisciplinary dual degree programs.

  • Biomed Engineering is an undergraduate program.
  • They offer a 5-year Forensic and Law degree, one of the few in the country that’s accredited.
  • The 3+3 law program allows students to major in anything within the Arts & Sciences or the Business schools and then transition into the law school. In order to do this, they must score in the 60th percentile on the LSAT.
  • Students declaring an Education major automatically get a minimum of 50% off their tuition; this could go up if their GPA is good enough.
  • The Music school offers a BA in Music as well as a Bachelor of Music in Performance, Music Technology, Education, Therapy, and Music with Elective Studies in Business.

We talked to three students; they said that their favorite classes were:

  • Public Policy: It’s taught by an army 3-Star General. “He’s really well-informed, and he makes the class interesting. It feels like we’re really going work for the Government.”
  • Uncovering Ireland during study abroad. “It’s nothing I ever thought about taking and I learned a lot! It was taught by guy who wrote Irish History for Dummies.
  • Cadaver Lab: “It’s insane to see all the nerves and tendons on a real human.”
~Duq crucifix

One of the quads; this one has a large crucifix on one side.

A lot of students do Study Abroad: Duquesne runs several programs including their Italian Campus in Rome, Duquesne in Dublin, Maymester, summer programs specific to majors, and Spring Breakaway courses. Students have the option of doing other approved programs, as well.

Although technically Duquesne will accept students on a rolling basis, there are a few deadlines to keep in mind:

  • Early Decision has an 11/1 deadline.
  • Students interested in the Biomedical Engineering, OT, PharmD, PA, and PT programs must apply under the Early Action deadline of 12/1.
  • The application fee is waived for all students who apply by 12/15.

~Duq athletic fieldStudents applying for programs in the Liberal Arts, Business, or Music schools do not need to submit test scores, but if they choose to send them in, Duquesne will superscore. Although they like to see recommendation letters and essays, these are optional for most programs except for health sciences which require them. Generally, the university is looking to admit people with at least a 3.0 (although the average tends to be much higher than that), with the Health Sciences needing a higher GPA and scores. Once admitted to Duquesne, students go directly into the program of their choice. Students must audition for the music school, but the university recommends that they apply to the university first. They will get a letter that they’re academically admissible and then will be fully admitted if they pass the audition. If they don’t pass, they can reaudition or talk to the admissions people about transferring to another school.

© 2016

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