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Lehigh University

Lehigh University (visited 4/25/18)

Lehigh staircaseFun fact: the inventor of the escalator was from Lehigh, not surprising since “we’re on a mountain. We’re constantly winded,” said our tour guide. Campus has about 27,000 stairs. One counselor asked about accessibility, and the tour guide was forthcoming: “It’s not the most accessible campus. It can be done, but it takes some planning.” The main campus is on the side of a hill; the Mountaintop Campus which is about 2 miles further up. “You might do it for the exercise, but most people ride the bus.”

Lehigh walkway 4I got the feeling that Lehigh wasn’t entirely interested in trying when the group of counselors visited. They certainly have a strong academic reputation, the campus is beautiful, and they have resources. They don’t really need to try, but I’m always a bit concerned when schools appear to rest on their laurels. However, things are clearly going well with a retention rate over 90%, but that speaks to the level of student they are attracting as much as the university itself.

Lehigh Main 2Students are smart and driven, but “there’s no shame in failure here. Clearly we don’t want it, but professors will say things like, ‘Who’s going to remember? Just go for it.’ Everyone goes to office hours, group study, tutoring,” said one student. Another said, “People want the best versions of themselves. We’re collaborative and I know that’s not the same everywhere. I feel lucky that I can go to professors or friends for help.”

Lehigh walkway 2I asked the student panelists to try to differentiate themselves from Lafayette (a big cross-over school). One said, “We’re a bit more outgoing. Here we like to do a lot of different things. At Lafayette, it seems like they like to focus more on one thing. I’m a little loud and don’t always know what to do, but felt I’d be supported here because I’m all over the place and can try lots of things.”

An admissions rep described Lehigh as “large enough to be powerful, small enough to be personal.” The tour guide agreed: “It’s large enough to meet new people but still see people you know.”

Lehigh engineering 2“We’re academically focused, but not academic-exclusive,” said a student. Campus social live is active: “It’s never a matter of IF something is happening – it’s which of the number of things I’m going to choose,” said one of the student panelists. University Production brings in SNL comedians, concerts, bbqs, movies, and Broadway Shows (Kinky Boots, Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder). During the Olympics, they had giant viewing party and put up an ice rink on campus for curling and skating. 95% stay on campus on the weekend. When they want to get off campus, they often go to the North Shore (the “Steel Stacks”) located about a mile away; a book store, bowling, skating, thrift shops, movies, and more are all there.

Lehigh lower centerLehigh admits students to college, not to majors; students can only apply to 1 college. Arts & Science and Engineering jockey year to year for the largest college. However, this isn’t like a large research school – students can move between the colleges: “There’s nothing stopping you from exploring in other schools and there are options.”

They have 3 distinctive, integrative programs that they spent a great deal of time talking about. Students must apply specifically to the first two:

  • Integrated Business and Engineering: students complete the core curriculum of both and select a concentration in either area. It’s accredited in business but not engineering in 4 years. Some stay the extra year to get the accreditation.
  • IDEAS (engineering and A&S): Students choose 2 concentrations and find the intersection between the two. ”Build bridges of specialization rather than islands,” said the rep. “Lets them understand and cross the divide.”
  • Comp Si and Business is dual accredited. Students do NOT need to apply specifically for this program.

Lehigh 9Other programs worth noting:

  • “We have phenomenal psych and international relations majors,” said a rep. Students wanting more specialized programs can choose majors like Cognitive Science or Behavioral Neuroscience.
  • They’re going to start a College of Health “but it’s not clearly defined yet. We’ve held a number of town halls to find out where we can make an impact.”
  • “The sciences are already something we do really well here, and we’re great at finding intersections between disciplines,” including their Health, Medicine, and Society major where they look at community health, data analytics, the state of health care, sociological and environmental determinates of health, etc. Students in this major are usually NOT looking to do allied health/med schools.
  • The Engineering school offers many of the more unusual specialties including Energy, Aerospace, Materials Sciences, Polymers, and Nanotechnology.
  • UN Partnership: Lehigh has NGO status with the UN so students get special clearance and access there. They send a bus every WEEK (more Business majors go than any other student) and just had their 10,000th visitor to the UN. Ambassadors speak on campus (Syrian just came).

Lehigh arts quadThere’s very little merit aid given out but quite a bit of need-based aid. They require the tax returns and a 3-page form on their website which is school-specific, including non-custodial parental information. If they don’t apply for aid on time, they won’t get a package. “We meet need, but we meet 100% of institutional need – so we tell you what the need is,” said a financial aid officer.

Lehigh 5Several people brought up diversity as an area of growth. In terms of racial diversity, the largest percentage is Hispanic. Surprisingly, only 3.5% of the students are African-American, said a rep. “We’re working on that.” Other areas seem to be better: they have trans students on campus, gender-neutral bathrooms are sprouting up across campus, and there are active LGBTQ groups that do outreach and education, including speaking with groups like Greek Life about inclusion.

© 2018

Union College

Union College (visit 7/31/15)

Union's main quad

Union’s main quad

The ceiling and 3rd story of Nott where the study carrels are located

The ceiling and 3rd story of Nott where the study carrels are located

Union, with its sprawling quads and light-brick and stone buildings, is physically bigger than you’d expect for the 2200 undergraduates housed on campus. The iconic building seen in all the promo materials is Nott Memorial, one of only a few 16-sided buildings in the world and is now a National Landmark. Once the school’s library, it’s used for lectures on the first floor, an art gallery on the second floor, and study carrels on the third. “I wish I could pull an all-nighter in here,” said the tour guide, “but they do eventually kick us out.”

Nott Building

Nott Building

Unusual for a liberal arts college, about half of the students study math, science (including Astronomy, Neuroscience, and Geology), or engineering (specialties include bio-, computer, electrical, and mechanical with minors in energy studies, nanotechnology, and environmental engineering). Students who want to integrate the sciences into the humanities or business should check out their Science, Medicine, and Technology in Culture major or the joint Leadership in Medicine program, an 8-year program that allows students to get the Bachelors and Masters degrees at Union (MS or MBA) AND an MD at Albany Medical.

~Union 5Their facilities rival those at bigger schools. We stopped at the aerogel lab on the tour: it’s amazing! Two of the students, a sophomore chem major and a senior mechanical engineering major came out to explain Aerogels to us (“Imagine jello without the liquid”) and tell us about their research. First they passed around some samples and said, “Don’t worry about breaking them. We’ll make more.” They’re working on making these gels out of copper for catalytic converters because they’re lighter and much cheaper than what’s being used now. They’re currently replacing a car exhaust system in the lab.

As an interesting side-note, 80% of engineers study abroad in Prague (only 60% of the total student population study abroad). There are also plenty of clubs revolving around engineering such as Engineers Without Borders, Society of Women Engineers, and National Society of Black Engineers.

~Union 3All students take a FY Preceptorial Class (2 terms long with 15 students each) and a Sophomore Research Seminar. Students can choose to do either a thesis or a seminar/capstone class. There’s plenty of flexibility in academics: students can Double Major or complete an Interdepartmental Major which meshes 2 areas of interest. For example, one student is majoring in Climate Change, combining environmental studies and geology.

~Union dorm90% of students live on campus all 4 years. Freshmen dorm rooms are small-ish but livable, “and they get better as you go up.” The college just bought a hotel right off campus which is now student housing. “Having a bathroom in the room is a big deal.” Only 10% of seniors are “released” to live off campus: “People fight to get off,” said the tour guide; the admissions rep gave a different impression. I was left wondering how much of either impression was true.

Something really unusual at Union is the Minerva House System (named for the Goddess of Wisdom): all students are assigned to 1 of the 7 houses; these provide social connections across years and majors as well as leadership opportunities. House Councils (mad up of 15-20 people) determine how the $25,000 yearly budget gets spent. “There’s lots of food,” said the tour guide. Programs could be large like OctoberFest or smaller like Dinner with a Professor, Pizza and Politics (lunch once a week); Waffle Wednesday; Sundaes on Sunday. Each Minerva House has about 300 total students plus faculty and staff. Students can apply to live in their house after their first year.

One of the food options on campus

One of the food options on campus

There’s also a Minerva Fellowship; students apply to be selected to complete a global service project for 10 months directly after graduation (July to April) in 1 of 6 countries. In May, they are back on campus debriefing, giving presentations, work with the next group of Minerva Fellows, etc. I spoke with a recent returnee from Ecuador who was working for admissions through the summer and is off to law school in the fall.

Admissions is Test-optional but they will superscore both tests if they’re submitted. Interviews are recommended but not required and can be done on skype if necessary.

~Union dance pavilionAlthough Schenectady isn’t the most impressive of cities (it was hit hard when the GE plant all but closed), both the town and Albany (right next door) provide a lot of off-campus things to do. It’s also a transportation hub: the Amtrak and bus stations provides service to NYC (2.5 hours south) and Boston (2.5 hours east) and the airport is close. The Adirondacks aren’t that far north, so there’s plenty of skiing, hiking, etc. Ski trips are popular; for $20, students get transportation, lift tickets, and equipment rentals.

Jackson Garden

Jackson Garden

On campus events are plentiful, so there isn’t even much need for “escaping.” Hockey is big here and the only DI team. All others are DIII. Jackson Garden provides a 10-acre get-away right on campus. “Some professors come out here for class. It’s a great place to hang out.” One of the big annual traditions is Lobster Fest; an alum donates 1 lobster and a t-shirt for every undergrad.

(c) 2015

UC San Diego

UC SAN DIEGO (Visited 7/18/15)

~UCSD 1UCSD is clearly doing something right: they boast a 94% freshman to sophomore retention rate, and the average time to graduation is 4.3 years. Students who are engaged in their own learning and are ok making their own way will do very well here.

UCSD library walk

LIbrary Walk; you can just see the Geisel Library in the background.

Campus is sprawling and not-quite-attractive, located only a couple miles from the beach. Architecture is mixed: old and new, concrete and wood. The Library Walk is the campus’ main artery. “During the school year, this place is packed. Clubs try to sign you up. Students are everywhere.” Geisel Library (on one end of the walk – the Med library is on the other end) is the most impressive structure we saw (I would have gotten a picture except it was pouring!). It was named for Dr. Seuss who lived in La Jolla. His widow donated many of his things to the university. Many trees on campus look like the Lorax.

~UCSD 2

A residential area

Much of the tour focused on housing. They have a 6-college system based on Oxford, and it’s supposedly the only other university with the same system. At first this seemed wrong but they didn’t explain it well: both the admissions rep at the info session and the tour guide made them sound like residential colleges at many other schools. I walked away without knowing what made them different. I went to their website to figure it out.

~UCSD 4

Another residential area

These colleges (like residential colleges at other large schools) make this 24,000 undergraduate institution seem smaller. Students rank the colleges in order of interest. “It’s like Harry Potter. You get accepted into Hogwarts and then get split into living areas later.” What makes the colleges different are the themes, philosophy, and general education requirements based on where they live. “You should consider the college’s philosophy and the architecture when deciding where to live.” The tour guide was stuck on the architecture but none of the 3 colleges walked through were all that different. We didn’t go into any rooms – or even any of the buildings – because of the supposed differences.

~UCSD 10

Engineering building

The most significant difference is the general education requirements. This gives students some control over how and what they study.

~UCSD mascot

Mascot

Housing is guaranteed for 2 years for freshmen and 1 year for transfers. There are singles, doubles, and triples in most colleges. Finding off-campus housing is relatively easy with websites such as a Facebook page to help find potential roommates, apartment-shares, etc. Shuttles to popular off-campus housing areas run about every 15 minutes, and students can use public transportation on the weekends with student ID. The campus loop shuttles run about every 20 minutes.

~UCSD Residential areaAdmissions is competitive; approximately 1/3 of the 78,000+ applicants are admitted. They look at only 10th and 11th grade weighted GPA; if a high school doesn’t weight, UCSD will weight it with a cap of 8 AP or honors classes given the boost. Testing must be completed by December. This was one of the first schools I’ve heard that talked up summer programs while discussing activities. Scholarships are few and far between (only about 200).

~UCSD 6The student body is about 81% in-state. There are no quotas; the rep said that admissions generally reflected the application pool. The UC application – and test scores (“Don’t waste your money by sending them to more than one,” said the rep) – can be viewed by all UC schools to which the student applies, but be aware of any supplements required by some campuses – and yes, the $70 fee must be paid for each application!

Students are admitted to the university, not to a major. Currently, engineering is the only impacted major. Students may get accepted to UCSD but cut from engineering. “If you want engineering, aim for higher than the averages.” Switching majors is easy to do except into engineering: “Don’t make it your first choice plan,” said the rep.

~UCSD grafiti art park

Graffiti Art Park

Introductory classes can have up to 400 students. The tour guide put a positive spin on it: “It gives you something to say later in classes of 5. Otherwise, those small classes would be too intimidating.” Her largest classes did hit the 400 mark with discussion sections of 25 and labs of 40-50. Her smallest class has been 5, “but I’m in a pretty small major.” TAs rarely teach classes except in the summer, but they will have TAs for discussion sections, labs, etc. The tour guide said that the exception of this would be when “they’re the most qualified, like the woman teaching the forensic science class who had worked in the LA coroner’s office.”

There’s a Pass system for registering for classes: students are ranked according to their earned credits. Students can then register for 2 classes per “pass” – everyone can register for 2 before the first group gets their 2nd Pass and can register for 2 more.

Students who are struggling can buy lecture notes for about $30 a semester. The notes are taken by student who has already earned a B+ or better in class, and are then looked over by the professor. The guide also really pushed office hours. Professors are only required to have 1 hour a week of office hours; having attended a college where professors had 4 or 5 hours a week, this seemed light.

Some of their more unique majors include: Urban Studies and Planning, Nanotechnology and NanoEngineering, Math – Scientific Computation, Bioinformatics, Pharmaceutical Chemistry, and Literatures of the World.

I didn’t get a good sense of social life on campus other than getting the normal run-down of clubs and that each college holds social events. Greek life apparently isn’t huge, but the tour guide wasn’t able to answer questions other than to say that the Social Greeks are not as big as the Academic Greeks.

(c) 2015

University of Oregon

UNIVERSITY OF OREGON, Eugene, OR (Visited 7/18/13)

Quad

Quad

“Big nerds and sports fanatics can both fit in here,” said the admissions counselor, a 2010 alum. The University of Oregon is a flagship Public Research University; taking undergrad research so seriously is no small feat for a school their size. “Intellectually, it’s a game-changer.” Students do research in labs, on study abroad trips, and just about any other possible place (including an on-campus Cultural Museum in which Anthropology and Archaeology students do research). “Research allows students to find that spark, and that’s what we’re most interested in doing here. We want them to create knowledge, not just hear about it from others.”

UO 2 academic

Main Library

Main Library

I was half expecting UO to feel like other large, sprawling state universities, but it didn’t because of all its outdoor spaces and gardens. The campus is a federal arboretum with an arborist in charge of all the plants. School spirit/pride is high; for example, a lot of the dorm windows had O stickers in them. Athletics, of course, are a huge part of life here. Hayward Field, home of their Track and Field team, is famous because the Olympic trials are held here (which students can and do attend); they showed this off to us before any other facility. (As a side note, Animal House was filmed here). U of O is expanding their rec center, including adding a 16-lane pool, which a scheduled opening in the fall of 2015. Out of their 20,800 undergrads, just under 10,000 a day use their rec center (as compared to Ohio State: 6,000 of their 55,000 students use their rec center). An alum donated money towards the Jacqua Student Athlete Success Building for DI athletes. When we were shown this on the tour, a several eyebrows went up; the general feeling was, “Why are the athletes being treated so much better? What about academic success for non-athletes?” When we expressed this, the answer came in two parts: first, they don’t have control over what the alumni want to donate money for, and second, they do provide a lot of services to everyone; they’re just located in other spots on campus. “We’re well libraried,” said our tour guide (and interesting, the faces on the main library are major thinkers in the Canon).

UO pedestrian areaThe university prides itself on providing relevant and interesting academics within attractive buildings meant to inspire students and showcase the academic work being done in them. Allen Hall, for example, looks like one of the top PR firms in the country. The Willamette Science Center has a huge atrium that has integrated several aspects into the architecture that reflect science: quarks are shown in tiles on the floor, stars are reflected in lights across the ceiling, DNA strands wind around the staircase, the lampposts are designed after botanical structures, and there are cell structures around the walls. An additional science building will open this winter that will take on an interdisciplinary focus because “real world problems don’t get delivered as ‘chemistry’ or ‘biology.’” The physics has an Applied Physics program designed to help grads go directly into a job or move into a grad program.

Oregon is “Big enough to be good, small enough to be great,” says Roger Thompson, VP for Enrollment. It feels smaller than it is because of orientation and how students can interact with resources and faculty. Small classes help them define their interests and paths. “Secretly we believe that most students are undeclared at that age.” It’s ok to be undeclared, tentative, or to change their minds later, and the university offers 269 academic programs split between 7 schools:

Art Museum

Art Museum

  • The Arts and Sciences school has the state’s highest ranked programs in bio, chem, physics, math, poli sci, econ, psych, English, and history. The Center for Nanotechnology, the Oregon Institute for Marine Bio (only one in the pacific NW), and the Pine Ridge Observatory are worth noting. They’ve installed large electron microscopes which are bolted to the floor; companies that want to use them must come to campus; this actually gives undergraduates a chance to work with professionals. They do not have an engineering major; the tour guide said that their sciences tend to be more theoretical, but they do have a 3-2 engineering program with OSU.
  • Students interested in Business come into the pre-business program; to move to a full business major, they need a 3.0 in their classes at Oregon.
    • The school is fully accredited for both accounting and business. Fewer than 5% in the world are dually accredited.
    • They have the first and best sports business program (ranked by ESPN, Sports Illustrated, WSJ)
    • They run a Center for Sustainable Business Practices, Finance and Securities Analysis Center, Entrepreneurship, Sports Marketing Center.
    • Within the Journalism and Communication school, students come in as Pre-journalism majors and complete a Gateway to Media course cluster integrating multimedia storytelling and critical thinking. Once they meet the minimum GPA of 2.9, students are eligible for entry as full journalism majors. Two areas of note within this school are their Media in Ghana program and the Full-service student-run advertising firm
    • The College of Education is ranked in the top three public colleges of education in the US (the Special Education program is ranked 3rd in the nation). This is also the top funded education school for research per faculty member.
    • The Architecture and Allied Arts is 6th among public universities, in the Top 15 undergrad programs overall, and 1st in sustainable design practices and principles. They offer a BArch degree, a 5 year program requiring a portfolio for admission. The portfolio can be anything – ceramics, art, even creative writing. They are looking for higher grades and scores, but also analytical and aesthetic ability. The Art department offers media areas including ceramics, digital arts, jewelry and metalsmithing, and photo.
    • Like Architecture, the Music and Dance program requires additional admissions criteria. Oregon offers one of three comprehensive music programs on the west coast. There are thirty ensembles and over 200 music and dance events every year, and the university hosts the internationally recognized Oregon Bach Festival. They boast a 100% job placement for music education
    • The Honors College enrolls 220 new students every year (out of about 1500-1800 apps). The average GPA of students admitted into the program is 3.85, but there is no required minimum. They look for students with the spark, the initiative, the willingness to ask questions. If the students can prove through writing and teacher recs that they have these qualities, they’ll consider other GPAs. The 4-year curriculum is compatible with every major, and every CHC student researches, writes, and defends an honors thesis. Over 80% of CHC alums attend grad school within 3 years of graduation.

OSU quad 130 years ago, Oregon pioneered the concept of the Freshmen Interest Groups. Although students are not required to sign up for a FIG, they are strongly encouraged to do so; the university has found that those students who participate end up performing much better than those who do not. They put students into small, thematically grouped cohorts of 25. The classes, made up of 25 students grouped according to a common interest, satisfy a gen ed requirement. The classes fill up quickly, and they’re trying to increase opportunities.

About 35% of the university’s students come from outside of Oregon (and every state is represented); 10% of the students come from 70+ foreign countries. Almost 20% self-identify as students of color. Twelve percent of students join Greek life, so it’s available but not a major social force on campus. Much of the social activities are based out of the Union, a funky, unusual building that looks a bit like a labyrinth. It’s a multi-level building made of wood and concrete with old beams across the ceiling; it smells like old wood in a good way. The building has all the typical things people expect at a union: food, student groups, etc. They have an extensive outdoors club, and anyone can be trained to lead trips for this group. Residential life is comprised mostly of freshman: 90% of first-year students live on campus but that drops to about 7% of sophomores, 5% of juniors, 2% of seniors. There’s a ton of cheap housing in the area; our tour guide hasn’t lived more than 2 blocks away since she moved off campus. The university is trying to increase their numbers of non-freshmen on campus. They offer a variety of housing such as Living-Learning Communities, several of which have classrooms in the dorms. The Global Scholars Residence is an incredible new building that houses about 400 Honors and College Scholars students. The rooms are suites, there’s a beautiful dining facility on the first floor, and there are lots of meeting and lounge spaces in addition to having Faculty in residence.

© 2013

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