Austin College (Visited 3/2/15)
Austin College, despite the name, located in Sherman, TX, about 45 minute north of Dallas near the Oklahoma border, NOT in the city of Austin! This small city of about 30,000 people has a traditional downtown area which is being revitalized and hosts multiple festivals and other events throughout the year. One student raved about the amazing food in Sherman: “such good mom and pop restaurants!” There are also parks they’ll play Humans vs. Zombies. One student said that the town is ok but, “I wasn’t looking for a city. I was looking for a school.”
Travel to Sherman can be more of a challenge for Out-of-State students but doable. People fly into Dallas or Waco and can get shuttles provided by the college if they plan ahead. There’s also a TAPS bus (“a Roo-route”). We asked students why people should look here instead of other small, selective schools that may be closer to home. “It’s warmer!” one said immediately. Others mentioned research opportunities and the relationships developed on campus.
In addition to the main campus in Sherman, Austin College runs Lake Campus located about 15-20 minutes away. Students, faculty, and staff have access to the 30 acre area simply by scanning their ID at the front gate. Groups can use it for events, and the university often holds a Kite Festival there.
About 80% of students live on campus. Freshmen live in clusters within larger dorms, and they’re matched to their roommates based on Meyers-Briggs. Approximately 25% of students go Greek here (and another Greek chapter is being added next year). There is no official Greek housing, and it’s a delayed rush with students completing their first semester before participating. Students also have the option of living in language-immersion housing. This year, they are offering Japanese, Spanish, French, Chinese, and German. Students agree to speak in that language while in the residence. A native speaker also lives there, and there are common areas and kitchens where students can hold activities, cook meals (although they’re not required to eat there – they have a regular meal plan, as well!), etc.
Austin is on the College That Change Lives list, and I asked the students how it has changed their lives:
- Through research and internships. “I love my Communication/Inquiry (CI) class with the professor who will be my mentor for all 4 years. He got me involved in molecular research 2nd semester freshman year and I’ve worked with him ever since.”
- Through tennis. “I didn’t even plan on playing, but now I’m the captain of the team. One thing leads to another thing here. I didn’t plan on being a French minor, either. There are a lot of opportunities.”
- The diversity. “I went to a homogenous Christian high school. Here, I’m friends with people from such different backgrounds.”
- “Because I play basketball, I can’t go away for Jan Term. We took our own trip and it meant a lot.”
- “Realizing that I was smart enough to do this. This is the American Dream for me. I got a scholarship that allowed me to stay and finish. People are telling me that now I can go to Law or Grad school.”
- “It pushed me out of my comfort zone.”
- “Everyone makes mistakes which is normal. Here there are people to help you along the way.”
One of the Admissions representatives said that “A Liberal Arts Education is the most liberating and practical.” Students have the flexibility to explore several majors, but are also taught the skills they need to be hireable: critical thinking, problem solving, writing, etc. Students must complete at least 3 Jan-Term programs (but are welcome to do all 4). Some of this is career studies. Unusual or strong majors include: Global Science, Technology, and Society; Cognitive Science; Western Intellectual Tradition; Nonprofit Organizations and Public Service; and Southwestern and Mexican Studies.
Business majors can declare concentrations in Administration, Finance, Econ, Accounting, or International Economics and Finance. The Student Managed Investment Fund is a class that students can take for credit in which a group of up to 20 students are given a Million Dollars to invest (under the supervision of a professor!) that “consistently beats the market.” All profits go towards funding scholarships at the college.
We asked students, “What’s the coolest class you’ve taken?”
- Rock and Roll History
- How Allies Broke the Nazi Code: “We learned how to do computer programing, the history of the war, we watched Imitation Game.”
- Asian Food Culture Class. “We went to a cooking school in Dallas and rolled sushi and made Korean BBQ. It’s taught by an Econ prof just because he thinks it’s cool.”
- Algorithmic training. They got $50K to trade and invest during an in-class competition.
- Andean Nations (history)
- Business Ethics
- Tibetan Religion.
- Monsters Among Us where they read The Lord of the Ring, made a website, analyzed and compared The Walking Dead to Dorian Gray.
- Wine Tasting. “Next year there will be a beer-brewing class!”
Although graduates have always been successful, the college recently started the Gateways Initiative which is specifically geared towards students wanting to continue onto professional grad programs (law, medicine, etc). Austin has partnered with graduate schools to help with admissions, scholarship, internships, and other pathways towards these professional schools.
When we asked both faculty and students what they’d like to change, improve, or fix, this is what we got:
- “We don’t want to be something else, just get better at what we’re already doing. It would be nice to increase scholarships and faculty salaries, etc.”
- Food is ok, but gets boring.
- “They focus a lot on the abroad experiences and it’s great and amazing but I would like to see more projects in a smaller or more local scale. I think this is something they’re working on.” (She also mentioned that Alternative spring breaks can be as little as $35.