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Central Washington University

Central Washington University (visited 6/21/17)

CWU 2CWU was a surprise in the best possible way. I walked away knowing that I’d be comfortable recommending this school to students: it’s a welcoming, modern, attractive campus with a lot of unusual majors that would appeal even to students coming from across the country. Check out this YouTube video put together by the Arts and Humanities Departments – made entirely (including the music) by faculty and students in that school!

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The mascot in front of the student center which also houses their Outdoor Pursuits and Rentals office

All first-year students are required to live on campus and therefore get priority for housing. Many live in 4-person “pods” (like suites). There are about a dozen LLCs available; our tour guide lived in the Aviation LLC his first year even though he ended up not majoring in it. There are some university-owned apartments available for upperclassmen. Off-campus housing is relatively easy to find and not expensive. Ellensburg is a small, easily manageable city with things to do and with lots of access to outdoor activities. Students can fly into Sea-Tac airport and get school shuttles for the 2-ish hour trip to campus.

CWU sculpture

One of many such sculptures on campus

Despite being a medium-sized university of about 11,000 students, they take excellent care of students and work hard to make sure they don’t fall through the cracks. Students get both a Major and a Support Advisor so there are plenty of people checking in on them. They are dedicated to providing accessible education for students, particularly those who historically have not had easy access to higher education. Their first-gen students graduate well above the national average, for example. One student spoke to us at dinner; he was extraordinarily grateful for the opportunities and support he received at the college, saying that his success came due to the support he got from faculty and the institution as a whole.

CWU sci 1

One of 2 new science buildings

The evening we were on campus, one of the physics students gave us a mini-lecture on Dark Matter… we couldn’t believe he wasn’t a professor! The Astronomy Club gives monthly presentation, so this was something they would have available to students and the community at large. A physics professor then let us crawl into their portable planetarium (who knew that was even a thing!?); it looked a bit like an igloo and easily fit 25 people. (We also got to go into their permanent planetarium but the equipment was being upgraded so we were unable to see it in action). He gave us a great presentation followed by an extensive tour of the geology and physics labs and ending at the telescope and observatory on the roof.

They offer a number of interesting and/or unique majors such as:

  • CWU museumMuseum Studies
    • They’ve excavated a mammoth about 30 minutes from here and will most likely keep the bones on campus since students did a lot of the work.
  • Law & Justice
  • Para-medicine
  • Aviation/Aerospace/Aviation Management
    • Aviation has been going on for about 40 years; there’s a pilot shortage and they’ll get jobs, but it’s a lot of money up front for the training.
    • There are additional admissions requirements such as a physical for flying.
    • There are 60 incoming freshman bringing it up to 160 total. They’re hoping to bring even more in next year.
  • CWU mammoth

    The first mammoth bone excavated

    Music

  • Sciences (College of Sciences combines Computational, Natural, and Social Sciences)
    • They have a Cadaver Lab!
    • The geology department is the largest in the state
    • A physics professor has a grant to discover exoplanets.
  • Primate Behavior and Ecology: Washoe, one of the original chimps that was taught ASL lived here.
  • Integrated Energy Management
  • CWU japanese garden

    Part of the campus Japanese Garden

    The Business School is AACSB accredited (less than 5% of more than16,000 schools get this). Admission is not competitive but must keep a 2.5 GPA to stay in the program; students can declare after 30 credits.

    • There are 8 concentrations including HR, Economic Forecasting, Supply Chain, and Managerial Economics
  • Safety and Health Management: they have the top program in west. Two professors got awarded National Educators of the Year awards.
  • Apparels, Textiles, and Merchandising: graduates can work as designers or buyers.
  • Global Wine Studies: This is not meant to teach students how to make wine (although they do learn how) but focus on the marketing.
  • Craft Brewing: Students do learn how to make beer in this major! “They get a lot of science.” They can also get a certificate in this if they don’t want the whole major.
  • They’re starting Hospitality Program and will incorporate the beer and wine programs into the event management. This will be an international program where they can work in Spain, too. Getting a dual degree from each institution will be a possibly.
  • Their Army and AF ROTC programs win awards across the country.
CWU creek 1

This stream runs through campus. “You could swim in it, but I’m not sure you want to,” said the tour guide. “However, it is tradition for seniors to float down it in tubes right before graduation.”

Admission to the university is automatic – without the test scores – if a student has a 3.4 and will have completed all the College Academic Requirements by graduation (but they still need to submit test scores; they just aren’t used for admissions, but are looked at for scholarships and for placement). All others go through the comprehensive review process. This is already one of the most affordable institutions in the Pacific Northwest. On top of that, they offer WUE to qualifying students who then pay in-state tuition x 1.5. The average incoming GPAs for WUE students was a 3.31; overall was a 3.1.

© 2017

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St. John’s College, Annapolis

St. John’s College, Annapolis (visited 1/5/17)

st-johns-4This small, historic campus sits on the outskirts of downtown Annapolis, across from the Naval Academy; from the front lawn, you can see both the Academy Chapel and the State House. The college sits on the original site of King William’s School (started 1696); in the 1780s, St. John’s merged with it, making it the 3rd oldest college in the country! McDowell Hall was the first building on campus (and the country’s 3rd longest continually-in-use academic building).

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The Front Lawn

Campus is mostly brick and easily walkable; “We’re pretty well locked in in terms of land,” said the rep who showed me around campus, who is also a 2016 alum. However, it works well for the population: the average graduating class hovers around 100 students.

 

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Key was a Johnnie: “We have a monopoly on anthem writers!”

The Front Lawn is a popular place to hang out and where several traditions are held including graduation and the annual Annapolis Cup, a croquet game against the Naval Academy Middies. Last year, over 6000 people flooded campus: “there were tents, picnics. It was great!” Although there are varying stories of how the Cup started, one of the favorites was that sometime in the early 1980s, Middies said that Johnnies couldn’t beat them in a sport so Johnnies challenged them to croquet. “Students take it really seriously here! Last year after a snow storm that dumped almost 2 feet of snow, we saw a shoveled out square on the front lawn. It was done so they could practice!” Johnnies have won 10 National Intercollegiate tournaments at this point. “Navy has become more serious about it now because they hate to lose!”

 

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The Great Books study room in the library

In terms of curriculum, St. John’s is one of the most unique schools out there. Students do not have majors; instead, they all follow a common Great Book-based curriculum and graduate with a BA in Liberal Arts. That being said, they rank in the top 4% for students who complete science and engineering degrees as well as in the humanities. Law school is also a big deal; they know that Johnnies are able to think critically and formulate well-reasoned arguments.

 

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The interior of the library which had been the MD Hall of Records before being turned over to the college.

“There’s a weird shift in thinking here. What we read and are expected to do seems intimidating at first, but it’s done in a way that’s accessible. It’s not easy, but we know we can do it.” Students write major essays every year (each getting a little longer) followed by an oral defense: “it’s really a 15 minute discussion about what you read and wrote rather than an exam.” Students definitely need to know the whole text well, because the discussion could be about any part of it, not just on the portion covered in the essay.

 

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Foucault’s Pendulum

A major form of evaluation is the “Don Rag”: Freshman through Juniors meet with tutors who give a report on how things are going, both positive and negative. Students always have a chance to respond and ask questions. Juniors have the option of doing a flipped conference when they tell the professors how they believe they’re doing. Grades, however, don’t come up.

At the end of the 2nd year, all students go through Enablement. Tutors meet to discuss the students; they will recommend for them to continue, to maybe complete some work elsewhere or completion of another requirement, or rarely, that students not continue at St. John’s. “Usually students know way in advance if this is coming, if they’re at risk. You really have so much contact with tutors all the time here. It should never be a surprise.”

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The exam room; friends and family are invited to watch the seniors defend their final papers

In the spring of senior year, students are given a month to read, research, and write a 20-40 page essay. This often comes from the canon, but sometimes not. “This is a good chance to write about something still bugging you.” They have a committee of 3 tutors who will evaluate it and then lead their final panel.

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One of the science labs

Students take both Seminars (2 tutors and 16-20 students) and Tutorials (1 tutor and a maximum of 16 students). Math, Language, Music, and Lab science are taken in Tutorials (held like regular classes during the day); everything else is covered in Seminars (held Mondays and Thursdays from 8-10pm). “Often the quad is packed well past midnight after seminars with people continuing the discussions we’ve had; we’ve big on discussing things here – in and out of class!”

st-johns-concert

The room where the First Concert is held; upperclassmen pack the balcony

Required classes include 2 years of Greek (translating Plato and Aristotle among others), 2 years of French, 3 years of science (organized more thematically rather than the traditional bio/chem/physics), 4 years of math (they start with Euclid and move forward through Ptolemy, Decartes, and Einstein among many others), and 2 years of music: Freshman chorus and Sophomore Chorale. All students become familiar with basic notation and have to pass an exam in this. “That and Algebra are the only exams we take in the traditional sense, but we have as many chances as we need to get through it.” Music classes are mostly singing-based “but no one is required to sing well. Chorus was my favorite class. It was fun without having to worry about being good.” The annual First Concert is put on by the freshman music class. Upperclassmen pack the balcony to watch. “It’s a great welcoming tradition on both sides.” Often, the singers will go through songs twice – once by themselves and once when upperclassmen join in.

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Conversation Room

The Conversation Room has a large harkness-style table with more chairs around the outside. It’s used for meetings, long music classes, and even long labs (specifically done in a long block to combine experiments and discussion at one time). On Friday nights, there are often lectures which are not required but are well attended. Students are invited to continue the conversation in this room afterwards: “they often last longer than the actual lecture; the longest I’ve been to ended at midnight.” Because of the placement of the microphone, this is usually the only time that a tutor or lecturer will sit at the head of the table.

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Dining Hall

The dining hall is small, but “there’s never an issue with seating, and the longest I think I ever had to wait for food was about 5 minutes.” There’s a private dining room on one side which can be used for club or student government meetings or other events; if it isn’t reserved, students can use that as “overflow” seating if needed. He pointed out the ice cream case on the way out, telling me that it was a requirement of a donor that there always be ice cream. Outside the dining hall are some cubbies for people to leave belongings; they had been asked not to bring bags into the dining hall, but “this year is the first time in my five years on campus that there have been thefts. I don’t know what’s going on, and I hope it stops – it changes the tone of things around here. When I was a student, I never worried about leaving a bag or a laptop out here.”

st-johns-planetarium

The planetarium with the Ptolemy stone on the left side. “I don’t remember exactly how it works, but the circle turns to show the angles of different astronomical features.”

Both campuses have operational Ptolemy stones – the only working ones in the country. There is also a Foucault Pendulum used in freshman science “and we use the area in other classes when we need to drop things from a height.” There’s an Observatory and a planetarium which are used in sciences and by the Astronomy Club. They have a boathouse right on College Creek (running along the edge of campus); their only sports are crew, sailing, and fencing.

st-johns-college-creek

College Creek on the back side of campus.

The only study abroad option they have is a new program offered 2nd semester in France; they send over St. John’s professors to teach the classes since the curriculum is proscribed. If students want a more traditional experience, they’re welcome to do a summer program. Students can take advantage of the Pathways program which offers a $2000 stipend or a $4000 internship program; students are eligible for 4 summers starting after freshman year (so they can do one after senior year).

© 2017

Widener University

Widener signWidener University (visited 11/20/15)

(Click HERE to see information from my 2nd visit on 3/25/19)

~Widener 1Widener is a gem hidden in plain sight. Located blocks off of Route 95 in Chester, this is a surprisingly attractive campus with modern buildings and lots of green space. Students are energetic and seem to enjoy being together. Campus had a vibrant feel even at 8:30 am when I arrived on campus: people were out and about, congregating in the student center, and otherwise utilizing spaces around campus. Even the security guard helping visiting counselors with parking was smiling and talkative. I got the feeling that people really wanted to be here.

Widener NursingOne of my former students is currently a freshman in the 3+3 Physical Therapy Guaranteed-Seat program (they also have 4+3 Guaranteed Seat and the traditional 4+3 route) and couldn’t be happier. She raves about the activities on campus ranging from sports to clubs to the typical weekend events. Off-campus, there’s a mall 1 exit down the highway and plenty of other things around town. “Shuttles and public transportation are super easy to use, and my roommate also has a car.” Parking is generally pretty easy, but can be more difficult during the school day because of the number of commuters (about 20% of students), “but after about 2pm and on weekends, there’s never a problem.”

~Widener dorm quad

The Freshman dorm quad: “which is weird since it has 6 buildings,” said our guide.

They’ve brought in their largest freshman class this year of almost 850 students but will probably try to keep this closer to 800 for the next couple years. Freshmen and sophomores are expected to live on campus (unless they’re living at home). Housing is guaranteed for four years; juniors and seniors can move off only but about 20% end up leaving. Dorms generally get good reviews from students. “My room this year is pretty small, but I’m in the dorm with the most kids in it, so rooms are smaller. It’s still livable, though, and the dorm I’m going into next year is AMAZING,” said one student. Options include all the usual styles: traditional, suites, apartments, and Greek housing.

~Widener mascot 2

The Mascot Statue (the male lion is to the right). The baby’s name is Legacy.

Greek life is fairly popular here as are varsity sports, but “there’s no pressure to join. There are lots of options. Everyone finds their own niche.” Rush happens in the spring because students need a 2.5 GPA to qualify; athletes also need to maintain a 2.5 GPA to remain eligible to play. Widener changed their mascot to the Pride Pack recently (the tour guides couldn’t remember exactly, but said within the last 10 years or so).

~Widener library 2

Library

Campus is set up well and with the students in mind. The commuters have a large lounge in the student center with lockers. The library has a lounge on the 2nd floor with a fridge and microwave for students; “this is really convenient for commuters and during exams when you don’t necessary want to leave to go eat.” There’s an interfaith chapel located right in the student center, integrating it into the rest of student activities.

~Widener benchThe largest classes are capped at 60 (the capacity of the largest lecture hall on campus) and are usually for introductory engineering and nursing classes. Most of the Gen Ed classes are capped around 30. The 2 tour guides’ smallest classes were both 12 (Criminal Justice and Public Speaking).

Widener engo car

Student-built in the Engineering department

The engineering department is extensive for a school this size, offering Chemical, Civil, Mechanical, Electrical, and Biomedical degrees. Dual degrees are offered, combining biomedical with chemical, electrical, and mechanical engineering; chemical engineering and chemistry; or electrical or mechanical engineering and physics.

Widener communications bldg

Communications Building

Almost all majors require some sort of internship, co-op, or clinical hours. With downtown Philadelphia less than 20 minutes away, there’s no shortage of opportunities, but students don’t necessarily even have to leave campus: for example, there’s a Marriott-owned Restaurant on campus that is run by the Hospitality Management students.

The on-campus observatory includes a telescope that runs through the science building is 5 stories tall and structured in such a way that it never actually touches the floor – there’s a minimum of a couple inches all around it: “if the building happened to fall, the telescope would still be structurally intact.” They open this to students and the public for sessions run by a professor with student help.

~Widener Old Main 2

Memorial Field and Old Main

The large quad is called Memorial Field (and the original building sits on one side). The Eagles used to practice here, 6 US Presidents have walked across it, and the tour guide said that the movie Invincible was filmed here, but according to IMDB, “The summer training camp scenes were filmed at Central High School in North Philadelphia. The surrounding buildings and field were fixed up to give the appearance of the Eagles real training camp location in 1976, Widener University” (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0445990/?ref_=nv_sr_1) … you can decide which source you believe!

© 2015

Wesleyan University

Wesleyan University (visited 3/20/14)

~Wesleyan quad 2  Wesleyan did a great job of integrating the students’ voices into the info session. Nel, who plays woman’s varsity ice hockey and writes for newspaper, helped run the  session. When it was time to break up for the tours, the admissions rep suggested that families split up to take different tours. I toured with a sophomore from Kathmandu who moved to NYC when she was young. She’s majoring in government and SE Asian studies, is active in MUN, the newspaper, and ultimate Frisbee.

Wesleyan has 2800 undergrads and about 200 grad students, mostly in the sciences. All undergraduate classes are taught by professors, but TAs may do practice sessions (especially helpful in language classes). Because there are so few grad students, undergrads have easy access to research opportunities. Almost half of students co-author papers and get published before graduation. My tour guide’s largest and smallest classes were 200 (Intro to Physics) and 9 (Japanese). Another tour guide’s smallest class had 3 students (a history class). Her favorite class was Tsunami Painting. She chose Wesleyan because of the open curriculum, the diversity, and people’s passions for majors. Academics are “do-ably competitive.”

~Wesleyan 4Wesleyan has a “100% open curriculum” with no core requirements. However, there is a “general expectation” that students will leave being well rounded. While not required, 80% of students will fulfill the suggestion that they take 3 classes each in Social/ Behavioral, Arts/ Humanities, and Physical/ Natural areas. The students we talked to like this system: they’re encouraged to leave their comfort zone, but they’re taking classes with people who want to be in them rather than those who are being forced to fulfill a requirement. They want students to feel comfortable taking risks, and provide classes understanding that not everyone has an interest or strength in certain areas For example, they have a section of science classes for non-science majors, including “Physics for Future Presidents.”

North College and the Chapel

North College and the Chapel

With more than 900 courses offered every semester, the students said that choosing classes was really difficult!! Students need 32 classes to graduate; an average major requires 12-14. There are forty-four majors plus the University Major (create your own), and students don’t declare until sophomore year. Wesleyan introduced minors 2 years ago because of student interest. There are currently 13 with more on the way. They also offer Certificates (essentially interdisciplinary minors). It’s easy to combine interests: one student is a Math and Dance double major – her final recital was choreographed using calc equations. Wesleyan gives students an option to complete a Master’s in a tuition-free 5th year if they’re also researching. Students interested in Engineering can complete a 3-2 with Cal Tech, Dartmouth, or Columbia. Alternatively, students who would like to graduate more quickly can take advantage of the newly established Winter Term offered during the 6-week inter-session.

Wesleyan and Middletown (pop. 50,000) have a symbiotic relationship. There are plenty of restaurants, pubs, stores, parks (Miller Pond is particularly popular), and other things you’d expect in a college town. Students also give back to the community: 80% of students do community service. Townies use the campus library, are welcome at symposiums and other campus events, etc. Most unusual, they have combined town-gown potlucks every two weeks, alternating between campus and Town Hall. When students want to venture further out, they go to Hartford (30 minutes away), New York City (90 minutes), or Boston (2 hours). However, “this isn’t a suitcase school.”

~Wesleyan old and newAbout 50% of students study abroad starting as early as 2nd semester freshmen year. There are 150 pre-approved programs including language immersion, research, and community service. Credits are guaranteed to transfer and financial-aid follows students. Four of the programs are run directly by Wesleyan with at least 1 Wesleyan professor accompanying students.

Participation in Greek Life hovers around 10%, including students involved in one of the two coed “fraternities,” Alpha Delt (Literary Society) and Ecclectic (Music Society). Alpha Delt has Star and Crescent, a restaurant, in their basement.

Residential Area

Residential Area

The university uses a “progressive” housing system: freshmen live in dorms; sophomores live in dorms or Program Houses (Cooking, Buddhist, or International Houses, for example); Juniors in either of these or in 2- or 4-people apartments; and Seniors in any of these options or Senior Houses. As they get older, they have increased independence. Seniors in houses have to shovel the walks, buy their own toilet paper, etc. There’s an on-campus grocery store which will take points from their ID card.

Arch from the Arts area to the more traditional looking campus

Arch from the Arts area to the more traditional looking campus

One section of campus, the Center for Art, is made out of gray cinderblock-like material. The architecture is dreary and stark, contrary to the rest of campus (although there are several part of campus that have buildings that just don’t fit including a small glass structure between the Chapel and Theater). The Center for Art is an “iceberg structure;” the visible section above ground is replicated below, and it’s all connected with tunnels. Dance, music, art, and art history are all in this area. The “92 Theater” is a student-run theater. An additional theater is used to host film series; movies cost $5, and students vote on what gets shown. The original Chapel still stands on the grounds, but the university is now non-denominational. There are a variety of religious leaders available to interested students.

~Wesleyan cemetery and observatoryThe Observatory overlooks Fass Hill, the social hub of campus and where things like Spring Fling is held. The telescope is “2 inches larger than Amherst’s,” bragged our tour guide. It’s open to the public on Wednesdays, and they give out Starbursts and Milky Ways! The architect of the Lincoln Memorial designed the library. The front is original but as the school grew, they added to the back for more study spaces; this overlooks the quad. They even provide sleeping pods for people needing study breaks!

Students say that the administration is receptive to student ideas. The President is visible and accessible to students, including walking his dogs around campus and teaching a class.

© 2014

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