campus encounters

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Austin College

Austin College (Visited 3/2/15)

~Austin swings and ctyrdAustin 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.”

~Austin streamTravel 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.

Courtyard of the Language Immersion House

Courtyard of the Language Immersion House

~Austin swings

Swings overlooking the quad

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 chapel 1

Campus Chapel. The school is “Presbyterian in name only.”

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.”

~Austin sci cntr 4

Sculptures made by students.

Sculptures made by students.

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.

~Austin atrium 2

The atrium of the Business Office.

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!”
~Austin library atrium

Library

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.

© 2015

University of Memphis

UNIVERSITY OF MEMPHIS (visited 4/23/13)

One of the many tigers statues from campus placed prominently in front of the new Union.

One of the many tigers statues from campus placed prominently in front of the new Union.

For a medium-sized, urban, public school, this was surprisingly attractive (and safe! They’re ranked as the #1 safest metro school in TN [they’re proud that they beat Vandy] and Campus Security patrols campus and a two-block radius around campus, which is where much of the off-campus housing is). The campus is designated as a Level-2 Arboretum with more than 60 types of trees, and there’s lots of open space on campus. Prominent in the middle of campus is the impressive new 3-story union which opened in 2010. The middle is open with grand staircases all the way up to the top floor, and much of the social life goes on there. Not only are there various offices, but they have several food options, both to-go (such as Dunkin Donuts) and their own sit-down restaurant fashioned like a Chili’s that’s open for lunch (the nachos are a big thing there). There’s a full-sized theater on the second floor that shows recent movies and gives out free popcorn and soda. The Post Office is here – something that surprised me (and I’ve never seen on another campus) is that students have to rent a PO Box if they want one, even if they’re residential students!

An academic building

An academic building

I visited on a Tuesday morning; because there was only 1 family and I visiting that morning, the admissions staff sent me out on my own with two tour guides so I could really pick their brains. One of the tour guides came to Memphis for the nursing program and the Greek life; it didn’t hurt that her parents both came here. The other one was from Memphis, had gone to another school first, and then transferred back. He couldn’t be happier. Both are currently commuter students, but say that they don’t see this as any disadvantage at all. There are lots of ways to get involved, and because there are so many people who commute, they’re not left out of campus life. There are plenty of places to study and hang out between classes, so it’s easy – and because they’re so involved, they’re on campus most of the day by choice. Off-campus housing is easy to get either through the Greek system or the rentals (which are plentiful right off campus). The tour guides said that the Greek kids tend to be the most involved in campus live in general. Girls rush the second week of classes, the guys are summer recruits: “it tends to be a lot of who you know.”

The lounge and kitchen area of the Honors Dorm

The lounge and kitchen area of the Honors Dorm

Currently, only 3000 of the 16000 undergrads live on campus. The university is trying to get more residential students as well as deal with the “parking convenience” issue (there is parking, but it’s sometimes far away which the students say can be difficult and requires that they get to campus earlier to give them time to park and walk to class). They’ve recently built Honors Dorms which are fabulous! The rooms are traditional doubles, but the bathrooms, although located in the hall, are private (you can close and lock the doors); each bathroom is a complete unit (sink, toilet, shower). In the rooms, the “dressers” are two stackable components of two drawers each that can either be separated and go under the bed or stacked to be a more traditional dresser. The halls are set up in circles, and there are kitchens and lounges on each floor. It’s a clean, comfortable set-up.

Memphis quadI asked the tour guides about diversity on campus; it’s clear from just walking around campus that there’s a lot of racial diversity that reflects the nature of Memphis, but they said that there’s a lot of political and religious diversity as well. They have “Religion Row” which houses buildings dedicated to all sorts of different religions, so everyone has a home. I also asked them what sort of student tends to fit in and which tend to leave. Neither one of the guides knew more than a couple people who have left; they said that the students who don’t fit in tend to be close-minded or they don’t like the city. They also agreed that students who transfer tend to go to smaller schools.

Memphis 1They have carts that they use to take people on part of the tour. This was fun, but not entirely necessary since the campus isn’t that big. However, despite that fact, they do run shuttles around campus fairly continuously – but this seems to be a response more to the commuter population and people needing to park farther away sometimes. There’s even an app that tells student where each shuttle is, which the students find particularly useful in bad weather.

The lobby of the library

The lobby of the library

They have quite a few majors and academic programs to brag about. They’re #1 in the state for nursing, and their other med programs such as Pre-Dental and Pre-Med are also strong; Memphis has a lot of hospitals (many of which are close to the university) which provides a vast range of clinical experiences for students, so they graduate with a lot of different types of hands-on experience rather than just 1 or 2. Their Business program is solid (and they have particularly strong links to FedEx so students do a lot of internships with them, as well). There’s a music conservatory which requires an audition for admittance. Psychology is their most popular major and gets the most funding (and the psych lecture hall is the biggest on campus with 450 seats, although most classes cap at 300 with break-out sessions). The ROTC program is large, and they’ve just started an Asian Studies Program, as well. As a college, they’re ranked #7 in the country for internship experience (as defined as participation as part of a credit-baring course), and their job-placement rate is high because so many of their students graduate with real-life, practical experience.

The Administration building where Admissions is located

The Administration building where Admissions is located

To be considered for admission, they use the following formula: (GPA x 30) + ACT score. If the student has a 95, the rest of the application will be looked at. The only time they will look at letters is if they’re denied and people feel that the application needs to be reviewed. They don’t superscore either the SAT or the ACT, and applicants need at least a subscore of 16 in English on the ACT. There are several scholarships available, and Non-Resident scholarships are stackable with the other scholarships which are dependent on GPA and ACT scores (23 ACT and a 3.0 gets you $8000 a year; 25ACT and a 3.25 = $11,000; 30ACT and 3.25 = $13,000). Two of their scholarships need separate applications and the deadline is moving up next year, probably to 12/1. The TOEFL is required of all international students, even those graduating from a US high school.

(c) 2013

University of Mississippi

OleMiss (visited 4/19/13)

OleMiss stadiumThis was one of the best Info Sessions I’ve attended (WashU being the other one competing for the top spot). Jasmine, one of the Admissions Reps, was bubbly and personable, and she related well to the people in the room. As a 2010 grad of OleMiss, she spoke intelligently about being there as a student as well as from a Rep’s standpoint. She said that she didn’t even consider OleMiss until she took a school trip here but is thrilled that she made the choice to attend. “Except for the bees flying around, it’s perfect!” She described it as the best of both worlds – the small school feel with the large public school benefits. If you walk around The Grove, you get the small liberal-artsy school feel, but on weekends, you’re going to school with 60,000 friends. She said the school size is perfect: it’s a good medium-school size (16,000 undergrads) with all the options and opportunities that go with that, but not so large that she wouldn’t be able to meet people or recognize other students. She joked that “If I saw a guy walking around, I wanted to be able to stalk him on facebook.”

OleMiss 4

Where the famous OleMiss tailgating happens

OleMiss archOur tour guide was a junior from Massachusetts who came to OleMiss because she was recruited for the Rifle team and is thrilled with her decision. The school spirit is intense on campus. Tailgating is a huge deal; people rush the Grove and stake out spots; it’s an all-day event, and she loves that alum will come back all the time, and she loves that she always gets to meet new people. (However, football isn’t the only sport getting attention. I had parked near the tennis courts, and there was a match going on – the stands were packed, and there was a LOT of enthusiasm in cheering for the players). Our tour guide also loves the other traditions on campus, including the fact that there are 25 things to do before graduating, “not all of which are technically allowed” such as jumping in the fountain. She also appreciates that you can get anywhere on campus in 10 minutes (amazing for a larger state university), but if people don’t feel like walking, they can take the shuttles that run every 11 minutes. She brought a car for her first semester (parking is $80 for the year), then took it home second semester and left it because it was more hassle than it was worth. When asked what she would like to do to improve campus, she said, “Knock down one of the older dorms and build a garage . . . oh, and get more guys!” (The freshman class is 75% women this year!).

OleMiss studentsOxford is very much a college town and is ranked as the safest place in the SE Conference and #9 in the nation. The university has a family feel and the study body is “super-diverse.” Forty percent come from outside of Mississippi (TX, TN, AL, GA, FL, LA, MO, CA, IL, and AR are heavily represented). She said that OleMiss feels very much like Alabama both in terms of how people treat each other and the town (Auburn is like Oxford) but Alabama is much bigger, and some of the majors offered at the campuses differ a bit. Sixty-two percent of students come in as undecided, and entering a major or switching is easy, particularly within the same college, but depending on requirements and when the switch is made, it may take a little extra time to finish the degree, and it’s sometimes easier to switch out of a major than getting into it (business, for example). Some of the majors that Ole Miss is particularly known for are:

  • OleMiss 1

    One of the Academic Buildings

    Liberal Studies: for students who want to create their own Major or combine several interests, they can complete 3 minors which becomes their Major.

  • Forensic Chemistry: ranked #2 in the country
  • Integrating Marketing and Communications: This combines Business and journalism
  • Center for Manufacturing Excellence: This competitive program combines engineering and business, teaching them the lingo of the other field so they can work together.
  • Political Science and preLaw: They have the 5th oldest law school in the country, and a HUGE network in politics (all but 5 Mississippi politicians went to OleMiss Law).
  • Languages: Chinese and Arabic are ranked at #1.
  • International Studies is ranked at #7. The Croft Institute is competitive; students must study abroad and take a language in this major.
  • Accounting offers a 5-year BA/MBA with a 100% job placement rate.
  • Pharmacy: they have an early-admit program which is competitive.
  • Engineering
  • Medical professions (OleMiss has the only medical, dental, and pharmacy school in the state). 79% acceptance rate into med school.
  • Journalism: Students in this major can specialize in anything, but they have to take classes in everything (digital media, interviewing, filming, etc).
  • Education: Students major in their teaching area, and then spend 1 additional year getting an EDU MA. Certification reciprocity works everywhere but TX and FL.

OleMiss3Students can apply as early as July 1 after Junior year. The application is straight-forward: no essays, no recs, no list of activities. Simply hit submit and pay the application fee. Once this is done, they’ll send an email which asks for three years of transcripts and the senior schedule (they’ll take this through Naviance/edocs, faxed, or mailed) and scores. Once the file is complete, they’ll let applicants know within a couple weeks. If you meet the basic requirements by completing the required number of high school courses (non-MS residents don’t need the Computer App class), have a 20 ACT or 980 SAT (single sitting – they do not superscore), and a 2.5 GPA, you’re in. Once you’re admitted, you can access the scholarship application. Students coming in with AP scores can get credit for 3s or better, but to guarantee credits for a specific class, get a 4 or 5.

OleMiss volleyballThe honors college is one of the most popular programs, and is ranked #12 in the country. Entry is highly competitive: 4000 students applied last year for 300 spots. To even get LOOKED at, students need a 28 ACT and 3.5 GPA, but last year, maybe 15 accepted students didn’t have a 30 on the ACT; the average score was a 31. Once a student is identified as having the minimum requirements, they need to get recommendations and write essays. The Admissions rep also said that students need to show real involvement outside of school: “Do some REAL stuff this summer! Teach kids English, back-flip off the Empire State Building, something!” Students accepted in the program are go-getters at college, too: there have been 25 Rhodes scholars (only Vanderbilt has more from the Conference) plus Goldwater and Truman winners, among others.

OleMiss 2

The newest Residential buildings on campus, opened in 2012

Millsaps quadFreshmen must live on campus and are required to have a meal plan. Our tour guide loves the food: “you can’t go hungry!” Options include traditional dining halls, a food court with choices like Topios, frozen yogurt, Chick Fil-A, a burger place, etc. There are several tiers to the meal plans. The lowest is the Greek Meal Plan which is heavy in fall, light in spring (and recommended if you’re planning on going Greek); plans extend up all the way through the 21 meals per week. There are also several levels of living options. Residential Colleges are suite-style and the most expensive. The traditional style dorms (bathroom down the hall) is cheapest; these are cinderblock buildings with large lounges (home of Monday Night Football parties and Open Mic nights), and large laundry facilities in the basement. Although there are only about 15 machines for the whole 7-storey building, one of the guides said he’s never had trouble getting a machine. “Contemporary Housing” is in between these two, and just opened this past year. Rooms are slightly bigger and each has its own bathroom. Students have to be in a Freshman Interest Group (FIG – there are 2) or a LLC (7 of those) to live there. Each has a kitchen and several study rooms. Greek Life is big, and there are about 20 Greek Houses lining the aptly named street “Fraternity Row,” and several more houses on the other side of campus near the Residential Colleges. Sophomore Pledge Classes each have a floor in one of the dorms. The newer dorms are attractive and clean, and fit in with the style of some of the other buildings around campus.

(c) 2013

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