Ripon College (visited 4/16/15)
For a college that many people have never heard of, it has some famous alumni including Harrison Ford (who, although he didn’t technically finish his senior thesis, from what I’m told, is still considered an alum!), Spencer Tracy, Al Jarreau, about a dozen NFL and several NBA players, and McKey Sullivan (winner of America’s Next Top Model). Also, the town saw the start of the Republican Party in the 1800s “which was pretty progressive 160 years ago!” said one admissions rep.
I wasn’t even sure how to pronounce the name of this school before I got here (like “ripin’” if you’re wondering) and I walked away loving it. This is a small liberal arts college with just under 800 students although they’re working on growing to at least 1000 students and currently have the capacity to go to 1100. The majority of students come from the upper midwest but there are students from all over the country and world. They’re so serious about attracting students from other geographic regions that they’ve instituted a fly-in program where they will reimburse accepted students who submit original receipts up to $300 in travel costs for visiting. They’ll even pick up students from the Milwaukee airport.
Because it’s small, students can take things in a lot of different directions, dig deep, and look at things from a variety of angles. “Students here are just so excited,” said one professor. “I look at them and think, ‘Was I ever that earnest?’ They’re just really good kids!!” Faculty don’t always stick to the syllabus and can take students’ interests into account. There are several interdisciplinary majors. Students who thrive here like to be involved in a lot. “We’re too small for them to do just one thing.”
Students are confident, want to be challenged and pushed, are willing to take on responsibilities, and can make their own way. One student said that Ripon made her more open/respectful of ideas. “You think you know who you are. You don’t.” Students and professors both brought up the fact that people on campus truly want to discuss not only academics but larger issues as well. “We have really good discussions about diversity,” said one student. The campus even now has gender-neutral bathrooms at the insistence of the students because of discussions people were having on campus.
One of the Communications professors is a Ripon Alum. He did his PhD at a major research university and people expected him to take a job at another major institution, but he jumped at the chance to come back to Ripon. When asked why, “I told him it’s because I believe in this place. The guy was silent and then said that was the first time he’d ever gotten that answer.”
Currently, they’re wrestling with areas of distinction. They understand that they need an answer to the “What makes you different?” question to draw people to them. They’re undergoing a curriculum review and have hired a new Dean. Despite this (or maybe BECAUSE they’re willing to be critical of their programs and be forward-thinking), there are already wonderful things happening in Ripon’s academic world. Programs of note include:
- 3-3 and 3-2 Engineering Programs
- Communications: Ripon has the best undergrad communications in the country for this type of school. They won a national award for excellence in 2014. The Communication Consortium is open to students from any major; they also offer a minor in Applied Communications.
- Military Leadership including ROTC
- Biology: Ecological and Health Sciences are the 2 faculty specialties. In Health Services, there are many alumni in the medical fields for mentorship.
- Pre-professional tracks include all the typical ones you would expect PLUS chiropractic, med tech, allopathic/osteopathic med, optometry, vet, and corrective therapy.
- Forestry and Environmental Studies: Prairie Acres, 130 acres of space on campus, is used to study ecology, astronomy, animals, and nature.
- Math and Computer Science: This is a particularly strong research program. In recent years, they’ve taken students to 2 national and 2 regional conferences.
- Unusual Minors include: Socially Responsible Leadership, Government Service, Library and Information Science, and National Security Studies.
Dr. Zach Messitte, Ripon’s President, still teaches in the Political Science department and often runs a non-credit sophomore seminar on Presidential stuff. He also often leads a trip during the 3-week May term for the Liberal Arts in Focus program. 2015 trips also include an Ornithology class, Peace Studies in Jamaica, Language Immersion in Spain, and a trip to Germany.
Ripon has active, committed alumni who look out for their alma mater and the current students. They even help pay for students to go on career trips! A group of students recently went to DC for 4 days and paid only $400 for the entire trip which included airfare, hotels, meals, ground transportation, etc. The students got to attend career workshops with alumni, tour companies and other organizations, go on interviews, and more.
They’ll take either the Common App or their school-specific application, and they don’t charge an application fee. “We want to take down as many barriers to applications as possible.” Getting a decision takes about 2 weeks after the file is complete. “If something seems off, we’ll ask the student for an interview.” Most scholarships are granted automatically but there are some that students need to apply for such as those for forensics, music/art, ROTC, diversity, etc. These additional, specialty scholarships are stackable with the automatically granted academic scholarships up to $19,000 a year.
Freshmen are usually housed together; after that, housing is generally mixed. Almost ⅓ of the students affiliate with a Greek organization and can live together on a floor in the dorm. Some apartments are available usually for Juniors and Seniors who must fill out an application; GPA is taken into account when assigning the apartments. Themed Housing is available and can be coed.
Ripon does a great job providing things to do on campus. “The town is a bit remote. We can’t do anything about that, but we can make campus fun.” They have an active performing and visual arts groups; students can and do get involved even if they aren’t majoring in those areas. Clubs range from the athletic (including 3 different Equestrian teams and a Women’s Boxing Club) to charity groups and honor societies. Students also find their own fun: “There’s a great sledding hill that’s well used,” said one students. Ripon is supposedly the second most haunted campus in the Midwest, so ghost-hunting is always an option!