campus encounters

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Archive for the tag “Theater”

Muhlenberg College

Muhlenberg College (visited 4/24/18)

Muhlenberg 4The tour guide at Muhlenberg was one of the best I’ve ever had! If the other students are half as much fun as him, I can see why people really want to be here. “There is a palpable sense of welcome here. People hold doors. I hope you get the sense that the students matter … because they do. They can be their true selves while they are with us,” said one of the reps.

Muhlenberg sculpture 3The rep went on to talk about what makes Muhlenberg distinct; I found this refreshing since most schools don’t – or can’t – articulate this.

  • Students are active and definitely goal-oriented. They want to do things with their lives. They want to capitalize on their experiences without sacrificing interests, so many have double discipline degree: “It’s not unusual to see people majoring in theater and physics, Neuroscience and Jewish Studies, or Bio and Business. This makes sense at Muhlenberg. We help them make it work.”
  • This is one of the most religiously diverse campuses around. “We’re 1/3 Catholic, 1/3 Jewish, 1/3 mix of others.” The Hillel pairs up with Cedar Crest, located about a mile away. Jewish life is incredibly active.
  • They offer Liberal Arts with strong professional development: “We’re just as committed to preparing for Accounting and Finance as for pre-med/law.” They’re a Top-30 accounting school where students earn 150 credit hours in 4 years! They sit for their CPAs at the end.
  • Muhlenberg book sculpture 2They’re nationally recognized for theater and the arts: “There are 350 music lessons on campus in any given week. We don’t have 350 music majors!” said a rep. “We’re in tech-week every week of the semester.” There’s a dance, theater, and/or musical production every other week. Theater, Dance, and Music are all BA degrees, not BFA. This is intentional so they can double major. There is a huge selection of classes so they can direct, do technical work, etc. The university name carries weight!
  • They’re nationally ranked for their food. Kosher dining is integrated into the dining hall so they can still eat with their friends.

As a member of the Lehigh Valley Association of Independent Colleges, Muhlenberg students can cross-register at the other 5 schools, but because they have such a range of options on campus, they usually do not. However, there are some groups that collaborate, students are able to attend events on other campuses, etc.

Muhlenberg library intFaculty are “fiercely devoted.” They are invested in who the students are and who they’ll become. Students make things happen every day at Muhlenberg and they’re empowered to collaborate with administration to make that happen. For example, they now offer a Public Health Major; prior to 2016, this was a minor with over 100 people in the program. Because of student engagement, they made it a major, and there are 2 partnerships with BU and in Philly that wouldn’t have happened without the students pushing for it.

Muhlenberg chapel int“We want to fill our seats with people who want to be here. We fill almost half the class through ED.” They will do an early read for merit and financial aid if that’s an issue before they enter into that partnership. Interviews are really important here; they value that interaction and getting to know students. They’re armed better in committee to advocate for the students.

“We don’t just have one friend group because we all do so much, so we know a lot of people who we go to support,” said the tour guide. Almost all students live on campus which helps build community. Their DIII and club sports teams are popular (to participate in and to watch) as are all the artistic performances. About 20% of students join Greek life. Traditions are really important on campus. Our tour guide said that his favorite is Candle Lighting. At Freshman orientation, they receive their candle which they light; they keep this all 4 years and will relight it again the night before graduation with their families looking on. “Usually it’s lit by alumni while an a capella group sings the alma mater right. It’s kind of transcendent. Generations before us did this. I’ve lost my laptop, but I know where that candle is.”

Muhlenberg Victor's LamentCampus is mostly attractive; there’s a large sculpture that looks very out of place against the stone buildings: “Its name is Victor’s Lament,” explained the tour guide, saying that it was meant to represent a wounded soldier being carried in Vietnam. After it was donated to the school, it was painted red because of the school colors. The sculptor was furious and withdrew his other donations.

© 2018

Western Washington University

Western Washington University (visited 6/23/17)

WWU 7WWU quickly became one of my favorite schools. I’m not sure what the vibe is, but whatever is going on there is working — and with an 82% freshman-sophomore retention, the students like it, too. Driving up the hill to campus, we decided it felt a little like a summer camp. We later learned that there’s a designated arboretum along the edge of campus. The wooded area opened up to a beautiful campus at the top of the hill. “This is the Goldilocks of campuses,” said one student. “It’s the right size.”

WWU dorms 1In many ways, this is an artsy campus “but that’s not all-encompassing. I wouldn’t describe the engineering department like that!” said one of the reps when we asked her if our impressions were accurate. There is a general sense of inclusive access and closing gaps starting with admissions and carrying through the way the students treat each other and the wider world. This is an open, accepting community. About a dozen students attended the counselor reception so we had time to talk to them. Their nametags listed preferred gender pronouns.

WWU 4Students are aware of and interested in what’s going on in the world. “I haven’t met an apathetic person on campus and I appreciate that,” said a tour guide. Students mobilize themselves. They’ll help get people registered to vote and hold protests for the Dakota pipeline. “There’s a general sense of wanting to talk about events and differences. Yeah, you see things that seem skewed towards the liberal, but there are also posters up about conservative talking-points as well.” It’s not surprising that for 3 years running, WWU has been #1 nationally among mid-sized universities sending graduates to the Peace Corps.

WWU sculpture 3This is a medium-sized university with 15,000 students, about 95% of whom are undergrads. Not surprisingly, most students are from Washington. Just over half (52%) self-identify as some sort of under-represented student (including low income, students of color (25%), and first gen (31%)). “People might have multiple identities: we don’t look at diversity in a compartmentalized way. It’s intersectional,” said the President.

WWU quadOne unique academic aspect stems from this approach of intersectionality: the Fairhaven College of Interdisciplinary Study is a bit like Evergreen State College in that students can collaborate with faculty to create a course of study. There are significant differences, but the spirit is there. These are students who want to look at things intentionally and systematically, usually with some component of social justice/change. Advisors help students acclimate to the learning style, the narrative evaluations, and grappling with creating their own degree. Students write an evaluation at the end of the quarter; the professor responds and decides if they get credit. “I felt like I learned so much more because there was more dialogue and in-depth conversation with peers and the professor.” It’s good for students who want to share their views and learn from each other. The college is physically located on South Campus, but not all classes are there. Students still have to take a certain number of “Main Campus” classes. Most students apply during freshman or sophomore year but can apply as an incoming freshman. Their core requirements differ from Main; they mirror each other but are specific to the campus.

WWU fountain

The fountain controlled by a sensor on top of one of the buildings; if it’s windy, the fountain height goes down

The university’s tag-line is Active Minds Changing Lives. “Students love learning and doing something meaningful,” said one of the students. Teachers are here because they want to teach, and just over half of the students will do research with a professor. Academics of note are:

  • Unusual majors include Canadian-American Studies, Decision Sciences, Manufacturing and Supply Chain Management, and Behavioral Neuroscience.
  • Unusual Minors include Arts Enterprise & Cultural Innovation, Business Analytics, Disaster Risk Reduction, and Sustainable Design
  • WWU science

    One of the science buildings

    The College of the Environment was one of the first in the country; they’ve been ranked in the top 2% in the nation for number of grads who go on to earn research doctorates. “Environmental Sustainability = Human Sustainability!”

  • Theater is ranked as #10 in the country. There are several professional theaters within 10-15 miles where students can intern.
  • There are about 150 students in Honors each year; an honor-housing option is available.
  • IDEA: Interdisciplinary Entrepreneurship in Action
  • They offer a Leadership Minor open to all students, and they’re working on a Masters. The curricular and co-curricular work together. They’re trying to get a leadership conference going through UNESCO.
  • WWU maker space

    One of the maker-spaces on campus; students do much of the engineering work in hands-on labs like this

    Engineering: All tracks are accredited (except vehicle design; there’s no accreditation for this). Students aren’t admitted directly into the program; they apply as soon as they finish the pre-reqs, much of which depends on where they start with math. This is a highly hands-on department. Students who invent/create things here will retain intellectual property (but are asked to acknowledge the school)! There’s a patent office on campus to help them with this process.

  • WWU quad 2The Fine Arts department takes advantage of the fact that this is the 2nd largest number of artists in residence after Santa Fe: film, painting, sew/knit/quilt/crochet. Art classes are open to non-majors, but majors get first pick. Open spots are then available to others.
  • A student designed the weather meter on Bond Hall – if it’s windy, the fountain gets lower so people don’t get sprayed with water. There’s a tradition that if they win at intramurals, they’ll jump in the fountain.
WWU Rockies 5

Canadian Rockies as seen from campus

The school has a strong Learning Support program. “The first year is very hands-on and progressively becomes hands-off. They’re coming out of K-12 where it was SO directed. We teach them how to ask for accommodations and how to advocate for themselves. It’s to help them move forward into being independent with this.”

WWU seatingThere’s no football and no Greek life on campus (although their rowing and soccer teams are national champions!). “That really helps town-gown relations!” Bellingham (population 82,000) is a beautiful place to live. Students get a free bus pass to get around town. The Canadian Rockies are visible from campus, and students can be at the mountains in an hour! The ocean is “right there”. The border is only 15 minutes away; Vancouver is another 30 beyond that. Students can catch the Amtrak for an easy day trip. Mt. Baker is an hour away, and Seattle (without traffic!) is 90 minutes. So many outdoor activities in the vicinity: skiing, snowboarding, kayaking, fishing, and even “hammocking if that’s your thing!” There are only 3 national chain restaurants (Starbucks, Pita Pit, and Jimmy John’s). The rest are locally owned.

WWU 1Admissions uses their own application requiring a personal essay and activity list with an optional “tell us more” section. They require a math-based course in senior year. However, if students have completed an advanced math beyond Algebra 2 before senior year, they are exempt from this requirement. This is a WUE school, but it’s treated almost like a competitive scholarship-based program. Only about 15% of students will get WUE, but then they offer 2 other award tiers for others.

© 2017

Albright College

Albright College (visited 11/19/14)

One of the most distinctive parts of Albright is their “co-major” program. Rather than simply designing their own major, students can link 2 half-majors to create a new one. Each major has a designated “co-major” track with 7 required classes; unlike completing an entire major, there is no flexibility in those classes.

Arts Building

Arts Building

The arts are huge here; the college was named in the top 25 nationally for artistic students. Non-majors still get involved in improv, a cappella, music, and acting. “You have to earn your spot at the table,” said a Theater Professor. “If you’re a freshman and you’re the best choice for the role, you get it over the senior. We have bio majors getting parts over theater majors. There’s no free ride.” One of the theatre majors said she picked Albright because of what she could do. She said this wasn’t a snooty place, unlike other places she toured. “I don’t care who went there; I care what I’m going to get to do. No one is working with that famous pop star so it doesn’t matter.”

~Albright trad campus

The more traditional looking part of the campus

Students come up with project ideas and pitch them to faculty. The common response is, “What are you waiting for? Get to work!” A student on the panel is spearheading an initiative to turn a dorm court into an artistic community. There’s an unused space in the basement that they’re going to use as a theater space, prop storage, etc. They’d also like to create a student gallery. “The first student open mic session is going on this weekend.

~ Albright quadStudents have to attend at least 16 cultural activities to graduate. “They mean it,” said a professor. “We had a student not get his diploma for 6 years because he had only done 13 and dragged his feet doing the last 3.” About 90 options are available each semester ranging from speakers, student theatrical or musical performances, and Broadway shows that the school will take students to for free.

Albright science

Science Building

Although there’s a wide range of artistic majors and minors including Arts Administration; Digital Media, Studio Art, and Video Arts; and Fashion (including Costume Design), there are also many liberal arts majors to choose from. Some unusual majors and minors include: Psychobiology (with concentrations in Behavioral or Molecular Psychobio), Optical Physics, Music Business (complete with their own Record Label!), Environmental Chemistry, Holocaust Studies (minor), and Game and Simulation Development.

Favorite classes of the panelists include:

  • ~ Albright chairPost-Modern Theater
  • English Comp: “It wasn’t just grammar. It taught us to use English to our advantage in the professional world and how language is used to sway thinking.”
  • Drama Through the Past: “We broke down into production teams and had to dramatize a passage.”
  • Mean Girls: they looked at Mean Girls in literature to figure out why they act that way
  • Hitchcock
  • A First Year Seminar on Dionysus

The smallest classes run in the single digits: the panelists’ smallest classes were: 6 in a theater class (as a freshman!), 1-on-1 vocal lessons, 7 in Advanced Acting, and 8 in a business class. Largest classes tend to be Gen Ed (28 in English, 30-ish in others. The largest class on campus is Intro to Bio which hovers around 80 with labs at 20).

~Albright main road

One of the buildings along the main road through campus

The school offers an optional 3-week January term; about 2/3 of students take advantage of it. They may attend every year but only get credit for two years. Classes run about 3.5 hours a day and tend to be collaborative or have a travel component. Someone just donated property in Costa Rican to the college; that will be used for some of these classes. Often, student use this time for ACRE (Albright Collaborative Research Experience). 15-20 students each year get a $3600 stipend with occasional more help to travel to conferences.

~Albright busi computer

A computer in the new business center that can retract into the table.

Campus has two distinct parts: we started our tour at the new Business Center with state-of-the-art technology and innovative classroom layouts, including computers that “emerge” from the table-tops. That building (and many others) sits on a main street; we first thought that there was no “traditional campus” section so we were pleasantly surprised with the second section. One of the original buildings in this part of campus is supposedly haunted; they’ve had ghost-hunting tours in there. There’s a very small “pond”; a big tradition is getting “ponded” on your birthday. Someone was thrown in the night before we toured, even though it was hovering around freezing.

~Albright haunted 1

The “Haunted Building”

Students are happy with the dorms. Rooms come with a fridge and microwave, but there are only 6 washers and dryers for a couple hundred kids. “It’s a rule that you don’t mess with someone else’s laundry. If it’s been in the washer for more than 15 minutes, you can move it to a drier, but don’t turn it on. I almost never had to wait for machines, though,” said the tour guide

All students can bring a car; registration costs $15 a year. There are plenty of parking lots, “but a lot of people park on the streets around campus – you should learn to parallel park!” There’s some stuff to do within walking distances (pizza and Chinese food got several mentions) and plenty of shuttles: “There’s Target Tuesday, Walmart Wednesday, Theater Thursday…”. Day trips are common to Philly (1 hour), NYC and Baltimore (2 hours), and DC (3 hours).

~ Albright quad 318% of women and 12% of men affiliate with a Greek organization. Students rush 2nd semester and must have a 2.5 GPA. Hazing is taken seriously. “Last year, there was a suspicion of hazing, and that fraternity was banned from activities for a year,” said the tour guide.

~Albright mascot


There’s lots of school pride. Basketball is a huge deal; Alvernia is their big rival. Football also draws a lot of fans. Intramurals are popular, particularly softball and rugby.

Only 3% of the students are international representing several countries. The school just dedicated an area near their main entrance to fly each country’s flag. During the dedication ceremony, students raised the flags as their anthems played. International students need to submit TOEFL scores; they’re looking for a 68+ and offer ESOL summer classes if students need to improve.

Applicants can submit a graded paper (teacher comments are important!) in lieu of the essay but can’t use the Common App if they choose to do this. If they use the Common App, they can submit the graded paper as an additional essay through the “other” upload. Albright is test optional, but students must interview if they take this option (skype is fine). They’re considered for the same merit scholarships. The Admissions Rep recommends that if students they fall at or above the mid 50%, submit the scores.

© 2014

University of Wyoming

University of Wyoming (

Ok, I’m cheating here. I didn’t get to “UDub” (as the locals call it) while I was at the NACAC conference in Denver. I wanted to; I really did – if for no other reason than to say that I’d seen the University of Wyoming and get a pennant for my wall. I almost went, but that meant giving up visiting two colleges that my students were more likely to apply to, so I reluctantly decided to forego the 5 hour round-trip bus ride to Laramie. As luck would have it, two counselors on the Counselor bus-trip to Boulder were from Jackson Hole, Wyoming. I picked their brains about the school and it turns out that they had a lot to say. Here’s what I learned.

UW has an absolutely beautiful campus; the university has poured a great deal of money into building new facilities and renovating old ones. There is a ton to do on campus and students have more activities to choose from than they know what to do with. The town, on the other hand . . . not so great. Although there is some stuff to do, there’s not a lot and it definitely doesn’t have a “college town feel.” In fact, one of the counselors described it as having a lot of “cowboy redneck culture.” The other counselor said that Laramie itself is “flat, and the wind blows all the time.” They were both quick to say that students didn’t seem to care much about the town; if they stayed on campus, they were very happy because of the activities offered and the diversity. The university has been recently doing a lot of recruiting abroad, and since Laramie has a huge Latino population, that’s also represented in the student body. There’s a “funny mix of kids – outdoorsy, Midwestern cowboy, Latino, whatever.” However, they mentioned that cliques formed in a more obvious way than some other places they had seen.

In terms of academics, sciences, including health programs, are particularly fabulous. The theater program is growing. “They seem to be tackling one department at a time.” Because this is the only university in Wyoming, the academic range in terms of ability is huge. As a public university, they work to make higher education accessible to Wyoming residents, and as such, there are quite a few students who aren’t quite ready for post-secondary academics (particularly because “there seems to be a strong anti-Community College feeling in the area”). However, there’s also the other end of the spectrum, and the university pulls in a lot of smart, driven students. The honors program is a big draw which offers special housing and classes.

I met up with some other counselors later who went on the counselor tour, and I asked them what they thought. Immediately, one said, “You should have gone! It’s a gorgeous campus and the people were great . . . but wow, was it windy!” I hope to get there someday to see it for myself; if I do, I’ll update this post!

(c) 2012

College at Wooster

The College at Wooster, visited (4/20/12)

~Wooster1“There are black squirrels everywhere. They freak me out! The freeze when they see you and just stare . . . You know what, squirrel? I can see you!!” I seriously want to go back to school at Wooster, and not just because the tour guide at Wooster might have be the funniest, most personable guide I’ve ever encountered on a college campus (although it’s true what they say about tour guides – they can make or break the experience in a lot of ways).

One of the many sculptures on campus

One of the many sculptures on campus

Students at Wooster didn’t seem to have a stereotypical look (but without being as quirky as Oberlin students where they appeared to be trying hard to NOT be the same); the people I talked to backed up that impression: students said that people were not cliquey and tended to get along really well. The students want to be involved in the community in addition to wanting to learn. They’re curious: these are the types of students who will read a quote in something they read for class and will then read the book that the quote came from on their own. The tour guide told me that the academics are challenging but not competitive: “Your A doesn’t detract from my A.” There’s no sabotage, no competition for resources. People would rather that they all succeed, and she thinks that makes the campus a happier place and definitely feeds into the community feel.

~Wooster 6This curiosity is one factor keeping students at Wooster because they are given outlets to pursue their own interests. Every senior takes a class of ONE – their mentored Independent Study. They pick their project and have weekly meetings with the advisor throughout the year. Students have done everything from researching which microbes will break down Prozac to doing a documentary on Tween and Teen transgendered students. Juniors complete a “Pre-IS” project to determine the feasibility of the project (including doing preliminary research to make sure they have enough material to work with) and to set up a plan/timeline. Students can get some travel money to complete their projects if that’s an issue; one anthropology/ theater&dance major who had studied abroad in Fiji got a travel grant to return for 3 weeks to complete her project on the cultural components of dance in Fiji. As a double major (which is not only possible but encouraged), she needed to tie in her two majors in her senior project. The admissions counselor I spoke with was a Wooster graduate who wrote his Senior Project on the British Canal system; he couldn’t believe that they were cutting him loose in England to go do primary research. After graduation, he went to work for the National Parks Service at the Erie and Ohio canals before returning to work at Wooster.

Wooster 5However, even though they love learning, the students aren’t the stereotypical nerds/geeks who hole up in the library and do nothing but study. Sports, clubs, and other extra-curriculars are really big on campus. The tour guide told us about signing up for clubs: “Every fall, they hold Club Fairs on this quad. Everyone comes out for it, and all the clubs bribe you with chocolate to come to their tables. I signed up for a bunch of things, and now my mailbox is flooded. I get mail from SO MANY different clubs that are doing things ALL THE TIME. I really wish I knew how to get off the list-serves but haven’t figured it out yet. . . . It so wasn’t worth the chocolate!”

Their mascot in tile in the foyer of the new athletic center.

Their mascot in tile in the foyer of the new athletic center.

Of the 2000 students on campus, 20% participate in theater and 30% are involved in some sort of music group (including one of the five a cappella groups and the Pipe and Drum Corps) — including 10% of the students in Marching Band who perform in full Scottish Regalia – their mascot is the Fighting Scot, after all. Athletics are also big, and not just in terms of playing on a competitive team (allthough about 30% of the students play a competitive sport), but also supporting the teams from the stands, playing an intramural sport, or just working out in the new Athletic Center; alums raised $22 million for the Center during the height of the economic downturn which speaks volumes about their experiences at Wooster (in fact, the donated money covered almost the entire cost of the building). The admissions representative called it the “wow piece” of campus (although I thought there were a lot of “wow pieces – a lot of buildings are really great!). When the tour guide was taking us through the new athletic center, she told us, “The material used to make the [indoor] track is the same stuff they used at the Beijing Olympics. I don’t know how that benefits me, but it sounds pretty cool, doesn’t it?”

~Wooster 4Students have a strong sense of community activism and they tend to get involved in the wider community, although their Entrepreneur Program seems to need some work; I asked both the tour guide and the admissions counselor what they would do if someone handed them a million dollars to improve campus. The tour guide said, “Save the entrepreneur program.” The admissions counselor had that 3rd on his list after expand the organic farming initiative and work on the environmental science program. The social entrepreneurship program pairs students with non-profits around the community to develop and refine sustainable plans. There’s also Global Entrepreneurship in Bangalore, India. The connection to India started about 100 years ago because of missionaries. Now Wooster has a large alumni base in India who know that it’s not about the big name but about the quality of the education, so the school has become a hot-spot for students wanting to study in the US.

Wooster 2Academics are impressive here. The sciences are particularly strong; Wooster ranks 4th in the country for Chemistry PhDs from a liberal arts school. They’re also 22nd in the country for engineering PhDs – and they don’t even have an engineering major! However, they do have a 3-2 engineering partnership with both Akron and Wash U of St. Louis. There are several other 3-2 programs, as well, such as in environmental studies (Duke) and in nursing. They even have a recent graduate with a Fulbright in Nuclear Science studying at George Washington. The academic buildings we saw were beautiful: lots of wood, nice carpeting, and comfortable work areas. They were warm and inviting – definitely conducive to a learning environment. As with most universities, they sometimes had oddly paired departments sharing buildings such as Philosophy and Geology (since the philosophy department is on the top floor and the geology department is on the bottom floor, the running joke is that the building proves “mind over matter”).

~Wooster 3I took the admissions people up on their offer to eat in the dining hall, located on the 2nd floor of the closest thing they have to a student union. I got there in the middle of the lunch rush; the line to get into the dining hall was all the way down the stairs; I almost left, but decided to check out the bookstore for a few minutes instead. After spending about 5 minutes there, the line was gone, so I headed up the stairs. I found a stereotypical dining hall: a large room, lots of tables, several options for food. Students swiped their cards as they enter and could stay to eat (they could eat as much as they wanted), or ask for a to-go container which they could fill for the same swipe. Although very full, there was seating for everyone, and people were getting served quickly. In addition to a lot of the typical stations (sandwiches, pizza, burgers/hot dogs), they had things like eggs-to-order (including omelets) all day, specialty foods, a large salad bar, etc. Food was clearly marked if it was vegetarian, vegan, or gluten free. Apparently there are kosher and halal meals available as well; about 10% of the students self-report as Jewish and several more self-report as Muslim. The community is incredibly inclusive. Cultural and religious celebrations are common on campus and draw big crowds of all sorts of students. My tour guide (who was from India) said: “Yeah, in my culture, you’ll see lots of parties: a god defeated someone by doing something – so we celebrate!” The admissions counselor said: “You’ll see the whitest person from Iowa dressed up some traditional garb of whatever group is celebrating.” Eid dinner, Seders, and other religious dinners also draw people of all faiths. People are very open and want to share their traditions and faiths with others – not to convert, but to educate. Wooster students are the types to want to learn about these differences and celebrate them. Who wouldn’t want to have that sort of community?

(c) 2012

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