campus encounters

"Get the first-hand scoop about colleges and universities"

Archive for the tag “Urban Studies”

University of Washington – Tacoma

UW – Tacoma (Info session on UW main campus, 6/22/17)

“There’s nothing better in an education than getting your normal shaken,” said one of the reps. UW-T is located about 30 minutes south of the main campus in mostly refurbished buildings that were originally built for the railroads and supporting businesses in the area. They’re part of the Coalition of Urban Serving UniversitiesAccess is at the center of everything they do. About 65% of the 5,000 undergrads are first-gen college goers. “That impacts everything we do.” Although primarily serving transfers from one of the Washington Community Colleges, about 20% of their students come in as freshman.

For 130 years, UW was 1 campus; in 1990, they decided to expand their reach to increase access, specifically for transfer students. There are now 3 campuses in the UW system (Tacoma and Bothell in addition to the main campus in Seattle) which provide very different experiences. They share characteristics of collaboration, offering students joint access to programs across campuses including 275 study abroad offerings and 306 degree programs (although not all are available on all campuses). After completing 25 credits on their home campus, students can take up to 15 credits a year on the other campuses. Technically, students at Bothell or Tacoma can be involved in the athletics on the main campus although it’s a rarity.

When asked what makes them different from other institutions, they said:

  • “Our mission is to foster a thriving and equitable society by educating diverse learners and expanding knowledge through partnership and collaboration with all our communities. We have diversity in a variety of forms: age, veteran status, underrepresented students, etc.”
  • “We’re urban; who doesn’t want Thai food under the computer center?”
  • “This is where real world housing meets residential life: you have the fob to get in, but it looks like a normal dorm inside.” There are Studio, 1-, and 2-bedroom apartments, all with kitchens so students can bring their coffee pots and popcorn makers unlike most dorms. There are only 300 spaces so priority is given to out-of-region students. “We have a conversation with students about living somewhere that’s academically healthy!”

Urban Studies is a unique major to this campus. It incorporates a lot of sociology by looking not just how cities work but how humans interact with the city. Students can choose tracks in Global Urbanism, Community Development and Planning, or GIS and Spatial Planning. Other unique programs include: Ethnic, Gender, and Labor Studies, Sustainable Urban Development, and Social Welfare.

© 2017

University of Pittsburgh

University of Pittsburgh (visited 11/7/15) Pitt sign 2

~Pitt Cath int

The main floor of the Cathedral

~Pitt Cath of Lrng 2

Cathedral of Learning

I was expecting a bit more of a campus feel from Pitt, but the university is very much incorporated into the city. The “crowning glory” is the Cathedral of Learning, a 42-story tower that looms over much of the area; the story is that when the university moved to its currently location, they wanted everyone in the city to know where it was … hence the tower. It was constructed in 1936-37, and contains classrooms, offices, and Nationality Rooms; all of them reflect the country at the time except for two: the French room (built in Napoleonic style), and the Early American room (as a side note, it’s supposedly haunted). The main room has large vaulted ceilings (very Harry Potteresque); it’s normally filled with tables and gets used as a meeting and studying area; during the holidays, it gets decked out, and banquets and dinners are often held in here. They also bring therapy dogs into this area on Tuesdays.

Pitt main street

The main street from one of the pedestrian bridges connecting academic buildings.

A dorm cluster

A dorm cluster

This is a public university but is not part of Pennsylvania’s university systems (Penn State & affiliates or the Penn. System of Higher Education). Originally opening in a log cabin in 1787, it’s now coed and home to more than 18,000 undergraduates – “but it feels small. I recognize a lot of people,” said our tour guide. It’s a relatively compact campus, taking about 10 minutes to walk from one end to the other. It’s easy to walk to off-campus areas, and public transportation is free for students. The college also runs shuttles to the airport, student athletic games, and more.

Dorm towers

Dorm towers

This is the first year that more than 50% of students have come from out-of-state. Students are guaranteed housing for 3 years. Rent in town is cheap (a friend of the tour guide pays $300 a month) and housing is easy to find. Eight of the freshmen halls are traditional dorms; the last one has suites. Sophomores are usually in suites and juniors tend to get campus apartments. Only about 9% of the student are Greek-affiliated “but it’s going up.” Rush is delayed and there are no sorority houses, but groups can live together in dorms if they want.

More dorms

More dorms

Part of the Biology complex (which includes neuroscience)

Part of the Biology complex (which includes neuroscience)

“The academic culture here is really collaborative. It’s not cutthroat. People are nice. They’re happy to be here,” said the tour guide. He couldn’t be happier with his education and the opportunities presented to him. He’s an Art History and PoliSci double major and isn’t having problems completing the requirements or getting to know professors who “are really accessible: I had one hold extra office hours at Dunkin’ Donuts down the street.” Almost all the faculty are full-time; the 6% of faculty who are adjuncts are professionals in their field, such as a police officer teaching forensics, etc.

~Pitt students

The Pitt Chapel with CMU - the building with columns - right behind it.

The Pitt Chapel with CMU – the building with columns – right behind it.

All students must have a major and a minor (or a double major). If they aren’t finding classes they’re interested in (hard to imagine with the number offered), they can cross-register at one of nine area schools including Carnegie Mellon (literally across the street) or Carlow, about half a mile away. One of his friends took Bag-piping at CMU. Pitt also teams up with CMU to offer ROTC (Army and AF at Pitt, Navy at Case Western).

One of the special programs that Pitt offers is OCC (“Outside the Classroom Curriculum”) to help students engage in a variety of extra-curricular programming and events. There are 10 goal areas including wellness, career prep, and Pitt Pride; students get a $5000 scholarship every SEMESTER after they complete this!

The World Series Home Plate

The World Series Home Plate

Sports are a big deal here (and Pitt owns the home plate from the 1970 Pirates v. Cubs game, on display in one of the buildings). We visited on a game day; lots of schools buses were shuttling students to and from the stadium, kids were decked out in Pitt gear (including face paint), and there was a general sense of festivity in the air. Students pay $25 for a season football pass to Pitt football games, but most sports do draw out a lot of fans. Temple, Penn State, and Notre Dame are their big rivals. The major league sports in town give students deals if they want to professional sports: There are $7 nights for the Pirates, and the Penguins cost $27 for a “random seat – you could be in the nose bleed section or up against the glass,” said the tour guide.

Conflict Cafe

Conflict Cafe

For students wanting more than sports, Pittsburgh doesn’t disappoint. Town-gown relations are good, and lots of places cater to the large college population in town. For example, our tour guide got $25 tickets to Wicked. Pittsburgh has any kind of entertainment you want – museums, music, movies, food, etc. In the park across the street from campus, Conflict Kitchen has set up shop: it only serves food from countries that the US is in conflict with. They were serving Iraqi food when I visited.

The Pitt Mascot

The Pitt Mascot

Students interested in the schools of Nursing, Engineering, Business, and Arts & Sciences enter those directly. Students interested in the other schools (Social Work, Education, Info Sciences, Pharmacy, Health and Rehabilitation Sciences) must complete prerequisites and begin their major in the junior year if they qualify. A few noteworthy majors included Applied Developmental Psychology, Urban StudiesMathematical Biology, History and Philosophy of ScienceEcology and Evolution, and Linguistics. Unusual minors include either Polymer or Petroleum Engineering, Aerobics, and Aquatics.

Campus is a contrast of old and new buildings.

Campus is a contrast of old and new buildings.

Applicants who visit Pitt (take a tour or attend a visit day) can get their application fee waived.

© 2015

UC San Diego

UC SAN DIEGO (Visited 7/18/15)

~UCSD 1UCSD is clearly doing something right: they boast a 94% freshman to sophomore retention rate, and the average time to graduation is 4.3 years. Students who are engaged in their own learning and are ok making their own way will do very well here.

UCSD library walk

LIbrary Walk; you can just see the Geisel Library in the background.

Campus is sprawling and not-quite-attractive, located only a couple miles from the beach. Architecture is mixed: old and new, concrete and wood. The Library Walk is the campus’ main artery. “During the school year, this place is packed. Clubs try to sign you up. Students are everywhere.” Geisel Library (on one end of the walk – the Med library is on the other end) is the most impressive structure we saw (I would have gotten a picture except it was pouring!). It was named for Dr. Seuss who lived in La Jolla. His widow donated many of his things to the university. Many trees on campus look like the Lorax.


A residential area

Much of the tour focused on housing. They have a 6-college system based on Oxford, and it’s supposedly the only other university with the same system. At first this seemed wrong but they didn’t explain it well: both the admissions rep at the info session and the tour guide made them sound like residential colleges at many other schools. I walked away without knowing what made them different. I went to their website to figure it out.


Another residential area

These colleges (like residential colleges at other large schools) make this 24,000 undergraduate institution seem smaller. Students rank the colleges in order of interest. “It’s like Harry Potter. You get accepted into Hogwarts and then get split into living areas later.” What makes the colleges different are the themes, philosophy, and general education requirements based on where they live. “You should consider the college’s philosophy and the architecture when deciding where to live.” The tour guide was stuck on the architecture but none of the 3 colleges walked through were all that different. We didn’t go into any rooms – or even any of the buildings – because of the supposed differences.

~UCSD 10

Engineering building

The most significant difference is the general education requirements. This gives students some control over how and what they study.

~UCSD mascot


Housing is guaranteed for 2 years for freshmen and 1 year for transfers. There are singles, doubles, and triples in most colleges. Finding off-campus housing is relatively easy with websites such as a Facebook page to help find potential roommates, apartment-shares, etc. Shuttles to popular off-campus housing areas run about every 15 minutes, and students can use public transportation on the weekends with student ID. The campus loop shuttles run about every 20 minutes.

~UCSD Residential areaAdmissions is competitive; approximately 1/3 of the 78,000+ applicants are admitted. They look at only 10th and 11th grade weighted GPA; if a high school doesn’t weight, UCSD will weight it with a cap of 8 AP or honors classes given the boost. Testing must be completed by December. This was one of the first schools I’ve heard that talked up summer programs while discussing activities. Scholarships are few and far between (only about 200).

~UCSD 6The student body is about 81% in-state. There are no quotas; the rep said that admissions generally reflected the application pool. The UC application – and test scores (“Don’t waste your money by sending them to more than one,” said the rep) – can be viewed by all UC schools to which the student applies, but be aware of any supplements required by some campuses – and yes, the $70 fee must be paid for each application!

Students are admitted to the university, not to a major. Currently, engineering is the only impacted major. Students may get accepted to UCSD but cut from engineering. “If you want engineering, aim for higher than the averages.” Switching majors is easy to do except into engineering: “Don’t make it your first choice plan,” said the rep.

~UCSD grafiti art park

Graffiti Art Park

Introductory classes can have up to 400 students. The tour guide put a positive spin on it: “It gives you something to say later in classes of 5. Otherwise, those small classes would be too intimidating.” Her largest classes did hit the 400 mark with discussion sections of 25 and labs of 40-50. Her smallest class has been 5, “but I’m in a pretty small major.” TAs rarely teach classes except in the summer, but they will have TAs for discussion sections, labs, etc. The tour guide said that the exception of this would be when “they’re the most qualified, like the woman teaching the forensic science class who had worked in the LA coroner’s office.”

There’s a Pass system for registering for classes: students are ranked according to their earned credits. Students can then register for 2 classes per “pass” – everyone can register for 2 before the first group gets their 2nd Pass and can register for 2 more.

Students who are struggling can buy lecture notes for about $30 a semester. The notes are taken by student who has already earned a B+ or better in class, and are then looked over by the professor. The guide also really pushed office hours. Professors are only required to have 1 hour a week of office hours; having attended a college where professors had 4 or 5 hours a week, this seemed light.

Some of their more unique majors include: Urban Studies and Planning, Nanotechnology and NanoEngineering, Math – Scientific Computation, Bioinformatics, Pharmaceutical Chemistry, and Literatures of the World.

I didn’t get a good sense of social life on campus other than getting the normal run-down of clubs and that each college holds social events. Greek life apparently isn’t huge, but the tour guide wasn’t able to answer questions other than to say that the Social Greeks are not as big as the Academic Greeks.

(c) 2015

Trinity College

Trinity College (visited 3/20/2014)

~Trinity quad 1I was impressed with the friendliness of students at Trinity and their willingness to chat with us. The students we spoke with and saw around campus were happy with the school. Trinity’s attractive campus is about the size you’d expect for a New England campus with 2,300 undergrads (10% of whom are from abroad). Much of the campus is clustered around an extensive quad.

A senior from Anchorage (an English/Econ double major, Urban Planning minor) led our info session. She provided a lot of information, but little that was new or that couldn’t be found on the website. However, I appreciated that there was the attempt to illustrate what made them distinct from similar institutions. The three points she highlighted were:~Trinity main bldg

  • Personal attention and relationships with faculty.
  • Academic flexibility. There’s no core curriculum (which seems to contradict to the requirement that they take 5 distribution classes, 1 each in math, natural sciences, humanities, fine arts, social sciences). Students typically declare their major in the sophomore year and can design their own major if they choose. Students take about 9 classes a year and need 36 to graduate. About a third of these are in the major.
  • Their location in the capital city of Hartford. They’re minutes away from internships, cultural excursions, and fun stuff on the weekend.

~Trinity quadFreshman retention is high, thanks in part to programs geared towards helping students transition to college. First, they offer Quest, an optional pre-orientation 4- or 10-day backpacking trip on the Appalachian Trail in groups of 6-10 freshmen and 2 upperclassmen. Second, the First Year Program allows students to pick from about 50 First Year Seminars (they list their top 5 choices). These are interdisciplinary, include an upperclassman mentor, and often reflect teacher’s interests beyond what they would normally teach. For example, one of the most popular is “History of Mafia in America,” taught by an Italian professor.

Trinity bldg and chapelClasses and programs are often interdisciplinary and take advantage of learning out of the classroom. Trinity now offers Urban Studies, Guided Studies, a Comprehensive Neuroscience program developed into a 5-year Masters, a Human Rights major, and a fully accredited engineering program. New minors include legal studies and marine studies. Students interested in science can shadow professors in a lab by second semester of freshman year. Inter-Arts includes theater and dance, creative writing, studio arts, etc. Students complete a creative colloquium in the second semester.

Students have multiple opportunities to study somewhere other than Trinity’s campus including Study Away programs in the US such as the Theater and Dance program in Manhattan or the Maritime and Conservation Sciences (Seamester). Their Study Abroad is in the country’s top 10 because of the ease of transferring credits and the financial aid that follows the student. They offer three “layers” of study abroad:

  • First: Trinity in Rome. Students live in a school-owned Monastery; the nuns cook dinner. Trinity faculty members teach the classes.
  • Second: affiliated sites. They have close relationship with sites such as Trinidad, Paris, Shanghai, and more; often they have staff to help with transition.
  • Third: students can enroll in one of over 90 pre-approved programs. Previous Trinity students have gone there; the program is up to the school’s standards.

The average class size is 18, “which is inflated because of intro classes of 30-35,” said our tour guide, a music and dance double major from Bethlehem, PA. “I would consider 40 to be huge. My largest class was an econ class of about 30.” Since sophomore year, none of her classes have been bigger than 10.

Trinity housingAll first-year students live together. Although housing isn’t guaranteed after first year, 90% of students live on campus. Most students also stick around on weekends. “It’s definitely not a suitcase school,” our tour guide said. She lives in a townhouse with 8 single bedrooms. There are Cultural Houses (one example is the Tree House, a sustainable living option). The Mill, an Arts Collective, has a theater, art gallery, and recording studio. There are Greek houses (18% of students are affiliated with a Greek organization but not all of them live in Greek housing); Greek events are open to everyone and often involve free food.

~Trinity chapel interiorAlthough there is a Chapel on campus (which had been under the auspices of the Episcopalian Diocese), the college no longer has a religious affiliation. There’s a strong presence of many religions as well as religious leaders on campus (Catholic masses, an active Hillel house, etc). The Chapel is used for several traditions and group meetings on campus. For example, new students all sign the Matriculation Book in the chapel. They also have a tradition involving a Lemon Squeezer. The President makes lemonade and they all drink together. The class deemed “most worthy” gets a lemon squeezer which has been stolen by people who think they’re more worthy.

Located right in the city of Hartford, students have access to amazing internships, especially in the fields of medicine and politics. Students teach, tutor, and coach across the street in the “Learning Corridor” (a Montessori, magnet middle and high schools) or at the Boys & Girls club. There are plenty of good restaurants, an art museum with free student nights, and more. The SGA funds a shuttle during evenings and weekends, and students can get dropped off downtown or at the mall. For longer trips or if they need to go somewhere when the shuttles aren’t running, they can rent zipcars. The campus boasts the first student-run, non-profit movie theater in the country, showing 1-2 movies a day ranging from Blockbusters to Indies, Documentaries to Festivals.

The university gets about 7000 applicants for 450 spots. They want people who challenge themselves but who “aren’t drowning in APs.” They’re committed to meeting 100% of demonstrated need. Most students graduate with less than $19,000 in loans. Merit based scholarships are granted based on the admissions application.

© 2014

Post Navigation