Monday, October 23, 2017

D.C. Universities for Poli Sci and IR wonks—George Washington and American

I just returned from several days spent in Washington, D.C. where I toured two campuses known for their programs in politics and international affairs.  Both schools offer attractive opportunities for students wishing to explore a variety of majors in the context of our nation’s political epicentre, but their atmospheres and advantages differ.  Here are my impressions:

My tour guide on a lovely, fall October morning was a junior International Relations major from my hometown of San Carlos.  Enthusiastic and informative, she showed a group of prospectives from all over the country around the bustling Foggy Bottom Campus, a stone’s throw from the State Department and the National Mall, where the ultimate Frisbee team holds its practices.  The George Washington University Hospital is located right at the Metro stop making it easily accessible for pre-meds who seek health volunteering opportunities. Our guide gushed about opportunities to hear lectures from famous politicians at the Elliott School of International Affairs, joining a sorority (one third of GW students are active in Greek life) and the perk of private bathrooms in all student housing.  She also enrolled in a financial literacy class at the business school where she completed a project teaching financial literacy to middle school students through helping them run a lemonade stand.  Next term our guide will study abroad in Spain—about 40% of GW students study abroad during their undergraduate career.
Some highlights of George Washington’s programs and statistics:
--Students enroll in a primary school at GW selecting from one of seven choices: the College of Arts and Sciences, the School of the Arts and Design, the School of Media and Public Affairs, the School of International Affairs, the School of Public Health, Engineering and Business.
--GW has a second campus called Mt. Vernon, about 2 ½ miles north of Foggy Bottom, a more traditional, quieter suburban environment where students can either live or take classes and the locus for some of GW’s signature programs like Women’s Leadership and University Honors.
--The Global Bachelor’s program offers students a chance to study abroad for up to three semesters to gain international experience and adapt to different cultures.  It starts spring semester sophomore year with a term at Fudan University in Shanghai.
--GW is a large school, about 10,000 undergraduates; its current admission rate is about 46%, and its price tag is pretty high, though it does offer significant merit aid for high performing students.  3 years of on campus housing are guaranteed.
I visited American University rather early on a Saturday morning so the contrast in atmosphere I felt with GW was perhaps exaggerated.  However, the campus is removed from the hustle-bustle of D. C., as it is located several Metro stops NW in the area called Tenleytown.  I walked through a leafy, upscale neighborhood passing a few diverse groups of students to approach the campus. There I strolled through a lovely, green quad surrounded by modern and traditional buildings and residence halls.  Like GW, American’s stellar programs include political science and international studies as well as communications.  Though not physically in the center of the capital, American nonetheless brings many big names on campus to speak and as visiting professors from politicians to pundits. 
Here are some features that distinguish American University from GW:
--American University has six schools for undergraduates: Arts and Sciences, Business, Communications, Education, International Service, and Public Affairs.It is easy to take classes in any of the schools or to switch majors from one school to another.  Students are not required to enroll in one school as at GW. Three-year bachelor's degree programs are available in international studies, public health, and politics, policy, and law.
--AU’s Washington Semester program is quite strong and students from campuses all over the U.S. participate.
--AU’s female/male ratio is about 35/65 percent.  Approximately 60% of students study abroad choosing from more than 150 programs and the vast majority of students participate in internships, many of course in the D.C. area.
--In recent years, AU has become more selective; its current admission rate is about 30%.  Thus it offers less merit aid than previously, but it has also increased its financial aid packages.

Overall, the main differences between GW and AU center around campus vibe.  Both schools offer fantastic education and experience for international relations, political science and media studies.   If you want to live and attend school in the center of action and you don’t seek the advantages of smaller classes and close faculty interaction, GW may fit the bill.  American University might appeal more to students who still seek access to political action but prefer to live and study on a more intimate and less frenetic campus.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Advice for college freshmen from college sophomores

Matriculating at a college or university is a big deal—both exciting and anxiety-producing.
This past week I reached out to my 2016 advisees asked them to respond with their “highs” and “lows” for their freshman year in college and to send any advice they might have for incoming freshman.  Here’s a summary of their replies:
·    Making new friends
·    Late night talks with fellow dorm mates
·    Enjoying stimulating classes
·    Forming close relationships with professors
·    Research and job opportunities

·      Coping with failure (not making it for auditions, club positions, etc.)
·      Feeling overwhelmed by the college course load
·      Not yet feeling “at home” socially
·      Tension with roommates
ü  Be sure to thank everyone who helped you get to college and everyone who helps you settle in.  Write thank yous for scholarships.
ü  Not all roommate situations can be perfect—or even good. Talk to your roommate as soon as friction occurs—don’t wait to see if the situation will improve on its own.
ü  Don't procrastinate. Every morning look over your schedule to plan your day effectively.
ü  Take time to learn about yourself. Forgive yourself for mistakes.
ü  Don’t be afraid to approach new people, even those who don’t look or act like you.
ü  Be aware of FOMO—“Fear of Missing Out”—you don’t have to attend every social event or club; choose a few to get involved in.
ü  Stay in touch with family and friends back home.
And here’s a link to a previous blog post on the transition to college from my own daughter who is now just about to begin her senior year at Tufts University:
Best wishes to all incoming college freshman for a great year ahead!

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Advantages of Public University Honors Programs and Colleges

Last week I attended a stimulating and impressive panel of honors presentations by students at a small liberal arts college.  These inter-disciplinary presentations included such fascinating topics as a feminist analysis of Beyonce’s Lemonade and an investigation into environmental human rights’ abuses in the Philippines.  The panel was attended by supportive faculty and faculty mentors, fellow students and even parents.
If only students at public universities had such access to faculty mentoring and intellectually nurturing environments. . . .
Well, they do.  Many large public universities also offer honors programs designed to bring a more liberal arts college approach and curriculum to high achieving students. 
Editor John Willingham of Inside Honors: Ratings and Reviews of Public University Honors Programs  has rated (rather than ranked) 60 honors programs and colleges around the U.S. to evaluate their benefits and overall quality.  His website, “Public University Honors,” which updated the list of programs also includes a page of questions and criteria to consider when choosing among different programs. 
Another site to visit when comparing honors programs is Peterson’s, which differentiates programs from colleges, the latter of which are often, but not always,  better established and more fully developed integrated programs.
In my experience and background as a faculty member and academic advisor, I believe some of the most important criteria to look for in an honors college or program are:
*priority registration
*small classes taught exclusively by faculty members
*inter-disciplinary course offerings and projects
*honors classes offered all four years in the curriculum, not just to freshmen and sophomores
*a required capstone thesis or project
In our California University system the University of California campuses offer Regents Scholarships and acceptance into honors as part of admissions—no separate essay or application is required.  As the universities have become more selective over the past few years, so have the honors programs.
One program particularly well rated by Willingham is at University of California, Irvine, which has what is called a “core” program as it emphasizes interdisciplinary seminars for the first two years followed by courses in 15 key academic disciplines.
Though not rated by Willingham, the Weber Honors College at San Diego State University is also well regarded.  In addition to offering a wide array of inter-disciplinary courses, it requires a study abroad experience for all participants.  Honors housing is another attractive perk.  Applicants for this program send in an additional application and essay along with the regular CSU application.
Several other states offer strong honors programs as a means of recruiting top students.  The Clark Honors College at the University of Oregon is noted for its undergraduate research and thesis program, its study abroad opportunities and the number of merit scholarships awarded.
As you assemble your final college list this summer, be sure to consider the benefit of honors programs and colleges, as an important criterion of your search.

University of Alabama—worth a look for cost conscious and pre-med students

Recently, I returned from a visit to Birmingham where I had the chance to tour the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa and to learn about recent enrollment and program trends at UAB, the University of Alabama in Birmingham.
While most west coast students shy away from southern institutions, these two schools deserve a second look.  Here’s why:
This is the state’s flagship school and has used it prowess as hosting the most successful college football in the nation to fund its academic programs and recruitment of a more academically prepared and diverse student body.
Our tour was led by a young undergraduate honors student from Maryland who took us on a bus route past many new academic and athletic buildings, a fitness center expanding to house an award-winning wheelchair athletes program, and new residence halls.  Our guide is an MIS or Management and Information Systems major and he spoke of the reduced class size, priority registration, honors seminars, and faculty mentoring available to him through the honors program. 
Other noteworthy academic programs we learned about include nursing, communications (the university actually houses and staffs a commercial radio station) and a five year STEM BS/MS degree. 

Naturally, the school boasts a strong school spirit not only for football fans, but also baseball,
soccer and even club sports. 

One of the university’s best lures for out of state students is the generous merit aid it offers along with the growing number of students attending from other states and regions, more than 50% of the undergraduate enrollment.

This university’s medical center and graduate programs are growing by leaps and bounds.  An urban campus, it also attracts an ethnically and socio-economically diverse student body overall.  Consequently, it is becoming more of a residential campus than it was previously.
California students who are interested in pursuing medical school should take a look at UAB with its close proximity to UAB hospitals and doctors. UAB also has an Early Medical School Admission Program guaranteeing entrance to the medical school after four years of undergraduate student.
Finally, as an out of state public university, its fees are quite reasonable and much lower than many peer institutions.

So if you’re interested in pre-med or searching for merit aid to reduce your college tuition, y’all might want to take a look. . .