If it weren’t directly on the path between Chicago and Madison, we might have missed Beloit College, and that would have been a shame. Truth is, we hadn’t planned to visit because it is a small school that hadn’t registered much on the radar of our students. That will change now. No college is for everyone, of course, but Beloit should at least make the considered-set of a larger number of students.
Beloit profiles as small and quiet, with only about 1,200 undergraduates. On a late Monday afternoon it was hard to find anyone at all; even the campus coffee shop had already closed by five o’clock. We were told most students were back in their residential halls for the day. At a glance, the campus appeared quiescent. A closer look, however, revealed something more bubbling beneath the surface.
Beloit’s serenity is embodied in the beauty of its park-like setting, which despite recent additions like the show-stopping LEED-certified Sanger Science Center, lays claim to a 19th-century vibe that reverberates with its little-known ivy-league pedigree. Beloit was founded in 1847 by a group of Yale alums who thought the Wisconsin territory deserved its own place of higher learning. That same seriousness of purpose defines Beloit to this day.
Because we were just dropping by unannounced, we didn’t hit an info session or tag along on a student-led tour, but did enjoy an extended sit-down with an enthusiastic admissions counselor who told us everything we didn’t already know about this well-respected but not exactly high-profile school. By the time she finished, we were sold on it as a potentially perfect place for those who may not know what they want, but know it when they see it.
The mystery is why this Yale-descended gem, co-ed since 1895, is not thought of alongside other small-but-mighty schools, many of which are located in equally, if not more, obscure locations. If nothing else, none of those other ivy-style institutions is home to a series of 20 honest-to-goodness Native-American archeological sites right on campus. Known as “animal mounds,” each honors a particular creature and dates back as far as 400 AD. One mound is shaped like a turtle, and figures into the school’s coat of arms. Building on this spirit, Beloit is a top school for PhDs in anthropology. It also overperforms as one of the top 20 undergraduate schools whose alum go on to earn PhDs.
Beloit’s other surprises include its large percentage of international students, who somehow find their way from other parts unknown to this tiny college in Wisconsin. Global truly is local at Beloit, and an indelible thread of its academic fabric. As it happens, internationalism has been integral to Beloit’s mission from its inception and not surprisingly finds further expression in healthy participation in study abroad, which attracts 46% of students, more than most other schools.
The campus also is home to two public museums: the Logan is appropriately anthropological and the other, the Wright, is for art. Both not only house impressive collections but also double as classrooms. What some other schools now like to call “experiential” learning, is nothing new at Beloit; learning by doing has been in vogue here since the 1960s. Artifacts might be used as inspiration for creative writing classes, for instance, or re-curated to bring any number of subjects to life. Student creations may also be on display in the art museum, also perhaps themed along topical interests.
So much of Beloit’s being is steeped in history, which tends to mark it as one of those stark raving liberal-arts schools. This is amply refuted not only by the aforementioned science center, but also its center for entrepreneurship, known as CELEB, where students run their own businesses, from apparel to apps. Business is taught as an art, and arts as a business at Beloit, with the goal to help students to find a path in the real world within the context of their studies.
Beloit is known to foster a particularly close relationships between students and professors, one of whom is an enterprising sort known to walk his dogs around campus to invite conversations. He happens to be a business professor who hands out his card in hopes of recruiting new students as he goes. Yet another surprise is the school’s half dozen or so academic residencies, which bring luminaries from a spectrum of disciplines to campus each year.
Possibly the biggest surprise is yet to come later this year, when Beloit opens a 120K square-foot student union, recreation and physical conditioning facility in a former electric-power generating station just across the Rock River, which runs along the main campus. Dubbed “the Powerhouse,” it will also feature a lecture hall, theater, conference center, seminar rooms and work tables. It is envisioned as “a home for mental, physical, and social wellness on campus,” and billed as the first of its kind anywhere. It looks to be amazing.
Keep an eye on this turtle, Beloit. It moves faster than it looks.