Freshman Friends: A Key To Coping in College

Quartz: “A 2008 poll conducted by the Associated Press and mtvU found that 40% of college students said they felt stress regularly—and almost one in five seriously considered dropping out of school. With those high stress levels in mind, the researchers, including Stanford economics professor Matthew Jackson and former Stanford doctoral candidate Desmond Ong, put nearly 200 Stanford freshmen—who had recently moved into first-year dorms—through a battery of personality tests and questionnaires.”

“Their goal was to determine which students occupied central roles in these different networks—notably groups based on trust, fun, and excitement. The researchers found that individuals were more particular about whom they included in their trust networks compared to groups related to fun and excitement. In those selective trust networks, freshmen were more likely to include highly empathic students. In contrast, when students wanted to feel positive and have fun, they were more likely to seek out dorm mates high in happiness.”

“Just as you need the right outfit for a particular occasion, college freshmen need certain friends for certain situations. When you need a dose of fun, engaging with a positive and happy friend can lift your mood. But that friend may not be the best person to go to when you need someone to confide in. An empathic friend, on the other hand, may be just the right person for helping you through difficult and challenging times.”

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Harvey Mudd: STEM ‘Boot Camp’

Business Insider: “Located in Claremont, California is an 829-person liberal arts college that might go unnoticed to the uninitiated. It’s not a member of the Ivy League, nor does it have the celebrity of Stanford University, its neighbor to the north. In fact, if you’re not familiar with the Claremont Consortium, you’ve probably never heard of the school. Harvey Mudd College is a STEM powerhouse. It routinely shows up on lists that rank the best value colleges and, based on median salary, its graduates out-earn those from Harvard and Stanford about 10 years into their careers.”

“Mudd embraces its academic rigor and describes its core curriculum as a ‘boot camp in the STEM disciplines — math, physics, chemistry, biology, computer science, and engineering — as well as classes in writing and critical inquiry’ that it says ‘gives students a broad scientific foundation and the skills to think and to solve problems across disciplines’.”

“Every entering student must take a computer science class, a rare requirement for a liberal arts college. But Mudders must also graduate with a strong liberal-arts background, taking just as many courses in the humanities as they must in core introductory courses in the sciences.”

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Cornell Tech: Campus of the Future?

The Wall Street Journal: “Conceived by the Bloomberg administration, Cornell Tech was envisioned as a $2 billion, 12-acre campus devoted to the marriage of academia and business in the hopes of engendering a new class of tech-savvy biz kids. Phase One was officially completed on Sept. 13, with the first three buildings (costing $700 million) up and running for some 300 students and (to date) three corporate giants—Citigroup, Two Sigma Investments and Ferrero, an Italian chocolate company.”

“The new campus buildings and their land-sculpted surrounds set a new bar for architecture. Priorities have been upended. While expensive new campus structures usually make bold visual statements, at Cornell Tech sustainability and landscape, not ambitious form making, lead the way.” For example: “At four stories and 160,000 square feet, the Bloomberg Center—designed by Thom Mayne of Morphosis—is wrapped in an animating metal screen scalloped in soup-lid-size scales that turn a golden or lagoon-ish green hue depending on how they catch the light. It helps to cool and minimize waste at a building that aims to achieve the new holy grail of energy usage: net-zero.”

“Beneath the prow are a cluster of built-in outdoor seats and tables. A path sweeps past the other two buildings—a dorm and office-cum-incubator—into an open plaza and lawn with a seemingly endless array of seating arrangements and table options. The buzz potential is palpable … Beneath the lawn and plaza, there’s a rain-harvesting tank and 80 geothermal wells. Gardens perform bio-filtration services; pavers absorb overflow … When the campus is completed by 2043, there will be 2,000 students and 10 buildings. Cornell Tech puts the island at the heart of where ideas in business and architecture are headed.”

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Toward a Car-Free Campus

The New York Times: “More universities are beginning to consider where transportation is headed as they wrestle with parking woes, often one of the thorniest issues on campus. Over the last 20 years, many campuses have shifted their emphasis to manage the demand, rather than build more garages, out of a desire to reduce their carbon footprint, put valuable land to higher uses and avoid construction costs that can run $20,000 to $30,000 a space … Increasingly, campuses are … charging more for the most convenient spaces, running shuttles, subsidizing public transit passes, and adding bike and car-sharing services.”

“Some universities are building mixed-use garages, which can be a more efficient use of land and help ensure maximal use of spaces. Northwestern University, in Evanston, Ill., has built two mixed-use garages in recent years, as part of a plan to move parking to the periphery of campus and free up more interior land for green space. A 1,125-space garage at the north end of campus houses an entrepreneurship incubator known as the Garage, as well as a speech and hearing clinic open to the community.”

Alan K. Cubbage, Northwestern’s vice president for university relations, comments: “We believe that it doesn’t really make sense to have space that is just for cars. You want to use the space in a thoughtful way.”

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Food For Thought: Campus Cuisine Updated

The Wall Street Journal: “College students across the U.S. are making some precise demands of school chefs and dining halls. For a generation animated by a desire to make a difference and raised to believe personal wellness is paramount, a meaningful academic experience begins with minding what you eat.”

“That’s inspired the University of Houston to spend $6,500 to build two hydroponic grow towers, vertical gardens that use nutrient-rich waters to cultivate cilantro and oregano indoors, without soil. The University of California, Los Angeles has installed aeroponic grow towers that grow plants with just mist. Thyme, butter lettuce and microgreens are flourishing in the breeze on the roof of UCLA’s Bruin Plate dining hall.”

“When Virginia Tech students demanded more free-trade coffee in 2008, dining-services head Ted Faulkner booked a trip to Nicaragua, where he helped pick beans at an organic, bird-friendly coffee estate that now supplies the school. A churrascaria, a gelateria and a sushi bar are among Virginia Tech’s other campus dining options.”

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St. John’s College: ‘Old School’ is New Again

Quartz: “Consider St. John’s College, America’s third-oldest institution of higher education, founded in 1696. With fewer than 700 students between two campuses in Annapolis and Santa Fe, St. John’s is a bit under the radar. But it’s emerged as one of the most distinctive colleges in the country by maintaining a strict focus on the classics of the Western canon … a big part of that distinction is due to a strict adherence to its own curated curriculum and teaching methods, know simply as “the Program” implemented back in 1937.”

“Four years of literature, language, philosophy, political science and economy, and math. Three years of laboratory science, and two of music. That’s it. No contemporary social studies. No accounting. No computer classes. No distinct majors or minors … Another unique feature of St. John’s is a resistance to placing texts in a political, social or historic context for discussion. Context is viewed as ideology, something that St. John’s believes distorts true education and the ability to form one’s own opinion. This is crucial to the school’s philosophy; by freeing texts from context, St. John’s claims it frees students’ minds to ponder the multiple possibilities and meanings that are actually in the text.”

“Clearly St. John’s is not for everyone. First, you need to be a voracious reader to cover the Program texts at a brisk pace. You also need the capacity for and love of writing because St. John’s requires a lot of it. It helps to feel comfortable speaking in public, since so much of St. John’s learning occurs out loud around a table with your classmates and tutors … In recent years, Forbes ranked the Santa Fe campus as the “Most Rigorous” in the US (with Annapolis ranked eighth, odd given the same Program), way ahead of the big Ivies like Harvard (17th), Princeton (20th), Yale (23rd), and Stanford (25th). The school’s tutors are often cited as among the best teachers in the country.”

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‘Menus of Change’ Transform Campus Cafeterias

Business Insider: “An unlikely group of scientists, chefs, and academics is banding together to transform the eating habits of college students. Known as the Menus of Change University Research Collaborative, cofounded last year by Stanford University and the Culinary Institute of America, the alliance aims to ditch the unhealthy, unsustainable foods commonly served in dining halls in favor of tasty, more plant-based offerings.”

“So far, more than 40 colleges and universities across the country, including Harvard, Kansas State, University of Southern California, and University of Montana, have signed up for the mission. By the end of this summer, they have pledged to reduce their purchases of red meat by 10%, increase fruits and vegetables by 10%, and serve 10% more plant-based protein dishes. In addition, these schools are actively utilizing their kitchens and dining halls as living laboratories, experimenting with recipes and other strategies to get students to make better, more sustainable choices.”

“Northeastern, which feeds 20,000 people a day … is already consuming 25% more produce, twice the whole grains, 30% less sodium, and 10% less soda. The Boston-based university is also tackling food waste. Starting this fall, dining halls will no longer feature trays … At Rutgers University, chefs are tackling vegetarian options and processed foods. The school recently stopped outsourcing its chicken fingers, turkey, and roast beef, preferring instead to make these items fresh in its own kitchens. Processed vegan nuggets, for instance, have been replaced with tastier cauliflower nuggets in sauce. Bread is also baked on site instead of purchased in bags from outside vendors.”

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Hillsdale: A College for Conservatives

The New York Times: “Hillsdale, a private college of 1,400 students in southern Michigan that describes itself as ‘nonsectarian Christian’ and dedicated to ‘civil and religious liberty,’ is scarcely known in many circles. But among erudite conservatives — think progeny of William F. Buckley Jr. — it is considered a hidden gem.”

“What they admire is the college’s concentration on the Western philosophical and literary canon (sometimes disparaged as the Great Books of dead white men) and its reverent treatment of the American founding documents as the political culmination of that tradition — a tradition that scholars at Hillsdale say has been desecrated by a century of governmental overreach.”

“Hillsdale attracts students from across the country … and they don’t wind up there by accident. Many said their parents received Hillsdale’s newsletter, Imprimis, featuring speeches by conservative thinkers … They were also attracted by the moderate cost. Hillsdale is well financed with private donations, and college officials said that 95 percent of students this year received grants averaging $17,206, to offset the $35,722 for tuition, room and board.”

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Keys to a Good College Experience

Quartz: “Analyzing data from a study of more than two dozen institutions, sociologists Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa conclude that many students ‘enter college with attitudes, norms, values, and behaviors that are often at odds with academic commitment.’ And many universities reinforce these beliefs by building lavish amenities and marketing themselves as something akin to a resort with a curriculum.”

“Real learning—that is, learning that makes a significant and lasting change in what a person knows or can do—emerges from what the student, not the professor, does … Instead, meaningful learning emerges from a proactive conception of knowledge, where the student’s goal is to experiment with new and unexpected ways of using what he or she is learning in different settings. This requires students to see themselves as the central actors in the drama of learning.”

“The relationships students form in college also have a profound influence on their experiences, shaping not only who they spend time with but how they will spend their time … scholars have found that students who interact frequently with peers who are different in significant ways (racially, ethnically, religiously, socioeconomically, and so on) show more intellectual and social growth in college than those who don’t … Decades of research have demonstrated that students who study together learn more, and more deeply.”

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Campus Tours As ‘Working Vacations’

The New York Times: “Fall is largely celebrated as college football season, but for high school upperclassmen and their families, it’s also college touring season … Here are a few ways to make your college research a vacation, too … given the expense, it is useful to look at the trips, at least in part, as vacations.”

“Some start with spring break trips. High season for college visits follows, during summer vacation. But campuses then are relatively empty … an argument for visits between September and May … Most visits begin with a 60- to 90-minute information session led by an admissions officer. It is invariably chock-full of facts, figures and tips, requiring full concentration. Following that is the relatively breezy campus tour, usually led by a current student adept at walking backward while pointing out the library, cafeterias, dorms and some version of the campus icon that gets painted as a student prank.”

“Campuses are often the cultural focus of college towns, with worthwhile attractions including the music conservatory at Oberlin College in Ohio and the art and natural history museums at Yale. St. Olaf College in Minnesota and Davidson College in North Carolina are among the many that have hiking trails … As with any family trip, it’s not where you go, but whom you’re with. College trips offer concentrated time with your child, when available time is increasingly rare.”

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