February 8, 2008

Notes on a college visit, day 2

My teenaged daughter and I visited a College of Potential Choice yesterday, and it was fascinating watching the process from another angle (as parent, not faculty member and not student). There were four families at the basic orientation, two from the college's region and two from outside the region. One of the families left a few minutes before the campus tour, and I think my daughter was the only one who visited a class in the afternoon. The basic orientation was by an admissions officer who had just graduated, and the tour by a senior. I kept having thoroughly faculty-ish thoughts, while trying to stay at least a little in the background.

  • With this student-centered description of the academic program, what does that require of faculty? (a few calculations in the head) So that's the likely tradeoff here...
  • Yes, that's a very parent-like question,... and there's the grand-slam response. And that's the inevitable follow-up... with the solo home run. The other parents are sold, or at least they've decided not to call the bullpen.
  • The tone of her answer to my question was in the style of, "Oh, I forgot to say that. Thanks for asking!" The admissions officer's casual style hides a lot of preparation/rehearsal.That next question stumped her, not that I was trying to, in part because it was a request for personal perspective on how she answered the first question. She regularly talks about some parts of her academic experience, but not about this. Maybe it's not as central as she suggests, or maybe prospectives or their parents don't regularly ask.
  • Ah, so the senior is not a math or science person, but we're headed to the part of campus with labs because of the weather and because it's a great show-and-tell.
  • With that poster, they must have a large plotter somewhere in the building.
  • With that description of the equipment and with the flyer on the lab door to my left indicating the multi-hundred-thousand-dollar grant, my guess is this place has its share of NSF REU  (research experience for undergraduates) awards. The student tour guide is probably not aware that REU grants would be more impressive than access to the equipment she described. My daughter or I can probably search on the NSF website to check, if it seems important.
  • And as we pass through this exit door, here's a campus police department flyer on a recent sexual assault (both an alert and a request for assistance). Later in the tour, another parent asked about campus security, and the student describes the regular security walk-throughs at night on each floor of each dorm. I don't remember if the incident reported on the alert happened on campus or near campus; not everyone lives where security walks through the dorms.
  • My gosh, this studio is cold! I know you have to alert parents that a college might have drawings of nudes in a drawing class, but that's not the question I have. Why is every drawing studio in a temperate climate under-heated: do they want the students to learn how to draw goose-pimples, or is freezing student models the secret plan to fight weight gain?
  • This lecture room is definitely built for a wired generation. I suspect I'd like it as a faculty member; much more theater-in-the-round style than the rooms I usually get, and that fits with how I like to run class.
  • I suspect that equipment is available on a lot of campuses. But you don't have the comparative experience to know, and it's clear you love your college. That's probably more important to know.
  • That didn't surprise me, but it feels like an afterthought, as if you have the answer prepared for students who ask, but few ask. Most who come for campus tours probably expect the answer and don't even think about asking.
  • Ah... that answers the question I had when walking on campus. It makes sense, but it sure defines the character of the place in a unique way, far more than the "stop the war" posters I see in a handful of office windows.
  • Why are frosh all housed in concrete? I think that's universal, and I'm sure anthropologists would have a field day with it.
  • Well, I'm very surprised you didn't mention that without the question. It strikes me as something that would be a selling point. As a senior, you've probably been socialized so thoroughly into the culture that you forgot how the structure supports it.
  • No walk-through in the dining hall? Ah, the food may be better, but the environment isn't the restaurant-like atmosphere of some large-university dining halls. I'm surprised the tour doesn't show that off explicitly as a reflection of the college's values; you'd be surprised how many parents and students would be relieved.
  • Not even a quick peek into the bookstore? I wonder why.
  • Not a research library, but since so much is available electronically or via interlibrary loan, that's not too much of a handicap.
  • This computer center isn't very crowded. I bet today it's more popular for printing than for using computers... ah, and apparently that's true enough, according to the tour guide's experience. I wonder how many of those experiences were last-minute printouts right before class.
When my daughter was in a class visit, I went back to the dining hall, to sample the food, and as expected, it was better than in most college dining halls, if with ugly 70s-ish decor. (It's probably really early 90s-ish decor, but the point is that decor is less important than decent food, and that's a priority I appreciate.) I then headed to the bookstore to browse the shelves for classes. One of the faculty members wrote stuff that my colleagues or I have assigned over the years, and I found a class the faculty member is teaching this term; the books are pretty much what I expected, or in one case a book I want to read. (No, I didn't e-mail the faculty member in advance to meet. The college visit is for my daughter, not me.)

Browsing through the texts section of a bookstore is telling; what's the typical number of books a student would be expected to purchase per semester, and what proportion are textbooks, monographs, or classic books? While the reading load here is a bit lighter than places like Swarthmore or Wellesley, the books are still intellectually weighty: the majority are from the accessible end of monographs or interesting syntheses, not $200 textbooks. I'm quite surprised that the tour doesn't end right in the classes section of the bookstore, leaving parents and students to browse through a slice of the assigned readings. It's reasonably impressive, by itself.

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Posted in Higher education on February 8, 2008 7:32 AM |