Director of college counseling Jane Bauman attended the Pacific Northwest Five College Tour from March 4-8. She visited University of Puget Sound, Whitman College, Reed College, Willamette University and Lewis and Clark College with a group of 30 other college counselors from across the country. This is the second installment of a two-part series.
Q: Did the college counselors get a choice of what they wanted to do at each college?
A: Sometimes the college would give us three options: to go on a special tour, to go to a lecture or to go to a special presentation. We had that at both Whitman and at Reed.
At Reed College one of the options was to see the nuclear reactor. Reed has the only student-run nuclear reactor in the United States. I didn’t choose that option and instead chose to go to the humanities lecture.
Reed is known for being different, (being) more progressive, (being) highly intellectual and having lots of interesting curricular options. However, this was the final year of the Humanities 110 course. It’s a one-year-long course that every student takes. It’s the kind of class that I think is terrific in a small liberal arts college.
But the class is heavily Western Civilization. While I think Western Civilization is a fantastic class, I don’t think it should be the class that everyone is required to take. And, in fact, they are changing the course next year.
Q: Did you enjoy the class?
A: I happened to attend the class that was perfect for me. It was a classics professor talking about the work of Cicero and what Cicero wrote in 44 B.C., which is when Julius Caesar was assassinated.
I had coincidentally popped into the classics lecture that related most closely to teaching “Julius Caesar.” And for me, it was fascinating. It was so interesting to be in the lecture hall and see the students in a more natural setting.
There were relatively few students taking notes on computers, and because of the kind of lecture, there were even some people not taking notes. There was also a fair number of people goofing off, of course.
It was unusual for such a small college like Reed to have this one class, as the entire freshman class of 400 was in it. But the students all broke off into smaller sections with their specific professor after the lecture.
Q: What was your overall impression of Reed College?
A: If I had known about Reed when I was applying to colleges, I might have gone there. That was the school, through my own lens, that was the most appealing.
I learned from one of the students on the student panel that they had integrated majors. That student was majoring in both history and French, which was probably more useful than just majoring in French.
The whole intellectual vitality of the school attracted me.
Q: Did any other schools that you visited have integrated majors?
A: The University of Puget Sound also has a few integrative majors. They have a Bioethics Program, which includes a lab in the hospital where students work on real-life ethical decisions.
They also have an Environmental Policy and Decision-Making Program (EPDM), a Science, Technology and Society (STS) program and a Business Leadership program, which is unusual for a small liberal arts college.
Q: Other than Reed, what other college stood out?
A: Lewis and Clark for sure. I had never been there before, and I knew that whenever students applied to Lewis and Clark, they never went there. Students believe it is too much like Country Day.
But I just fell in love with it. It is spectacularly beautiful. The admissions officer said the school’s crossover school is UC Santa Cruz. And as a (former) Santa Cruz student, I could totally see that.
Lewis and Clark is up in the woods and it rains there. But there is also art and sculpture everywhere. So first you are walking through beautiful nature, but then you come across beautiful art.
It’s true that in some ways it is like Country Day because you have this one-on-one environment with professors. Our students thrive on that at Country Day, and they thrive on that at Lewis and Clark too.
The curriculum is not unusual either. It’s a pretty standard liberal arts and sciences curriculum with general distribution requirements. They have some fascinating opportunities.
All of these small colleges have fascinating opportunities if you look for them.
Q: Was there anything about these five that made them different from other colleges?
A: Four of the colleges on this tour are in the book “Colleges that Change Lives.” The only one that isn’t is Lewis and Clark, but it might as well be. I don’t know why it isn’t.
What I liked about Lewis and Clark is that it is very accessible. You are isolated in a way, but it is very easy to get to downtown Portland. It is very easy to get to the airport to get home as well.
Q: Was there anything about any of these schools that really surprised you?
A: One thing I did not know or did not realize is that Sacramento is really diverse. So when you are transplanted into another city you will definitely notice the difference.
When I was in Portland, I noticed it was not a very diverse city. Liberal arts colleges are working very hard to attract a diverse student body, but it’s difficult. Lewis and Clark was not particularly diverse, and none of the other schools were either.
Q: Are any of these schools working to remedy their lack of diversity?
A: Lewis and Clark is taking it in an interesting direction. They are bringing in third-culture kids. I had never heard that term before, but a third-culture kid is a kid that was born in one country but then was uprooted and moved to another country or culture.
It is not someone whose parents are of different cultures. On the student panel at Lewis and Clark, we had a student from Dubai, a student from Malaysia and a student from Houston, who was born in another country.
I think that is a really interesting way to meet the challenge of diversity.
Q: Was there anything negative about these schools that you learned on your trip?
A: I don’t want to badmouth any particular school because, of course, every student’s experience is going to be different.
But Willamette is facing a serious challenge because they have had under-enrollment for the past three years. The fact that there is a demographic dip in 18-year-olds, especially in college-age students and particularly in boys, can be an advantage for students who want to apply to a small liberal arts college.
However, there is a flip side to that point. And that’s that if a college has been under-enrolled, they could have budgetary issues. Willamette did seem to have those issues.
But I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend the school to the right person. Willamette is across the street from the state capitol, so if you are at Willamette, you have the opportunity to intern for a state senator, state representative, a lobbyist or a governmental agency. Everything is right there, right across the street.
Q: Were there any other issues that you discovered?
A: At Whitman College, which is in Walla Walla, Washington, way out in the middle of nowhere, I discovered there is tension between what we call in the profession, town and gown.
What this means at Whitman is that the university tends to be a little bit more liberal-leaning and the town is conservative. There are two reasons for this.
First, the town is filled with farmers. The main crops in Walla Walla are wheat, wine and onions. They’ll be sending me a box of onions this summer.
And second, there is a Seventh-Day Adventist university there named Walla Walla University. There are just things that make the whole area more conservative than the university community, so there is some tension.
Q: Was there any one feature that was common across all five schools?
A: One of the things you pick up on on these trips is trends. One of the trends I did see is that students’ voices are being heard. We aren’t having riots and protests, but student activism is leading to positive changes.
That’s how the one girl at Lewis and Clark answered the question about the race-based crime. She told us that the students stood up and were active, leading to change.
At Reed College that Humanities 110 class is being changed because of student input.
And at Whitman the students were successful in getting the mascot changed. It used to be the Fighting Missionaries, and they got that changed to the Blues.
Q: How are you going to bring what you learned from this trip back to your students at Country Day?
A: First of all, it’s really hard to remember all the specifics of the schools, so I take lots and lots of notes.
Also, when I see colleges on these types of trips, I immediately start thinking this school would be great for so-and-so.
Q: What was your biggest takeaway from this trip?
A: There is a lot of value in the small liberal arts and science colleges. You are not going to be forgotten at a small liberal arts college. You will have such close affiliations with your teachers, and they will look out for you. If you ever need help, you can get help. There are also many more research opportunities at a small liberal arts college.
I really love to hear those success stories where a student, maybe even a highly achieving student, decides to go to a small liberal arts college and thrives.
—By Jack Christian