Ohio colleges and universities are constantly striving for excellence, not only academically, but also in the social, leadership, citizenship and other important opportunities they offer their students. For the past six years, Ohio Magazine has dedicated these pages to honoring these standout schools, their faculty and students for their hard work and commitment to excellence. This year, we’re spotlighting schools that have made a splash with their innovative programs. From offering free tuition to developing dynamite dining services, exciting things are happening at our colleges and universities. And to these institutions, we say keep up the good work.
Outstanding Scholarship Initiative
University of Toledo
The trouble on Wall Street is weighing on everyone’s mind. But for many Ohio families, funding a four-year college degree seems impossible even in the best economies.
For that reason, we applaud the University of Toledo for its new “UT Guarantee” program. Designed to help students who are academically strong but have financial need, this innovative scholarship program — currently the only one like it in Ohio — lets public school students in six urban districts attend the university for free.
To be eligible, students must attend public school in Akron, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton or Toledo (UT’s Web site — www.toledo.edu
— has a list of high schools eligible for the program), have a minimum high school grade point average of 3.0, display eligibility for a Pell Grant and meet filing deadlines for the university and Federal Student Aid. The UT Guarantee program will cover tuition and general fees for all four years, provided students maintain a 3.0 GPA, complete 30 credit hours each school year and file a FAFSA annually.
“We decided to do this for several reasons,” explains Lawrence Burns, UT’s vice president of external affairs. “One, it fits in with a fairly new strategy led by [Chancellor Eric Fingerhut of the Ohio Board of Regents] to increase the number of Ohioans who attend and graduate from college,” he says. “Also, we’re an urban university, and we see ourselves wanting not only to reflect this community, but impact it.”
Burns says schools in Ohio’s largest metropolitan districts face challenges to convince students that college is a realistic goal. “It starts at a younger age than we thought,” he says.
According to Burns, the university recently held a Toledo-area focus group in underserved communities that concluded kids give up on the idea of college as early as fifth and sixth grade because they don’t think their family can afford it. “We want to erase the financial barrier,” he says.
Though the UT Guarantee is aimed at high school students, part of the program philosophy includes extending its outreach into elementary schools and junior highs as well. “We are in the process of developing ongoing partnerships that start early in the academic lives of the kids,” says Burns. He cites UT’s involvement in a new Cleveland public school program called “Cleveland Goes to College.” While details are still being finalized, Burns explains that UT will be adopted by a school, and representatives from UT will be on site, interacting with the kids and explaining things such as what a financial aid office and bursar are, as well as offering glimpses of some of the more fun aspects of college life.
“We might do something like turn their gym into Savage Hall (UT’s arena) and decorate the school with UT flags,” he says. “But we also want to send UT students who are from these schools and can show them the possibilities —that there’s no reason they cannot and should not go to college.”
Outstanding Environmental Effort
Since its 1833 beginnings, Oberlin College has built a reputation on its forward thinking and progressive policies. So it comes as no surprise that the high-achieving campus recently received an A- (the highest grade in Ohio, and one earned by just 15 schools nationwide) on the 2009 College Sustainability Report Card, an independent evaluation of campus sustainability activities at colleges and universities across the United States.
Here, it is more than an effort to “go green” — it is an entire movement among students and faculty members to reduce energy use. Evidence of the college’s commitment to this cause is everywhere, and accountability is high. Take, for example, Oberlin’s online Campus Resource Monitoring System, which tracks real-time electricity use of 18 dorms and houses. By logging on to the school’s Web site, students can view their day-to-day and even hour-to-hour consumption, giving them an ongoing reality check about their energy use.
Other green initiatives are the product of student ingenuity. The Student Experiment in Ecological Design — also known as the SEED house – was conceptualized by students to encourage its occupants to eat, sleep and breathe sustainability. Showers are timed and tracked, thermostats are never set above 60 degrees and composting is a way of life. Even more impressive — there’s no TV.
But perhaps the most celebrated of Oberlin’s green achievements is the Adam Joseph Lewis Center for Environmental Studies. Part classroom, part demonstration and testing ground for advances in ecological design, it is a key component of Oberlin’s Environmental Studies curriculum and provides tangible reinforcement of the lessons in technology and design taught in its classrooms. David Orr, professor and director of Oberlin’s Environmental Studies program, says the building has been an invaluable teaching tool. “We now know that such things are possible — that buildings can be designed to give more than they take,” he says. Features such as geothermal wells, triple pane windows and recycled steel beams share space with bigger systems such as the Living Machine, an ecologically engineered system that removes organic waste, nutrients and pathogens from wastewater. Water cleaned by the Living Machine is reused in the building’s toilets and landscape.
And while other campuses may have felt “green enough” long before their students were using dirty kitchen water to flush the toilet, Oberlin students and faculty show no signs of slowing down in their efforts to change the world. For that, we give them two (green) thumbs up.
Outstanding Dining Services
If like most of us your college cafeteria experience meant a steady diet of mystery meat and the whatchamacallit du jour, the cafeterias at Miami University are likely to create a serious case of food envy. Since 2005, the university’s Food Service program has received an impressive 23 awards in national dining competitions, with Miami winning more first-place awards (13) than any other university in North America.
“We like to stay on the cutting edge of providing what students want,” says Mike Mitroi, associate director of dining services. “Students can come in and interact with our chefs,” he says. That’s right, we said chefs. The department has certified chefs, sous chefs and a pastry chef stationed throughout its 10 campus dining locations, preparing gourmet selections that make us question whether Miami students could possibly know what it means to miss their mother’s cooking. The direct student-to-chef feedback, in addition to a monthly survey, is used by the department to gauge the likes and dislikes of its student customers. “It’s their input and interactions with the dining staff that help us see the trends,” says Mitroi.
Which explains the enormous variety of foods campus diners enjoy. “[Spice of Life] offers a global menu that includes stir-fry, tofu and Thai,” explains Mitroi. Vine Dining caters to vegetarian and vegan diners (food services took first place for the Best Vegan Recipe in 2004), and students with a palate for sushi will find a daily selection of rolls bound by both traditional nori (seaweed) and mamenori (soybean paper). New last fall, food services spotlighted local farmers and incorporated as much Ohio-grown seasonal produce into the menu as possible. “It was completely different for us,” says Paula Green, associate director for dining and culinary services. “It was so rewarding, it will certainly be repeated.”
Outstanding Innovative Coursework
College curriculums are subject to constant evolution, a necessary product of our fast-paced society and ever-changing technology. But on the campus of Hocking College in Nelsonville, slowing down to both celebrate and recreate the past is not only valued, it can earn you a college degree: The school offers a unique, two-year program in natural and historical interpretation. Ken Bowald, the program coordinator and a program professor, says the major partners traditional classes such as botany, zoology and dendrology (the study of trees and shrubs) with hands-on living history experiences to teach students the art of being nonformal educators in a variety of settings.
“Our students learn the skills to bring a human component and cultural perspective to a story and bring it to life,” says Bowald. “Unlike classroom teachers, interpreters don’t have a captive audience. The audience is there because they want something out of the experience.”
In the past, interpreters were usually history majors who took a summer job at a living history venue such as Colonial Williamsburg and fell in love, he says. But now, thanks to programs like Hocking’s, students are choosing this discipline from the beginning, and leaving college with the necessary skill set to take a piece of history and translate it into a memorable experience. Program grads are qualified to work not only as first-person interpreters, but also as guides at metroparks and preserves, museums, or any other natural or historical attraction. While some students choose to carry over their two-year degree to a four-year degree in fields such as environmental education, others transition directly into teaching roles at some of Ohio’s and the country’s most popular historical and natural sites.
As for job prospects, Bowald says there’s no shortage, adding that he keeps tabs on the whereabouts of Hocking grads via his blog www.interphocking.blogspot.com
. “There’s a high demand,” he says. “I bet I have 10 job offers for every student.”
Outstanding Empirical Data
The Ohio State University
For all you number crunchers out there, crunch on this*:
For the third consecutive year, The Ohio State University is the nation’s largest university, with autumn quarter enrollment figures showing 53,715 undergraduate, graduate and professional students.
This year’s first-year class contains 6,014 students recruited from slightly fewer than 22,000 applicants and, based on test score and class rankings, is the most academically impressive in the university’s history. The average ACT score for the class is 27.3; the average SAT score is 1225 and more than half were in the top 10 percent of their high school class, while more than 90 percent ranked in the top 25 percent of their class.
Ten years ago, the average ACT and SAT scores for incoming freshmen were 24.2 and 1132 respectively; 13 years ago, they were 22.8 and 1074.
The university credits its highest-ever main campus freshman retention rate — 92.8 percent from 2007 returned in 2008 — to the rise in students who are bettered prepared academically.
It looks like aspiring young Buckeyes are going to have to hit the books if they hope to attend OSU. At this rate, getting accepted could become tougher than getting season football tickets.