Grand Valley State Honors Student: Small,Team-Taught Courses, and No TA’s

Editor’s Note:  Below is another contribution to our series of first-person accounts by public university honors students.  We welcome such submissions!  The author of this piece is a junior at Grand Valley State University.

By Katrina Maynes

I first visited Grand Valley State University on a snowy day in early December 2009 to attend a scholarship competition at the Frederik Meijer Honors College. Since then, I am certain that choosing to attend the Meijer Honors College was the best decision I could have made.

As a freshman, I enrolled in one of the Honors College’s trademark, team-taught, year-long foundational interdisciplinary sequences. My class studied East Asia, and the small, intimate setting facilitated class discussion and emphasized interactive approaches to learning. My sequence taught me to polish my research, communication, and writing skills, and it ultimately laid the foundation my future successes. I have since taken a course that was taught by a world-renowned counterintelligence expert, met CEO’s and the family members of American presidents, and discussed history in Chicago’s Chinatown alongside leading experts on East and Central Asia. In every class, students are treated as intelligent and important, and my peers and I are taught that our ideas can have an impact, from the very first day of class to the last day of our careers.

Due to these remarkable experiences, I am convinced that it is the quality and passion of the faculty and staff that makes the Meijer Honors College extraordinary; the professors encourage students to shoot for the stars, and each faculty member has rare, intuitive talent for teaching. Their enthusiasm is contagious, and the breadth of their research and course offerings means there is something for every student. Regardless of the course that a student selects, there are no TAs, only small class sizes and professors who take an active interest in ensuring that each student is successful.

Furthermore, my professors never make me feel inadequate or bothersome. Even though they are distinguished scholars, they are always approachable, passionate, and endlessly willing to help. I have been able to discuss my ideas, research, and goals with specialists at the top of their fields, enabling a new level of learning and scholarly interaction. The faculty constantly pushes the boundaries of their fields, and they truly encourage students to do the same.

In perspective, my experiences at the Frederik Meijer Honors College have not only molded me into a better student, but they have also made me a more determined, compassionate, and well-rounded person, teaching immeasurable lessons in and out of the classroom. Without doubt, the Honors College will continue to offer students the same positive experience, excitement, and enthusiasm that I have felt since that snowy day in December 2009.





Delaware Honors Student Learns from the ‘Dark Side’ of Justice System

Note: the following post is a reprint of an article entitled “Journey to the ‘Dark Side’,” on the Delaware Honors site called “186 South”:

This fall Ashley Lavery split her time between taking classes, working in the Honors office and continuing her internship with the Homicide Unit of the Defender Association of Philadelphia. Ashley has been titled a “Mitigation Assistant”, but she has also had the chance to work with clients on her own. What is a mitigator you ask?

“The role of a mitigator in homicide cases is to be a strong support for the client through the judicial process, reach out to their families (who are often struggling as much or more than the client), gather information on the client’s life, including their educational, medical, social, and psychiatric records, work with experts, and compile packages to submit to the District Attorney’s office. These packages provide mitigating factors to the case and are used to get the death penalty off the table for a client, or hopefully negotiate a deal with the DA to get a term of numbers for a client,” explains Ashley.

For her job, Ashley has interviewed clients in each of the Philadelphia county jails, attended hearings, trials, sentencing proceedings and “unfortunately watched some of my favorite clients (for whom I’ve developed a tremendous amount of respect, as crazy as it might sound to some) being sentenced spend the rest of their lives in prison”.

How did she land this kind of gig? “I found out about the Defender Association through my uncle, who happens to be an incredible homicide detective in Philadelphia. He jokes about handing me over to the “dark side” (the defense).”

Ashley can’t say enough about how excited this job makes her. She loves that each day offers a different agenda, full of new experiences and challenges. “I learn something new every day and everyone in the unit is fabulous; everyone brings something fresh to the table” she says.

“The most challenging part of my job has been learning to pace myself and take a step back at times. I’m a total workaholic, and my supervisor has had to constantly warn me about burning myself out”. And of course there is always the question of how hard is it to work with alleged criminals every day? “I think when people ask that question they expect an answer like “oh, I can’t relate to these people who have committed murder…” The truth is, I can’t relate to their offense, but I can listen to their stories and get to know them for who they are, not for what they (may) have done.”

So what’s next for Ashley? “I was lucky to land a permanent position in Homicide Unit, but now my role has changed a bit. In addition to putting together life histories, I’m now doing a lot of investigation and research for the cases. The amount of information that everyone puts on Facebook & Twitter these days is out of control, and can be a good source of what’s really going on [in the streets] and with the witnesses, victim’s family members, and other people involved. I’m also doing a lot of research, which is so much easier after going through the thesis process during my last semesters at UD. It’s really gratifying to put my education to work. I also have applications in for graduate school for criminal justice/criminology, and then I plan on going to law school. Undergrad at UD was great, but I’m definitely looking forward to the next chapter.”

Berkeley Chancellor to Lead National Effort on Behalf of Public Universities

Our thanks to Larry Gordon of the LA Times for the story reprinted below about a new national effort to preserve and strengthen the nation’s public universities, to be led by outgoing UC Chancellor Robert Birgeneau.

By way of preface, we note that on the state level similar organizations have been created to deal with the most damaging budgetary and philosophical attacks on public universities, including most of the leading flagship and land-grant institutions. Not only Texas, but Virginia, Florida, and Wisconsin have all faced or survived ill-advised attempts on the part of would-be reformers to use the recent financial crisis as a pretext for implementing a radical agenda that would diminish the excellence of outstanding public universities.

University leaders from UCLA, Michigan, UT Austin, and CUNY will assist Birgeneau, which is an initiative of the American Academy for Arts and Sciences.   Levi-Straus Chairman Emeritus Robert D. Haas is also on board (see below).

The article by Mr. Gordon is below.

By Larry Gordon, Los Angeles Times

January 28, 2013

After he retires as chancellor of UC Berkeley in June, Robert J. Birgeneau will head up a national effort to study and help public universities in an era of reduced tax support, new technology and changing student demographics.

Birgeneau, a physicist, is to lead the American Academy of Arts and Sciences’ new initiative that will propose ways for the federal government, private industry and foundations to better aid state institutions, along with developing reforms the schools could undertake. It is being called “The Lincoln Project: Excellence and Access in Public Higher Education” — named for President Lincoln, who in 1862 signed the Morrill Act granting federal lands for the establishment of public universities.

The announcement is scheduled to be made Monday at UC Berkeley at an academy symposium about higher education.

Birgeneau, who is 70 and has led UC Berkeley since 2004, said he wanted to help develop “workable plans that will help reverse the progressive disinvestment we have seen in public higher education across the country.”

He said that will not occur by just urging more state funding but will need a wider range of government and private supporters. “The long-term civic and economic welfare of the country depends heavily on a robust public higher education system,” Birgeneau said in an interview, adding that it is too soon to discuss specific goals or plans.

The position is a part-time, unpaid one for Birgeneau, who will begin a sabbatical from UC in June and return at a later date to teach and conduct research. He said he hopes to have the first Lincoln Project proposals ready in a year and that the effort probably will last three years. Previously, Birgeneau was president of the University of Toronto, Canada’s largest public university, and science dean at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The American Academy of Arts and Sciences is a policy research center and honorific scholarly organization headquartered in Cambridge, Mass. Its president, Leslie C. Berlowitz, described Birgeneau as “a dynamic and highly respected leader in higher education” and noted his efforts to broaden financial aid for middle-class families and for undocumented students.

Other advisors on the project include UCLA chancellor Gene Block; Mary Sue Coleman, president of the University of Michigan; Matthew Goldstein, chancellor of the City University of New York; William Powers Jr., president of the University of Texas at Austin; and Robert D. Haas, chairman emeritus of Levi Strauss & Co. and a noted donor to higher education.



Smart Money: Public Grads Get Best Pay Relative to Cost of Tuition, Fees

Smart Money Magazine, a publication of the Wall Street Journal, issues annual rankings of the universities whose grads earn salaries that are high relative to the cost of tuition and fees.  The top 17 schools on the list are all public universities, and 21 of the top 50 are public.

This return on investment analysis is different from the annual Kiplinger Best Value Report, which ranks colleges based on cost and student indebtedness on the one hand, and the academic ranking of the school on the other.  The resulting “value” is not expressed in dollar terms but in the quality of education derived from the investment.

But Smart Money is all about the bottom line: the pay derived from the investment.

Below is a list of the top 25 public and private universities on the top 50 list, showing their rank, four-year cost, median salary of new grads, and median salary of mid-career grads.  The figures are based on starting tuition and fees for the class of 2009, so be aware that tuition and fees for some of these schools have gone up dramatically since 2005.  Unfortunately, the salary figures probably have not gone up much at all.

1. Georgia Tech: cost ($87,810); new grad pay ($59,000); mid-career pay ($102,000)

2. Florida: cost ($73,476); new grad pay ($46,200); mid-career pay ($80,800)

3. UT Austin: cost ($91,596); new grad pay ($48,800); mid-career pay ($90,800)

4. Georgia: cost ($77,957); new grad pay ($41,100); mid-career pay ($79,200)

5. Illinois: cost ($91,382); new grad pay ($51,400); mid-career pay ($95,900)

6. Washington: cost ($86,540); new grad pay ($47,600); mid-career pay ($90,300)

7. Clemson: cost ($85,362); new grad pay ($45,300); mid-career pay ($86,900)

8. Purdue: (cost $86,538); new grad pay ($51,800); mid-career pay ($87,200)

9.  Colorado School of Mines: cost ($90,334); new grad pay ($64,200); mid-career pay ($105,000)

10. UC Berkeley: cost ($104,717); new grad pay ($52,100); mid-career pay ($103,000)

11. Miami of Ohio: cost ($94,784); new grad pay ($46,600); mid-career pay ($85,500)

12. Indiana: cost ($87,065); new grad pay ($42,400); mid-career pay ($80,000)

13. Penn State: cost ($93,108); new grad pay ($48,600); mid-career pay ($83,000)

14. Oregon: cost ($74,481); new grad pay ($39,500); mid-career pay ($76,600)

15. Michigan State: cost ($95,372); new grad pay ($44,300); mid-career pay ($78,000)

16. William & Mary: cost ($103,799); new grad pay ($44,000); mid-career pay ($97,100)

17. Virginia: cost ($107,395); new grad pay ($50,200); mid-career pay ($89,400)

18. Princeton: cost ($131,740); new grad pay ($58,300); mid-career pay ($137,000)

19. Colorado: cost ($97,918); new grad pay ($45,000); mid-career pay ($87,100)

20. New Hampshire: cost ($93,615); new grad pay ($42,600); mid-career pay ($75,600)

21. Carnegie-Mellon: cost ($143,540); new grad pay ($59,800); mid-career pay ($104,000)

22. Williams: cost ($138,770); new grad pay ($53,600); mid-career pay ($113,000)

23. Dartmouth: cost ($137,364); new grad pay ($54,100); mid-career pay ($111,000)

24. Harvard: cost ($136,977); new grad pay ($50,700); mid-career pay ($111,000)

25. Colgate: cost ($145,340); new grad pay ($49,700); mid-career pay ($111,000)







UT Austin: $310 Million for Engineering Research and Student Projects

The Cockrell School of Engineering at UT Austin has launched a $310 million project to build the Engineering Education and Research Center , which will include 23,000 square feet of space for engineering students to create and develop hands-on projects.

The total size of the center will be 430,000 square feet, including classroom and office space.

Dr. James Truchard, co-founder and CEO of National Instruments, has donated $10 million for the National Instruments Student Project Center.  Dr. Truchard has bachelor’s and master’s degrees in physics and a Ph.D. in electrical engineering, all from UT Austin.

The Cockrell School of Engineering is outgrowing its present space and needs the addition in order to match recent growth at MIT, Georgia Tech, UC Berkeley, and Texas A&M.

The Cockrell School says that for Truchard, “the  a gift to the EERC is about more than giving back to the university. It’s an investment in National Instrument’s future workforce. Headquartered in Austin, Texas, National Instruments includes more than 6,000 employees working in 40 countries.

“We hire from many different areas, electrical engineering, computer science, mechanical engineering and increasingly biomedical engineering. Our professionals need to be flexible, creative and innovative and know how to stay above the curve. Their education is a critical component to their future success,” Truchard said.

“Bringing to life math and physics to students in a way that it inspires innovative thinking and allowing them to succeed and fail with hands-on projects are just a few of the many benefits Truchard and others look forward to with the building of the EERC,” according to the Cockrell School.

At least one-third of the total cost of the 430,000 square foot facility will come in the form of private donations, with the UT System, the university, and the state of Texas providing the rest.  So far, the Board of Regents has designated $105 million for the project from the state’s permanent university fund.

“Depending on fundraising progress, the construction could begin in 2013, and faculty and students could move into the EERC by 2017,” the School says. “The return on…investment will be substantial since a typical graduating class from the Cockrell School generates
$2.5 billion in annual spending, $1.1 billion in gross product, and 10,240 jobs in the U.S. according to an economic study by the Perryman Group.”



U.S. News Rankings of Online Programs: Clues for the Future?

U.S. News has recently issued its rankings of online programs that award bachelor’s degrees or graduate degrees in business, engineering, education, nursing, and information technology, and we come away from our review of the rankings with two main thoughts:

(1) Could the highly ranked programs provide an indication of how well a university will do when it expands its online offerings to resident students? and

(2) Could the U.S. News methodology for online rankings be a sign that the magazine is shifting from its current over-emphasis on a school’s financial resources?

A positive answer to the first question is far more likely than it is for the second.  This is unfortunate, because the methodology used for ranking online programs is much better.

We will begin with the rankings themselves, focusing on graduate programs for business and engineering.  Many of the best ones are centered at the major public universities that we follow, while many of the bachelor’s programs are from lesser-known institutions.

According to the magazine, Washington State has the number one-rated MBA online program.  Our congratulations to WSU, and to Arizona State, Indiana, and Florida, whose MBA programs were ranked two, three, and four, respectively.  Penn State’s World University was number 2 in engineering, Purdue number 4, Michigan 5, Auburn 6, and NC State 7.

Special congratulations to Penn State, Auburn, NC State, Arizona State, Florida, and Washington State for having top 50 programs in both engineering and business.  Auburn and South Carolina also ranked second and fifth, respectively, for their online graduate programs in education.

Below are the top public university online MBA programs:

1. Washington State
2. Arizona State
3. Indiana
4. Florida
7. Auburn
8. Connecticut
9. UT Dallas
17. Nebraska
22. Massachusetts Amherst
27. Rutgers
28. Temple
29. West Virginia
37. Oklahoma State
42. North Carolina State
44. Mississippi
77. Alabama

The leading major public universities with online graduate programs in engineering are the following:

2. Penn State (World University)
4. Purdue
5. Michigan
6. Auburn
7. NC State
8. Wisconsin
11. UCLA
12. Mississippi St
13. Virginia Tech
15. Ohio State
21. Texas A&M (Kingsville)
22. South Florida
23. Arizona State
25. Arkansas
26. Florida
27. Alabama Birmingham
28. South Carolina
30. Ohio University
33. Washington St
34. Alaska Anchorage
37. Kansas State
39. Clemson
42. Illinois
44. Arizona
47. Alabama Huntsville
49. Cal Poly San Luis Obispo
50. Texas Tech

More about the ranking methodology:

Unlike the popular Best Colleges rankings, the online rankings do not over-emphasize financial factors, focusing instead on “outputs.”  This approach is much friendlier to public universities and is fairer overall.  For the online rankings, graduation rates are extremely important (deservedly so), as are retention rates, class size, time-to-degree, faculty quality and training, use of best practices, and student indebtedness.

GRE math scores and acceptance rates are used in the engineering rankings, and GMAT scores and acceptance rates are used in the business rankings.


Publics with Low Tuition–or Low Percentage Increases in Tuition

Below please see the public universities we follow that have the lowest tuition and fees for 2012-2013–AND a separate list that shows the schools with the smallest percentage increase in tuition since 2006.  Our thanks to the Wall Street Journal for providing much of this information.

Please note that some schools with smaller percentage increases since 2006 may nevertheless have relatively high rates.  The Journal reported that the average in-state tuition among the 72 schools surveyed was $8,655 for 2012-2013.

Major public universities with lowest in-state tuition and fees for 2012–2013:

New Mexico–$6,049


Central Florida–$6,247

Mississippi State–$6,264

South Florida–$6,334

Florida State–$6,403

Alabama Birmingham–$6,798


Major public universities with lowest percentage increases in tuition (in-state), 2006–2012:

Maryland, 12.7 percent, from $7,906 to $8,909

Cincinnati–13.6 percent, from $9,489 to $10,784

Ohio State–15.8 percent, from $8,667 to $10,037

Montana State–18.3 percent, from $5,673 to $6,710

Missouri–19.1 percent, from $7,784 to $9,272

Texas A&M, 22.1 percent, from $6,966 to $8,506

SUNY Albany, 26.7 percent, from $5,939 to $7,525

North Dakota State, 27.5 percent, from $5,767 to $7,353

UT Austin, 28.4 percent, from $7,630 to $9,794

Arkansas, 30.1 percent, from $5,808 to $7,564

SUNY Buffalo, 30.4 percent, from $6,168 to $7,989

Iowa, 31.3 percent, from $6,135 to $8,057

Rutgers, 31.3 percent, from $9,958 to $13,073

Iowa State, 31.8 percent, from $5,860 to $7,726

South Carolina, 34.3 percent, from $7,808 to $10,488

Stony Brook, from $5,630 to $7 ,560

Houston, from $5,680 to $7,638


MSU Lyman Briggs College Is a Great Answer to STEM Demand

While the state of Florida plans to charge less tuition for STEM majors, the Lyman Briggs College at MSU has been attracting students in these high-demand fields for more than 40 years without penalizing students in the humanities and social sciences.  Indeed, LBC is dedicated to bridging the gap between the hard sciences and the liberal arts.

The LBC began in 1967 in response to C.P. Snow’s famous concept that “Two Cultures” had grown up in academe, with the unfortunate results that education in what we now call the STEM subjects was often separated from education in the other “culture” of the humanities and social sciences.

The LBC welcomes about 625 freshmen each year, many of the honors students at MSU.  The core curriculum includes calculus, general chemistry, physics, biology, and a three-course sequence in the history, philosophy, and sociology of science (HPS courses).  Students take upper-division STEM courses in as many as 17 different majors and may choose to complete a capstone project that encompasses both major work and HPS classes.

Students have the benefit of much smaller classes, inquiry-based and research-oriented instruction, and frequent association with faculty and other STEM students who attend classes at LBC.

LBC students are eligible to become Undergraduate Learning Assistants as early as their sophomore year, giving them the opportunity to assist faculty with teaching and research.  In addition, through MSU’s excellent honors college, there are 94 Professional Assistants at LBC who work on research-intensive projects.

The results:  the freshman retention rate for LBC students is 95.5 percent.  Some 82-86 percent graduate in six years, versus an MSU average of 74-76 percent–an exceptionally strong figure given the rigor of STEM studies.  Nationally only about 50 percent of incoming STEM majors actually graduate with STEM degrees.  For LBC students, the percentage is 70 percent, including a strong rate for female students and students of color.

Finally, the number of LBC grads pursuing post-graduate work is 80 percent, an extremely high number.