My recent column in the The Huffington Post was based on “Great Jobs, Great Lives,” the 2014 Gallup-Purdue Index Report. A study of more than 30,000 college graduates, the survey identifies which undergraduate experiences correlate most highly with respondents’ reports of engagement at work and personal well-being.
The Gallup-Purdue poll validated the characteristics of an Ursinus education. The report specifically cited six transformative undergraduate experiences:
- Students have at least one college professor who made them excited about learning;
- Professors care about students as individuals;
- A mentor encourages students to pursue goals and dreams;
- Students work on a project that takes a semester or more to complete;
- An internship or job allows them to apply classroom learning; and
- Students are extremely active in extracurricular activities and organizations in college.
Students who claimed these six experiences were twice as likely to have a strong sense of well-being and engagement in the workplace, but only three percent of all respondents said they benefitted from “all of the above.”
While I was composing my column, two alumni wrote to me about the same Gallup-Purdue study and said it reminded them of their Ursinus experience.
Maureen McCarthy, Class of 2007, is now Assistant Director of Advancement and Best Practices at the Council of Graduate Schools. She writes, “Reading this list, I realized that Ursinus must be a special place, because most of the items on this list are things that we as a UC community take for granted. It is apparently innovative to require that each student complete an internship, research project, or other independent learning opportunity. It is apparently rare for extracurriculars to be the accepted norm, and for professors to truly care about students as whole persons. At Ursinus, these things are given, even after we graduate.”
She continues, “It is remarkable that I can tick ALL of these boxes. It occurs to me that the strength of Ursinus in all these areas has its root in the strength of the faculty. Ursinus is special in part because its faculty live and breathe Ursinus.”
Rob Randelman, Class of 1981 and a parent of a current Ursinus student, writes of these six key elements of college success, “Some of this is related to being a small college. Those institutions place more emphasis on undergraduate students by design versus a university where all too often the focus is on the graduate programs (or athletics) that bring in money and notoriety. But I believe it goes further – I believe Ursinus has that rare combination of academic rigor combined with a teaching staff that really wants to not only teach, but see undergraduates succeed.”
Rob elaborates, “One would expect the professors in a student’s major study to be supportive, but it was the professors who were not affiliated in any way to my major who took the time to connect: this is what sets Ursinus apart.”
He then offered this example:
“I remember all too well Professor Juan Espadas who taught me Spanish. Taking 22 semester hours, heavy in science, Spanish was a distant #3 when it came to study priorities, and I didn’t do well—barely scraped by in truth—but Professor Espadas told me something I didn’t forget, ‘Learning a language opens up doors—to new cultures, new people, and new opportunities.’ When the opportunity came 15 years later to take on Latin American sales, I took it. Yes, I certainly had to improve my Spanish to become fairly verbally proficient, but I took the chance because of my Ursinus Professor. It would have been easy for him to write me off as another slacker science student looking to fill out his humanities, but he didn’t. He took the time to connect, encourage, and paint a bigger and more ‘noble’ picture even though I clearly wasn’t one of his star students. He made sure I understood that it wasn’t about squeaking by in Spanish, it was about connecting to a different culture.”
This gratitude for faculty mentors was manifest at our recent May 16 commencement. I read from a student nomination in support of the H. Lloyd Jones Jr. Award for Excellence in Mentoring and Advising being awarded to Associate Professor of Biology Rebecca Lyczak. The student wrote that Professor Lyczak “always has time to answer questions. She has been instrumental in my own growth by constantly challenging me to do my best work. . . . As a member of her lab for more than two years, I have seen her unfailingly treat every one of her students with the same level of support. She is there for all of us, and I am confident she will continue to be there for other students for many years to come.”
As I wrote in The Huffington Post article, what students encounter in college matters long after college. Ursinus endeavors to equip its students with the right experiences before sending them into the world.
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