Gas station without pumps

2014 January 3

Not applying for administrative role in honors program

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 17:04
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In Undergraduate Honor Programs and What is the point of honors programs? I talked about the part-time faculty administrative position opening up for building up the honors program at UCSC and what the point of the honors program is.  I’ve decided that I won’t apply for the administrative position, because the largest and most important task is one that I’m not good at.  In the What is the point of honors programs? post I ended with

… what are the short-term goals?

  • Recruiting top students (say students with 2 SAT scores ≥ 700, or one ≥ 740).
  • Retaining top students past the first year (we still lose a lot who transfer to schools with a higher reputation).
  • Creating a community of peers for top students—it is too easy for top students to compare themselves with the average students around them and end up not challenging themselves.  Having a peer group who are just as bright can push them to achieve far more than they would have in an environment where they are always the “best”.
  • Finding a way to fund the honors program that does not rely on start-up funds that expire nor build up jealousy from faculty not teaching honors courses.

In a subsequent post, I’ll muse about ways that we can achieve these goals.

It is that last goal, finding funding either within the campus or from an outside source, that I see as being the biggest hurdle to creating a meaningful, lasting honors program. Fundraising (internal or external) is something I’m not very good at and hate to do, and so I don’t see myself as being the administrator needed for the honors program now.

If they were looking for a faculty adviser for honors students, I’d volunteer. If they were looking for someone to design an honors program with already identified funds (even if limited ones), I’d probably apply. But with no resources already allocated, the program will need a much more entrepreneurial person than me to have any hope of lasting.

If whoever does get hired for the post wants help, I’d be glad to give suggestions on what the honors program should try to do and discuss approaches for getting there within the campus culture.  Things I’d like to see include the following:

  • Dedicate a dorm (or two) to honors-college students, so that they are surrounded by other top students, not spread out thinly all over campus.  This should not just be a freshman dorm, but ideally a 4-year dorm.  This shouldn’t cost anything, since it is just a reallocation of housing assignments.  I would locate the dorm at Crown or at Cowell, since those two colleges seem the most conducive to instituting an honors program.
  • Set realistic size and admissions standards for honors college membership.  For example, Michigan State had 503 new honors-college members out of 7924 new full-time students (6.3% of entering class).  This got them an average SAT score of 1390 (CR+M) and average GPA of 4.09 for the entering honors college members.  Of course, they’ve been running their honors college for a long time—we’d probably have to start much smaller, with maybe 2% of the entering class (about 75 students/year).  I have no idea what the top 2% of our applicant pool looks like, nor what the yield is at the high end of the pool.  Part of the point of creating a robust honors program is to improve the yield there.
  • Waive all prerequisites at course registration for honors-college students.  These students are bright enough to figure out whether or not they really need a prereq, and could be encouraged to talk to instructors before exercising their waivers.
  • Provide priority registration for honors students (open their registration a day or two earlier than for other students).
  • Require honors college students to meet quarterly with a faculty adviser to discuss how they are shaping their education.  This would require some faculty time, but not an enormous amount (if we assume a steady-state of 300 honors college students and half-hour meetings, we get 450 faculty hours.  That’s a lot for one faculty member, but not a lot for 10 faculty.  It may be necessary to provide some prestige award (Fellow of the Honors College) to reward faculty for the advising load, but probably does not require monetary compensation.
  • Waive all general education requirements for honors-college students.  (This is the Brown University approach to general education, for all their students.) The advising meetings should, of course, include warnings that losing honors college status would result in the general education requirements being reimposed, so students might want to follow enough of the general ed that losing honors college status would not be a disaster.  Note that discipline-specific requirements for a major would not be waived.
  • Create honors versions of any course that has over 200 students a year in it (except for remedial courses, of course).  This would cost real money, and I can’t see the current department chairs supporting this out of their own budgets.  Finding the funds for a 10–30 classes a year taught by ladder-rank faculty is expensive (3–15 FTE positions).  Although this is an important part of a good honors college program, I don’t see it is likely to happen at UCSC.
  • Funding a number of National Merit Scholarships on campus. None of the UCs or CSUs participate in the National Merit Scholarship program, but other public universities in other states do. For example, University of Oklahoma offers five-year tuition waiver, $5,500/year for expenses, $5,000 National Merit award, $4,200 housing scholarship, $2,000 textbook/technology stipend, $2000 research and study-abroad stipend—that’s not a full-ride scholarship, but it is big enough that OU has over 700 National Merit Scholars. According to the National Merit Annual Report, OU gave out 160 new National Merit Scholarships for the 2012 competition (starting college in 2013)—and that isn’t the largest number from a state school (University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa gave out 208).  Over half the 2012 National Merit Scholarships are funded by colleges and universities (4554 out of 8064).
    Of course, most of the National Merit Scholarships are not as generous as the OU one, but even a few scholarships at the average value ($4,800) would be a strong inducement for top students to attend.  This is moderately priced, but would probably require finding new money from donors, and UCSC has always taken the approach of having rather secret scholarships that no one has ever heard of, plus UC-specific ones like the Regents scholarships.

I think that UCSC has the potential for creating a very strong honors college, but that the resources needed to create and maintain such a program are unlikely to be forthcoming in the next couple of years (unless some donor pushes for an honors college), because the administration is just dipping a toe in the water and not committing to creating a robust honors program.  I’m not the right person to try shaking the money tree, so I’ll have to pass this opportunity by.  Maybe if the administration commits some real funds to the honors program, I would be interested in the position.

2014 January 1

CMU submission done

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 00:34
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My son finished the Carnegie Mellon computer science application today (and I do mean today—it was just after midnight when we got the payment information entered).  This is the last of his major college applications—he decided not to try to do the Caltech and Olin application essays.  If he doesn’t get into Harvey Mudd, Stanford, Brown, MIT, CMU, or UCB, then he’ll go to one of his safety schools (UCSD or UCSB).  I think that his expected number of acceptances in his top six choices is two, so he’ll probably have some choosing to do once the acceptances come in.

In the meantime, he still has one more essay to write—the letter of intent for the College of Creative Studies at UCSB, due by 2014 Jan 13:

Write a letter to the attention of the faculty in the CCS major to which you are applying, stating your academic interests, your reasons for wanting to study at CCS, and your background in your intended major.

He’ll also need letters of recommendation and transcripts (which UC admissions does not normally require, but which everyone else expects, so they are relatively easy to provide).

It will be very good to be done with the essay writing season—we can get back to him doing intellectually stimulating things, like group theory or updating the data logger software to work with the KL25Z board.

2013 December 31

MIT submission (almost) done

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 00:38
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My son finished the MIT application today—I’ll have to send out the transcript, the school profile, and the counselor’s report tomorrow. Recommendation letters and school reports can’t be provided online (except through Naviance, which home schools have no access to), but only via fax or hard copy mail.  I’ll probably have to go to the Post Office tomorrow, as I don’t think we have enough stamps in the house to mail the transcript.

I’m a little surprised that an tech school like MIT would be willing to have such a clunky piece of old technology as the main view that 18,000 prospective students see of MIT each year.  It isn’t as buggy as the Common App, but it has a distinct early 1990s feel to it. The MIT application is obviously an old piece of legacy code (unless it is deliberately retro)—it doesn’t understand unicode characters (like smart quotes or em-dashes), can’t handle italic, and the PDF preview is rendered in the ugliest monospace font that is available (probably Courier).

Update 2013 Dec 31: School documents taken to Post Office this morning, so MIT application now done.

2013 December 27

Third Common App submission

Around 11 p.m. on Dec 27, my son submitted the third of his Common App college applications (Brown), just 70 hours after his second application—and he did take Dec 25th off. The Brown essays were easier than the earlier ones, in part because he could reuse stuff he’d already written, and in part because they asked simple questions with tight word limits.  He did have to write more than many Brown applicants, because he was applying as a prospective computer science major:

Because you have expressed an interest in Chemistry, Computer Science, Geology, Mathematics, or Physics, we would like to know a bit more about you. Respond to the following questions separately, and please remember to include the number corresponding to each question in your uploaded response! (Limit your total response to 500 words.)

1. Many applicants to college are unsure about eventual majors. What factors led you to your interest? What experiences beyond school work have broadened your interest? (Feel free to elaborate on one of your previous responses.)

2. What concept in your anticipated major were you most proud of mastering?

3. Briefly describe the course(s) you have taken relating to your chosen field.

The first question is just a rehash of a question they already asked:

Why are you drawn to the area(s) of study you indicated in our Member Section, earlier in this application? If you are “undecided” or not sure which Brown concentrations match your interests, consider describing more generally the academic topics or modes of thought that engage you currently. (150 word limit)

The duplicate question was a bit tricky for him to answer without repeating himself, especially as his generic Common App essay also talked about his interest in computer science.  The third question could have just been answered “See course descriptions in transcript”, but he expanded that answer to talk about his progress through different programming languages and managed to work in a project that had been too short to include in the transcript.  The second question was the most interesting, but essentially impossible to answer—once you’ve mastered a computer science concept, it seems pretty trivial, not something to be proud of.  He sidestepped that one a bit by listing concepts that he feels he has a firm grasp of that are important to CS, rather than ones he is particularly proud of.  (He did mention his pride at being good enough at Python to teach it when the instructor he is TA for can’t teach the class.)

He now has three days to do three applications (MIT, CMU, Olin), and two more days for one more application (Caltech has a Jan 3rd deadline). Most of Monday, Thursday, and Friday will be taken up with the 3-day workshop with Ailin Conant of Theatre Temóin that WEST is doing on Dec 30, Jan 2, and Jan 3, so he really has only four full days for the four applications. I doubt that he can get all four applications done in time, but I’ll be satisfied if he gets MIT done—any beyond that are lagniappe.

We did notice one more problem with Common App today—if you use their “I” button to italicize anything, it does a terrible job, changing the font size and family, not just putting the text in italics.

2013 December 25

Second Common App submission

Around 1 a.m. on Dec 25, my son submitted the second of his Common App college applications (Stanford).  He now has seven days to do 4 more applications. Originally he had planned to take Christmas off, but he has fallen behind schedule, thanks to a bad cough and 2 full days spent rehearsing and performing in WEST Ensemble Players’ production of Inspecting Carol, where he had the role of Sidney Carlton (and hence the roles of Jacob Marley and Mr. Fezziwig).  The production was an excellent one, with all the actors cast true to type.  I’m looking forward to their production of Much Ado About Nothing in the spring—he’s with a very talented group of actors this year.

Actually, he’ll only have 6.5 days to do four applications, as I promised him that if he got the Stanford application done before going to bed, I’d sign him up for the 3-day workshop with Ailin Conant of Theatre Temóin that WEST is doing on Dec 30, Jan 2, and Jan 3.  (The link to the site will probably break in a few weeks, as WEST does not keep archival links to classes once they are over—I think that they should maintain permanent links for each class, but they generally discard chunks of their website every 4 months, and reuse the URLs.)

I doubt that he can get all four applications done in time, but I’ll be satisfied if he gets the next two (Brown and MIT) done.  The ones after that on the list CMU, Caltech, and Olin, did not seem to be as good fits, though each is still a good enough fit to be worth applying if he can get the essays done.

It was a good thing that he and I were checking the completeness of the application process together tonight, as he found a mistake I had made—the transcript and counselor letter had not had their final submission.  I was unable to complete the submission with Firefox—the Common App website went into an infinite pause generating the PDF preview.

I had no trouble doing the submission with Chrome, though.  I did see that they added headers and footers to all the uploaded documents, one of which interfered with footers I had put in the transcript (to explain the codes for the different educational providers).  I took advantage of needing to fix the footers to update a few other things on the transcript—like the name for the English course he is taking fall semester, and his intention not to continue with Page to Stage (one of his four theater activities in the fall) in the spring.

He now has 2 complete applications (fully downloadable by the colleges) on Common App, plus the UC applications.  In another week, he’ll be essentially done with college applications (with just the UCSB College of Creative Studies additional application).


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