Denison University: A College That Changes Lives
Posted: August 20, 2007
Author Loren Pope is a man on a mission -- to educate American parents and their prospective college student children about the cutting edge education that is available at four-year liberal arts colleges across the United States. Denison is included in his Colleges That Change Lives, 40 Schools That Will Change the Way You Think About Colleges, published by Penguin Books in 2006. The first edition of the book was published a decade ago, and this most recent one offers a "ten-years-later" evaluation of each of the "catalytic" schools profiled in his original volume.
Pope says, "Today's pace of change is only the beginning. Over 95 percent of the creators of new knowledge who've ever lived -- the scientists and mathematicians -- are still alive today. These colleges produce the qualities needed to exploit this new knowledge: bold, imaginative thinking; being able to use what they know and to see connections; being risk-takers and pioneers."
"Their effectiveness is graphically revealed in the 'Ten Years Later' surveys at the end of each college profile," he continues. "Students and graduates, recent and past, say they couldn't have had such transforming experiences anywhere else. They believe no other college could have helped them find themselves so happily, given them new powers and confidence, and made them better persons. Alumni talk about the wrench of leaving a family -- a campus family -- and they call their professors lifetime friends whose influence continues to affect their lives."
Pope believes that the colleges' power lies in how they go about transforming their students. "The focus is on the student, not on the faculty. There are no passive ears; students and faculty work so closely together, they even coauthor publications. Teaching is an act of love. Learning is collaborative rather than competitive; values are central; there is a strong sense of community. They are places of great synergy, where the whole becomes greater than the sum of the parts. Aspirations are raised up; young people are empowered. It is those qualities that develop leaders, people who can land on their feet, who are bold and imaginative, and who can see the big picture."
In evaluating Denison, Pope recalls his first visit to campus in the late 1970s: "When I first visited there, it had the reputation of being a backup school for easterners, fraternities and sororities dominated the social scene and the atmosphere was distinctly preppy. Nearly every minority student I talked to was angry and alienated." He credits President Michele Tolela Myers with changing the ethos of the place through scholarships for outstanding students, an honors program for all who qualified and exciting new academic programs that attracted serious and idealistic students. "She ended the laissez-faire attitude toward fraternities, reined them in and held them responsible. She also made them non-residential, and that marginalized them. Also, by the mid-nineties, 15 percent of the students were persons of color, and every one of them I talked to said they couldn't be happier," Pope says.
He continues, "Now Denison has become even more of its new and better self under President Dale T. Knobel who is committed to Denison's mission. Denison is attracting a considerably more idealistic type. The student has so many rich choices and so many off-campus study terms, internships or research opportunities -- solo or with a professor -- that he can find just what he wants and find it plenty challenging."
He elaborates, "Something indeed is happening when the college graduates 75 percent of its freshmen in four years, nearly double the national average, and 78 percent in five years. Among Denison's professors I found a general agreement that this was a changed Denison. One volunteered this estimate: 'If there's a place where students and faculty work better together, I don't know where it is.'"
In Denison's ten-years-later section, Pope relates that students and alums continue to say they have gained confidence, become active learners and better persons, and that empathetic professors have helped them discover who they are. Other accolades from alumni included, "Denison wants to produce people who will change the world in every walk of life," and "Denison has a commitment to developing the whole person, not just the academic. They push you to excel and challenge you to do it better." A lawyer from the class of 1998 said, "Choosing Denison was the best decision I ever made. Denison is where I learned always to be aware of the marginalized and oppressed ... Finally, I thank Denison for my full scholarship to law school, because it was Denison that prepared me to be such a strong candidate."
Loren Pope, a Washington, D.C., newspaperman who led the fight for better schools in rural Loudoun County, Va., began writing about education in a column for the Gannett Newspapers in 1952. He later became education editor of The New York Times and in 1965 opened the College Placement Bureau in Washington, D.C. to help families make informed college choices. His first book, The Right College, How to Get In, Stay In, Get Back In, was published by Macmillan in 1970. Several magazine articles, including the nationally syndicated "Twenty Myths That Can Jinx Your College Choice" was originally published in The Washington Post Magazine. Reader's Digest has sold one-half million reprints of its condensation, "Facts to Know in Picking a College." These articles inspired his second book, Looking Beyond the Ivy League, Finding the College that's Right for You (1995) and is considered a companion piece to his Colleges That Change Lives (Penguin 1996, 2000, 2006).
Denison University, founded in 1831, is an independent, residential liberal arts institution located in Granville, Ohio. A highly selective college enrolling 2,100 full-time undergraduate students from all 50 states and dozens of foreign countries, Denison is a place where innovative faculty and motivated students collaborate in rigorous scholarship, civic engagement and the cultivation of independent thinking.
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