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Beyond Boot Camp

This issue's cover story is one of the most important we've run in recent memory because it gets right to the heart of this university's mission: educating students. At a world-class research institution the caliber of Johns Hopkins -- a name synonymous with excellence in medicine and top-flight graduate education -- it has been too easy over the years to overlook the changing needs of the university's growing undergraduate student body.

As Paula Burger, newly appointed vice provost for undergraduate education, puts it, "What worked well for a hardy band of young undergraduate scholars who wanted a rigorous graduate-style education doesn't work as well when you've got now 4,000 undergraduates on the Homewood campus and significant numbers in other areas." Today's Hopkins undergraduates (whose annual tuition tops $27,000) are passionate about wanting smaller classes, closer contact with faculty, expanded opportunities for dorm living and social cohesiveness, and better career counseling. And that's just for starters, as you'll find after reading "Not-so-Great Expectations", about the university's Commission on Undergraduate Education.

The faculty, administrators, and students we spoke with for the article deserve credit for their candor and honesty. And the university's top officials deserve credit for tackling this important issue head-on. They began to implement key recommendations before the ink had barely dried on the commission's final report, which was issued in May.

It's worth noting that though half of all freshmen arrive expecting not to have a satisfactory student experience, half do. I was reminded of this recently when chatting with the 17-year-old son of our art director, Shaul Tsemach. Amir spent the past year on the college circuit, visiting Tufts, Penn, Brandeis, Haverford, and Columbia. Initially, he was not enthusiastic about Johns Hopkins. "I had bought into the stereotype of it being like a meat grinder -- a humdrum social scene in a cutthroat environment," he says. Then one night last fall, he and a buddy came to Homewood's MSE Library to do research. The experience proved a turning point. "I overheard a group of students setting up a 3 a.m. study session, saw others talking. I realized, this isn't boot camp. It's a highly competitive school, but kids work together. I saw myself when I saw those kids." He applied to Hopkins early decision, was accepted, and is counting down the days to fall. "I'm confident in my ability to have fun," he told me. "I know who I am. I'm sure there are other people like me at Johns Hopkins."

-Sue De Pasquale

Return to June 2003 Table of Contents

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