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University of New Haven: Then and Now

Release Date:
10/8/2009 1:30 PM
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By Marcus Hanscom, Director of Graduate Cohort Recruitment

The University of New Haven? Where exactly is that anyway?” And so  it began. By the end of my junior year in high school, I was already playing the role of an admissions counselor with my peers, telling them all about this small university I wanted to attend nearly three hours away. UNH was an institution that few from my small hometown in Hanson, Massachusetts, had heard of at the time, yet anyone who spoke to me knew that was where I was headed after graduation. And no one was going to change my mind.

It was one visit to the campus at the end of my junior year in high school that brought me to a place where I would embark on the next major journey of my life. I would love to give credit to my UNH admissions counselor for giving me a great information session or the tour guides who gave a very light-hearted and candid view of the campus for being the reason I showed up at UNH that following fall. However, my decision was made up before I even opened the door to Bayer Hall to begin my formal UNH experience.

I vividly remember stepping out of the car with my parents that day in the parking lot adjacent to Bayer Hall, taking a brief glance around at what I could see from there (which at the time wasn’t much) and turning to my parents only to say, “I think this is where I’m going next year.”

There was an aura about the place that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. What was it that attracted me so quickly that day? Was it the glisten of the parking lots that I could see in either direction? Or was it the small set of temporary offices in trailers set behind the admissions building? Or maybe I was just enjoying the scent of the Subway restaurant on the other side of the street. 

None of these first impressions were exactly calling out, “You belong here!” But I was determined, for one of the few times in my life, to actually follow my gut instincts and see what this small, suburban campus in Connecticut had to offer a country boy like me. 

Little did I know that those first impressions would change only a few years later: those trailers would be gone, and so would much of the parking, and in their place would stand a multi-million-dollar, state-of-the-art recreation center. And erected just a few years prior on the hill beyond it was another residence hall, complete with suite-style accommodations overlooking a brand new turf athletic field and, on clear days, an ocean view. Hey, in nine years since I first visited this campus, even Subway has evolved (think “Five Dollar Footlongs”). 

Changes on Campus

This fall marks the beginning of my eighth year as a member of the University of New Haven community and I couldn’t be prouder of the progress the university has made since I began my studies in the fall of 2002.

Beyond the new residence hall and recreation center, the campus has welcomed complete renovations of all classrooms on campus with SMART technology, new outdoor spaces for student recreation, a new blue and gold turf football field, a brand new apartment style residence hall, and the groundbreaking of the newest addition to campus, the Henry C. Lee Institute of Forensic Science building to be completed in 2010.

The very essence of these changes was one of the major things that attracted me to the university in the first place: this place was constantly changing for the better. You may have heard that a good mark of a successful and productive college campus is the continual presence of construction. Though certainly presenting a moderate disruption to the “convenience” of walking a particular route to class or avoiding the noise of a bulldozer at certain hours of the day, these activities are a huge indicator of campus growth.

Infrastructure changes are an obvious sign of change on a college campus, but the true progress at UNH has happened in new student services, experiential education opportunities, and program development. Sure, we can boast about how our incoming enrollments have shattered records and even prompted a nod in USA Today, but our true success is measured in the positive experiences enjoyed by all of our students and our alumni. These experiences have only improved over the last several years as UNH has grown to become a national leader in experiential education.

Experiential Education

The thought of experiential education isn’t new here; it has just only become more of a national buzz word in recent years. When the university first opened its doors in 1920, it set out to offer practical learning experiences to its students in business and engineering. Nearly 90 years later, it has expanded to offer these experiences in over 100 major programs in the arts and sciences, business, engineering, and public safety. Students come here knowing that this is a place where they will get their hands dirty and enjoy a learning experience that goes far beyond a lecture classroom setting.

During my early years at UNH, I had never even heard the phrase “experiential education,” but it was the reason I came here. I knew that I would get the opportunity to mix a band in a recording studio, test a chemical theory in an engineering laboratory, balance accounting logs with a practicing CPA, gather evidence on a live mock crime scene, or hone my directing skills in a television studio. These skills cannot be obtained from a lecture-style classroom; I learned by doing. That’s the essence of what UNH can truly deliver for your son or daughter.

I also hardly ever heard the mention of studying abroad in my early undergraduate years, but now I marvel at the plethora of foreign experiences our students enjoy. Just in the last couple of years, the university has morphed from offering a handful of study abroad opportunities to becoming one of the leading study abroad providers in the nation. Students are meeting with key business leaders in China, exploring the depths of the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Australia, and even adventuring to London in a unique first-year abroad experience.If I could only turn back time.

Community Service

The whole idea of experiential education goes far beyond hands-on experiences in the classroom and studying abroad. During my undergraduate studies, I had the opportunity to be in the pilot group for the Alternative Spring Break program, a program that allows students to stay on campus during the spring break to provide community service to those in need throughout the Greater New Haven area. Since those years, I have watched the program thrive and grow each year, forcing organizers to set up multiple sites to accommodate all of the student interest in providing support around the community. The President’s Public Service Fellowship, a UNH summer program for students to work in service-oriented positions in the community, has also grown dramatically in size and scope over the years. These experiences help mold students’ support and understanding of civic responsibility, a crucial trait needed for all of us.

While I knew that UNH was the place for me when I first visited campus, little could have prepared me for the experiences that would follow in the years ahead. The personal and professional growth that I have gained here cannot be put into words, but I will tell you this: no place is more committed to the success and happiness of its students, and I am proud to be a part of this community.