Campus people, places support student success
Photo by Haley Sweetland, senior digital media production major from Volant.
SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - Love at first sight. That's what many people feel when they first step onto the campus of Slippery Rock University.
The reasons why - the welcoming vibe, friendly faces, historic architecture, colorful grounds or the faculty and staff that really care about student success -are as varied as the people that experience them. Students and parents visiting for the first time are often heard saying, "This is what a University should be."
With its brightly colored and landscaped flowerbeds, rock formations and tree-lined routes - making it feel as though you're walking through a Disney-like forest - who can argue?
"One of the first things you notice when you arrive on campus is its beauty," said Elise Michaux, who earned a Bachelor of Arts in English (2011) and a Master of Arts in student affairs in higher education (2013) at SRU.
"The lawn is always well-manicured with beautiful flowers planted along the walkways. I felt the warmth and comfort of home before I even said hello to anyone.
"Before I opened the doors to Old Main, I said to my parents, 'This is home' and everything and everyone with whom I came into contact afterward, only reaffirmed that."
Before graduating from high school, Michaux originally intended to enroll at a community college. Plans changed however after Michaux met with an SRU admissions counselor at a college fair and became intrigued by the variety of programs, clubs and extracurricular activities SRU had to offer.
"Slippery Rock is different. You are not just a student, you're part of a family," said Michaux, who serves as director of student involvement at Seton Hill University. "I am in the position I am today because my voice mattered during my time at SRU. I believe that is what makes it such a special place. That mentality of inclusion and welcoming is the main ingredient to a great recipe that makes the University stand out."
The sense of welcoming extends beyond SRU's people and into its buildings as well. This spring, the University completed a makeover of the North Hall Welcome Center complete with new décor, rock-themed flooring and a multitude of campus photographs, all of which provide a warm setting for visitors.
"Anyone who visits campus will see the beautiful buildings that hold so much history, while creating a place to build your own future," said Jessica Blackwood, a 2016 master of education: K-12 reading specialist graduate. "Being here, you will not only see the history and beauty of the campus, but you will feel it. For those of us who enjoy the outdoors, there is no other place to go to college. But make no mistake, behind all the gorgeous scenery is an education that is just as amazing."
Even those that intended to make SRU just a stop along the way found themselves drawn in, realizing they had indeed arrived at their destination.
"As a high school junior and senior, I wanted to get far away from western Pennsylvania," said Diana Helt, a 2007 exercise science graduate from Grove City. "I wanted to explore ... to go everywhere and anywhere but the greater Pittsburgh area."
Helt planned to attend SRU for one year before transferring to another institution. However, like many, her plans quickly changed.
"Once I started, I realized what a great package the University provided for me," Helt said. "SRU was, and still is, this incredible community that was the perfect fit for me. The educational resources and dedicated and passionate professors were intent on making a difference for me so that I could make a difference in the world. I'm so happy that I ended up at SRU. To think that I almost overlooked what was in my own backyard ... I am who I am because of what I learned on that campus."
Like Helt, Alex Mowrey, a 2015 emerging technology and multimedia graduate, wanted to pursue his higher education far from home. The San Diego, California native looked at a variety of east coast schools; even receiving acceptance letters from the universities of Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania before visiting SRU.
"SRU was a place I never imagined I'd go to," Mowrey said. "I'm from the city and thought I'd stay in that setting, but SRU really broke me of that mindset and made me fall in love with the campus vibe. I couldn't be happier with the decision I made."
Mowrey created a new life and bright future by taking advantage of opportunities throughout the University. He joined a fraternity; served as an admissions "Pride Guide"; worked for enrollment services; and became photo editor of The Rocket, SRU's student-run newspaper. His photographic work earned him several awards during his time at SRU and prompted the University of Pittsburgh to hire him immediately upon graduation as a multimedia specialist for admissions and financial aid.
"I really dove into extra activities and surrounded myself with people that I knew would help make me a better person," said Mowrey. "Those activities and the friends that I made were the things that pushed me through school. Yes, I have a college degree from my time sitting in class, but my classes alone didn't get me a job after college ... the time spent working on my skills at those extracurricular gave me the experience that I needed for the real world."
Grace Evans, a 2013 graduate with a dual major in mathematics and professional studies with a nonprofit management specialization, originally intended to be a math teacher when she first enrolled at SRU. But as time went on, the native of Apollo began exploring options and a desire to do "something more."
"I remember walking across campus and seeing a flyer for the nonprofit management course, it said something like 'So you think you want to change the world?'" said Evans. "I remember thinking how clichéd it sounded."
Cliché or not, the flyer led Evans to Alice Del Vecchio's door. Del Vecchio, an assistant professor of interdisciplinary studies, connected Evans to an internship with Amizade Global.
Based in Pittsburgh, AG offers volunteer programs and service-learning options for college students in Bolivia, Brazil, Poland, Ghana, Jamaica, India, Trinidad and Tobago, Northern Ireland, Tanzania and the U.S.
"Alice's passion for building a better world was contagious," Evans said. "It sparked something inside me that turned out to be the missing piece in my education. Being involved in the program broadened my understanding of potential career opportunities and ways to engage in the world.
"It opened my eyes that a person's career can be directed to a larger purpose ... to improve public life and society for others while providing opportunities and experiences for everyone."
The life-changing experiences for Evans continued after her time at SRU, first, through a prestigious, nine-month Coro's Fellowship that led to her acceptance to the University of Michigan's Ford School of Public Policy from which she graduated last April with a master's degree in public policy. This summer she'll begin a position with Harvard University's Harvard Kennedy School Government Performance Lab.
"SRU and everything it offers is so special. There is so much to take advantage of and opportunities that will allow you to grow and blossom as a student and a person. All you have to do is reach out and grab them. It's a beautiful thing."
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