University of Delaware:
The University of Delaware is a semi-public university located in Newark, Delaware. It is referred to usually as UD and rarely as UDel. I attended the University of Delaware for two years as a graduate student in the Mathematics department and graduated with a Master's of Science in Applied Mathematics in 2007. I also lived in Newark for 2 years during 2009 to 2011, where I had further exposure to UD.
You can find lots of facts about UD on University of Delaware's Wikipedia Page, and the Official University of Delaware website. I created this page to present some opinions and more subjective material to give people a different view of UD.
Some Thoughts & Observations About UD
- UD is the most influential college and university college in the state of Delaware, and, for the most part, within a fairly sizeable radius in all directions. There are no other comparably influential colleges or university within about a 40 minute radius.
- UD is a well-rounded school with the standard liberal arts educational offerings, as well as an engineering school, nursing, physical therapy, and other medically-oriented programs, and an extensive agriculture school.
- UD has a decent relationship with the town of Newark, although it could be better. In my experience, I found the relationship between the town and university to be a lot better than Yale and New Haven, CT, where I also spent 1 year in graduate school.
- The student culture at UD could be described as very mainstream and mostly suburban and rural. There is some diversity, but in numbers, the diversity takes a back-burner to a sea of a large number of students with a more uniform culture. There are very few students who grew up in urban environments. Most of the students here grew up in suburbs, with a substantial number growing up in rural areas like Southern DE and South Jersey.
- UD tends to give much more funding to graduate students, including master's students, than comparable schools. In my experience, it is much easier to get funding at UD than at other similar schools.
How I'd like to see UD improved
UD is a good university all around and I think it's doing a lot of things really well. Nevertheless, I think the university has a few weak points, and I think there are several ways that I would like to see UD improve:
- More focus on learning, less on achievement - In my experience, UD tends to focus far too much on easily quantifiable forms of achievement, such as grades, classes, and formal projects. Often, this emphasis comes at the expense of under-emphasizing personal initiative, learning outside of classes, and all forms of learning that do not fit into the formal class curriculum. I saw this focus reflected in school policies (many scholarships are tied to GPA and have stricter GPA requirements than other schools I am familiar with) and I saw it in the student culture, both the students I taught and the students I was friends with and spoke with on a personal level. I think that if UD set it as a priority to focus first on learning, and focus on achievement only to the degree that it encourages and reflects learning, the whole campus community would be much for the better.
- Ensure that students who do not fit into the mainstream culture do not fall between the cracks - Many of my closest friends at UD were people who did not fit in with the mainstream culture at UD, which centered around alcohol and the party culture. Many of these people suffered from anxiety and depression, and many also had frequent conflicts with other students in their residence halls. This was especially true of the students who were more motivated by learning, but were not in the honors program. I believe that by making safe spaces for students who wanted to choose something other than the party culture. UD currently has "substance free" dorms, but I do not think this is an adequate solution.
How would I implement such improvements?
If I were in charge at UD, I would make the following changes in order to address the problems above:
- Eliminate (or at least provide alternative options to) freshmen-only housing, placing all freshmen in mixed halls with people from sophomore through senior years. I think the freshmen-only dorm setup, which is imposed on nearly all UD students without much choice otherwise, shapes the campus culture in ways that I find unhealthy. Freshmen halls, especially outside the honors college, tend to be very loud, especially on weekends. I think that the absence of upper-class role models makes it easier for incoming students to fall into unhealthy patterns of behaving, like binge drinking. I also think that by mixing class years, the school would help older students be role models for newer students, thus encouraging healthier activities and habits, and allowing more cultural knowledge to be passed down through the years. I also think that older students tend to have less tolerance for some of the more extreme partying behaviors, and would naturally keep a lid on some of the most irresponsible behavior, through social pressure and positive example rather than having the school need to enforce rules.
If I were in charge, I'd start by creating and testing out some mixed-class housing, figuring out how to implement it so as to best achieve the desired outcomes. I'd also give students choice of where they live, focusing on filling up this housing with students who want to be in it, and working on developing and cultivating this housing setup to where more students choose the mixed housing voluntarily, and thus grow the program with the consent of the student body.
- Reduce scholarships with stringent GPA requirements, and shift some achievement-based aid to need-based aid - I would want to shift the aid packages of the university away from achievement-based scholarships and towards need-based scholarships. I would start by eliminating the scholarships with the strictest GPA requirements (such as ones requiring a minimum 3.5 GPA). My experience as an instructor at UD was that these scholarships place a great deal of pressure on students, and students with these scholarships frequently make choices of what classes to take on the basis of fear of losing their scholarship. I taught one calculus class in which a student with one of the highest scores in the class dropped the class because he had such a scholarship and was afraid of the possibility of getting a B. While I would want to remain some sort of standards for all scholarships, I would want them to be much laxer, in order to encourage students to make decisions about what classes to take based on optimizing their learning, not optimizing their GPA.
- More cautious advising of students, especially in the honors program, and structuring of graduate programs, against taking on too much work and creating unnecessary stress - One problem I saw at UD, both in the honors program and in some graduate programs as well, was a culture which accepted and even promoted a high-stress environment in which students were constantly in a state of being overworked and low on time. While I understand that people have a broad range of abilities to tolerate stress, I am solidly convinced that a large portion of UD students were operating well beyond their ideal workload, and that they would be able to learn more, accomplish more, and get more out of their education overall, if they took on less work or were in a place where they were less stressed out.
This aspect of institutional culture can be difficult to change, but I think it would help to have explicitly spelled-out policies implemented University-wide, specifying that the goals and values of the University were such that students were encouraged to balance their schoolwork with relaxation and social activities, and were not encouraged or pressured to take on a level of work that would lead them into a place of chronic stress. I'd like the University to keep a watch on the stress level of students and take action to restructure curricula in the cases that it was clear that the stress level of students had far exceeded a level that enabled or contributed to learning and productive research.
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