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VOL. 7 | NO. 35 | Saturday, August 23, 2014

Vanderbilt Students Find Happiness in Music City

SAM STOCKARD | The Ledger

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As the Class of 2018 begins to poke around the Vanderbilt University campus, the newest Commodores will be met with the highest of expectations.

This fall, the Warren and Moore Colleges for sophomores, juniors and seniors will house upperclassmen with residential faculty, graduate fellows and undergraduate resident advisers, in addition to key university figures and international visitors.

(The Ledger/Michelle Morrow)

“This class is projected to have the highest academic quality in our history as measured by high school class rank and SAT scores,’’ says Doug Christiansen, vice provost for enrollment and dean of admissions.

“The makeup of this class also includes the most expansive ethnic and international diversity in Vanderbilt’s history.”

The newcomers join a collegiate family that consistently ranks among the nation’s top universities, has a world-class research institution with a wide range of undergraduate and graduate programs and, of course, is located in the heart of the ‘It’ City, so named by The New York Times, and lovingly embraced by residents looking to explain just how cosmopolitan Nashville is these days.

Academically, U.S. News & World Report lists Vanderbilt as the 17th best national university. The magazine also places four graduate schools – business, education, law and medicine – in the Top 25 among all graduate programs.

And, if those accolades weren’t enough to keep those super smart kids applying year in and year out, The Princeton Review recently named Vanderbilt students as the nation’s happiest.

Happy in Music City

What makes Vandy students so content?

Vanderbilt touts affordability through grants, a challenging and collaborative academic community, diversity in its student body and the growing star of the city of Nashville.

The Princeton Review also placed Vandy in the top 20 in these categories, in addition to happiest student body:

#5 - Students who love their college
#10 - Quality of life
#12 - Lots of Greek life
#18 - Best-run college
#20 - Best financial aid

The university lets its students do the talking to explain what makes them so carefree on campus.

“The student body’s very diverse here and diverse in interests as well as background. It’s really small, it makes the community very small and I guess that adds to the Vanderbilt community of support,” says Jasmine Lawrence of Wappinger Falls, New York, on the university website, as part of a university promotion that lets students tell the school’s story.

“But now I feel really comfortable. I know I can go and sit anywhere in the dining hall and find a friend or find somebody to talk about something I’m interested in.”

It didn’t take a lot of persuasion for Emmett McKinney, a political science major from Palos Verdes Estates, California, to make up his mind about Vanderbilt. Just before his high school visit, he injured his knee playing lacrosse and was lying in the grass on the Vandy campus to make it feel better that day.

“I lie down under this oak tree near the conference center. I fell asleep for a little bit. My dad wakes me up and said do you want to go to this information session,” McKinney explains.

Finishing touches are being applied to the Warren and Moore Colleges for sophomores, juniors and seniors.

(The Ledger/Michelle Morrow)

“I sat up and looked around, and I just felt the students were happy. I saw girls in sundresses, I saw guys throwing Frisbee, I saw people studying outside, and they were excited to be at Vanderbilt. I looked at my dad and said, ‘This is all the information I need.’”

Not standing still

Yet even with a high academic ranking and happy students, Vanderbilt isn’t resting on its laurels.

Construction started this spring on a seven-story tower, a 230,000-square-foot Engineering and Science Building that will connect through a double-height atrium to Olin Hall, one of Vandy’s landmark buildings where the School of Engineering is housed.

An Innovation Center will be incorporated into the building where students and faculty will be able to connect with mentors in technology and rising industries to help push lab discoveries and student concepts into the world’s business markets.

Vanderbilt also continues its foray into the world of communal living, a concept with roots in Oxford and Cambridge in England, where faculty members, or fellows, lived with students, teaching and helping transform their lives, enabling them to become stronger contributors to society.

The first phase of this living/learning initiative started with The Martha Rivers Ingram Commons for first-year students in 2008.

This fall, the Warren and Moore Colleges for sophomores, juniors and seniors will house upperclassmen with residential faculty, graduate fellows and undergraduate resident advisers, in addition to key university figures and international visitors.

The open-air kitchen at Kissam offers students and staff a new dining option on Vanderbilt’s campus.

(The Ledger/Leigh Singleton)

The goal is to boast learning and understanding through activities such as dinners, musical performances, community service and even late-night talks and debates.

The price of happiness

As Vanderbilt works to upgrade the campus and foster relationships between faculty and students, the school keeps a close watch on its enrollment numbers and emphasizes its financial assistance programs.

Total undergraduate enrollment was 6,796 last academic year, and Vanderbilt is expecting 1,600 freshmen this fall with an acceptance rate of 13 percent.

Undergraduate tuition and fees are increasing 2 percent to $42,768. The average cost for undergraduate attendance has climbed to $62,320, also a 2 percent jump.

Two-thirds of undergraduate students receive financial assistance, and financial aid packages in 2013-14 averaged $44,720.

Chancellor Nicholas Zeppos says he is committed to keeping annual tuition increases low, with yearly undergraduate increases declining from 5.75 percent in 2005 to 2 percent this year, according to the university.

Happiness and winning

Vanderbilt’s baseball team won the NCAA national title last spring, an accomplishment that has only added to the high spirits on West End.

Just as the national media appears to have noticed Nashville’s food, alternative music and even its tech scene, the rest of the nation started taking notice of Vanderbilt sports – even football.

For decades, Vanderbilt’s football program was the doormat of the powerful Southeastern Conference.

Under former coach James Franklin, the Commodores became contenders, if not for an SEC title, at least for bragging rights in Tennessee and a quality bowl game.

Vanderbilt finished the 2013 season 9-4 with a 41-24 win against Houston at the BBVA Compass Bowl.

With Franklin’s exit to Penn State, though, Vanderbilt hired Derek Mason, formerly the associate head coach and defense director at Stanford.

“Derek Mason is the leader we trust to continue the challenging but exciting work that has elevated the Vanderbilt football program to unprecedented heights,” Chancellor Zeppos says.

Mason has the integrity, strategic thinking and commitment to success Vanderbilt wants and he understands that scholarly pursuits and top-notch athletics are key to the Vanderbilt experience, Zeppos explains.

And, that’s what everyone is so happy about.

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