Bridget's dad worked for many years at Fisher Price, Gatorade, VanCamp’s (as in the pork and beans) and talked often about how their household was always stocked with unique test toys, flavors of gatorade, or beanee weenees, My father worked for a California Winery and was always able to provide wonderful dinner pairings when I was of an age to enjoy such things. In the Golden household, our business is higher education and our sons have started to understand that a family vacation will almost always include a college visit or two. Such was the case last month when our family called on Purdue University once more.
Of course, Purdue University was where our family started our journeys in higher education, Bridget in the Office of the Dean of Students, and I in the Office of Admissions. And while much of the campus stands unchanged (the stately buildings, the crisply manicured lawns and sidewalks, and a student body that loves their old gold and black) there are several key upgrades to campus that provide a modern sheen to our “Old Purdue.”
As always, we use our simple HOME acronym as a means of assessing college campuses:
Open & Welcoming
Helpful: Purdue is incredibly easy to get to and navigate - just a few minutes off of Interstate 65 and less than an hour north of Indianapolis, Indiana. When I worked in admissions, all of our driving directions to campus suggested visitors take exit 178 Brookston/West Lafayette exit as that route would wind you along the unhurried Wabash River on your way into campus. Signage is everywhere and public parking is ample near the Purdue Memorial Union, the cultural center of campus (even if it isn’t the geographical center of campus). For a school the size of Purdue (total enrollment of 50,884, total campus acreage of 2,500) Purdue students are famously friendly and willing to point you in the right direction if you get turned around.
Open & Welcoming: The admissions office hosts daily tours which are accompanied by an admissions presentation nearly every day of the week, including Saturdays. The “Introducing Purdue” programs are great ways for prospective students to make the most out of their visit to campus as they include presentations by representatives from the academic colleges at Purdue, something truly helpful for the student who is more certain of their future major. Purdue is a grand representative of the modern comprehensive public university with 11 colleges and schools and a nearly infinite combination of majors, minors, internships, study abroad programs, and the very popular co-op program.
I have always remarked at how Purdue compartmentalizes its campus layout. Academic buildings occupy the eastern and southern portion of campus, residential and student life buildings (like the France A. Córdova Recreational Sports Center) are found in west campus, and athletic facilities found in the northern part of campus. This means that during the day, when students are on the academic campus for class, there’s not a lot of going back and forth to the residence hall if you have a break between classes. Purdue has really focused on creating tons of study spaces probably best represented by the Wilmeth Active Learning Center, a modern building with amazing study spaces for individuals and groups including a great reading room reminiscent of famous libraries from around the world. Purdue’s architectural aesthetic is highlighted by light tan brick, Spanish tile rooflines mixed in with a handful of smartly placed modern glass and steel. Sidewalks and walkways are wide and tree-lined, almost lending them a boulevard-like feel.
Maintained: The attention to detail that the Purdue grounds maintenance staff put into tending the beautiful campus is why we always include “maintained” as a key difference maker in assessing campuses. The manicured campus grounds feature large walkways, designated bike paths, multiple fountains including the centerpiece of campus, the Engineering Fountain and Bell Tower, all lend a park-like feel to Purdue. On warm fall days, you would have a plethora of options to sit, study, eat lunch, or simply just people watch. I especially love how Purdue adapted to the COVID-19 pandemic by creating outdoor gathering spaces including a series of adirondack chair circles with gas fire pits for students to gather and enjoy each other's company.
Engaging: What has always impressed me about this place is the sheer scale of the ambition to the research enterprise at Purdue, which has ranked among the top 10 most innovative universities in the U.S. for the last 5 years. Among the fascinating research facilities at Purdue, you will find: a building where you can build another building within it, Indiana’s first and only nuclear reactor PUR-1, an airport, a Centre for Entrepreneurship, and a Nanofabrication Lab, not to mention Purdue Discovery Park, which fosters public-private research partnerships to foster innovation. For STEM fields, which require specialized equipment, expertise, and facilities, there are very few places that can match the capabilities of Purdue.
Since we have many dear friends on campus, there were some special perks for our visit. We were fortunate to meet with my longtime mentor and friend Mitch Warren, Assistant Vice Provost & Director of Admissions. Mitch shared how Purdue will no longer be test optional for high school students in the Class of 2024. We also enjoyed catching up with Dr. Andy Robison, Director of Residential Housing Operations, and he gave us a tour of the new buildings and changes on a golf cart! Andy’s doctoral dissertation and research focused on cultural ethnography and history so his insights into campus history are always enlightening and appreciated. We also got to catch up with one of our GEC students who is now a Sophomore at Purdue. He is studying animation and having a great experience.
If you didn’t know it before visiting campus, you will quickly pick up on the fact that Purdue enrolls a lot of students when you visit campus. During mid-morning class change times you will see large crowds throughout the academic buildings and the main pathways through campus. This will either create a kind of energy that will excite you, or it will overwhelm you and feel too people-y depending on the kind of college you are searching for. But no matter your lean on this matter, there is no debating the friendliness of the Purdue student body where hello’s and waves are not reserved solely for the familiar, and directions are provided to the visibly lost on a regular basis. Even though the enrollment there is worldly (students from all 50 states and 130 countries attend) there is a Midwest sensibility to Purdue, a kind of humility and simplicity to life in residential West Lafayette, in amongst the corn fields, river bluffs, and college town life. It is a wonderful place to learn, grow, cheer on the Boilermakers, or in our case, start a loving family.
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