hen he enrolled in the Clarkson School (TCS) last fall, Marty LaFleur was "almost positive" he would transfer to another university following his year in the special "bridging program" that enables high school students to begin full-time college early. However, once he began taking classes, Marty not only relished the academic challenges, but also thrived in the residential campus environment. And thus, somewhat to his own surprise, he decided to continue at Clarkson University to complete an undergraduate degree in biomolecular science.
A straight-A scholar who hopes to pursue a medical career as an oncologist, Marty has already undertaken cancer research alongside faculty as part of the School's summer research program. He typifies the kind of ambitious, talented student traditionally attracted to TCS. But his desire to remain at the University also exemplifies an increasingly evident trend: the proportion of TCS students who choose to stay at Clarkson has expanded from a third to more than half. This phenomenon reflects the University's broadening of academic options, its rising reputation, and the magnetic power of its remarkably supportive, close-knit campus community.
While annually accelerating the academic careers of high-performing younger students since it was launched 32 years ago, the program has also injected into every freshman class many women and non-engineers who may not otherwise have enrolled at Clarkson. TCS students earn transferable college credits while benefiting from extraordinary social support. Encouragement in use of the bridging year as a springboard to other colleges or universities was a distinctive feature of the program in its early years. And while some participants remained at Clarkson, a majority did matriculate elsewhere, usually at liberal arts colleges or larger comprehensive universities.
In recent years, however, more and more top TCS alumni have opted not to leave Clarkson. Biology major Eva Cartwright, for example, completed her bridging year in 2008, but remained at the University. Having graduated this past spring, she will now pursue her studies in the Pathobiology and Molecular Medicine Ph.D. program at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
A key reason she stayed at Clarkson was the opportunity to continue research in evolutionary biology that she began in her first year alongside Professor James Schulte. "I could tell early on that he really cares about his students," she recalls, "helping them with everything from coursework, graduate school applications and future careers." Most recently, Eva's research has focused on DNA relationships and diversity among Iguanian lizards.
"I made very good friends my schoolie year," says Eva. In fact, she roomed with two of her former TCS classmates during her senior year. "We were such a close-knit community that grew closer by living through similar experiences. TCS and Clarkson have allowed me to grow academically in a way that would never have been possible at other colleges."
Those 2010 TCS alumni choosing to continue at Clarkson reflect a variety of aspirations, but all emphasize appreciation of their warm relationships with peers, faculty and administrators.
"The most beneficial part of The Clarkson School was without a doubt the people I met and the friends I made," says Brianna Beltran, a psychology major who hopes either to go to medical school or enter a Ph.D./M.D. program and become a forensic psychiatrist. "These are people I can see myself keeping in touch with for the rest of my life."
Colemann O'Malley, an electrical engineering major, was accepted at highly selective Franklin W. Olin College. But he decided Clarkson was a "better fit," thanks in part to the personal attention he received right down to help in preparing his Olin application.
Another electrical engineering major, Joe Camilo, who has a minor in computer science, is pleased to be joining the University's highly competitive Honors Program. He entered the program under the fast-track option that enables high-achieving TCS students to join the Honors Program after their first semester. He similarly praises The Clarkson School staff: "They were so supportive, whether in advising or just in casual conversation."
"It's true the University's broadened options and rising reputation make it more attractive to a wider range of our students," says Matt Rutherford, TCS Director of Admission. He notes, for example, expanded degree choices in health sciences, more opportunities for undergraduate research, a business school now ranked in the national top 100, and the attraction of the high-powered University Honors Program.
"But really, what matters most to students is the close-knit community," says Rutherford. "Our campus increasingly stands out because of its friendly feel and down-to-earth personal scale with individualized attention."
Certainly TCS is not changing the mission that has made it so successful, he observes. "We offer a unique opportunity for any talented, ambitious student, and we strive to help each make the best choices. We encourage them to consider all options and assist in applying to other colleges.
"However," he says, "the bottom line is that as a small research university, Clarkson is truly distinctive in U.S. higher education. Just like TCS, both defy convention. And once students actually experience our living-learning environment, many want to stay. Being here opens their eyes."