Location, Location, Location
BY MACREENA A. DOYLE
When leaders in the Canton community approached the Universalist ministry in the 1850s, urging them to consider the village as the location for a theological seminary, the Universalists had to be persuaded. Canton might not be a great place for students, they reasoned, because there would be too much going on in the bustling community that would distract them from their academic pursuits.
They might have been on to something.
Students have pursued serious academic studies – as well as other activities – at St. Lawrence for more than 150 years, and there’s no question that the University’s location has had an influence on each of them. Whether taking advantage of the abundant recreational opportunities in the region, delving into the study of the area’s ecology through course work or participating in the life of the North Country through internships, service and part-time jobs, students have always embraced
St. Lawrence’s location.
St. Lawrence considers its location one of its greatest assets, asserting to prospective and current students that “St. Lawrence’s location will shape who you are and who you will be.” Simply put, St. Lawrence would not be St. Lawrence if it were located anywhere else in the nation.
In survey after survey, researchers have learned that the ascendency of retail chains hasn’t brought about a perceived improvement in the
quality of life. Regional differences, the feeling of a small hometown, local ownership of businesses – those aspects of life, once common, are now viewed as cherished rarities. For residents of the North Country, it’s a way of life.
St. Lawrence would not be St. Lawrence if it were located anywhere else in the nation. So what’s so great about St. Lawrence’s location?
Glad you asked.
The region where the University is located provides a rich source of material for academic study. History, government, fine arts, biology, geology, English, philosophy…well, just about every academic department offers courses that use the region as a laboratory.
The First-Year Program is just one example. In the spring, first-year students take seminars, exposing them to research methods in a variety of topics. During the spring 2009 semester, several First-Year Seminars delved into subjects with local appeal:
* Food for Thought: Passions and Politics Surrounding What We (Should) Eat. Taught by Associate Professor of English Paul Graham ’99, the seminar explored the “locavore” phenomenon, through the study of a number of popular books and through experience with local organizations, including organic farms and Meals-on-Wheels.
* Local Boy Makes Good: Frederic Remington’s Life, Art, and Career. Taught by Dana Professor of Canadian Studies Robert Thacker, the course allowed students to learn about the Canton native and famous artist, through forays into collections in the University’s Richard F. Brush Gallery and ODY Library Special Collections, as well as the Remington Art Museum in Ogdensburg.
* Widely Traveled in the North Country. In this seminar with Craig Professor of English Natalia Singer, students documented their experiences in the region as literary journalists and travel writers. The class included an historical walking tour of Canton, a snowshoe expedition and Winter Carnival in Saranac Lake, “all with an eye to uncover how to make a place come alive on the page through eye-witness reporting.”
* Just dirt? Soils and Human Affairs. With Visiting Assistant Professor of Biology Matthew Neatrour, students delved into the ways in which soils influence our daily lives, from backyard gardening and composting to large-scale agribusinesses. Field trips to area farms and the Adirondacks were part of the coursework.
* The Spiritual Nature of Community and Culture. Adjunct Instructor Relani Prudhomme ’89 led students in the study of the practices, principles, theory and history of community cultural development “through a spiritual lens, looking in particular at existing communities organized around professed spiritual principles or established religious faiths and taking stock of the relationship between faith and community action (such as church-organized outreach programs for local or far-off community members in need), as well as spirituality and cultural expression, (such as gospel music).”
You might think that the person on campus who gets asked about the University’s location the most is Terry Cowdrey, vice president and dean of admissions and financial aid. You’d be right.
Cowdrey has had experience at institutions that are different from St. Lawrence – prior to coming here, she was on the admissions staff at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. So she’s noticed something about colleges located in rural regions.
In a 2007 podcast, Cowdrey outlined some of those thoughts:
“What are the benefits of choosing a college in a small town or rural area? Students on rural college campuses look inward for their social life and friendships. Relationships are both more intense and longer lasting because there is no dilution of social time. Most, if not all, students live on campus and the convenience and frequency of their interaction intensifies the friendships students form. The college community is not splintered by students going their own ways into the wider community.
“The small-town campus provides many opportunities for leadership development. Much of the social life on a small-town campus is the result of students’ active participation in student organizations, performance groups, athletic teams and so on. Each of these groups needs leadership, creativity and initiative. Without those qualities, the groups are less likely to be successful and the social life for everyone suffers. Students on small-town campuses are more likely to be actively involved because their involvement is needed.
“It can be considerably less expensive to be a full participant in college life at a small-town college. A rural college provides current movies free on campus; an urban college feels no need to do so since students can choose from among many theaters in the city – and pay for their movies. Why would a college in New York City bring a theater performance to campus? Why would a college in Nashville offer concerts on campus? In a small town, students are far less likely to eat off campus regularly because there are fewer choices; for the student with less spending money, this is a major positive – there is no concern about being ‘left out’ of an expensive off-campus social life.
“One of the most important opportunities that a small-town campus provides is the chance for students to get involved in the local community and make a difference. Students on small-town campuses join volunteer fire departments and ambulance squads, serve as volunteer leaders for scout troops or work in community theater. College students get to know local community members when they attend local religious services, or when those families attend athletic events where the college athletes are local heroes, especially to the kids. International students benefit from host family arrangements that are offered at small-town colleges, where local residents offer homes away from home. Students who attend colleges in small towns often come to view the town – in addition to the college – as a place that will remain important to them throughout their lives.
“When college campuses are located in rural areas, the faculty and staff live close to campus, and also use the campus activities for their entertainment. They are likely to participate with students in music groups, work next to them on Habitat for Humanity projects, cheer them on at athletic events and to be in their offices and labs at odd hours when students may have questions or ideas to share. At small-town colleges, faculty are likely to be full participants in the life of the college rather than commuters reporting to campus only to teach their classes and return to distant homes and separate lives.
“Colleges in rural areas typically provide wonderful opportunities for outdoor recreation. Many rural colleges attract students who already have considerable experience and skill in these areas; some also provide instruction for students who have never been in a kayak or gone rock-climbing or snowshoeing. For any students who value time spent in the outdoors, a rural campus brings outdoor opportunities to their doorstep, literally.
“Finally, colleges in small towns or rural areas feel safe, and they are. Because such a high percentage of students live on campus in these locations, the on-campus community becomes recognizable and looks out for one another. The sense of community leads to a sense of shared responsibility, which results in low incidence of vandalism and theft. No campus is immune from the dangers of contemporary society, but students on rural campuses find they put less energy into remaining vigilant about their safety and have more energy for other pursuits.
“No one – students, faculty or staff – ends up at a small town or rural college by accident. It is an intentional choice for all who make up the college community. As such, students should feel confident knowing that the choice of a rural college will bring them together with a whole community dedicated to working together and playing together. Years later, as alumni, they will feel connected not only to their classmates but also to the college and the community that they had made their home for four important years.”
Macreena Doyle, associate director of University communications, loves her native North Country, though she is prone to an occasional trip to points south in winter.