The whole purpose of this little jaunt down to Huntsville was to visit a college, specifically University of Alabama-Huntsville. Bob and I are familiar with Huntsville--we actually turned down an assignment there when we got the one here to DC. We had visited it a few times as a family, especially on our way down to visit the L's when they were stationed in FL, and Bob would have TDYs down that way. Nathan in particular went through a *very* big space phase when he was 5/6ish, and we were all very conversant at that point in time on all the early space programs (Mercury, Gemini, Apollo), so of course we had to stop at the US Space and Rocket Center whenever we were close. (As it turns out, Luke has no recollection of these visits, lol.) Huntsville seemed like a neat town, especially if you liked space stuff, but that was about all we really thought about it.
This fall I was once again reading a thread on the Well Trained Mind college forum. This one was from a mom whose daughter, an aspiring engineer, did not want to go to their state flagship school, which was the only school the mom thought was financially feasible. Did anyone have any other suggestions for a high stat girl who didn't want an Ivy-type school? I perked up at that, since that described Luke as well (except the girl part, lol). UA-H was mentioned several times, because they have a good reputation for engineering, and they award merit aid automatically--no extra essays or anything! I knew that would be *very* attractive to Luke as well, so I looked into it.
Here is a link to the merit scholarship aid chart. You can see that if a student has an ACT of 34 or higher, or a SAT over 1520, then tuition as well as housing is 100% paid for. Well!! Now we're talking! This immediately moved UA-H high on our list of schools to pursue, but of course, I don't move very quickly on these sorts of things, especially since the fall was such a busy time for me. But then I was attempting to send out Christmas cards, and I realized I needed to get an updated address from Air Force friends of ours, Darren and Jenny, who used to go to our church but had long since PCSed. I thought Darren retired this summer, and I didn't think I had heard of a new address for them, so I sent Jenny an email. She wrote back to say they had just moved into their new house--in Huntsville! Ha! Now a visit was sounding fun--see the campus AND catch up with old friends!
In the meantime, Luke applied and was accepted as well as awarded the "Charger Excellence" scholarship. I looked for tickets in mid-January and found a good deal into Nashville, about 2 hours north. The only problem was that all the Friday campus tours for UA-H were full into February, so I called their visit coordinator, explaining who Luke was, and that we were flying in from NoVA. She said they would definitely be able to put us on a tour, so we came on.
Actually, she did way more than just put us on their campus tour. She arranged for us to have a tour of the College of Engineering with a student guide at 9:00, then meet with an admissions counselor (who had been homeschooled, and was their admissions homeschool liaison) at 10:00, then a meeting with an engineering advisor at 10:30, a complimentary lunch at the main cafeteria at 11:30, and then the campus tour from 1:00-3:00. Busy day! Even though we had gotten in so late, we got to the college at 8:45.
The engineering tour was very interesting. Engineering is by far the biggest major at UA-H, and it definitely has a ton of money being poured into it. Since the university is surrounded by countless contractors and other research companies, the opportunities to be involved with research, even as undergrads (even as freshmen!), are immense. They have a bunch of different labs, like the huge machine lab, where there are just tons of random projects everywhere, being worked on and tinkered with, along with tons of machines that will literally make any part you can conceive of. When you think "lab", you might conjure up rows of empty tables, ready to do specific projects, and while there are some like that, a lot of the labs are more like some crazy Uncle Albert's garage or something, with parts and pieces all over, in some order, but an outsider wouldn't know what it is, lol. Companies donate extra stuff, like rolls of carbon fiber, so pretty much any material you can imagine or need is right there. There were students all over the place working on things--building rockets, printing stuff in 3-d printers, etc. The guide said pretty much every class has projects to do. The whole program sounded incredibly hands-on. Plus, once you are through the intro-type classes, there are tons of co-op positions and internships with the various companies nearby. A vast majority of engineering students do these, and something like 85% graduate with job offers from companies they have already worked for.
There are also a zillion and one engineering clubs, like the Space Hardware Club, and also tons of competitions that they send teams to. Winning entries from various and varied competitions were displayed all over the hallways, making interesting conversation pieces, and there were also fascinating research project summary boards all over the walls. Anyway, the tour was a really good overview of the program, and Luke was really excited about the hands-on nature of it all.
We didn't really have too many questions for the admissions counselor, so that part didn't take all that long. The engineering advisor, however, was incredibly helpful. He was able to show us exactly how Luke's AP and DE credits would fit into his program. Luke is deciding between electrical and mechanical engineering, so he was able to get a better idea of exactly what classes he would be taking. The guy was so nice. We spent about an hour in there with him, and he answered questions not just about engineering, but about a ton of other things too. He confirmed what we had heard about the university--that about 10 years ago, they decided to turn it from more of a commuter school into a STEM-focused university, and he rattled off a bunch of different buildings that had been built in those 10 years, including all of the dorms except one old one. Now there are about 8,000 students, which seems to be a really nice size. He also discussed the honors college. Instead of just being a bunch of philosophy and liberal arts classes, like it seems to be in a lot of universities, there are honors classes within each major. The classes are smaller, and involve deeper thinking and more discussion. Luke is leaning away from that, though--there's an essay to write for admission!
Our free lunch in the cafeteria was good. I had already decided that this trip I was not going to worry about any sort of diet, but just eat regular food, so I did. The pizza was very good, although I did have a salad too, lol. Then we headed back over to the brand new Student Services Building for our campus tour. I was kind of dreading the tour, honestly, because the weather was still really cold and windy. We totally should have brought our winter jackets, not just our sweatshirts, and I regretted that every day we were down there! It was indeed freezing, but I am of course glad we went. Our 2 tour guides were both engineering majors, so that was helpful. They were both involved in different Christian campus ministries, the Baptist Campus Ministry and Reformed University Fellowship, and I saw signs for Cru too, as well as various Bible studies. One guy was very involved in his church as well, doing children's ministry with 1st-6th graders, so that was all very good to hear. One girl on the tour, when she found out we were from NoVa, asked, "WHY would you want to come to college in ALABAMA? There's NOTHING to do here!" But the guides seemed busy and happy, and there certainly were plenty of entertainment options on campus, even things like game nights with the "Society for Strategic Gaming". That probably wouldn't have appealed to her. I got the impression we had vastly different ideas of fun, most likely, lol. There were lots of intramural sports too, like ultimate frisbee, which Luke was interested in. I don't think he would have trouble finding things to do.
The housing was another attractive thing from the get-go. All the dorms are organized into suites of 4 rooms with a common room in the middle. The common room has a couch and 2 comfortable chairs, plus a table and 4 chairs. It also has a fridge, microwave, and sink. Then on either side of the common area are 2 (small) rooms, a sink, a shower, and a toilet area. So each student has their own room, with bed, desk, hutch, closet thing, and dresser. For someone from a big family, this set-up looks really good! After we left there was when I realized I hadn't taken a single picture all day. I'll blame being tired and cold!
Finally we were done with the tour, but we still couldn't get too warm. We were meeting a friend from CAP who is a student! He's a former homeschooler from here who is also a National Merit Scholar (they get every single thing paid for, including books and fees, an even better deal!). We had assumed he was at the main campus of UA, but when Luke was talking to his dad in December and mentioned he was looking into UA-H, the dad said, "That's where Daniel goes!" He is certifiably brilliant, so we knew if he was enjoying it here, it must be a good, challenging program. We met him over at the propulsion lab, which was a space with a bunch of big rooms, and more projects everywhere. There were also big vacuum chambers and wind tunnels, and a place surrounded by layers of cinder blocks to test rocket launchers. Again, students were everywhere, running tests and tinkering. Daniel also took us over to the Space Hardware Club rooms in a different building, so we could see some of what they were working on. Those rooms were full of kids working away on various projects, and everyone was really friendly. We left him answering questions from another guy about some formulas he had used in some calculations, and we headed back to our car.
Oh, one thing I liked--students can have cars on campus all 4 years. A parking pass is merely $125 a YEAR, and students can park in any parking lot! Even the academic building lots! Daniel said that might change in the next few years, because they are running out of space, but the campus is spread out, not all crowded together, and it would be nice to have the option of driving on cold days (like the one we were touring on, lol). One negative is that there is no nice public transportation, like in Blacksburg at Tech, so you pretty much either need a car or a friend with a car to be able to go anywhere off campus, even for groceries. Daniel did say there was an Aldi within walking distance, though.
So we left the campus with Luke thinking there was really no bad things about going there, and we headed back over to Darren and Jenny's house for a delicious dinner, and a fun time visiting. Luke and I headed to bed early, since we were both pretty exhausted. We left about 8:15 Saturday morning to drive back to Nashville to catch our flight home. It was a very informative visit, and I am really glad we went. The school is a strong contender, for sure. It is hard to walk away from all that money!