My ‘Small School’ Experience

by Jessica Derr on March 27, 2018

Before I got to college, movies and television had instilled in me an image of how classes were conducted. Dwarfed before a lecture hall swamped with students, a single professor would drone on, flipping through slides of their PowerPoint. This professor would not know if a particular student decided not to attend class and might not even know the student’s name without stealing a look at a class list. Individually, students represented little more than the number of papers they had to grade.

Such a notion concerned me. I found that, in high school, I learned best when I worked closely and collaboratively with my teachers and peers. I didn’t want to be a number. I didn’t want to be just another face in the crowd. I wanted my voice to be heard; I wanted to be acknowledged.

Thankfully, Arcadia University proved nothing like depictions on screen. From campus tours and orientations, I heard about the school’s 13-to-1 student-to-faculty ratio, with class sizes of usually no more than 17 students. They emphasized a personalized classroom experience and individualized attention. And from my two years here so far, I’ve really come to know what they meant by that.

Where else other than a meeting of Arcadia’s English Department can you get into a heated debate about whether Aeneas, the hero from Virgil’s ancient epic, is a jerk?

- Jess Derr

Should you demonstrate the drive and desire to work hard and better yourself, the professors at Arcadia go above and beyond to help you achieve your goals. They are invested in seeing you develop as a student and succeed, and they pass on their passion for their respective disciplines.

Last semester, I met with my “Interpreting Literature II” professor a borderline-annoying number of times to cobble together a garbage fire of a paper. Each time I would arrive wild-eyed, anxiety-ridden, and armed with a mess of incoherent notes. And each time he patiently helped me organize my thoughts, asking me questions to further flesh out my ideas, and giving me much-needed assurance when I got particularly twitchy. In the end, I managed to turn my garbage fire into a high-scoring critical piece that I was proud of—  a feat I would not have achieved without my professor’s guidance.

But beyond academics, and what I think makes Arcadia so special is that professors and students get to know each other on a personal level. Many of my fellow English majors will agree with me that you often don’t go through Taylor Hall without saying hi and stopping to chat with some faculty member. They ask about my other classes, about my work in the writing center, about my lacrosse season, among other things. Though these may seem like insignificant pleasantries, it is really gratifying to be seen as human being and not just a generic student to assign essays to.

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Recently, I attended a luncheon hosted by Arcadia’s English Honor Society, Sigma Tau Delta, that aimed to recognize this empathy toward students and devotion to the department that the English faculty demonstrates. The gathering was a thank-you for all the hard work professors do for their students. Usually when I am required to go to this type of social engagement, a feeling of dread burrows deep within me. My anxious disposition makes walking into a crowd of acquaintances feel like entering a battlefield laden with small talk and mingling.

However, this time was different. My professors and peers were quick to engage me, and I felt at home among like-minded folk who shared my interests. Where else other than a meeting of Arcadia’s English Department can you get into a heated debate about whether Aeneas, the hero from Virgil’s ancient epic, is a jerk? (Spoiler alert: He totally is.)

As ice-breaker games and Shakespeare-themed Cards Against Humanity commenced, I felt proud to be in the ranks of such a hard-working, intelligent, good-natured group. Such a seamless, intimate gathering would not be possible if I attended a larger institution. Instead, at Arcadia, I can look forward to getting to know and learning more from my teachers and peers in the type of environment that only a wonderfully small school can provide.