College review by Lisa Bleich
Hampshire is the most non-traditional environment of the five colleges I saw on this tour. Originally founded in the 1970’s by professors from the other four colleges to provide a self-directive, innovative approach to learning. It has carried that philosophy through with no grades, but narratives of student progress and no majors, but areas of study instead.
Students develop their area of study with a team of professors that help guide them to a concentration. Our tour guide was studying Dramatic Tragedy combining the Classics with Shakespeare. He took Greek at Amherst College and his long-term goal was to become a professor at Hampshire. He said that in high school he was not a great student, but loved learning. He was ready to forego college until his girlfriend told him about Hampshire. As soon as he visited, he was hooked by the unorthodox approach to traditional learning and has become a passionate scholar.
Another student at our table was studying The Origins of Life. She was essentially studying biology and chemistry and how it could explain different forms of life. She was applying to PhD programs in biochemistry at top universities. All of the other students on the panel were engaged learners and really benefited from the open style of learning encouraged at Hampshire.
We had a delicious, organic, healthy lunch in a barn-like building at the bottom of campus. Most of the vegetables were grown on Hampshire’s organic farm on campus. One of the students was so involved with the farm that he planned to open his own organic farm post graduation.
The student panel impressed me and I was eager for the tour to see if the rest of the campus was as fascinating. We trekked up a very long, open green area from the barn to the main campus. The main campus was disappointing. The buildings were unattractive, tired, and in need of repair with the exception of a state of the art film and media center endowed by documentary filmmaker, Ken Burns (a Hampshire Alum). Hampshire has a top film and media studies program. Students enter and win various film festivals and can produced quality films on par with larger studios. The gym was also new, replete with a rock wall and nice facilities
Students were milling around the main quad, smoking, chatting and taking in the nice fall day. Students were a combination of hipster, hippy, and artsy ranging from plaid shirts to converse to skinny jeans to red/green hair. Hampshire students are also asked what pronoun they go by, he, she or ze (gender neutral nomenclature.)
Hampshire is a great place for students who want an environment that promotes self-direction, openness, creativity and innovation.