Sunday, June 22, 2014

Our College Road Trip

This week Brian and I took Chase on a college road trip. We left Tuesday afternoon, after picking Chase up from a job shadow with a computer engineer. He walked away from the job shadow with a positive view of computer engineering. He enjoyed his time and found the work he viewed to be intriguing. So a positive way to start our trip, as computer engineering (or electrical computer engineering) was really his top choice at this point.

We grabbed a quick lunch at Mod, a great way to start our "try the best hometown pizza" portion of the road trip. Mod was great, as usual.
Then it was on the road, all for this guy!

 We left the nasty, overcast skies of the Portland area and 90 minutes later we saw this.
 Alas, our luck wouldn't keep up and another hour or two later we hit the rain again. It was mainly overcast or rainy the rest of the drive that day. We did stop once for gas and Chase was thrilled to find this apple fritter half the size of his head. Yes, he ate it all.
We got to our destination, Pullman, WA, about 9:30pm, checked into our room, left for some dinner and a stop at WalMart for swim trunks (Chase had lent his to his brother so he'd have 2 pairs for camp, but Chase forgot that he actually needed them) and some jeans (I needed some new ones and had only brought capris). Then it was to bed for a short, restless night.

Day 2 dawned and led us to the nearby campus of Washington State University. We left the room early, which was good. We quickly found out that locating the correct place, then parking and getting into that place wasn't always easy on a college campus. We did find admission plenty early though.
Then went on our tour. Such a small thing, but I really appreciated that WSU took us to the cougar statue and took our photos, then had them waiting for us at the end of the trip. It's a little memento that was much appreciated.
Toured the campus for almost 2 hours, then had a meeting with an engineering rep and a rep from the honors college. We liked both and got some good information out of them.  Overall, here's what Chase's notes say:
"Initial Thoughts: Nice campus, big but easy to maneuver around. Focus on extracurricular activities and tradition. Lots of chances for study abroad. Huge student support and chances for undergraduate research. Good fit."

Thoughts from Brian & I: It's soooooo hilly! Seriously. The two hour tour was a workout! The museums on campus were a nice touch. Liked the rec center, though it's a bit out of the way. The green bike (borrow a bike) program is really nice. Didn't even get to see a lot of campus, including most residence halls. Liked the honors program. Harder to tell for engineering. Wish we'd gotten to see some of the engineering buildings/rooms/labs. Unfortunately, we know this doesn't offer enough aid to make it that competitive, but it was worth a look.

Next up was Gonzaga. We were heading into this with high hopes, as it was our only private college of the tour.
To say we were let down is an understatement. Here's what Chase's notes said:
"Small campus but I just didn't feel it. The people I talked to were all great and the facilities were too, but it just didn't feel right".

Here's what I wrote on collegeconfidential:
"Bigboss asked me to share our Gonzaga experience so here it is: overall we were underwhelmed. The college was right in the middle of the city and unlike university of Portland, the campus isn't well divided from the city. There are many buildings along the streets lining the main campus that really didn't give it that college-like feel. They said that they had a great program but the facilities weren't that great. It didn't help that there were no students on campus. DS (Chase) said that several of the buildings we entered reminded him more of high school than college. Very institutional. I will admit that the faculty we met from the electrical engineering dept talked more about the other colleges we are going to (two of which he had attended) then about his own. Admissions advisor was nice."

Walked away from Gonzaga knowing it was crossed off the list.

Made our way back to the car for the long drive to Bozeman. Stopped at Schlotzky's in Coeur d'Alene on the way by, as my brother had introduced us to it when we visited Colorado last summer. Unfortunately, this one was not nearly as good as the ones in Colorado. Major bummer, though we did eat it anyways.

Even stopped at the store for a few munchies for the road and found some root beers to share with Tristan when we get home. The guys all love trying new root beers!
The drive to Bozeman was long and the road was wet, curvy and very hard to see at times. I miss the reflectors that are the norm on Oregon roads. Really could have used those.
The next morning dawned in Bozeman and we were up and ready to go!
Had trouble finding the right spot on campus (again) but finally did. Had a campus tour at 9am and housing tour at 10am. Campus tour was good and guide was great. Really enjoyed it and felt we saw a lot of campus in that time. The highlight for us was the engineering buildings. They have a lab that makes snow? And all sorts of other cool labs? And awesome, award winning lunar bots? Yes! It's a research institute and has some hoity toity rating that I don't even pretend to understand. All I know is that there were cool labs and projects in the engineering buildings!

Housing tour was pretty lame, as it was all in a room with a TV screen and then a look at one tiny little dorm room (and I mean tiny!). Thought it would be more "tour", less power point.
Their mascot here is the bobcat, so we took the time to have a picture taken by some random stranger walking by.
The honors presentation we went to was AMAZING! There were 5 of us and we met with the Dean of the honor program. She talked about all the wonderful things they do with the honors students. For instance, they have a hike and read event. They go to the woods, take hikes, talk about the book they read for the event, chat, eat, have discussions and presentations. That was right up Chase's alley. Then there was the 2 days worth of presentations for the honors college students, where professors show up and share what research they are doing. They have 15 minutes of time to give a high level presentation of their work. Students can list and see if something strikes them, see if they'd like to be involved. This was something Chase mentioned as loving.

After honors we tired to meet up with the AF ROTC recruiter but he was out to lunch. We had about an hour before the engineering group presentation, but at this point we were already sold on the school and over the group items, not to mention starving. In the end we decided to skip the last group item and just head to lunch.

Chase's notes for Montana State:
"Good school. I had a bad feeling towards it at the start due to an inability to find the campus, but it saved itself with a good engineering college and honors college. It has good opportunities, a great and supportive community and lots of chances for research. Also lots of financial aid and a day to day meal program. The negatives? The engineering living learning community is not co-ed and it's far from home in the middle of Montana."

Brian and I really liked it. We like Bozeman a lot. We loved the honors college and could really feel the vibe of the college meshing well with who Chase is. We liked the smaller size and knew that he could get good aid with his current scores or great aid if he can raise his ACT by 2 or more points the next time he takes it. They have the best meal plan - you either pay for 5 or 7 days of meal plan and it's as many visits as you want to make each day.

Lunch was MacKenzie River Pizza, which we had eaten on our last trip. It didn't disappoint. Those rollitos appetizers were so good! Pizza too. Yum!
We got back in the car to head towards Utah, where we would visit more colleges. We had purposefully planned it so we could spend some extra time to drive though Yellowstone. I just love the gorgeous drive there, the snowcapped mountains and hillsides and fields. And those big blue skies... love those most of all.
We hiked a bit and saw several animals, including a herd of buffalo on the way out of the park. But the highlight of our day was this mama grizzly and her little cub, playing by the side of the road. This photo was taken on my cell from the safety of the car. We sat and watched for about 5 minutes before we got shooed away by the park rangers. We couldn't quite smiling. It was amazing!

After a few stops we headed out the west entrance to the park. Once outside I reminded Chase of his ACT prep book, so he got to work. What happens when you give a boy an ACT prep book and a long stretch of road? This...

We finally bedded down in Pocatello, Idaho for the night, then got up at 8am and got back on the road. Our first stop was here, where we couldn't get a tour because of another event being held. We went to the visitor center, who sent us to park and then to the admissions office. We got a map (and very little information... the girl manning the desk really had no info to provide) and did a little tour ourselves. I must say that the campus was beautiful and in a nice, more rural town. The lack of information and overall lack of school spirit was disappointing. This was the only campus where there wasn't a lot of signs with the logo or saying "Go Aggies" all over campus.

Chase's notes read:
"Beautiful campus but we didn't get to see much. I don't really have enough information to make a decision".

The last big stop was at the University of Utah. Chase wasn't really sure about this school but we decided to give it a stop and see.

When we arrived we parked and went in for our information packed. Unfortunately admissions said that they didn't have any information for him. No packet, no tour, none of the meetings we had scheduled. The confirmations were on Chase's computer so not accessible at the time. To say it was frustrating was an understatement. I explained kindly to the admissions receptionist that we lived 13 hours away from here, that we wouldn't be returning before we had to make a school decision and we needed to do what we could to see the school that afternoon. I was offered the chance to take a tour, but I had set up a separate one with a hometown boy, thank goodness. So that was under control. The admin reception simply gave Chase 3 phone numbers and said "try calling to see if you can find someone free". Yes, like they are all hanging out on campus on a sunny Friday afternoon just waiting to talk to him. Didn't happen. Did ask to talk to an admin rep on a walk-in basis and got into a room to chat with her when the fire alarm went off. It did save us from the terrible room we were in (which Chase referred to as a windowless interrogation room), and we ended up on a table outside for a few minutes of chatting.

We drove all this way and we got nothing except 15 minutes of admin rep time and a tour. I will admit that it was a fabulous tour though, as I have a friend whose son attending U of U and is a freshman orientation leader and he offered to tour us. We could ask tons of questions and things we wouldn't ask a stranger. He took us for a tour of lower campus and we were amazed at some of the things we saw - the library is amazing, the new rec center is going to be great, the buildings are all well maintained and beautiful. Campus is immaculate, despite being in a big city. Wasn't thrilled about the hills though. This was when Alex mentioned that we were actually still on "lower campus". We took a bus up to "upper campus" so we could see where all the dorms were. Great to have them all in one place but stinks that there is only one dining hall, all the way up at upper campus.

Chase's notes:
"Another great and beautiful campus that's affordable, takes engineering seriously, has a great honors program."

Our thoughts: holy moly, this campus is huge! It's a similar number of undergrads as OSU, but also hads graduate students and doctorate students. University Hospital is on one side of campus. Busses to take you to upper campus are a nice touch, but only having one dining hall (it's in upper campus) isn't so great. The dorms seems really wonderful in size compared to what I've seen elsewhere, mainly because they were used for the Olympics. I think Chase might get a little lost in the sheer size of it all in the beginning. He also might not qualify for the honors program, who has an average of a 3.98 GPA for those accepted into the program. But he loved that honors dorms include maid service!

We took off for the best pizza in Salt Lake, at The Pie. We ordered the extra large 23" and it was HUGE! Not only was it huge, but it was heavy. This pizza was so good, but so filling. I finished one slice, while the boys maybe had 2. We sent Alex home with a half of a pizza (and the 3 boxes his mom sent him from home) and then went on our way.

We had planned to stay in Salt Lake but since all of our afternoon appointments didn't exist we decided to drive towards home. We killed millions of bugs, as evidenced by our windshield.

But there were some pretty sites along the way.

We finally stopped at Twin Falls, Idaho for the night in the worst hotel room of the bunch. So glad we headed home a day early so we can sleep in our own bed sooner!

Last morning of the trip and we drove the 1 1/2 hours to Boise to visit Boise State. We really did this on recommendation from my brother and SIL, who are die-hard Boise fans.We did a self-tour, since it was a Saturday. Unfortunately, they don't offer a computer engineer undergrad degree. But the stop was really to see the campus in case his major changes in the next few months. Plus they offer him automatic in-state tuition because of his GPA and test scores.

Chase liked the campus and it's a nice, smaller size. More compact. He said:
"Nice campus. It's medium sized and affordable, as I can pay in state tuition. Wish I could explore more and talk to people."
Back on the road after lunch and we pushed on pretty steadily. We did make one stop in Cascade Locks, where we waited about an hour to get the raspberry sundae Chase wanted the whole trip.
Met up with the in-laws to get back Jack. Chase is happy to reunite with his puppy!
We also got back Carissa. Tristan had headed off to camp in Idaho earlier that day and we won't see him for another week. Then finished our last little leg of the trip. The final tally:
5 days, 6 states, 6 colleges, 2,203 miles of memories together.

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