A major component of the F&M educational philosophy is “learning by doing.” Katie Rouff-Ward told us about some of the experiential learning opportunities she took part in throughout her F&M career. “I was involved in a student-run finance portfolio through the finance department . . . We were given a set amount of money from an alum and we were able to manage it.” This experience put her in a good position to take on more responsibility when she moved on to internships at two different banks, including one that focused on investing, that ultimately helped her land top jobs in the financial industry. “I ended up getting a job with Prudential Investing through Career Services. Prudential had an accelerated management development program and that really launched my career. They came to F&M, and they hired two of us. It was twenty-eight college just-grads from all over the country. We did internships at Prudential and then at the end of the program we could pick where we wanted to be.” And that wasn’t the only opportunity; according to Katie, “a lot of companies came to campus. I was going to an interview every other day.”
Katie told us that “the career services department has been completely revamped now” and has taken on new roles as the Office of Student and Post-Graduate Development (OSPGD), where she is involved as an alumna. OSPGD starts working with students the moment they walk in the door to develop fundamental career skills, like networking and financial literacy. It helps students secure internships and interviews with potential employers. “They have a boot camp for all seniors, where they do role plays, they work on interview skills, and resume writing,” Katie told us. Sixty-one percent of students complete at least one summer internship during their time at F&M, and high-level alums like Katie are a huge support.
Caitlin Krutsick told us about two internships that she secured through the college and that helped her start her career at a policy think tank in D.C.: “The first was during the summer between my sophomore and junior years. I found an internship opportunity to work in the law office of an F&M alumnus through the alumni network database. His law firm was small, so my internship involved a lot of substantive work that I’m sure interns at large, corporate law firms would not get to have. Additionally, this alum was a commissioner for his township, so I also had the opportunity to do work for him in that capacity and gain exposure to local government operations.”
Stephen Medvic, professor of government, told us that the government program that Caitlin studied in is one of the college’s largest, with “a long and storied history of connecting people into the practical world of politics and governing.” And part of that history is the Wise internships, “which give students a stipend [that pays for living expenses so that they can take an unpaid internship] and [. . .] live in D.C. or Harrisburg, the capital of Pennsylvania, to do work in government, politics, or something related to public affairs.”
The college also has a robust selection of service learning opportunities that partner students with organizations that like the School District of Lancaster, where students volunteer as tutors, and “community-based learning courses that [work] with refugees,” Stephen Medvic, professor of government, told us. These classes and opportunities help students discover interests they didn’t know they had and connect with careers that can put those interests to work. “A lot of students,” Dr. Medvic said, “learn that they are interested in criminal justice or the legal profession by taking a Public Health Course.” The community-based learning class called Problem Solving Courts or Drug Courts “is kind of a joint effort between government and biology.” Part of the public health major, the class is taught by a local judge, and “students [engage] with the local problem-solving court [through visits and interviews] with people who have gone through the system. It’s a field that most of them never even thought of that maybe someday they want to be a judge or some kind of advocate in that system.”
Instead of typical freshman dorms, F&M sorts freshmen into five distinctive “Houses.” The Houses, which include rooms for seminars and dynamic common areas that function as meeting rooms and performance stages, “are designed to be a third space between the classroom and the residential experience” where “students [engage in] intellectual [activity] close to where they live,” Stephen Medvic, professor of government, told us.
Each house has its own distinct personality, complete with a “crest” designed by the house’s founding residents, and each “receives a substantial annual budget that students may spend on social programs, décor, academic and community activities, special projects and more,” according to the school. “Students disburse these funds through House governments that draft their own constitutions.” The houses become a space where academics and social life mingle, where students use house funds to host dinners with artists and business leaders, produce plays and faculty-student publications, throw yard-sales to raise money for local nonprofits, and conduct research with faculty. Houses even inspire distinctive academic communities, such as the Junto Society, modeled after Benjamin Franklin’s group of the same name, where members present papers they have written “on a topic of public interest and current debate for discussion by all members,” or the Marshall Fellows Program, a kind of lab where “students think about and prepare for post-graduate opportunities,” according to the college.
Caitlin Krutsick was a Junto member, and she told us, “After presenting your paper, the entire group of faculty and students discussed the paper and asks questions of the author about what he or she had found in the research. I wrote my paper on ‘Big Ag’ and how agribusiness affects the food in our supply chain, and therefore, our health. It was a rewarding experience to be able to dive into a topic outside of my major, and to hear from peers about topics that interested them. Sharing in dialogue often offers the best learning experiences, and Junto certainly shows the value of opening doors to have those conversations.”
Faculty don’t live on-site, but “[they keep their offices there] and teach classes over there, they come over to show a film in the evening,” Dr. Medvic told us. “We are an active faculty so we are on campus not just to teach . . . but we’re in our offices a lot even when we’re outside of office hours. Students pop in all the time, if something occurs to them or they’re walking down the hall. . . Students can pop in if they’re nervous about job prospects or career choices.” This is the kind of truly personal attention that is only available at a small college and that F&M has gone to great lengths to curate. Professor Kimberly M. Armstrong, a 26-year veteran in the Spanish department, said, “It is very hard to not have a relationship with a professor. My son is finishing his first year at a large university, and not one of his professors knows his name. I know the names of all the students who are in my classes by the end of the first week in class.”
As a result, “[students] become a lot more independent,” Dr. Medvic told us. “We pride ourselves on begin a rigorous, demanding school. A lot of times freshman get here and they’re smart, they’re capable, they’re hardworking, but they just get overwhelmed right off the bat. And they should kind of feel that way. They won’t have their sea legs yet. That means that they need direction figuring out how to stabilize everything, how to manage the workload, and how to find themselves.” The F&M community works as a wonderful stabilizing force, so that by the time they leave, “they find an identity. They become much more independent when they leave here.”