McDaniel College welcomed the largest incoming class in its history during a move-in day on Thursday that consisted of 587 first-years and 50 transfers coming from 17 states and countries as far away as New Zealand and Denmark.
The college categorizes about 50% of its students as “multicultural.” Forty-nine percent are male and 51% are female. First-generation college students make up 43% of the incoming class. The class is larger because the pool of applicants was larger this year, up more than 1,000 from the year prior, said Janelle Holmboe, vice president of enrollment management and dean of admissions.
Some of the students from farthest afield were already in town the week before move-in. A new program called McDaniel Local hosted students in Westminster for a few days throughout the summer to get acquainted with the community in groups of about 70 at a time.
Last year was a test with smaller groups, but this year for the first time, more than 90 percent of the incoming class participated in the program. The last group of McDaniel Local students came right before the start of classes and tended to consist of the students from farthest away in order to save them a plane ticket.
Ella Tomkins has the honor of being farthest from home, coming to McDaniel from New Zealand. She hopes to study psychology and will be a part of the swim team. She didn’t want to go to a large university, so she looked into international recruiting and found McDaniel.
“I didn’t like big cities ... I’m used to a tight-knit community,” she said.
On Tuesday, the McDaniel Local students started their morning at the Boys & Girls Club of Westminster hanging out with the summer camp kids there, playing soccer and computer games and making crafts.
Brooke Wier and Daniel Elizondo were playing Foosball with a few students in the main area. They hail from Georgia and Texas respectively, and found McDaniel from previous experience. Weir’s mother is an alumna, and Elizondo participated in a forensic science summer camp there when he was younger. Weir thought she would hate the school, but was won over after they took a tour together.
As someone who is looking to studying early child education, Bopha Bessire was at home in the arts and crafts room of the Boys & Girls Club. She said she was drawn by the teaching program at McDaniel and also their reputation as a school that was supportive of students with learning disabilities. She has one, so it was an important consideration for her.
The night prior, the group had dinner in town at Rafael’s Restaurant. Each group that went through the program did at least one service day at the Boys & Girls Club or planting trees at the Singleton-Mathews Farm. They also ate a meal in town at a local restaurant.
Josh Ambrose, associate dean of Campus and Community engagement, said the program is important to catalyze a connection between McDaniel students and the Westminster community early on so they feel safe, comfortable and ready to engage.
Erin Benevento, director of the first year experience, said, “McDaniel is putting a higher focus on community. … The students know they are encouraged to go downtown and that the downtown partners know that these are our students, that these are the kind of people we have up on the hill.”
McDaniel Local is part of the McDaniel Commitment, a program that touches students’ lives at various points in their college career from first to senior year.
“We’ve tried to remove that barrier of uncertainty for making the trip downtown,” she said.
Holmboe credits the McDaniel Commitment as one of the driving factors for the larger class size. Another factor they credit is the diversity of the college.
“At McDaniel, we started investing in access and diversity probably 15 years ago, and what we’re seeing now is prospective students understand the value of being in a diverse environment, of having classes with people who come from different racial backgrounds than them, people with different socio-economic statuses than them,” she said.
Every first year student who requested on-campus housing, which is the majority of McDaniel students, even through their senior year, was granted it, said Director of Communications Peggy Fosdick. Some students are housed with multiple roommates in a larger room. Holmboe said that all of those students volunteered to do so after the college offered a discount on housing.
New staff members have been added to the college in student-facing positions like financial aid and student engagement.
After an at-times controversial restructuring that saw several majors and minors dropped from McDaniel’s list of academic programs, the college has directed resources into new academic programs and majors that are currently under review with the Maryland Higher Education Commission (MHEC). Fosdick said they are expected to be approved by the end of this semester.
The new programs are: Actuarial Science, Applied Mathematics, Biomedical Science, Biochemistry, Criminal Justice, Health Sciences, Marketing, and Writing and Publishing.
Move-in day ended with the “Out of Darkness into Light” candlelight processional. Freshmen walked through the Ward Memorial Arch as a symbolic welcome into the college community. They then went to the Memorial Plaza to ring the Old Main bell.