Seal. Click through for image source.In this 9th installment of my series of articles about great American universities I’ll be highlighting Rollins College, a premier liberal arts school in Winter Park, Florida in the Orlando metro area.

Rollins is a gem well worth considering. Waiting for you there are not only the great beauty of Florida and the excitement of Orlando, but a unique, world-class education. For the past nine years U.S. News & World Report has ranked Rollins as the best regional education institution in the American South.

Founded in 1885, Rollins is the oldest tertiary school in Florida. An intimate private liberal arts college (like Swarthmore, which I profiled back in September), Rollins is well known for rigorous academics, innovative approaches to education, strong sense of community, social entrepreneurship, and vibrant student culture.

The school is also well known for its beautiful campus, with more than 70 lush acres (28 hectares) of Spanish and Mediterranean-style heritage architecture along the shores of Winter Park’s Lake Virginia. In 2011, the university selection website TheBestColleges.org ranked Rollins as having the 37th “most amazing” campus among the thousands of tertiary schools in the United States.

Knowles Memorial Chapel and the Annie Russell Theatre, two historic landmarks on the Rollins campus. Click through for image source.

Heritage landmarks at the center of campus. At right, Knowles Memorial Chapel.

Rollins College from above, surrounded by Lake Virginia. Click through for image source.

Campus is bordered on three sides by Lake Virginia.

One of my favorite physical features at Rollins is the Walk of Fame, an oak-shaded walkway though the center of campus flanked by more than 200 engraved stones. Each stone comes from the birthplace of a person of great note and serves as a reminder to students of what lies both behind and ahead of them.

Included on the Walk are a stone from the well at the log cabin in which Abraham Lincoln was born,  a rock from the east portico of George Washington’s beloved Mount Vernon, a marble slab from the neighborhood of the Lyceum where Aristotle lived, as well as stones from the homes of Christopher Columbus, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Oscar Wilde, Cleopatra, and Richard Wagner.

In 1945, the school was presented with a stone from Hitler’s fireplace. You won’t find that stone anywhere on the walk. Click through for image source.

Part of the Walk of Fame.

A defining feature of the school is its relatively small student body, which facilitates highly personalized education. Rollins has approximately 2,700 students (2,400 undergrad and 300 graduate students), taught by 220 full-time faculty members. The overall student-to-faculty ratio is 12:1, and class sizes are very small, reflecting Rollins’ strong commitment to “close teacher-student scholarship and conversational-style class structure.”

More than half of the student population is female, and approximately 6% of students come from outside the United States. Tuition is what you would expect at such a high-quality private institution, but financial assistance is generous. Almost 85% of all undergraduate students were offered need-based financial aid in 2011, with the average need-based grant totaling nearly US$ 30,000.

Click through for image source. Olin Library.

Olin Library.

Academic offerings are organized into four schools: the College of Arts and Science (with several dozen different major and minor fields of concentration), the College of Professional Studies (with bachelor degree programs in communication, education, and international business), the Hamilton Holt School (with undergrad and graduate degree programs for non-traditional students), and the Roy E. Crummer Graduate School of Business (with a variety of MBA programs).

There is great flexibility to find or create your own niche academically. You can mix and match majors, minors, and pre-professional programs (including in law, medicine, environmental management, veterinary medicine, or forestry). If your interests do not fit well within an existing major, you can design your own field of study. Or you can pursue an honors program of interdisciplinary courses, team-taught honors seminars, and/or independent collaborative research projects.

Click through for image source. The McKean Gateway is the main entrance to the college.

McKean Gateway at the entrance to campus.

One of the best examples of the dynamic intellectual atmosphere at Rollins is the Winter Park Institute. Building on a long tradition of innovative, iterative learning, the Institute brings to campus groups of thought leaders and scholars from a wide variety of disciplines for public lectures, symposia, master classes, readings, and discussions with students, professors, and the general public.

Rollins is committed to moving the process of education from the classroom out into the wider world. The school has extensive internship programs, a great array of community service-learning courses, significant off-campus field study opportunities, and one of the most comprehensive study-abroad programs in the United States. Early this year Rollins was named a “Changemaker Campus” by the Ashoka social entrepreneur network for “driving social change through transformative educational experiences.”

In 2012, Jane Goodall came to the Winter Park Institute to speak to hundreds of students about chimpanzees. Click through for image source.

Jane Goodall at the Winter Park Institute earlier this year.

As part of Rollins’ aggressive, interdisciplinary internationalization initiative, a group of ten Rollins faculty members from nine different fields of study mounted a research expedition to Antarctica in 2009. Each professor researched and conducted with students a seminar on an Antarctic issue related to his or her area of scholarship. Topics included a feminist critique of Ernest Shackleton’s leadership, the geo-politics of the Antarctic Treaty System, cause and remediation of the Antarctic ozone hole, and the art of polar regions.

And of course, the traditional curriculum at Rollins is highly rated. For example, both Bloomberg Business Week and Forbes have ranked the Crummer Graduate School of Business as #1 in Florida and in the top 50 nationwide. Leadership Excellence ranks Rollins’ MBA programs in the top 25 in the country.

Bush Science Center.

Bush Science Center.

Rollins graduates have distinguished themselves in a wide variety of endeavors from politics to sports to business and the arts. Notable alumni include Rahul Ghandi, Muriel Fox (co-founder of the National Organization for Women), Nobel prize-winning scientist Donald Cram, actor Buddy Ebsen, ‘N Sync singer Chris Kirkpatrick, and the iconic Mister Rogers, just to name an eclectic few.

As you would expect, Rollins is rich with tradition. Since 1895 the school’s colors have been blue and gold (switched from the original rose-pink oleander because students complained that “the pink had no character”). The school’s original motto was Sit Lux, or “here is light.” At the turn of the 20th Century the motto was revised to Fiat Lux, or “let there be light,” which was thought to be a better expression of the mission and character of the school. And of course there’s a mascot.

Tommy the Tar, spurring the Tar swimming team to greater feats as he bares his muscles. Click through for image source.

Tommy the Tar at a swim meet.

Students refer to themselves and to their sports teams as Tars. As many of you may know, tar is the traditional British nickname for a sailor. According to Rollins legend, during World War I a U.S. Navy ship was stationed on Lake Virginia, at the edge of campus. With only 10 male students left at the school during the war, female students allegedly refocused their attention on the nearby sailors, creating a new school nickname that stuck.

Today the Tars compete in NCAA Division II, in the Sunshine State Conference. Despite its small size, the school sponsors 22 varsity teams which have amassed an impressive total of 22 National Championships and 65 Conference Titles. Some of the prominent athletic alumni include Jim Bowden (the youngest general manager in Major League Baseball history), Ryan Hanigan (of the Cincinnati Reds), Jack Kramer (pro tennis player), and Rob Oppenheim (pro golfer).

Cornell Campus Center, a focus of student social life.

Cornell Campus Center, a focus of student social life.

Click through for image source. Russell Theater.

The heritage Annie Russell Theater.

In addition to athletics, there are approximately 150 student organizations on campus. Particularly dynamic are the community engagement programs, service clubs, and arts and theater groups. For example, the 150-voice Bach Festival Choir is widely considered to be among the best oratorio choirs in the United States, and the annual 2-week Bach Festival has been praised by the New York Times as “one of the outstanding choral events in the country.”

Perhaps my favorite campus event, though, is Fox Day. Each year for more than half a century, the president of the college has picked a fine spring day at his sole discretion and without prior warning to students or staff, and placed a 3-foot-tall statue of a smug fox on the school’s main lawn early in the morning. The appearance of the fox is the signal that all classes are canceled for the day. Students then evacuate campus en masse for local beaches or amusement parks. The day ends with an all-college barbeque back on campus.

The Fox was originally accompanied by a Cat, but due to an unfortunate prank, the cat was destroyed. Click through for image source.

The Fox appears, signaling a communal day off.

There are certainly a lot of options for Fox Day excursions. Rollins sits amidst a recreational wonderland blessed by a particularly salutary climate in a beautiful part of the United States. I know the area well. Dr. McWaine’s and my youngest godson and his family live just up the road in Gainesville, so we visit the Orlando area regularly, occasionally stopping to visit a park or shop for bargains at the huge outlet malls.

Winter Park itself is a charming town of 28,000 residents. Founded as a resort community in the early 1900s, its residential neighborhoods are nestled amidst a series of lush parks, gardens, and lakes connected by scenic canals. The parks have extensive walking trails and bicycle paths, and the lakes and waterways facilitate a full array of water sports and leisure activities.

Winter Park’s Central Park.

Winter Park’s grand Central Park.

One of the many canals linking the series of waterways around Winter Park. Anyone can catch a boat down one, though skiing in such a narrow area may be difficult. Click through for image source.

One of the many canals through Winter Park.

The heritage flavor of the downtown business and shopping district has been preserved. There are several theaters and museums in town including the Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art (which contains the largest collection of Tiffany glass in the world), plus those on campus including the historic (and supposedly haunted) Annie Russell Theatre.

One corner of Winter Park’s historic downtown, where cobbled streets are still the fashion. Click through for image source.

A corner in Winter Park’s quaint brick and cobble-stone business district.

Also contributing to Winter Park’s high quality of life are numerous annual public events including the Florida Film Festival, Winter Park Sidewalk Art Festival, Unity Heritage Festival, and other fairs. There are regular tours of the town’s historic houses, other heritage structures, and gardens.

Casa Feliz.

Casa Feliz, one of Winter Park’s old heritage structures.

Adjacent to Winter Park is Orlando, a vibrant city of 250,000 residents with exciting nightlife, extensive arts and cultural offerings (including a dozen notable museums and numerous performance groups), strong sports teams (including professional basketball and soccer teams), and a booming high-tech economy based on digital media, software design, agricultural technology, aviation, aerospace, tourism, and entertainment.

Click through for image source. Orlando skyline.

Center-city Orlando rises from the banks of Lake Eola.

Undoubtedly best known as the “Theme Park Capital of the World,” Orlando is home to Walt Disney World, Epcot, Universal Studios Florida, Islands of Adventure, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Disney’s Animal Kingdom, SeaWorld, Gatorland, Wet’n Wild Water Park, Legoland Florida, WonderWorks, the Holy Land Experience, and several other parks and resorts, which all together draw approximately 55 million visitors each year. You can drive from Rollins to most of those attractions in just over half an hour.

Click through for image source. Theme parks.

A few of Central Florida’s famous offerings.

When you aren’t in the mood for amusement parks, the countryside around Orlando is beautiful, rich with wildlife and recreational options, and fun to explore. I particularly enjoy swimming with the manatees, visiting alligator farms, hiking in the wilderness areas, browsing in old shops in the nearby small towns, and boating, sailing, or fishing the many lakes and rivers.

Click through for image source. Holding an alligator’s mouth shut is simple. Holding it open with no hands can be much more difficult.

Up close at an alligator farm.

Because Orlando is located in roughly the center of the State, the beaches of the Gulf of Mexico are approximately 70 miles (113 km) to the west of Rollins, and the beaches of the Atlantic Ocean are only 50 miles (80 km) to the east. If you have never been on a Florida beach, you don’t know the great experience you’ve been missing.

Check out the Kennedy Space Station to see the history of America’s explorations into space. Click through for image source.

Lift-off at the Kennedy Space Center.

And there’s still more. The Kennedy Space Center is only about an hour’s drive from the college. Plus, when you have a free weekend, you can easily get to the iconic pleasures of Miami, South Beach, Ft. Lauderdale, Palm Beach, and Tampa, as well as the natural glories of the Everglades and the Florida Keys.

For more information about visiting or living in Winter Park, take a look at the city’s website. You can get more information about things to see and do throughout the State of Florida at VisitFlorida.com.

With more than 1.5 million acres of wild beauty and diverse wildlife, the Everglades is a world treasure.

With more than 1.5 million acres of wild beauty, the Everglades is a world treasure.

For more details about Rollins College, specific fields of study, and how to apply, check out the main website or the page with separate links to its individual schools and colleges. And of course, feel free to email the Embassy’s Educational Adviser, Drew Dumas, at DumasAG@state.gov if you would like more information or have specific questions.

Next up in this series will be Princeton University, the iconic Ivy League school in the Garden State of New Jersey where Dr. McWaine and I were both educated. As always, let me know if you have suggestions for other university features or education topics thereafter.