This 11th installment in my series of articles about great American universities brings us to a place I haven’t discussed previously, the “Show Me State” of Missouri, near the geographic center of the continental U.S.
The University of Missouri — the flagship of the State’s university system — is one of the most well-regarded tertiary education institutions in the Midwest. It was the first school in the world to offer a degree in journalism, and U.S. News & World Report consistently ranks it in the Top 100 of America’s thousands of universities and colleges.
I have never been to the University myself, but my Educational Adviser, Drew Dumas, is an expert — he earned a bachelor degree in journalism there and then worked in the school’s international office. I’ve picked his brain for insights and personal recollections, and this article is based on his experiences.
Colloquially referred to as Mizzou, Drew’s alma mater was established in Columbia, Missouri in 1839 as the first public university west of the Mississippi River. The University grew rapidly from its initial focus on agriculture and engineering, and now comprises 19 individual schools and colleges. Mizzou is one of only 34 public schools in the elite Association of American Universities.
Mizzou is home to more than 34,000 students and 2,100 professors and instructors. The majority of students take classes on the main campus, which consists of 345 buildings spread across 1,250 acres (505 hectares) of land just south of the Columbia downtown. If all of the experimental labs, farms, and other off-campus locations are taken into account, Mizzou occupies an astounding 19,425 acres (7,861 hectares).
The main campus is divided in two by color. The old core of the University is situated around Francis Quadrangle in the Red Campus, so called for the color of the bricks used. This section of campus also contains The Columns, the last remnants of the University’s original building — old Academic Hall — which burned down in 1892. The 6 columns of the Hall’s entrance stand where they always have, preserved as a National Historic Landmark.
The White Campus, with neo-Gothic-style buildings, is named for the color of the limestone used in its construction. Memorial Union, built in remembrance of Mizzou alumni who died in World War I, is the central structure on White Campus. To the south lie most of the student residence halls, the University Hospital, and extensive sports facilities.
Journalism has been one of the University’s many academic strengths since Mizzou established the world’s first school of journalism on September 14, 1908. The program is internationally well-regarded for the depth and diversity of its courses and for its “hands-on” approach. It consistently places high in elite rankings, particularly with respect to post-graduation job placement.
There is great flexibility to craft your own custom curriculum, and students may choose from a wide range of work/study environments including a local NBC newsroom (the only commercial affiliate newsroom used for university training in the country), a public radio studio, the local newspaper or magazine, and alternative studios such as Newsy. The famous “Missouri Method” puts students in a position to actually write, lay out, report, or produce the news, rather than simply observe professionals.
Drew tells me that the journalism school excels in networking, each week bringing speakers to town from media giants such as Google, CNN, and the Associated Press to interact directly with students. Also, there’s a powerful Mizzou Mafia — composed of the large number of prominent alumni of the journalism school — which actively seeks and hires Mizzou grads.
Another highly regarded school at Missouri is the Robert J. Trulaske, Sr. College of Business. Its MBA program was recently ranked among the best in the United States by Business Week, the undergraduate program ranked in U.S. News & World‘s top 50, and the school ranked #1 overall for having the lowest cost to students. Public Accounting Report ranked Mizzou’s masters and PhD degress in accountancy 13th and 11th in the country, respectively.
The business school places significant emphasis on out-of-classroom learning and provides several workshop and professional seminar series for network-building purposes. MBA students formed the Trulaske Consulting Agency, which runs a supplemental, well-funded program of case studies, strategy sessions, and seminars. The school’s Dean – Joan Gabel – was recently honored as one of the rising women stars in business school deanships.
One of the first schools established at Mizzou was the College of Agriculture, Food, and Natural Resources (CAFNR). For all of its more than 170 years in existence, CAFNR has been considered one of the nation’s elite agricultural education institutions. Particularly well-regarded is its program in plant and animal science research, which is ranked 15th worldwide by Thomson Reuters.
CAFNR’s research programs are a powerful draw for students. The College’s annual research expenditure is the highest at Mizzou, totallying about US$ 32 million each year. The College operates the Agricultural Research Station, a series of strategically placed farms and research centers around Missouri that afford students and researchers the opportunity to engage in targeted, impactful research on a wide range of issues including drought resiliency, agricultural emissions, and cattle growth.
There are many other excellent programs at Mizzou. I’ll singleout just one more, the College of Engineering. Ranked in the top 5% internationally by Fiske, this College offers rigorous programs at all academic levels which integrate internships, practical field work, independent research, and theoretical discussion in class. Plus, Mizzou engineering students have access to the largest nuclear research reactor of any university in America.
Major corporations (such as Boeing) employ engineering students on campus for commercial research projects, including analysis of different alloys and stress-testing of components. Even undergraduate students work with faculty and major corporations on such projects, and this intense real-world experience coupled with constantly upgraded facilities contribute greatly to the program’s stature.
Among Missouri’s esteemed alumni are entertainment figures such as Brad Pitt (who remains 1 credit shy of his degree), Sheryl Crow, Jon Hamm, and Sally Ann Salsano (creator of Jersey Shore) … sports superstars such as Mike Shannon, Ian Kinsler, Lloyd Carr, and Roger Wehrli … and business icons like Sam Walton, founder of Walmart. And then there’s New Zealand’s own Charlotte Bellis of Sky News and 60 Minutes.
In addition to a loyal alumni corps, Mizzou has deep-set traditions that often date back more than 100 years. The athletic teams are called the Tigers in homage to a local pro-Union Missouri militia of the same name during the American Civil War which guarded the University and town from Confederate raiding parties.
Mizzou’s colors are the black and gold of the stripes of the Bengal tiger, the University’s mascot. Truman the Tiger — named after President Harry S. Truman, a native Missouran – attends most athletic contests as well as many of the community events held on campus and around Columbia during the year.
Competing in the fierce Southeastern Conference, Mizzou is home to an intense sporting culture. For example, in just the last 13 years, 40 of the school’s baseball players have been signed to pro contracts. The football team draws huge crowds, playing at the 70,000-seat Faurot Field, better known as The Zou (a shortened form of Mizzou).
Mizzou’s rivalry with the University of Kansas is one of the most bitter in American collegiate sports, stretching back to the American Civil War. There was exceptionally vicious fighting across the Missouri/Kansas border during the war. Relentless attacks from Kansas provoked a group of Missourans to raid and burn Lawrence, Kansas, home of the University of Kansas. More than 150 years later, neither side has forgiven or forgotten.
Physical combat aside, a particularly beloved area of campus is Speakers Circle, concentric brick and cement circles with slightly raised tiers. On this protected ground anyone may exercise their right to free speech without fear of retaliation, whatever their message. The Circle draws many different characters to the campus, some of whom are eccentric or provocative, fanning vigorous debate.
Then there’s the special relationship with St. Patrick, patron saint of engineers. Engineering Week is celebrated the week of St. Patrick’s Day, with students wearing green to show their affiliation and the dome of Jesse Hall illuminated in vibrant green each night. There is even a stone shamrock inlaid in the walkway of Francis Quadrangle, outside the engineering building. Tradition holds that all those who step on the shamrock at any point while at Mizzou are destined to marry an engineer.
Drew tells me that there are 7 unspoken traditions in which a student must participate in order to be truly considered a Mizzou Tiger. The most innocent of the 7 include standing in Speakers Circle and shouting “I love Mizzou” three times as loudly as possible, riding the bronze tiger statue in Tiger Plaza, and swimming in Brady Fountain. I’ll leave the others to your imagination (or to your googling pleasure), since they are slightly less seemly (including one involving streaking).
Every August freshmen students gather at the iconic Columns in the Quad for Tiger Walk. Students walk or run through the Columns toward Jesse Hall to symbolize their entrance to the University. The event provides an excellent opportunity to connect with fellow students, and most student organizations set up booths and displays around the Quad. Tiger Prowl, a corresponding celebration that takes place each May, involves senior students walking away from Jesse Hall back through the Columns, to symbolize their imminent graduation and reentry into the world.
Mizzou is credited with founding Homecoming, one of America’s greatest and most beloved school traditions. Widespread in high schools and universities, homecoming generally involves the return of alumni, student parties and contests, a parade, speakers, afternoon tailgate parties, and an evening football game, all in celebration of love of and loyalty to school.
Homecoming at Mizzou is invigorated by the more than 70 fraternities and sororities that make up one of the oldest and largest Greek systems in America. About 22% of all Mizzou students participate in the Greek societies, most of which are located just west of campus in million-dollar mansions in what’s known as Greek Town. There is also a line of Greek houses through the middle of campus called Frat Row.
As with many American schools, one of Mizzou’s great assets is its location. Columbia is a vibrant college town of approximately 110,000 residents with rich history, vibrant nightlife, and a friendly, small-community atmosphere. It is surrounded by a sea of corn fields, forests, and beautiful hills and valleys, and the friendly country atmosphere of rural Missouri permeates and enriches the quality of life at the University.
Downtown Columbia (known as “The District”) has historic shopfronts, cobbled streets, parks, clubs, music and other performance venues, hip restaurants, and pubs heavily frequented by students. Drew tells me that among his favorites were (and are) Shakespeare’s Pizza, Harpo’s, and the Broadway Diner.
Perhaps the largest public event in Columbia each year is the Roots ‘N Blues ‘N BBQ Festival. The celebration kicks off late each summer and brings some of the best jazz and bluegrass bands from around America to town. All day and night the Festival hosts live concerts on stages set up in the streets. And there’s a world-class barbeque competition in which the nation’s best grill-masters come to battle for huge prizes. The competing teams grill samples to hand out, giving everyone a chance to taste some of the world’s best BBQ.
Outside Columbia, students and visitors can explore unspoiled nature areas and wilderness. The beautiful Ozark Mountains are nearby. There are caves and walking trails at Rockbridge Park for spelunking, as well as the Katy Trail (the longest recreational rail trail in America), which passes through Columbia on its 240 mile (390 km) run across Missouri.
As you would expect, close at hand are a full array of recreational options … excellent hiking and camping … fishing … hunting … boating, swimming, sailing … agricultural and ethnic festivals … tractor races … farmers’ markets … huge corn mazes (one of my own favorite challenges) … and much more.
When you’re hankering for a road trip, metropolitan Kansas City is just a 2-hour drive west, and St. Louis is only 1.5 hours east. Just a half hour away is Fulton, where Winston Churchill gave his iconic Iron Curtain Address. And then there’s Branson, a great getaway famous for country-western entertainment and theme parks.
For more information about the University of Missouri, including the many fields of study, graduate programs, and opportunities for international students, visit the school’s main website. And of course, feel free to email our Educational Adviser, Drew Dumas, at DumasAG@state.gov with any questions that you may have about Mizzou. He’s got first-hand experience and would be delighted to discuss whether Missouri is right for you.
Next up will be Stanford University in my home state of California, followed by my alma mater, Princeton University. Let me know if you have suggestions for other features thereafter.