Tag Archives: road trip

The Great College Search–Part Two: The Road Trip

I seldom offer a caveat at the beginning of a post, but please consider:  All of the impressions below were OURS.  The aspects of each campus that we considered positive might not impress you or your student, and our concerns might be strengths to someone else.  But the intent of this post is not so much to ‘rate’ these schools as to share my experience accompanying my daughter on this once-in-a-lifetime journey.  So here we go….

This time next year, our oldest child will be living on a college campus somewhere, leading her own life with a new level of autonomy, freedom, and responsibility.  But the question is where?

So this summer, my daughter & I set out on a 3-part road trip.  We considered making this a family journey since her sister is only 2 school years behind and 5th grade brother is always up for going just about anywhere.  But in the end, her mom & I agreed that this trip needed to be one parent-one rising senior, and we decided I would go.

My Alma Mater

We live less than an hour from the University of Maryland, and our first tour was of my old campus in College Park.  First, we sat through a brief introduction and a pretty inspiring promotional video, available here:   University of Maryland Impact

Then we started walking, touring dorms, classrooms, the library, and the student union–all of the usual college tour landmarks.  Two resources that stood out along the way were the grammar hotline (Call from your dorm for help sorting out the wording of a paper?!) and the Math Success Program (free walk-in support with anything related to math).

Why I will be glad if my daughter becomes a Terp:  Maryland is a BIG school, a top-tier public university with world-class facilities, a wide range of entertainment options, easy access to opportunities in the nation’s capital, and as many majors as you can find anywhere.  The size of the school offers options, enough options to allow any student to redefine him/herself several times over during a 4 year undergraduate experience.

McKeldin Mall–University of Maryland

Bonus & Disclosure:  I am a two-time Maryland grad, and I bleed red, white, black, and gold–a Terp For Life.

Something to consider:  College Park is a quasi-urban campus, just 15 minutes from Washington, DC.  As a one-time commuter school that is transitioning into more and more of a residential school, Maryland experiences a constant ebb and flow of car and foot traffic with the neighboring community.  Although safety is a concern ANYWHERE, I would worry more about my daughter more at UMCP than at some other schools–at least until I know she has routines in place to protect herself.

Farther From Home

A few days later we drove 3 hours or so to State College, PA.  We stayed in a hotel the night before to ensure we would be on time for Spend a Summer Day at Penn State.   To begin the day, we parked in the football stadium lot, then caught a designated shuttle bus across campus.  We climbed out of the bus, walked through two lines of applauding students, high-fived the Nittany Lion, then walked into the largest lecture hall I’ve ever seen (even as a Maryland grad) for the welcome presentation.  Then we started walking, taking the obligatory tour of campus.  Two highlights were the writing center (the student gets help with the paper; the professor receives notice that the student took the time to seek help to do well) and the 6-tier dining plan (with options ranging from a light meal or two per day for students living off campus to what our guide called “the linebacker plan”).

Why I will be glad if my daughter becomes a Nittany Lion:  Penn State offers similar advantages to Maryland as another large, well-respected, public university.  But what sets Penn State apart from other schools is the universal sense of identity and loyalty.   The ‘summer day’ event was staffed by scores of volunteers who all appeared to be students and alumni, literally ranging in age from their teens to their eighties.  University Park is also a more ‘enclosed’ campus than College Park; although the school neighbors a college town, there was little evidence of non-university traffic on campus.


Old Main–Penn State University

Bonus & Disclosure:  We were familiar with Penn State because my daughter had stayed and played on campus for a Memorial Day weekend volleyball tournament 6 of the last 7 years.  We both had stayed in dorms, eaten in dining halls, and walked the campus through those experiences.

Something to consider:  The dorms at Penn State, at least the older dorms that are most likely to house freshmen, are not particularly comfortable.  Small, dark, lacking air conditioning–not posh.  But a greater concern is that while freshmen are required to live on campus, housing is not guaranteed for all 4 years.  The university has built relationships with local realtors and apartment complexes, but the possibility of needing to pursue this may be noteworthy for some students and their families.

To be continued….In my next Dad Knows Better post:  traveling south, some smaller schools, and why this trip matters in our big picture.

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Filed under Appreciation, College, Safety, School, Uncategorized

I Get By With A Little Help From……Complete Strangers

Last Friday night I headed out with 2 of our trio on a trip to Richmond, normally a few hours’ drive from our home.  Our high school-aged daughter had a 3 day sports competition as part of a travel team, and I planned to split the weekend between cheering her on and spending some one-on-one time with her elementary-aged brother.  Seemed like a great plan.

But about 2/3 of the way there, my trusty–but not new–SUV lost power.  What does THAT mean?  Radio–stopped playing…which was extra painful because we were listening to an ’80s show that we expected to air our phone-in request in a few minutes.  Headlights–dimmed in a hurry.  Dash instruments–dropped to zero, despite the fact that we were still going.  I moved to the right shoulder, and before the next exit the engine gave out, too.

Dark (without any lights).  Cold.  Heavy, long-weekend traffic on I-95.  2 kids, plus luggage, on board.  And for the first time in almost 30 years of driving, I was stuck alongside the road with a problem that couldn’t be solved with a spare tire and a jack.  With the emergency lights barely flashing, I got out and stood behind the truck, counting on the reflective parts of my ski jacket to replace the flares I was not sure I could get to without unpacking all of the bags.  [I know:  Maybe not the smartest move, but at the time my first thought was to keep us from getting hit by someone who couldn’t even see us.]

But then everything took a turn for the better because one person after another went out of their way to help:

I tried to flag down a passing police officer, but he did not see me in time across 4 lanes of heavy traffic.  So I called 911 and the operator notified the county police that we were stranded without lights.  Less than 5 minutes later the same officer was back, parked behind us with his lights flashing to keep us safe from highway traffic and offering to put the kids in his car to keep them warm.

The officer called a state highway truck.  The state highway driver checked out my SUV, reaching the same conclusion the officer and I had:  The alternator was dead.

The officer called for a tow truck, and he knew the driver who showed up to get us off the interstate.  They talked through our best options, fielding all of my questions.

The tow truck driver recommended a garage.  He assured me that it was a family-run business that would be open first thing Saturday morning and that he had even known the owners to stay open late on the weekend to help stranded travelers get back on the highway.  He also recommended an inexpensive, but national-chain, hotel directly across the street from the garage.  He took us to the hotel and then took our truck to the garage.

Meanwhile, my daughter was working her smartphone to find a ride to the tournament.  She found out that another family with a daughter on another team in the same club had left later than we had.  My daughter called to ask for help, and they happily detoured from the highway to pick her up and take her on to the team hotel in Richmond so she would be with her team for the full weekend–The players room together, so once she got to the hotel she was going to be safe with friends and chaperones.

I called the Richmond hotel to let them know that I would not be checking in as expected.  It was 11:00pm, 5 hours after the deadline to cancel a reservation, so all I wanted was to confirm the room for the rest of the weekend.  I explained that we were stranded until we could get the truck fixed and the lady on the phone put me on hold.  When she came back, I was stunned to hear that she was changing our reservation from 3 nights to 2 and was waiving the cost for Friday night.

The next morning, my son and I were at the garage when it opened.  They already knew our story because the tow truck driver had called one of them AT HOME.  In less than 30 minutes they had confirmed the alternator diagnosis and quoted me a repair price.  When I asked how long it would be before we could get back on our way to my daughter’s tournament:  “45 minutes.”  Incredible.  By the time I took my son back across the street to the hotel for the mini-buffet breakfast and we got packed, the truck was ready.  We drove on and were able to catch most of his sister’s last match of the day.

In a time when many people coast through their jobs and treat customers as an inconvenience, every one of these people went above and beyond to turn a crisis into a problem solved.  Much appreciation.

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