Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Physical Accessibility at UVa

Just look at it: Mr. Jefferson's University is both historical and beautiful. The catch with historic is that accessibility for everyone has only recently come to the forefront of the public's prerogatives. So what does that mean for UVa? How does well Mr. Jefferson's University fare in that arena?

Sidewalks and General Accessibility
McCormick Rd is the main line running through Central Grounds. It connects the Amphitheater/ Lawn/ Cabell area to the Engineering School and then all the way to Observatory Hill Dining Hall. I have seen sleet, hail, torrential rain, and snow pound down on Charlottesville during class time. I have seen snow cleared and salted very quickly. Sometimes I have seen accidents where snow piles have been put too close to handicap ramps or accesses, but usually, that doesn't happen. Water draining poorly only happens in a few places, though it can be deep (more than 4 inches) where there are problems.

Dining Halls
This fall I sprained my left hand such that I was in a cast for 7 weeks. I have several friends who regularly use wheel chairs or have been in arm and leg casts and on crutches. Basically, people being in need of a conscientious design is not an unusual nor novel situation. I was disappointed at how difficult it was for me to use even the new machines. For example, the dining halls just put in new hot water containers so that more tea can be ready at any given time. That's great, but the old one involved pulling a short lever. The new unit requires the user to push a button at the top of the machine, and water comes out near the bottom. It's impossible to do one handed, unlike the old system. That said, the drinks and the hot water were my only real complaint. Almost everything else was very good. They have elevator keys if stairs are a problem. Walkways are wide and kept very clear, and automatic doors are available at entrances.

On the plus side, I was overwhelmed at how wonderful other students were. They immediately offered help with the hot water and opening doors. It really was a bonding experience, and I felt more like I was home than with a crowd of likeable strangers.

Libraries, Classrooms, and Note taking
Whoever handles classroom and library equipment, they are phenomenal. You can request a certain kind of desk in a particular location at any time during the week, and they will move it there every time it's needed. They are awesome. Broke your arm and can't take notes? Not only will professors ask for volunteers, but the Learning Needs Center will supply you and your helpers with carbon notebooks so that while they write their notes, a duplicate set is made for you. Even something like needing a left handed desk--they will take care of it, make sure that you're doing well, and what you need stays where you want it.

The Bottom Line
I give UVa a solid B on the cusp of a B+. They're working with a very hilly location and historic buildings that can be difficult to convert. There is a way to get to almost anywhere. The reason I say almost is that the Gooch/Dillard dorms are not handicap accessible on the upper floors. Everywhere else I can think of has a way to get there. It may not be pretty, but there's a way. The dining halls have some flaws, but UVa makes it clear that if you let them know of a way they can step up and improve the school or help you, they will. This is a village of scholars, and no one here wants anyone's studies to suffer, especially for something like accessibility.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

To E School, or Not to E School--That's a Good Question

The University has 4 schools one can apply into directly: the College of Arts and Sciences (CLAS), The School of Engineering (E School), School of Architecture (A School), and the School of Nursing. Later, students may apply into specialty schools like Education, Commerce, and Public Policy.

*Note: for UVa, apply the initial school of which you want to be part. For example, nurses do not apply to UVa and then to the nursing program. Some schools do that; we don't.

If you look closely, there are some areas of overlap in between the College and E School, particularly in computer science. Since CS is often the biggest area of debate for E School versus the College, that is where I want to focus.

Thornton Hall, the main Engineering School Building
Photo Credit: http://www.student.virginia.edu/estud/
(another good source if you have questions)

The Requirements:
In the College (assuming the student is not an Echols Scholar), they have several area requirements to fill, including 4 semesters of a foreign language. The complete list may be found at http://artsandsciences.virginia.edu/college/requirements/area/index.html.

The Engineering School does not require a foreign language but has far more math and science requirements, including accompanying labs. To learn more on the exact requirements and electives, please see: http://www.seas.virginia.edu/advising/undergradhandbook.php#requirements

Picking a Major and Double Majoring:
In the E school, students choose their majors in early April of their first year. They have the chance to attend open houses and ask questions. Students can double major in the E school; however, my understanding is that with E school requirements, picking a second major that is unrelated (such as English) is harder in the E school. Thus, it has less flexibility.

In the College, students have until the end of their 2nd year to choose a major. A typical college major is 30 credits. Students will take 120 credits in their time. Double majoring is not unusual, but students have the option for a broader experience with course topics because the College has so many more courses to offer.

Scheduling and Planning
For students in the College, planning can be a nightmare because there are so many options. That said, it can also be exciting because there are so many options available. The E school has a more structured expectation of course progression than the College. This makes planning easier for E schoolers, but it can be frustrating if E schoolers want to take things in a different order or if they want an elective in the College that does not mesh well with E school class times.

Students in the E school can (and will) take College classes, and College students are welcome to take engineering courses. In that way, there are very few restrictions on either set of students.

The Major Itself
The E school offers the B.S. in Computer Science whereas the College only has a B.A. available. E schoolers are required to take more computing classes, while College students have integration electives (college classes that reveal the applications of computing). Also, if you want Computer Engineering, then you have to go to the E school because the College does not offer that program.

All Engineering school students must write a thesis in their fourth year. College students are not required to do that across the board, but some majors (like Human Biology) do require it.
(Photo credit: http://writelikecrazy.wordpress.com/category/organizing/)

Please also consider visiting http://www.seas.virginia.edu/admin/ricehall/renderings.php to learn more about what one of the University's newest buildings has to offer, especially for computer science majors from either school.