Portland State University
Portland State University - Comments and Student Experiences|
First things first, the sense of community here was a joke. This is mainly because the student body is massive (30,000) and the students are mostly commuters coming from all different edges of the city and beyond (myself included). I did make a few friends in my department, but a vast number of the students in my English courses were cliquey, arrogant, think-they're-the-next-Jack Kerouac (or even worse, Foucault) types who thrive in coteries and talk a lot but don't really say much. I got the impression that most of the grad students were basically sleepwalking through the classes, and at times it appeared that the undergrads were more on their game than they were, which was a bizarre dynamic. I can say that I had some brilliant and genuinely thoughtful professors, but I also had a few who seemed to be fresh out of PhD programs and a bit too drunk on Karl Marx.
PSU's curriculum is admittedly a bit wonky; as a junior, you are forced to take "cluster" courses, which are basically classes that are organized into categories by content and subject. You choose one "cluster," but the kicker is that you have to take three courses from the SAME one? for example, you can't take three classes from three different clusters? they all have to be from the same one. It's odd and restrictive, but whatever.
The capstone requirement is probably the most frustrating thing that the school demands of you. Basically, you're given a selection of courses that are part coursework and part hands-on community work, and you have to pick one and take it (these are 6-credit classes). The idea is that, in concluding your education, you take part in a real-world learning experience that integrates the classroom with the actual community. Neat concept I guess, but the problem I had was that there were literally zero capstone courses available that correlated with my major. The closest thing that was an option for me was grant writing for an animal shelter. Are you kidding me? I ended up taking a capstone course on food insecurity and volunteered on a farm teaching children about plant cultivation? which, don't get me wrong, it was a fantastic experience, and I met some amazing people? but it had absolutely NOTHING to do with my field. There is no way around the capstone either. You either do it or you don't graduate.
I've heard people refer to PSU as a "four-year community college," and there were moments where I definitely felt that. While a small handful of the professors do hold high standards, by and large the classes here are not that challenging. About four weeks into one of the 400-level lit. courses I took, the professor literally had to spend an entire class session lecturing on how to properly cite sources in MLA format because over 50% of the students apparently couldn't do it. In a senior level college class, that doesn't even make sense, let alone in an English course.
I guess one upside to PSU is that the campus locale is really nice. The buildings themselves are a bit strange in that the interiors range from being newly renovated to looking like a high school from 1973, but there's a weird charm to it I guess, and the park blocks that run along the center of campus are very scenic. The campus is located in Southwest Portland near downtown, so you're very much in the center of everything, and the actual campus itself is integrated with the city (think NYU, only on a vastly smaller scale, and with more greenery). The entire city of Portland is literally at your fingertips. You're in walking distance from the art museum, Pioneer Square, the mall, Keller auditorium, etc; there are fantastic movie theaters on the West side as well, and you have Powell's books and all the offerings of the Pearl district on the Northwest end. Public transportation is also great; there are the MAX lines, streetcars, and buses that can get you anywhere downtown, as well as over to the East side, where there are also lots of cool things to see and do (Sellwood area in Southeast is great, while Northeast and North Portland have the Lloyd center, Mississippi Ave., the Hollywood district, etc).
Looking back, I can't say I regret the time I spent here, although I can recognize the fact that PSU doesn't exactly offer a world-class education. The student body is huge and diverse, but I found a great deal of the students in my department to be standoffish and at times pompous, which I think may have detracted from my experience here more than anything else. I did learn a lot and had some professors who I felt really shaped me as an academic and as a person, and that made my time here worthwhile. I'll put it this way: While I can't say that it was all terrible, I can say that I never had any reason to consider staying on here for grad school, at least in the English department. That said, my time spent here did get me into a fairly prestigious Master's program, so it was definitely worth something in spite of the pitfalls.