College grows from veterans to future leaders

Claremont McKenna College's president Hiram E. Chodosh visited Shanghai recently and talked about its unique secrets for success with Shanghai Daily.

Founded in 1946, Claremont McKenna College is one of the youngest liberal arts colleges in America. But it’s ranked high in many university rankings, such as No. 3 in the Best-Run Colleges in Princeton Review and No. 4 in Best Universities and Colleges by Salary Potential on PayScale.com.

Its president Hiram E. Chodosh visited Shanghai recently and talked about its unique secrets for success with Shanghai Daily.

Hiram E. Chodosh, president of Claremont McKenna College

Q: Can you introduce Claremont McKenna College first?

Chodosh: It’s a liberal arts college with real world mission. It was founded right after World War II. Its first 36 students were veterans. They had fought and faced down evil. When they came back to the Unites States, supported by the GI Bill, which funded their education, they wanted to grapple with the big questions of civilization but also needed to get to work to build an economy, to build public policy, and to sustain American society.

With the idea of integrating liberal arts and leadership education, it offers not just liberal arts education, but also any interdisciplinary training in humanities, social sciences and sciences, and in details of applying learning to real world problems.

So the college has a reputation for generating people who could work very effectively in whatever sector and understand how to provide value in the workplace and community.

Traditionally, it focuses on government and economics with a much broader curriculum. The primary ethos of the college is to put learning to work and to prepare this generation to lead, to produce value and economy, to initiate public policy solutions and to provide the most innovative approaches to social problems in the society.

We have 11 research institutes, so it has a very significant research mission and also teaches our students through experience. Students have unprecedented opportunities to work alongside their professors and discover how what they learn in the classroom links to life in the world. 

Q: What is unique in your college?

Chodosh: It’s one of five undergraduate liberal arts colleges along with two graduates universities, all that share a common platform for services as members of Claremont Colleges.

And the undergraduate institutions allow cross-registration between the colleges. So students who reside at one college can take courses or even majors at another college. The colleges are situated in one location. 

And the colleges, in many ways, grew out of one another, rather than being different and coming together. They supported one another in those early years of the infancy. Our students slept on the floor of a big performance hall that was owned by Pomona College and Pitzer students dined in our dining hall.

By sharing our resources and allowing our students to take the best advantage of other college programs, we provides basically a small school experience and a much larger school environment. In that way, we are small liberal arts colleges, but we function like a university.

Q: What are the strongest majors in your college?

Chodosh: Traditionally, government and economics. They are the strongest and largest departments, but we also have tremendous strength in science, social science, the humanities and philosophy and literature, history.

And we can rely on the other colleges to present a much broader curriculum for those students that want to get outside the departments that we offer.

Q: What’s the criteria for you to select students?

Chodosh: One is academic and we are also look at preparedness. And then overall achievements. But more importantly, we have an assessment of leadership qualities of students. It’s a personal evaluation, in which we look for special spark and the ability to contribute something special in whatever environment. Our college is very selective. Last year, we only admitted 9 percent of applicants. About 17 percent of our students are non-US citizens from 35 countries. 

 Q: Why Claremont McKenna?

Chodosh: For students at our college, they have a greater opportunity to do research than in other research universities, because research universities are pretty much dominated by graduate students. 

When you enter a liberal arts college and you take an introduction course, or you take courses during your first year and beyond, 85 percent of our courses have fewer than 20 students in the classroom, while at larger and more famous universities, particularly in the intro course or the basic courses, there are several hundred students.

Our students do a super job and become fully members of our community. They do not only take, but also lead and contribute in special ways.

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