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Comparing Catlin Gabel to Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate Programs

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Q&A with Lark Palma, head of school

Edited from a longer piece published in the December 2008 All-School News newsletter.

Students and parents frequently ask me about the Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) programs and how they compare with each other and with Catlin Gabel. Prospective students and their parents ask Traci Jernigan Rossi ’83 and Marsha Trump in the admission office about these programs, too. To help explain to our readers, Karen Katz ’74, communications director, interviewed me about the programs.

What is the history of the AP and IB programs?

In the 1950s educators identified a widening gap between student achievement in high school and college expectations. The AP program was developed to offer college-level curricula and assessment to students in high school. The International Baccalaureate Programme was created in the 1960s at the International School of Geneva to develop consistent curricula at schools in different countries for students whose families moved around the world.

Can you describe the AP and IB programs?

The programs are quite different from each other. One commonality, however, is that both programs establish a point of comparison for students in different schools. AP and IB are offered in a mix of small and large private, public, and international schools.

Advanced Placement is a registered program sponsored by the College Board, which also administers SATs. The AP classes are promoted as college level courses, and some colleges give college credit to students who do well on AP exams. You don’t have to take AP classes to take the AP exams. In fact, we do not offer AP classes, but many Catlin Gabel students take the AP exams and routinely score 4s and 5s (the range is 1 to 5). Paradoxically, we were recently identified by the College Board as having one of the best student success rates in AP math, science, and technology in Oregon and were nominated for the Siemens AP High School Award. However, it turns out we cannot receive the award because Catlin Gabel does not offer AP classes.

The International Baccalaureate Programme offers programs at three age levels: a primary program for students ages 3 to 12, a middle years program for students ages 11 to 16, and a two-year “Diploma Programme” for students aged 16 to 19. In the Portland area only the Beaverton International School offers the middle program. No local schools offer the primary program, although a couple of schools are applying for certification. I will focus on the Diploma Programme, which is offered to juniors and seniors in the United States.

Let’s get back to AP and college credits. How does that work?

Individual colleges decide whether or not they recognize AP credits; some do and some do not. There are ways to advance in college without taking AP tests. Colleges offer their own placement exams, particularly for languages and math. The downside of AP is that you can test out of freshman and sophomore classes that are beneficial building blocks for future academic work. I am a good example of this because I tested into junior English when I entered college. But I feel like I missed the boat by not taking freshman and sophomore classes. I had to learn the hard way about critical writing and constructing a solid research paper. When I entered graduate school I had some catching up to do.

Are Catlin Gabel students at a disadvantage because we don’t offer AP classes?

No. We offer college level courses that allow students to enter higher-level classes in college if they choose. If you are wondering if our students are at a disadvantage in terms of college admission, they are not. College admission offices look at high school profiles to ascertain graduation requirements, grade distributions, college acceptance records, and most relevantly for this conversation, what classes and extras are available to students. If the high school offers an AP program then naturally the colleges seek applicants who have stepped up to the challenge. But if you don’t offer AP classes—and many of the finest schools in the nation do not—then the students are not in jeopardy.

How does the core curriculum for AP differ from Catlin Gabel’s curriculum?

That’s an important question because that’s how Catlin Gabel really distinguishes itself from AP. Students in AP classes are evaluated based on their test scores, pure and simple, so the curriculum is geared toward the test. AP classes emphasize absorbing knowledge and memorizing facts that will appear on the tests. At Catlin Gabel we emphasize depth of understanding, constructing knowledge, and making discoveries. The facts are put into context. In truth, and I am not embarrassed to say this, our students do not do as well on the AP history exams as they do on the math, science, and technology exams because the history test questions are so fact oriented. Our students are accustomed to writing, questioning, discussing, reasoning, and putting history into context — not just memorizing what the teacher or textbook tells them happened on such and such a date.

How does the core curriculum for IB differ from Catlin Gabel’s curriculum?

IB is more akin to what we do at Catlin Gabel. The program is progressive in its approach to learning with an emphasis on critical thinking and providing a liberal arts foundation.

Sounds like you are pretty impressed with IB. Convince me that Catlin Gabel is a better choice.

First of all, I congratulate schools that raise expectations for student achievement. That is vital to turning around education in this country. During rough economic times, I applaud public schools that have figured out how to challenge their brightest students through either the AP or IB programs.

To answer your question, the IB program is impressive, but there are several shortcomings compared to our program. The IB diploma requirements are standardized, and students are, for the most part, locked into a prescribed set of courses. At Catlin Gabel we offer a more individualized approach. For example, a student who is passionate about a subject area can take classes beyond the requirements. Remember, the Diploma Programme is only a two-year program for juniors and seniors. Many students in the IB track are not accepted into the Diploma Programme or fail to meet the criteria for earning the IB diploma, which can be a mark against them in applying to colleges.

One of the capstones of the IB diploma is an extended essay the students write at the end of their senior year. Our students write extended essays in ninth grade and even earlier if they attend our lower grades. IB classes cannot go into as much depth as we can because they have to follow a rigid curriculum. They have set scoring on their tests and projects so their teaching is more standardized. To earn the IB degree, students submit exams and papers to graders in a country other than their own. That means feedback on work is delayed, which is a real detriment to learning. Our students receive feedback quickly through post-test reviews, one-on-one conferences with teachers, and peer edits. Swift reinforcement and critiquing is so important. The IB program and how it is implemented varies tremendously from school to school based on the caliber of the students and the teachers. The local school board, parents, and students have no input into the IB curriculum. To put it in business terms, Catlin Gabel is much more accountable to our clientele

Who is admitted into AP and IB programs in public schools?

The AP and IB programs develop their own selection criteria that differ from school to school. It’s not uncommon for the programs to skim for the highest achieving students, which is fine for those kids, but what about everyone else? At Catlin Gabel we provide equal opportunity for every student to rise to his or her highest ability. One thing I love about Catlin Gabel is that students who excel or struggle in different areas are not segregated from each other. Students who are motivated to take advanced chemistry and biology as seniors hang out with students who finish the three-year science requirement and turn their focus to English and creative writing. We stay connected as a community and students value each other for whatever talents and interests they have.

How is teaching different at Catlin Gabel compared with AP and IB?

Our teachers can shape the curriculum to meet the interests of the students. They can shift the content of a lesson to make it meaningful and relevant to students by letting the students lead the conversation, try the experiment a different way, or present findings unconventionally. Of course, we have an end goal of what we want the students to learn, but getting there can take twists and turns that engage and excite. We allow our teachers the autonomy to teach what they are passionate about. That is the key to inspiring students. We depend on highly skilled, excellent teachers because they create the curriculum and are expected to teach to each student’s learning style and ability. Our teachers’ educations, our mission, small class sizes, student-teacher relationships, and the intellectual risk-taking we encourage generate the learning bonanza that makes Catlin Gabel exceptional.

 

PLACE program announces new public-private partnership

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Catlin Gabel's civic engagement program getting storefront space in North Portland

Catlin Gabel’s PLACE (Planning and Leadership Across City Environments) urban civic leadership program and One North, a Portland development and neighborhood project, have created an innovative new partnership. This partnership gives PLACE a storefront space in North Portland to continue operations and expand its mission of student and community engagement. The new location is set to open in the winter of 2015.

“Catlin Gabel is an integral part of this public-private endeavor,” said Catlin Gabel head Tim Bazemore. “Being part of this pilot project will create more experiential learning opportunities for our students, and PLACE will be a catalyst for local youth to engage and lead.”

The development group behind One North, Eric Lemelson and Ben Kaiser, generously donated storefront space to PLACE for five years. “Catlin Gabel aligns with One North’s commitment to community involvement, sustainability, and sharing resources. We are excited to create authentic partnerships in the neighborhood, and have a public purpose impact,” said development team member Owen Gabbert ’02.

This month, the unique nature of this public-private development was recognized by Metro, the regional governing body, which granted the project $420,000. The grant will support the development of the project’s outdoor courtyard, which will become an asset available for use by the community.

ABOUT PLACE
PLACE uses urban planning as a tool to teach students from Catlin Gabel and other schools in the region how to become active and engaged citizens working toward positive change in their communities and the world. For example, students have completed projects for clients such as Zenger Farm in outer southeast Portland and the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability in north Portland. For Zenger Farm, students surveyed nearly 900 youth in the David Douglas school district about food insecurity. Not only did Zenger Farm implement some of the PLACE student design recommendations, but its board of directors still uses that survey data to make organizational decisions.

Since its inception in 2008, PLACE has grown into a three-part program with an international following.

• PLACE courses are offered to Upper School students at Catlin Gabel and worldwide through the Global Online Academy during the school year.
• The PLACE summer program has enrolled students from 15 high schools in the Portland area. About 50 percent of summer students receive financial aid.
• In keeping with Catlin Gabel’s mission to model for others, the PLACE curriculum is offered for free to other schools, and is replicated by educators in 40 cities around the world.

PLACE director George Zaninovich shared his excitement about the increased opportunities provided through this public-private-educational partnership: “Expanding the PLACE program into a permanent home in the community provides more opportunities to use the city as a classroom. This will allow our students to develop closer working relationships with people of all ages, cultures, and backgrounds. This permanent home and authentic community partnerships in a vibrant urban and multicultural environment will better prepare PLACE students for collaborating in an increasingly global world.”

During the 2014-15 school year, George will continue teaching in the Upper School while also taking the lead on planning for the PLACE program’s expansion. He will work in consultation with two advisory committees—one made up of community stakeholders, civic leaders, and North/Northeast neighborhood advocates, and one composed of youth from North/Northeast Portland, PLACE, and Catlin Gabel.

ABOUT ONE NORTH
One North consists of three office/retail buildings opening up to a large courtyard that will serve as a place for sustainability education and for neighbors to meet formally and informally. The project developers are working to realize a vision focused on maximizing energy efficiency, reducing waste and consumption, and sharing resources with the community. Tenants include Instrument, a digital creative agency, and the Kartini Clinic for Children & Families. 



Ten students complete 500-mile walk from Switzerland through Italy

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This week 10 current and former Catlin Gabel students completed a 500-mile month-long walk on a pilgrimage route from Switzerland through Italy. Palma Scholars director and trip co-leader Dave Whitson said: "From Lake Geneva, we crossed the Alps, descending into Italy through the Aosta Valley. We picked up the trail at the start of the Apennine Mountains and crossed those, too. Then we walked across Tuscany before ultimately arriving in Rome. For a month, they walked every day, despite tendonitis, shin splints, blisters, and other ailments. This is the third time my co-leader and I have taken students on this route, and the first that all students completed every step of the walk." Kudos to the group!


PLACE urban studies students presenting at City Hall

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You're invited!

PLACE students will present their recommendations for improving SE Powell Blvd. to the Portland City Council on Wednesday, July 16, at 9:30 a.m.

Come to City Hall to hear the presentation.

City Council Chambers
1221 SW 4th Ave
Portland, OR 97204

Link to Google Map


They are making the same presentation at the Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability on Thursday, Juy 17, at noon.

Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability
1900 SW 4th Ave
Portland, OR 97201

Link to Google Map


About the PLACE recommendations

PLACE students have created design concepts for the Oregon Department of Transportation parcels on Powell Boulevard between 50th and 82nd to assist with the implementation of high-capacity transit. Specifically, they hope to improve the aesthetics and functionality of the ODOT parcels on Powell, while prioritizing the needs and desires of the community.

Check out the PLACE blog for more information

Senior Alex Lam wins two bronze medals at the 2014 Fencing Summer Nationals

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We salute you!

Alex was 3rd out of 67 in the Division 1A Men's Saber and 3rd out of 262 in the Junior Men's Saber (U19) events in Columbus, Ohio.

His national ranking in the Junior Men's Saber (U19) category moved from 34th to 22nd in the country. He is currently in the top 10 of U19 high school fencers.

Alex was also named to the first team of the 2014 USA Fencing All-Academic Team.

Commencement 2014 photo gallery

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Congratulations to the newest members of the Alumni Association!

 

Critically acclaimed author Miranda Beverly-Whittemore ’94 reading at Powell’s on July 1

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Alumna Miranda Beverly-Whittemore’s third novel, Bittersweet, is a suspenseful and cinematic beach read. Join her at Powell’s on Burnside for a reading on Tuesday, July 1, at 7:30 p.m.

About Bittersweet: Secrets unfold when a scholarship student at a prestigious East Coast college visits her roommate’s pedigreed New England family.

“A page-turner riddled with stubborn clues, a twisty plot and beguiling characters.” —Kirkus, starred review

“Beverly-Whittemore’s novel is suspenseful and intriguing… Her short chapters, with their cliff-hanger endings, will keep readers turning pages late into the night.” —Booklist

“The theme of Paradise Lost courses through this coming-of-age tale tinged with mystery.” —Publishers Weekly

“A suspenseful tale of corruption and bad behavior among wealthy New Englanders.” —Library Journal

“Evokes Gone Girl with its exploration of dark secrets and edge-of-your-seat twists.” —Entertainment Weekly, A- review

“Like a Downton-in-Vermont, Bittersweet takes swift, implausible plot turns, and its family secrets flow like a bottomless magnum of champagne, but Beverly¬Whittemore succeeds in shining a light into the dark, brutal flaws of the human heart.” —New York Times Book Review
 

As History Changes, So Must the Teaching of History

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From the Spring 2014 Caller

By Peter Shulman

In 2003, when I became the first new history teacher at Catlin Gabel in decades, I worked alongside titans. John Wiser, Harriet Wiser, and John Keyes emanated academic rigor and challenged students to think critically, write incisively, and wrestle with defining moral quandaries. In addition, I was fortunate enough to become friends with the just-retired Dave Corkran, and quickly came to know his legendary intellectual intensity and fierce moral integrity. The eloquence, industry, and ethical consideration of our alumni are a living legacy of their teaching.
 
As the last departmental link between this revered generation and a new, dynamic cadre of colleagues, I often find myself considering a central problem identified by students of change: excelling in one context often diminishes adaptation to new circumstances. After all, why change what’s been working extremely well? Qing China is a classic governmental example of decline in spite of strength, while Western Union’s strategic error of protecting its telegraph monopoly by giving away mastery over the telephone wires speaks volumes about the perils that accompany success. Education is of course rife with strategic decisions, fueled by prognosticators of decline and evangelists for the latest workshops promoting “education for the 21st century.” Suffice to say that there is a lot of hype about transformational education, but it would be equally foolish to ignore that the times, they are a-changin’.
 
The 21st century’s dizzying pace of change has turned old realities upside down. The U.S. is now a net exporter of petroleum products, the Blackberry phone teeters on extinction, and marriage equality, decisively defeated at polls in the century’s first decade, seems an unstoppable force in its second. Karl Rove predicted, with apparent justification in 2004, a “permanent Republican majority,” only to find a Democratic congress by 2007. Meanwhile, a century that began with Saddam Hussein and Muammar Qaddafi firmly in power is a distant memory in a roiling Middle East, and the giddy optimism of Tahrir Square has chilled into an Orwellian winter. The speed of change should give any pundit pause.
 
These heady transformations are joined by a communications revolution whose scale rivals the Gutenberg press. The increasing power of the individual to publish text, imagery, and music is collapsing massive hierarchies, while the merging of the human mind with computer databases forces a central question: what must students “know” when so many answers are a click away? As such, the department confronts its own version of the “innovator’s dilemma”: how to keep the best aspects of an esteemed program while adjusting to an increasingly globalized, digital society.
 
Our goal is to maintain the core, non-negotiable assets of our predecessors. Effective writing, careful reading, measured analysis, and the strong teacher-student relationship must always be central to our work, and each of these requires one element that isn’t changing: the finite nature of available time. But we have launched several new initiatives to adapt to a changing world:
 
Greater focus on contemporary issues and problem-solving: Historians focus on great cataclysms that we should never forget, but a diet of man’s inhumanity to man can demoralize students. Hence, instructors have built solution-oriented explorations into the curriculum. Freshmen tackle family-planning strategies to address overpopulation, while sophomores use historical case studies of Poland and Yugoslavia to offer prescriptions for mitigating conflict in multi-ethnic states. Recent electives in Public Health, Race and Class in Portland, Economics, and Environmental Politics are all built around getting a better understanding of key challenges confronting the 21st century. Patrick Walsh changed the Globalization curriculum to include an imperative for students to propose and enact solutions to climate change.

Experiential education

Experiences” are easy enough to create, but truly meaningful experiential education takes genuine savvy and keen intentionality. Freshmen engage contemporary businesses on the nature of global production, and supplement their study of religion with visits to unfamiliar houses of worship. Sophomores had the opportunity to meet with Bosnian refugee and Jonske speaker Ismet Prcic in the context of studying the disintegration of Yugoslavia. George Zaninovich’s PLACE electives have long pioneered experiential forays, as students produce plans for a variety of real-world clients, including the Portland Parks Department, Zenger Farm, and Lincoln High School. This year, Dave Whitson led his Transitional Justice students to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission on Indian Residential Schools in Vancouver, B.C., where his class sat in on hearings and interviewed indigenous participants. Dave also brought students to Chile and Argentina to directly engage transitional justice issues in the aftermath of military rule. Finally, Meredith Goddard’s new Economics of Innovation elective, coming on the heels of her wildly successful Startup Camp, has students champing at the bit to try out their entrepreneurial chops.

Increased global perspective

The first two years of the Upper School core curriculum have been totally reconstructed in the past two years, with greater focus on India, Japan, China, and sub-Saharan Africa. New classes over the past three years include 9/11 in a Global Context (cited as exemplary innovation by Bill Gates in his 2012 NAIS keynote), Modern China, and Revolution in the Middle East. Research: Given the transformative access of the internet, efficiently finding and carefully evaluating online materials are crucial skills. As such, teachers have opened up space in the curriculum for greater research opportunities. Sophomores interrogate the invention of nationalism in distinct countries through research, while U.S. History has traded in an exam on the Cold War in favor of student research projects that evaluate the impact of U.S. foreign policy in countries such as South Korea, El Salvador, Angola, and Pakistan. In Revolution in the Middle East, students assess the stability of the Saudi monarchy and the economic clout of the Egyptian military, while Economics students research the impact of the Affordable Care Act. Transitional Justice students have posted their research on Wikipedia, and have found that editing the historical record can elicit contentious resistance from those with a great investment in a particular version of the past.

Public speaking

Catlin Gabel’s small classes are uniquely positioned to provide robust speaking experience. A given day might find students teaching about the Japanese response to Western encroachment, debating U.S. military intervention in Syria, or running an Upper School assembly on contemporary income inequality. Patrick and George’s Journalism students have staged two Portland mayoral debates; on the latter, the Oregonian’s Steve Duin wrote that “the student organizers at Catlin— who moderated the forum, asked the questions and publicized the event—were at the top of their game.”

Current events colloquium

Recently, thanks to librarian Sue Phillips, two dozen students spent their free period with history faculty to discuss the crisis in Ukraine. The students’ intellectual hunger and sophistication was great evidence of their ability to use history to understand, and, indeed, to teach. What hasn’t changed is the importance of having a historical context. It helps us to ask the right questions, identify true outliers, and fact-check the scurrilous and misleading uses for which history is too often deployed. It gives us practice in the art of multi-variable analysis, for unlike a science lab, human interaction has too many variables to control. It will always be a way to understand the diversity of human experience, and at Catlin Gabel, it strives to be an essential aspect of the credo “inspired learning leading to responsible action.”
 
Peter Shulman has been teaching history at Catlin Gabel since 2003.

The Mandate for Teaching History Well: A Farewell From Outgoing Head of School Lark Palma

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From the Spring 2014 Caller

By Lark P. Palma

If taught well and thoughtfully, history helps a student develop a unique capacity for comprehending human situations. It fuels a conversation about the importance of action from the lessons of history. It’s meaningful to me that my last article for the Caller is about history and social studies, as I believe history is the single most powerful discipline for analyzing the past, living the present, and predicting the future. Most importantly, studying history well helps us become thoughtful, informed, and committed to exercising our rights as citizens, especially our right and privilege to vote. This issue is a testament to how well our superb faculty teaches history, and their eagerness to fine-tune the curriculum, create experiences that make history immediate and important, and seek connections to social, political, artistic, and economic situations.
 
Recently, when packing boxes to move back to South Carolina, I came across my 8th grade required history text, The History of South Carolina by Mary C. Sims Oliphant. She found it adequate to talk about slavery for one and a half pages, and the glorious generals of the “War Between the States” for several chapters. The economic justifications for slavery were never connected to the immorality of the war. What if I hadn’t come from a progressive family that had lively debates at the dinner table? What if I had not been exposed to any other points of view? My ability to participate in our fundamental right to express our citizenship would be severely compromised.
 
Catlin Gabel and the teachers who teach history and social studies understand well the mandate of their work.
 
• Students learn how the past shapes the present and probably informs the future. The Transitional Justice course clearly shows the direct effect of a law, its enactment, and the success of social change as a result.
 
• Students learn to develop empathy by reading original texts written by the people experiencing the events. For instance, 6th graders study the context of the Civil War and write a first-person journal.
 
• They learn to read critically to distinguish between evidence and assertion and understand competing points of view. In doing so, they learn to interrogate the text and artifacts, make hypotheses, and draw conclusions so that they extract every bit of meaning. Through these interrogations, students come up with real questions. Who is not represented in the study of history, and why? Why is the history of real lives of the poor, women, minority groups, or children so sparse in relationship to the history of political leaders, wars, politics, treaties, and policies? Why isn’t there more work published by women and minorities? In a sense students are calling for a wider exposure and deeper content to intensify their understanding of the course of history.
 
The study of history reveals its evolving narrative. Students learn that what happened in the past is not the final truth, so what they study and how they study it has to change. Courses that have been added to the Catlin Gabel curriculum include Middle Eastern studies, the Sixties, 9-11, Islam, gender studies, and other courses that emphasize social history and bring in more interdisciplinary learning.
 
I leave Catlin Gabel this summer to contemplate a curriculum for another school, in Charleston, South Carolina. The first plaque acknowledging that city’s role in the slave trade was erected in the 1990s. It is clear how the teaching of history should develop there, with the city itself as the curriculum. If any of you travel there, I will be a willing and proud guide. I will miss Catlin Gabel deeply. I will miss writing for the Caller, but there are books and blogs inside me ready to emerge.

Video: 2014 seniors talk about their college choices

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Catlin Gabel seniors are about to embark on an exciting new chapter in their lives. Five seniors speak here about their college choices, and how they found a good fit for them.

»Link to list of where all seniors are going to college
»Link to article by college counselors about the admission year and college trends

Thomas is going to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago!

Emmarose is going to the University of Southern California!

Chris is going to Princeton University!

Liban's going to Swarthmore College!

Sadie is going to Barnard College!

College list for Catlin Gabel 2014 seniors

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Here's where the class of 2014 is going to college!

(as of 5/22/14)
 
Amherst College
Barnard College
Bates College
Berklee College of Music
University of British Columbia, Okanagan
Brown University
Case Western Reserve University
Chapman University
University of Chicago
Claremont McKenna College
Colorado College (2)
Colby College
University of Denver (2)
DePaul University
Dickinson College
Hamilton College, NY
Harvey Mudd College
University of La Verne
Lewis & Clark College
Macalester College
McGill University
Montana State University, Bozeman
Mount Holyoke College (2)
New York University (2)
University of Notre Dame
Oberlin College
Occidental College
Oregon State University
University of Oregon (2)
Portland State University
University of Portland (2)
Princeton University (2)
University of Puget Sound (3)
University of Redlands
Reed College
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
Rice University
School of the Art Institute of Chicago (2)
Scripps College (3)
Smith College
University of Southern California (2)
Southern Oregon University (2)
Stanford University
Swarthmore College (3)
Tufts University
Tulane University (2)
Union College
Whitman College (5)
Worcester Polytechnic Institute