Location can be a challenge for many liberal arts colleges, which tend to be situated in rural (and often struggling) communities. But at Denison, the emergence of Columbus as a vibrant and growing metropolitan region gives us one of the most interesting locations of any liberal arts college in the country—a beautiful village to call home, and a very cool neighbor city.
Over the last decade, State Route 161 has been converted to a limited-access, divided highway, reducing travel time to downtown Columbus—the 15th-largest city in the country, with the third-fastest-growing technology sector and the largest entrepreneurial makerspace—to just 30 minutes. The city boasts a plethora of colleges and universities, the state Capitol, and a range of interesting, globally oriented businesses. Along with all these assets, Columbus has seen the emergence of trendy neighborhoods and an explosion of arts and culture.
In 2014, Forbes named Columbus its No. 1 “opportunity city.” Mother Jones recently published an article, “Forget Brooklyn. Could Columbus Be the Next Hot Millennial Enclave?” OnlineColleges.com ranked Columbus the seventhbest city in the country for millennial college graduates. What does this mean for Denison?
Columbus has become a major draw for students, faculty, and staff. College students, as well as faculty and staff, want to be in places that feel vibrant and alive. This desire is a challenge for many liberal arts colleges that are beautiful but remote. At the same time, students don’t want to be located in struggling neighborhoods, a preference that presents a challenge for many urban liberal arts colleges. Denison offers a beautiful campus in an idyllic town near a major city that enjoys amenities galore (a top-ranked zoo, a children’s science museum, and on and on). Columbus also offers jobs for partners and spouses, great schools for their kids, manageable traffic, and an easily accessible airport.
Columbus is just plain fun. Campus will always be the hub for Denison students, but Columbus gives students access to concerts and performances; professional baseball, soccer, and ice hockey; restaurants, movie theaters, and a constant stream of festivals and other cultural activities. Last year, Denison entered into an agreement with Enterprise Rent-A-Car, which allows students to rent a car by the hour to travel into the city.
Columbus is a laboratory for student learning. For years, faculty have taken students to various destinations off campus, including Newark for service-learning projects and Columbus to work with and learn from the large Somali population. The emergence of new organizations based in Columbus presents opportunities to deepen partnerships in the city, and to expand students’ learning opportunities.
Last year, for example, our theatre department invited Columbus’ Available Light Theatre to do a residency on campus, which included master classes and co-writing and producing a play with students. Our music program has partnered with Newark’s Midland Theatre, which gave our bluegrass students the opportunity to open for 15-time Emmy Award-winner Ricky Skaggs.
Columbus-based internships. We are exploring opportunities for internships here in Central Ohio. New Albany, a suburb 15 minutes from campus, has become the home to L Brands (formerly Limited Brands), including Bath and Body Works and Victoria’s Secret. As those global brands expand, they are developing new business parks filled with jobs across the professions, from marketing to communications to finance. We have added a staff member to our Center for Career Exploration to focus on Columbus internships.
Columbus is a place to explore important global issues. Major initiatives are under way to develop everything from a regional food system to new approaches to education and public health. Not surprisingly, we have faculty, alumni, parents, and staff involved in these efforts, giving our students opportunities for front-row seats to witness major global issues as they play out in our community.
It’s not all about Columbus. We are in the early phase of a multifaceted partnership on projects to revitalize the old square in Newark. All this is providing rich opportunities for students to put their liberal arts skills to use in ways that deepen their education and improve the nearby community.
Our goal is simple. Five years from now, we want all our students to be able to articulate how Columbus and the surrounding areas deepened their learning and growth at Denison. Let’s face it, location matters, and we have an awesome one.