Saturday, April 21, 2007

Stony Brook

The older teen got a nice letter from Stony Brook inviting her to attend. It was worth a visit, so we reserved seats on Delta 148 SFO-JFK nonstop, departing at 7:05am. Which means you want to check in 6:05am. Which means an early morning wake-up.

SFO long-term parking

My first mistake was to take the airport exit off US 101 north. Don't do that! Take the San Bruno Ave exit instead. Head "east" and follow the signs to long-term parking. The garage is pretty cool -- it tells you which floors are full, etc. Write your location on the ticket, lest you forget (as I did) which floor you were on. (Fortunately Jenny remembered.)

Delta Airlines

The flight was packed, I mean packed. We traveled light (only 1½ days there) and had no trouble fitting our bags under the seats or in the rather small (Boeing 757) overhead bins. No meal is served, but the snacks are enough to keep "your big guts from eating up your little guts," as a friend of mine used to say. The flight was uneventful. Liquids are offered with sufficient frequency, and the in-flight info-tainment system was very nice. I especially liked the "iXplor" (or something like this), which showed where the flight was on a map of the US.


At JFK, we followed the signs to the Air-Train. The car rentals are at station "C". Here is how the airtrain works: First, it's free within the airport, but it connects to Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) at Jamaica (station "D"), where you'll have to pay. The terminals are arranged in a circle, and trains go on the "inside" (clockwise) and "outside" (CCW) tracks. The "inside" trains go only among/between the terminals. If you want to get to the car rental station, you have to take one of the trains on the "outside" tracks. I think all the "outside" trains go to "C"; subsequently some continue to stations "A" and "B" whereas others go to "D" instead.

Hertz Rent-A-Car wasn't far. They offered me a gas fill-up at something like $2.95 a gallon (it's over $3 outside). Of course, I would need no more than half a tank at $3, so I couldn't see buying a full tank at $2.95 or even $2.50...

Yahoo! maps told us to take the Belt Parkway to the Southern State Parkway (or something like this) to Sagtikos and then the 495 east. This was not such a good plan. Since there were two of us, we should have taken the 495 the whole way and used the HOV lane. Anyway we found the hotel without incident.

Holiday Inn Hauppauge

Apparently you pronounce this "hope-hoag" not "hop-podge". We were checked in by a tall dark clerk wearing a suit (or maybe it was a tie and jacket) and a stud in his right ear. I asked him about the trip back to the airport etc., and he mentioned the HOV lane and why 495 was probably a better bet than trying to take the SSP all the way into JFK. Good advice!

The room had 2 queen beds and was nicely decorated. The alarm clock-radio was unplugged, and we soon found out why: you can set the hours but not the minutes. I think the "minutes" button is simply broken. This is in room 519. If you stay there, I would be curious to know whether they repaired or replaced it.

Fortunately, they do wake-up calls.

There is a koi pond outside. Lots of fish. We wondered what they (the fish) did in the winter. It looked crowded for them.

SUNY Stony Brook

I had faxed them with a letter (my email didn't draw any reply) and they called me at the office Monday. So Jenny was set up with a class to visit and an admissions counselor.

"Pat" at the admissions office was efficient and friendly. We happened to arrive on a day when they had a bunch of pastries and such in the office. Some high school counselors were visiting, so they'd fed them.

First Impressions

We followed Z. (a freshman from New York City) to the Old Chemistry building for a lecture (big lecture hall) on world politics. The "Academic Mall" reminded me of nothing so much as "The Mall" at the University of Hawaii (Manoa).

As we walked, I asked Z. what the best thing was about Stony Brook. He said it was the people in his living situation -- the relationships. Also that a lot of his friends went to school at SB.

I went over to the central reading room at the library and tried to use the wireless access. Oops, looks like a username and password were required. They also said they disallowed IM and FTP, so I'm guessing that ssh (particularly to a nonstandard port in the 40000 range) also would have been blocked. Oh well, at least they had power. I looked at the people coming in the door. "Red and yellow, black and white." Very cool.

Jenny was underwhelmed by the poli-sci lecture, where the prof also offered up a surprise quiz. Well, I suppose big lecture halls are pretty much the same everywhere.

Jenny and I walked around the library, which has a bunch of other offices. We checked out the bookstore (run by B&N?!) and eventually made our way over to the admissions office for our appointment. Pat greeted us and took the eval form. She introduced us to the receptionist, a woman with a "What part of New York are you from?" kind of accent. She gave Jenny another questionnaire to fill out, then called "Dashing Dina" on the phone to say that her 12:00 was here.

The Interview

We pelted Dina with our list of questions. "If you could change one thing about SUNY Stony Brook..." I said, and she finished, "What would it be? Parking. But I'm answering it from an administrative position rather than a student's perspective." Fair enough.

"I know it's unfair to ask this, but I'm going to ask anyway. If somebody got shot in a dorm here, would it be two hours before emails went out to the student body?" Well, they're working on a disaster plan, but it's not in place yet. Fair enough.

Average class size? Some are 250-500 (mostly the "intro to psych" kind of classes) but the upper division classes are much smaller. (We later found out that 75% of the classes have <40.)

Dina told us about the vast resources of a large university... Jenny asked if those vast resources were available to undergrads. A key moment in the interview was when Dina pulled out a book -- it might have been 5/8" thick -- with abstracts of undergraduate research, 1-2 pages each. Need I say that there were lots of them, or that we were impressed? These were published papers from one school year.

The Tour

We went on a tour of the campus led by two undergrads -- a sophomore (pre-med maybe? "Organic chem is Hard.") and a junior (a senior according to credits) with two options: one was some sort of professional school (law?) and the other in academia. I think the point was if she didn't get into law school, she'd do the other. Drat, shoulda written this up sooner when this was fresher.

One of our tour guides was from Brooklyn and the other was from India. I asked what the best thing was about SB. One said the breadth of curriculum (whatever you want to study, it's here) and the other said relationships -- residential life. One thing to change if they could? One said that well, some classes are too hard but you can't really change that (organic chem). I forgot what the other one said.

On the tour, we encountered two girls who told us, "Don't come here! Don't do it!" I asked, "Why not?" and one said, "It's too big and it's not fun."

One of our tour guides said that people who say that are often commuters; they take the train in, take their classes, and take the train (or car) home. They often have jobs. They miss the activities, and have no residential life.


We had an appointment to meet someone from InterVarsity at 2:30, but we still hadn't eaten. So we went to SAC (student activities center) and found the food line. It was long, but we were soon in one cafeteria. We picked items from the refrigerator case: Thai/Vegan ravioli, a turkey wrap, and an Odwalla juice: $18. Yow! Well, it tasted good.

We learned on the tour about the meal plan. You get a card with "points" on it, worth a buck each I think. You use that to buy meals, snacks, etc. If you have too many left over at the end of the term, they don't carry over. You can, however, buy a case of water-bottles or something.

The cards are good at the SAC and at "Jasmine", a Thai-Indian-Chinese eatery in the "Wang Center" -- Wang as in founder of Computer Associates. The building is gorgeous.

Meeting Gloria and Nelvin

I have no idea if I spelled that right. They are involved with the IV group at Stony Brook, which has its own website. They were very high on the school, very enthusiastic. The current wave of hypocritical PC-stuff has, in their experience, either not arrived yet or already bypassed the campus. Liberal apparently really means "I respect you no matter what you believe" there -- unlike some other places where it means "I respect you unless you're evangelical Christian scum. Or a Republican slimebag."

Thursday evening

We decided to head over to Port Jefferson, a cutesy college town (apparently, historic Stony Brook is more for the geriatric set). An early dinner might have been a possibility, except that we'd eaten lunch after 2pm. After some walking around, we drove back to Hauppauge, stopping for dinner at the "Strada". A bit pricey but very good.

Back at the hotel, Jenny inspected the catalog. Then we pulled down sections of another college's catalog. The breadth of classes at Stony Brook was impressive.

There's more, but I'll stop here.

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