Ambler thrives as commuter campus

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TIMOTHY VALSHTEIN TTN The Ambler Campus, located approximately 16 miles north of Main Campus, no longer houses students, but instead acts as a commuter school. Despite this shift in student life, the campus still sees great student involvement with the student government and student media.

Ambler Campus, though no longer a residential campus, still boasts an active student life through 30 different student organizations.

Ambler Campus acts as an extension of a prime research university, offering a safe haven for students seeking a condensed community atmosphere with close teacher-student interactions and hands-on campus involvement.

A branch campus of Temple, Ambler is located approximately 16 miles north of Main Campus in eastern Montgomery County, and is the home base for a slew of active and hardworking students, young and old alike.

Ambler’s population consists of mostly suburban commuter or transfer students looking to get a big-name degree on a slightly smaller scale by taking most of their classes at Ambler and the rest at Main Campus.

“It’s like a small college without the residents,” Assistant Dean for Student Life Wanda Lewis-Campbell, Ph.D., said.

Compare Ambler’s approximately 2,300 enrolled students to the approximately 35,000 on Main Campus.

“As the economy has put families in more difficult financial straits, an increasing number of students are having to stay at home [and] commute to college,” Executive Director William Parshall said of the market Ambler serves.

Although Ambler’s students commute, it doesn’t hinder their interest in getting involved. Ambler Campus has approximately 30 established student organizations.

“We do have pretty active student life, it’s just more focused in other directions like career services,” Parshall told The Temple News.

“I always let students know, if you don’t get in anything else, get in a group related to your major because it helps you,” Lewis-Campbell said. “You’re the one that needs to know what the field looks like.”

Sophomore legal studies major and Temple Student Government Association secretary Ali Glickstein said students from Ambler recently advocated in Harrisburg with Temple Student Government and Temple Advocates Legislative Outreach Network.

“It’s great to be able to get on board with [Main Campus’] projects as well as our own,” Glickstein said.

Glickstein said Ambler’s student government works with Lewis-Campbell in the Student Life office to oversee all the organizations on Ambler Campus, provide budgets, coordinate networking events and hold biweekly meetings.

Glickstein, a commuter who takes classes at both Ambler and Main campuses, said, “Ambler Campus is like a completely different atmosphere than Main Campus. It’s so small that everybody knows each other.”

Ambler Campus also has its own newspaper, radio station and program board, which is planning Ambler’s Spring Fling to take place tomorrow, April 18, the same day as Main Campus’.

Similar to Main Campus, Ambler Student Life also offers extra-curricular activities open to students at both campuses, including discounted tickets to see Philadelphia sports teams and trips to Broadway musicals.

“[Students] still have a college experience,” Lewis-Campbell, who often travels to Main Campus for meetings, said. “It’s just not as many people as you see at Main Campus.”

With no class size exceeding 100 students, Ambler provides a more personal learning experience.

“Some students like these smaller, intimate [classrooms] where we know your name, where we know your face, where you can come in and see me just cause you just want to,” Lewis-Campbell said. “You don’t have to have an appointment.”

Lewis-Campbell’s son, who she said got distracted at Main Campus, quickly raised his GPA after taking a few classes at Ambler.

“You’re here to get a degree and if your grades aren’t what they should be, you need to come up here and focus,” Lewis-Campbell said.

Ambler, only a few SEPTA Regional Rail train stops away, or a free shuttle trip that runs weekly on the hour, is “more than a branch campus,” Lewis-Campbell said, in that the campus has its own library, computer center, financial aid office, internship office and more.

“You get a little more personalized attention here,” Parshall said. “Our academic advisers are a little more readily available because their caseloads aren’t as big as Main Campus.”

According to the Ambler’s website, the campus began as the Pennsylvania School of Horticulture for Women in 1911, recognized as an important addition to American education by Bryn Mawr College graduate Jane Bowne Haines.

As the women’s school flourished in size and reputation, it adapted into a co-education junior college and in 1958 accepted an offer from Temple to merge.

Today, Ambler thrives as an award-winning institute for landscape architecture, horticulture and sustainability projects and initiatives.

Although Ambler has been designed to cater toward students in founded horticulture or landscape architecture-centered majors, anyone of any major is free to take classes at Ambler, for the same tuition rate.

The majority of students, though, will be unable to successfully graduate in their major without taking a few classes offered only at Main Campus, Lewis-Campbell said.

Ambler’s suburban atmosphere offers a completely opposite scene than Main Campus. The fresh air, open fields, colorful learning gardens, bright green grass and overall sense of constant security is almost culture shock for a visitor used to Philadelphia’s city-enthused campus.

Jenny Rose Carey, a London native, has seen the 187-acre “green campus” in different forms, spending years as a horticulture student, later as a professor and now as director of the Ambler Arboretum – an accessible, educational, public series of gardens providing a hands-on opportunity for students to study.

Carey described Ambler Campus as a “hidden gem.”

“Not everyone is designed for downtown living, and so if you feel happier in this sort of suburban environment, it has a very different feel to it,” Carey said.

Since doing away with on-campus residence halls in 2010, Ambler’s student culture on a daily basis has since dropped, making the atmosphere quiet and calm most days of the week.

Ambler’s fitness center, also known as “the Red Barn Gym,” for example, was completely deserted at 3 p.m. on a Tuesday – a substantial difference from what can usually be seen at the IBC Student Recreation Center or Temple University Fitness Center located on Main Campus.

“We’re small, we’re intimate, and you’re a part of Temple and you have access to all that the university has to offer,” Lewis-Campbell said. “A research university is at your fingertips.”

“So you can come here and be a big fish in a little pond, or you can go down there and be a little fish in a big pond,” Lewis-Campbell added. “It just depends on what you want.”

Lauren Hertzler can be reached at lauren.hertzler@temple.edu.

2 Comments

  1. Excellent article- I took many of my history classes up in Ambler, as it is not far from where I grew up. I definitely agree the small class sizes, environmentally friendly atmosphere, and student life is something that is often ignored by Main Campus students. I took the shuttle from Berks walk for many of my classes and it was very convenient. I hope this campus thrives as a haven for students who do not like the “explosion” of students on Temple’s main campus in North Philadelphia and who want a break from the hustle and bustle of main campus life. I worked on my history capstone in the library up there and it was wonderful to get some peace and quiet, I really enjoyed the “small town” atmosphere. Most students know each other and the campus does a great job with activities for the commuters. The baseball team plays up there as well which is great for baseball fans, just like myself. Excellent points and quotes about this “hidden gem” that started as a horticulture college- the greenhouse is beautiful as well.

  2. I attend Temple Main, and I find the density of people and abundance of concrete a bit unbearable at times. In many respects, I wish I had opted for a smaller college, in particular because there is little social continuity between classes, i.e. I can only name 2 students who have been in multiple classes with me, making it difficult to sustain friendship across courses. Ambler sounds like the quiet, close-knit, and verdant campus that is right for me. The only problem? Ambler’s course selections are extremely limited. My major, English, is classified as a program which can be completed primarily at Ambler, supplemented by a few classes at Main, but it seems like the reverse is true. There is only one English survey offered (out of four), and no capstones. If I wanted to, I could take one of my classes at Ambler, but that couldn’t give me the “Ambler experience.” To remain relevant, Temple Ambler needs to expand their offerings, so that the programs which are purportedly available at Ambler consist of more than five courses. As a high school senior, I received tons of information about Main Campus, but Ambler’s presence felt very minimal. This is surprising, because there is a market for Ambler. The notion of an intimate liberal arts college in a garden setting is very attractive. Temple could, and should, use Ambler to attract students interested in a smaller environment, branding Ambler as “a public liberal arts college.”

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