President Anthony P. Monaco welcomed the Class of 2015 to the Medford/Somerville campus on Aug. 31, as the university’s new leader and its 1,321 undergraduates launched their Tufts careers.
“So, together we begin,” Monaco announced.
“You are in for an exciting rollercoaster ride that will have its ups and downs. Just hold on and enjoy the thrill of becoming a Tufts Jumbo,” he said.
Monaco greeted the new students and their families and friends during matriculation exercises on the academic quad. Fittingly, the ceremony took place in front of Bendetson Hall, home to the office of undergraduate admissions.
Monaco said that many students must be asking themselves if they made the right decision in choosing Tufts, if they will be able to cope with the course work and still have time for a social life and even if Tufts made the right decision choosing them. “I asked myself many of these same questions after I was chosen as the next president of Tufts,” he said. “From getting to know students, faculty and staff in the Tufts community over the last nine months, the answer is a resounding ‘yes.’ We have made the right choice, and so has Tufts.”
The Class of 2015 arrives from 47 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and 37 countries, and even before its members have set foot in a Tufts classroom, they have already distinguished themselves. “This is the best class we’ve enrolled,” said Lee Coffin, dean of undergraduate admissions. “We had a record [applicant] pool, a record degree of selectivity, and we enrolled a class with a record-setting academic profile, which is the trifecta.”
Eighty-nine percent of the Class of ’15 graduated among the top 10 percent of their high school class with mean SAT scores of 707 in critical reading, 716 in math and 715 in writing; the math and writing scores are a new record for an entering class. The Class of ’15 includes 58 high school valedictorians, 42 salutatorians and a record-setting 92 National Merit Scholars, more than twice as many as last year.
Growth and Change
Monaco’s talk focused on the changes that the first-year students will undoubtedly experience from living in a diverse, globally aware and intellectually rich environment like Tufts. He drew on examples from his own undergraduate days at Princeton.
“Listen to the advice of your mentors and professors in choosing courses and areas of study,” he said. “I will never forget as an undergraduate, having decided to study neuroscience and behavior, being told by my biology advisor that I needed to take a course on genetics.
“At that time, I just could not see the relevance of genetics to the understanding of the brain, and we argued about it. I mean, we really argued about it. Little did I know that I would spend the remainder of my career using genetics as a powerful tool to understand the workings of the brain and how it affects our behavior,” said Monaco, who is a leading scholar in the field of genetics and neuroscience. His groundbreaking work has included the discovery of the gene responsible for X-linked Duchenne and Becker muscular dystrophy. He also found the first gene specifically involved in human speech and language.
“You may experience some anxiety as you see how your self-awareness changes during the first year,” Monaco said. “I remember how difficult it was when I returned home after my first year at Princeton. I had been enlightened both intellectually and socially, and I found it difficult to relate the new me to the person my parents and high school friends remembered.”
But, he told them, don’t worry. “You will eventually come to a place where the old you and the new you merge,” he said. “You will be comfortable with this, and your self-confidence will blossom as your new experiences transform you. At the same time, you will never forget from where you started.”
Monaco urged the freshmen to challenge themselves in and out of the classroom. “It is really the reason you have come to Tufts,” he said. “And you will be amazed at the outcome.”
More Applicants Than Ever
The Class of 2015 was selected from the largest pool of applicants ever, at 17,132. That’s an increase of 11 percent over the number of applications received for the Class of 2014, Coffin said. The previous record was held by the Class of 2012, which received 15,642 applications.
For the School of Engineering, this marks the fifth year in a row of a record number of applications, with 2,658.
Overall, the acceptance rate for both the School of Arts and Sciences and the School of Engineering was 21.9 percent, a record low, Coffin said. “That sets a new threshold for undergraduate admissions at Tufts.”
True, the national trend is toward larger applicant pools, Coffin said, but even in light of that, Tufts has seen “a pretty broad increase,” with significant growth over last year. Geographic areas that have shown particular upticks include the western U.S. and, for overseas students, China. The Class of 2015 includes 25 freshmen from China. Two years ago, the incoming class included only six students from China.
Twenty-seven percent of the class is Americans of color, up from 26 percent in the previous class and 24 percent in the class before that. Among the incoming students, 217 speak a language other than English at home, and 211 hold citizenship in 57 nations outside the U.S. Forty-four percent received financial aid from Tufts, and 149 are Pell Grant recipients, an indicator of the socioeconomic diversity of the new class. Nine percent are among the first generation in their families to attend college.
Approximately 60 percent of the students come from public high schools, a figure that has held steady over the years. One phenomenon is the growth of charter schools, Coffin said—as more cities establish charter schools, their inaugural classes are approaching college age. “It’s not a big enough trend yet to be significant, but it’s worth watching,” he said.
Medical Students Launch Studies
On Aug. 16, the School of Medicine’s Class of 2015 convened for the first time, attending orientation at Sackler auditorium. Chatting with excitement over coffee and bagels, the 200 new medical students already seemed like the old friends and colleagues they will be one day.
“Tufts medical school is a remarkable place with a distinguished history and a vibrant present,” Monaco said in welcoming the new class. “It’s a great moment for the School of Medicine and the life sciences [at Tufts] in general,” he said, citing recent investments in campus buildings and the medical school curriculum as well as the dynamic Tufts research community.
Monaco said he has been impressed by the university’s international outlook, represented at the medical school by the strength of the infectious disease and global health programs, among others. He applauded Tufts medical students’ commitment to active citizenship, whether they are volunteering in a disadvantaged neighborhood of Boston or a remote village in a developing nation. “That’s something unique to this medical school,” Monaco said, noting that all Tufts medical students are asked to provide 50 hours of community service before graduation.
“Not only will you learn from your extraordinary teachers, you will also learn from each other. You are a very accomplished group,” Monaco told the new class. Noting the 22 double Jumbos in the Class of 2015—those who earned their undergraduate degrees at Tufts prior to medical school—Monaco also recognized the Maine Track students, who receive financial aid in return for a commitment to practice in the largely rural state after graduation. He also recognized those embarking on a combined M.D./Ph.D. program. A veteran of a M.D./Ph.D. program himself, Monaco quipped, “I know you’ll be with us a long time.”
In his introductory remarks, Dean ad interim Harris Berman told the new medical class that “it’s a particularly interesting time for you to start this journey. Dr. Tony Monaco is unique among university presidents in that he is a well-known scientist. He will be a real asset to the medical school as we think together about where we want the medical school to go and how to make it better and better.”
Joining the Dental Profession
At the School of Dental Medicine’s 10th annual Family Welcome Day on Aug. 30, parents, siblings and spouses were on hand to help the Class of 2015 ring in the new school year. Noting that this is “an exciting time of transition at the university,” executive associate dean Mark Gonthier introduced President Monaco to the class, assembled for the first time in Boston’s historic Shubert Theatre.
“It is my great pleasure to welcome you to the Tufts community. You are entering the school at a great moment,” said Monaco, invoking the vertical expansion that added five floors to the existing structure at One Kneeland Street as well as the appointment of Dean Huw F. Thomas, whom Monaco called “superbly qualified to build on the dental school’s recent accomplishments.”
Remembering his own first day of dental school, Thomas recalled both the nervousness and excitement of new beginnings. “Today is the day you join the dental profession, the day when our faculty and staff become revitalized with the challenges of guiding you into that profession,” he said. “It’s also the day when I welcome my first class to this exceptional dental school. You are a class I will always have a special bond with.”
Also on hand to welcome the new class was Peter Delli Colli, A69, D73, president of the dental school’s alumni association. He told the class that they may be a “room of smart strangers” now, but that the experiences they will share over the next four years will “make you close forever . . . I welcome you to the family of Tufts University.”
Helene Ragovin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Jacqueline Mitchell also contributed to this story.