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Mount brings more Catholics, minorities to start new school year

fnpBy Rachel S. Karas Frederick News-Post Staff

Courses start today at Mount St. Mary's University, the beginning of college in Emmitsburg for more than 400 students in the class of 2017.

Seventy-five percent of the class self-identifies as Catholic, the highest in more than 15 years. The class holds the second-largest minority representation within a freshman class at 26 percent.

For Connor Lau, a freshman from Herndon, Va., Catholicism was a large factor in his decision to apply.

"I wanted to be around people who share the same religious experience I had," Lau said. "There's Mass every day and, of course, on Sunday, so it's accessible."

Religion is present without being overpowering, Lau said. His roommate is Baptist, and "there's definitely still a lot of diversity," he said.

University President Thomas Powell places a high priority on strengthening the school's Catholic identity, hoping to promote the seminary's national reputation, expand the grotto and other Catholic initiatives on campus.

But the school is invitational to those who are not Catholic and provides a "guide for life" no matter the religion, Powell said.

Vice President of Enrollment Management Michael Post said enrolling a high number of Catholic students reflects the school's successful outreach.

"We've been very intentional to make sure we've been promoting who we are, and being a Catholic institution isn't something we shy away from," Post said. "We see that as a positive thing."

This class of 451 students were chosen from around 5,000 applicants. Mount's admission process was as selective as in the past few years, Post said, adding that the university's tight-knit community isn't looking to grow.

More students this year come from Virginia and from farther than 200 miles away, Post said.

Forty-four in the class are transfer students, the second-largest group of fall transfers in more than 10 years.

Post said the university actively works to recruit Frederick County's "high-quality community college students" looking for four-year institutions.

This is also the third-highest academically achieving class in school history, with an average GPA of 3.4.

Powell wishes the average SAT score of 1084 on the 1600 scale was higher, but said "you can be average" at the Mount.

"You don't have to be super smart to be here," Powell said. "The vast majority of our alumni are very, very successful, and ... we can do that with the kids with 3.0s."

Post said the university attracts the same rate of high-quality students despite the economic downturn and construction on the Mount cottages. The five new 10-bedroom housing units will be available to students with similiar interests, such as those studying pre-med or in the Outdoor Adventures program.

Four cottages will be open to undergraduates and one for seminarians Oct. 15. The school hoped to have the spaces ready for the beginning of school, but could not because of construction and permit delays, Powell said.

Powell, entering his 11th and final year as university president, said his three goals are to continue the school's new "Veritas" core curriculum, strengthen its academic structure and expand offerings on the Frederick campus.

Powell said he is proudest of the incoming class' academic profile and its diversity, saying varied backgrounds make the school "more stimulating and challenging in a good way."

Others described the class of 2017 as very active and creative.

"We're really extroverted," Lau said. "I'm not sure if that's a good thing or a bad thing yet ... but everyone's so friendly."

Follow Rachel S. Karas on Twitter: @rachelkaras


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