Santa Clara University

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Thriving under the Palms A New York student flourishes in unknown territory

Allison Kopf was a model high school student. She was the captain of three varsity teams, a member of seven honor societies, had a 4.0 GPA, and was number 14 in her graduating class. She was also on the debate team, played the violin and piano since she was three years old, and volunteered in her community.

Allison could have been a candidate for virtually any university in the U.S. But Allison, 19, a sophomore in college now, isn’t attending Harvard, Yale, or Stanford University. She’s at a small, private, Jesuit university south of San Francisco that no one in her New York high school knows about.

“I’m the first person in my school to attend Santa Clara University. In fact, my guidance counselor thought I was insane when I told her I was going to SCU, because my high school programmed everyone in the top ten percent of the class to aim for Ivy League universities,” she said. Allison herself had never heard of SCU and had no ties to the San Francisco Bay area.

Since 7th grade, Allison and her family had visited several colleges. Then, while planning another visit to Stanford, her mother Cathy Kopf decided to search for other Bay area schools that they could visit. Santa Clara University popped up and immediately caught Cathy’s attention – it was the school that was mentioned in the soccer movie Bend It Like Beckham.

At the time, Allison was interested in business and engineering, and when she saw that SCU had a business and an engineering school, she wanted to check it out.

When Allison visited Santa Clara she sat in on a computer engineering class and listened to how Professor Silvia Figueria engaged her students in a discussion. Allison says it was a striking contrast from a business class she visited at Stanford, where she described the professor lecturing and students listening. She also noted how small the class size was at SCU and the individualized attention each student received.

Allison says there was a period during her high school years when she thought she wanted to go to a large university with a well known football team like Notre Dame and Michigan. But as she visited more schools, she realized she could never attend a big university that had classes with hundreds of people.

The trip helped Allison narrow down her choices to two: Penn and Santa Clara. Stanford was off her list.

At Santa Clara, Allison is studying computer engineering, but is planning on changing her major. She’s interested in the renewable energy field of engineering and believes engineering physics will be better suited for that. She does plan to keep computer engineering as her minor.

Allison is the student team leader for Santa Clara’s entry into the U.S. Department of Energy’s 2009 Solar Decathlon in October 2009. The Solar Decathlon is a biennial competition in which 20 universities from around the world compete to design, build, and operate the most attractive, effective, and energy-efficient house, powered exclusively by the sun.

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