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  • Writer's pictureBeth & Tim Manners

Hofstra Tour: Monkey Puzzles & Other Surprises

Updated: Sep 20, 2019

One would get the wrong idea if the aging, high-rise residential halls visible from a bordering turnpike were one’s first impression of Hofstra University. This would be doubly problematic if it were raining and 45 degrees on what should be a glorious Spring day. So many students form fast, hard, negative opinions based on such cursory glances, especially when the surrounding area looks a lot like … Hempstead, Long Island.

This is why taking the time to tour colleges is so important. Pass through its gates, and Hofstra’s transformation is remarkable. What appears from the outside to be a gritty, urban neighborhood is in reality a 240-acre campus that is home to an honest-to-goodness National Arboretum and enough exotic greenery to fill perhaps a dozen or more so-called “green campuses.” Venture inside its buildings and you will find an art gallery, state-of-the-art television studio, full-fledged trading floor, a near-scale replica of Shakespeare’s Globe Theater and a towering library with a top-floor view of the Manhattan skyline, a mere 25 miles away.

Hofstra certainly knows what it has, and is eager to show it off. Dispensing with the usual jam-packed info session, Hofstra limited its dog-and-pony show to just 10 minutes, opting to let the campus itself do the talking. In a rare move, our hosting admissions counselor joined us on the student-led tour. One of the first stops was the Guthart Cultural Center Theater, which you might recall as the site of the 2008, 2012 and 2016 U.S. presidential debates. If not, there’s a shrine commemorating it. Next stop was the Mack Student Center, the hub of student life, with food court, book store, bank, and probably because it is Long Island, a hair and nail salon.

Unlike certain other schools, which are reluctant to let you see what’s inside their buildings and behind their curtains, Hofstra can’t wait to walk you through its empire, in particular the science and brand, spanking new business building. The Zarb Business School is so new that it actually smells new. In addition to a 34-terminal trading floor, it has a really cool entrepreneurial center, with 3D printers, drones, a recording studio and garage door walls that open up to encourage collaboration. A career center sits directly across the way from Zarb.

The science building has all the labs and such like, of course. The stairwells were memorable because one features renderings of icons of science, like Darwin, and the other various sea creatures, such as horseshoe crabs. The simple, black and white, stencil-style images are courtesy of the school’s art department, a reminder that arts connect with sciences.

Hofstra is fairly young as American universities go, dating back only to 1935. Built on the former estate of lumber mogul William Hofstra, it originally was an outpost of New York University. This changed at its first commencement, when the school’s 83 students were given a choice to have diplomas from Hofstra or NYU. They overwhelmingly chose Hofstra, and “pride” has been the school’s signature value ever since (although the current slogan is “pride & purpose.”) “Pride” doubles as a reference to the lion on the school’s official crest, as well.

The nearly overwhelming greenery on campus is of course rooted in its past as a rich man’s backyard. Most memorable is the thorny Monkey Puzzle tree (google it; it is weird and fascinating).

As we strolled through one building or another, monitors promoted a baseball game versus The College of William & Mary, a reminder that opposites attract. Sports is important at Hofstra; after all, it is located across the street from Nassau Coliseum, and its own Shuart Stadium is the home of the New York Lizards, a professional lacrosse team. Students are treated to two free tickets to all home games. At one time Hofstra’s stadium was the training camp for the New York Jets. It fields 17 teams of its own, including just about everything you can think of except football. Perhaps inspired by U Chicago, it built a medical school where its stadium used to be.

We didn’t see the entire campus, which is split by the Hempstead Turnpike and bridged by overhead, enclosed walkways. Basically, the North side is the residential area, including the athletic fields, and the South is where classes happen. Hofstra likes to refer to nearby New York City as its “satellite campus,” and it does afford students with ample opportunities to enjoy everything the Big Apple has to offer. While touring the campus’ award-winning radio station and tricked-out television studio, our guide noted that the major networks in NYC are a major source of internships for Hofstra undergrads.

Oh, and Jones Beach is just a half-hour down the road.

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