By Andra Bryan Stefanoni
Globe Staff Writer
JOPLIN, Mo. —
There are as many faculty members at Adrianne Elliott's university of choice as there are people in her hometown of Galena, Kan.
But the Southeast Kansas girl says she feels at home on the campus of Yale, which since the early 1700s has attracted the likes of such famed thinkers as Eli Whitney, inventor of the cotton gin, Thornton Wilder, playwright and author, as well as actors, actresses and presidents.
Its 11,000 students come from all 50 states and from 108 countries, taught by a 3,200-member faculty.
"When I started looking at colleges, I wasn't sure where I was going, but I was a Gates Millenium Scholar and that gave me options as to where I could go to school, financially speaking," said Elliott, who attended elementary and junior high school in Riverton, Kan., and graduated in May 2012 from Thomas Jefferson Independent School in Joplin. "It was exciting to look around, but when I finally started narrowing down my list, I was looking for smaller schools where I could really explore my interests."
A fan of the humanities, she had written for her school newspaper and literary magazine, and was interested in law and political science.
"And then there was Yale." she said.
She was accepted in December 2011 through an early application process and visited in April 2012.
"I fell in love with it," she said. "The people were welcoming. I loved the campus. Everyone I talked to was so amazing. I just felt like it was the right place for me."
Yale's roots can be traced back to the 1640s, when colonial clergymen led an effort to establish a college in New Haven to preserve the tradition of European liberal education in the New World.
A charter was granted for the school in 1701, "wherein Youth may be instructed in the Arts and Sciences (and) through the blessing of Almighty God may be fitted for Publick employment both in Church and Civil State."
It survived the American Revolutionary War intact. Graduate and professional schools established in the 19th and 20th centuries made Yale a true university, including the Yale School of Medicine in 1810, the divinity school in 1822, the law school in 1824, the graduate school of arts and sciences in 1847, the art school in 1869, the music school in 1894, forestry and environmental studies in 1900, nursing in 1923, drama in 1955, architecture in 1972 and management in 1974.
Elliott began coursework in August, and although she hasn't yet declared a major, she's thinking about pursuing an education in and career in political science or global affairs.
"It's just been a really amazing experience. It's surreal. I've been to a big debate featuring Rick Santorum, and when I walked into my suite one day, John McCain was standing outside," she said. "It was like, ÔWow!'"
Making the grade
She's a staff member for the international affairs magazine Globalist -- which is written, edited and published entirely by undergraduate students -- and last semester became a William F. Buckley Fellow.
"The group is an honor given to conservative students. Right-wing students who are dedicated to creating a diverse intellectual thought across campus," she said. "We bring in all kinds of speakers. This past fall they had Dinesh D'Souza, who spoke about his documentary that came out last year, ÔObama's America 2016.'"
"I really feel like I've been put in an amazing place where I can take classes from amazing people and learn so much," she said.
And learn she has: Elliott received straight As her first semester at Yale -- something she was told was impossible.
Although Elliott is not yet a member of any of the numerous "secret societies" on Yale campus, she did attend a few meetings of a "semi-secret society."
"It was fun at the beginning of the year to see what was going on, all the cloak and dagger stuff," she said.
Since starting college in August, she's been able to return to the Four State Area for Thanksgiving and Christmas. She returned to Yale last week to begin the process of "shopping for classes."
"Here, we get to visit them and decide whether they fit our interests. We're still doing that," she said during a phone interview. "I think it's a nice system to figure out what you want to do."
Her biggest challenge?
"I think getting used to being away from everything I knew -- family, friends back home. It's all about making your own world and your own system of friends. That has been the biggest challenge," she said.
Adrianne's mother, who stays at home with the Yale student's five younger siblings, and father, an electrician, still live in Galena and are able to stay in touch with their daughter using Internet and cellphone.
"Skype comes in very handy when you're this far away from home," she said.