Our empty nest

Name:  Karen Schmauss

Parent of: Travis Schmauss – JHU Class of 2016

Hometown: Rancho Cucamonga, California (suburb, 50 miles east of Los Angeles)

It has been ten days since we left our son Travis at JHU.   He is our youngest; his sister already flew the nest and lives in Illinois.   The reality sinks in when I walk by his unoccupied bedroom and bathroom (which is CLEAN, which never was true when he was here).  I try to keep in touch with him by texting him. Sometimes he answers, often he doesn’t.  He has adopted a study system called “pomodoros” which means for each completed 25-minute study session or “pomodoro” he gets a 5 minute break, and after 4 pomodoros he gets a 20-minute break.   So if I don’t catch him during a break, oh well!

Travis and JHU move-in sign

Travis’ road to JHU was not a direct one.  We live in Southern California, far, far away (2,617 miles to be exact; I Google-mapped it).  With engineering as his goal, he applied to 13 colleges and universities.  I am SO glad the college application process is over!  With my Type A personality, I really threw myself into it, and bought a ridiculous number of books (I think about 30) on the college admission/financial aid process.  I read incessantly on the Internet everything I could find – which included Admission_Daniel’s wonderful postings both on Hopkins Insider and College Confidential.

Travis with Daniel Creasy at SOHOP in April - Daniel said nobody had ever asked to pose for a photo with him before!

Sometimes with us, and sometimes with his girlfriend, Travis toured college campuses within driving distance.  During his spring break in mid-March, we flew to Boston and visited schools in that area.  We never did visit JHU.

Travis worked laboriously on his admission essays, with a bit of prodding and nagging on our part. He penned his final essay while riding in the back of his then-girlfriend’s family’s RV on New Year’s Eve.  Then came the interminable waiting – until finally, it was time:  the acceptances and rejections came in, one by one.

On the day that JHU announced its decision, Travis was rejected by a school that had been his first choice.  That rejection barely registered because of the sheer joy of the email from Hopkins.  I was at work when he got word.  He called me:  “MOM, MOM, I got into JHU!!!!!!”

JHU??  JHU???  The Baltimore university?  I was in a panic.  My son was going all the way to Baltimore?

The 3 of us at big JHU sign

I remember when he decided to add JHU to his Common App list.  “But it’s in Baltimore,” I pointed out.  “That’s so far away!!”   “Yeah, but it’s a top engineering school!” he explained.  He chose BME and Engineering Undecided as his major choices.

He didn’t get into BME, but that didn’t faze him at all.  He immediately changed his computer screensaver to Gilman Hall and read everything he could on JHU.  A few days later the long awaited ‘big envelope’ from JHU came, stuffed with brochures and flyers.

He and his dad went to SOHOP, leaving me behind because I had to work.  I was so jealous.  But they took photos, and my husband even filmed the tour they took with a Blue Key member.  I couldn’t wait to see the beautiful campus that I had only seen in pictures.

Travis with his "big envelope" that arrived after his acceptance in March

SOHOP sealed the deal for Travis, who was already 99 percent sure that Hopkins was the one.  The only wrinkle came in early May, when a very exclusive local Liberal Arts College offered him a place from their waitlist.  After a couple days of thinking, Travis wrote them a long letter explaining why he was rejecting them.  Analogizing the college admissions process to asking a girl to a high school dance, he said that he had fallen in love with “Miss Hopkins” who had accepted his invitation, and the girl he had thought he would go with (the LAC) had lost out.

On the morning of August 27, we drove to the Ontario, California airport with six suitcases and duffels.  Four of the six contained Travis’ clothes and possessions.  Awaiting pickup at Towson Bed, Bath & Beyond was his order, which included bedding, fans, lamps, etc.  We arrived in Baltimore late in the evening.  Our hotel was directly across the street from JHU’s athletic fields, and I caught my very first glimpse of the campus.  “I can’t wait for you to see it in the daytime,” said Travis.  “I want to see it through your eyes!”

The next day, I *finally* got to see it in the daylight!  I was very impressed at the beauty of the campus, although I was not happy with the weather.  Hot and humid!  For Travis’ sake, I’m glad the heat and humidity will likely disappear by the end of September.

We drove in our rental car to Towson Center and visited both Target and BB & B, gathering the necessities for Travis’ dorm life.  Not having actually seen the dorm room, it was hard to predict what would fit, but we did our best.  I am very glad he ultimately took my advice to buy both a box fan and a small fan, because those ended up being much needed!  His roommate also brought a box fan and thus they have fans in both windows.


Travis got his first choice of dorms:  AMR II.  Despite the lack of air conditioning, what attracted him was the social aspect of the AMRs and the fact that he doesn’t have to clean his own bathroom.

Travis in front of AMR II on day before move-in

On move-in day, we finally got to see the dorm room.  It was small, but not as small as I feared.  He is in Gildersleeve House (love that name) on the 2nd floor.   The boys’ bathroom is conveniently right across from his room.   The student orientation moving crew was amazing.  There were so many of them!  When we drove up in the rental, they had it unloaded within seconds.  We did it in two trips:  first the stuff from BB&B and Target, and then all of Travis’ suitcases and duffels.  The student helpers carried everything upstairs for us.

Several hours later, Travis’ side of the room was set up.  Everything fit perfectly.  His microfridge unit had already been delivered, and it doubled as his nightstand.  Just as we were leaving, we met his roommate and family.   The roommate fit was perfect – they get along well.

Student volunteers unload our rental car

Orientation was excellent – so many activities and programs – both for him and us.  I was frazzled by the end of Day 2 with so many programs and events!   Everything about JHU is a class act.

All too soon, August 30th arrived and it was time for the “farewell dinner”.  We took Travis to dinner at the restaurant in our hotel, and noticed that his next-door neighbor and her parents were also there.  Then it was time to say goodbye.  He gave us hugs and we watched him walk across the street to school.  He did not look back.

Mom and Travis at restaurant near Hopkins on our first night

Back in our room, I cried.

The next morning, we packed our stuff and took off for Washington, D.C. where we spent the next 3 days.  On Sept. 4, we flew home, and the 38 miles that had been between us in D.C. became 2, 617.

Thank goodness for Facebook – he doesn’t post often, but occasionally a photo tagging him turns up and I get a glimpse into his school life.  I even ‘friended’ one of his housemates who takes lots of photos (the series on Dorm Wars was excellent!).  I am an avid reader/poster on the JHU Parents Facebook page, where we parents can commiserate and trade information.  Happily JHU has lots of publications and updates that let us keep up from afar.

Travis and his roommate Jonah in their room

I have no illusions that my son will often communicate with us.  I know that he is busy with 16 units this semester: Chemistry I, Chem Lab, Calculus III, Materials Science and Engineering for the 21st Century, Intro Environmental Engineering, Chemical Engineering Today, and Great Books at Hopkins.   He plans to join several clubs and wants to join Blue Key.  Hopefully he will also find a work-study job.

So far, it appears that he loves JHU.  It really is the “right fit” – that elusive quality that matches a school with a student.  It really helps that JHU has a house system that provides a ready-made group of friends for freshmen, most of whom know absolutely no one when they arrive on campus.

It’s hard to go from “18 to Zero” – spend 18 years with your child and then, nothing.  But we have done our jobs as parents.  We have nurtured, encouraged and advised our child, and he has matriculated at one of the top universities in the country.  Of course we will always be his parents.  But I suspect that we miss him way more than he misses us.

“Mom and Dad, you’re going to have to find something to talk about once I leave,” he told us this summer.

We do.  We talk about him!  :)

We took the "parents parking" sign literally!

  • By Neeta Batra, September 14, 2012 @ 10:12 PM

    Well written , our only child is now an Engg freshmen at JHU, we are far away from Singapore and are waiting to see her in December when she returns for winter break..however I strongly feel that we do not have any empty nest since we two are still living in the same home. We are very proud that Namrata is in JHU and she is chasing her dreams with everyone’s support around and we are always in her heart and mind . so guess it is time for some independence for us and also to enjoy each other while growing old together.

Other Links to this Post