Originally Posted: Jul 30, 2011
Last Updated: Mar 11, 2016
"Which college do you think I'd like?" asked my neighbor the other day. He's good at math, likes history, and thinks he wants to study engineering. He also plays soccer and trumpet and volunteers in the community. What he wants most from college is to study in an exciting environment that will prepare him for his future--wherever it may lead.
Perhaps, like my neighbor, you’re considering a degree in engineering, science, or computer programming—and you’ve heard about institutes of technology, but you don’t really know what makes them special and unique.
Institutes of technology most often offer degrees in fields like electrical engineering, chemistry, applied mathematics, and computer science, as well as “hot” areas like software engineering, interactive media, and biotechnology. However, many also have programs across a wide range of other academic fields. For example, at Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), students can major in film and animation, accounting, and hotel and resort management; similarly, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) offers degrees in economics, history, and even philosophy. But why would you want to study programs like these at an institute of technology?
A focus on the future
If there’s one feature institutes of technology have in common, it’s a desire to prepare students for the future. As technologies change in the “real world,” tech schools are quick to install them in labs and classrooms and to integrate them into the curriculum. Most technological universities pride themselves on offering you the opportunity to learn on the same equipment and technology used by business and industry. This means when you start your career or head off to graduate school, you’ll be able to contribute from the get-go. In fact, institutes of technology are so future-oriented that they are often quick to offer undergraduate programs of study in new academic disciplines. For example, Georgia Institute of Technology was among the first schools in the nation to offer an undergraduate program in nuclear engineering; Stevens Institute of Technology pioneered the first undergraduate program in chemical biology; and RIT’s undergraduate program in imaging science is the first and only program of its kind in the nation.
Blending technology with humanities
Technical know-how isn’t the only thing you’ll get at an institute of technology. Success in life and in your career will come from having a broad perspective. And that’s the value of liberal arts courses such as psychology, literature, languages, and sociology. “Our students find that their knowledge of subjects beyond math and science makes their marketability greater,” says Judi Marino, director of admission at Florida Institute of Technology.
Often, students at technical institutes are fairly clear about the career field they want to explore. Degree programs are often structured so students take courses directly related to their major from the very first semester. However, don’t rule out an institute of technology if you’re undecided about a college major. Technical institutes typically offer hundreds of courses and degree programs, plus the academic advising to help you make the best choices.
Faculty: collaboration is king
The faculty at institutes of technology are highly trained in their areas of expertise—and they have a passion for teaching. Most are active in their fields as researchers and consultants, which means that you’ll have many opportunities to collaborate on projects. Here are examples from four institutes:
- At Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s Arizona campus, professor Shigeo Hayashibara teaches various aspects of aerospace engineering fundamentals such as aerodynamics and aircraft design. “Students can actually do better than they think; all we need to do is open a new door and encourage them to step in,” says Dr. Hayashibara. He’s currently working with students to test a new mid-air refueling system using a wind tunnel and advanced computer simulation technology. For another project, he and his students are designing airplanes with advanced CAD applications.
- At Florida Tech, many degree programs have a required research component. Students are currently working with faculty on a wide range of studies with real-world applications and global relevancy, from looking at ecological effects of offshore oil drilling to hydrogen fuel production to tsunami warning systems. Other students are investigating stellar evolution while still others are conducting research into coral bleaching and nanotechnology.
- A multidisciplinary team of Illinois Institute of Technology students is developing computer and telecommunications capabilities for several Eastern European nations. Students from the computer science, computer engineering, law, business, and psychology departments are working together on the project, which is sponsored by the U.S. Information Agency. Other students are working with biomedical engineering faculty and with doctors to develop new technologies that will restore human vision.
- Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) students, led by faculty advisor Fabio Carrera, have developed a plan that aims to dramatically reduce cargo-boat traffic in Venice’s canals. This is one of nearly 150 academic projects that WPI students have completed in Venice since 1988. For over 20 years, the Venice Project Center has helped reduce damage to canal walls, cataloged the city’s endangered public art, and recorded the sounds of Venice via an audio catalog.
Technology, modern facilities, and state-of-the-art equipment also set tech-oriented institutes and universities apart. Chances are you’ll have wireless Internet access from virtually every part of campus—from your residence hall room to the dining hall.
At Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI), for example, the Mobile Computing@Rensselaer program lets students connect their laptop computers to the University’s information infrastructure from anywhere. In addition, many institutes of technology have “smart classrooms” and laboratories designed for hands-on, interactive problem solving—instead of lectures.
Beyond classrooms and labs
Institutes of technology draw a wide cross-section of students from many states and foreign countries. And whether your interests are athletic, musical, political, recreational, or social, you will almost certainly find others at a technical institute who enjoy similar activities.
When you combine future-oriented academic programs, an experienced faculty, and an exciting learning environment, the results of an education at an institute of technology are obvious: career placement is high, access to graduate school is good, and alumni are in demand!
What courses will I take? A sample first-year schedule
An Engineering Exploration (undeclared engineering) student at RIT could expect to take these courses during his or her freshman year:
- Introduction to Engineering
- Computing for Engineers
- Calculus I, II, and III
- Multivariable Calculus
- College Chemistry
- University Physics I and II
- Liberal Arts Electives
- Science Elective
- Wellness Education
As you can see, this schedule blends math, science, engineering, and liberal arts courses. This hypothetical student is laying the foundation for a successful future on the cutting edge of discovery and innovation—in whatever direction his or her career may lead.
Design. Build. Have fun!
- Rochester Institute of Technology students are regular participants in two American Society of Civil Engineers-sponsored contests: the Concrete Canoe and Steel Bridge Construction competitions.
- High-Power Rocketry Club, the Rocket Experimentation Project, and the NASA Rover Project are just some of the activities that students enjoy at Embry-Riddle’s Arizona campus.
- Students at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute annually design and build a car to compete in the Society of Automotive Engineers’ Formula SAE races, originally called the “Mini Indy.”
- CalTech students regularly participate in the DARPA Grand Challenge, building a robotic ground vehicle capable of driving 170 miles through assorted off-road terrain in under 10 hours.
- Students at the Illinois Institute of Technology are designing and building vehicles to compete in the Society of Automotive Engineers’ annual Mini Baja and Formula Hybrid competitions.