Throughout its history,
RIT has taken a unique approach to its core business
note: The themes for RIT’s 175th anniversary celebration
are “Education, Exploration and Innovation.” The
University Magazine will offer some insights on these topics
in each issue during the anniversary year. In this edition,
we explore RIT’s approach to education.
don’t talk about careers,” says RIT President Albert
Simone. “We talk about careers.”
The focus on preparing
students for success in the workplace comes up recurrently in
any discussion of what sets RIT apart.
The university traces
its roots to two organizations created by 19th century civic and
business leaders: Rochester Athenaeum, founded in 1829, and Mechanics
Institute, begun in 1885. The cultural organization and the trade
school merged in 1891, creating what has proved to be a potent
Certainly 175 years
have brought extraordinary changes, but the essence is remarkably
unchanged. RIT remains a career-focused technical university that
also encompasses renowned programs in the arts. The university’s
leaders are committed to carrying that identity into the 21st
century: RIT’s Strategic Plan for 2005 – 2015, adopted
in July by the Board of Trustees, states that “RIT will
lead higher education in preparing students for successful careers
in a global society, and career preparation is the most important
element of the RIT brand.”
Simone often speaks
of his vision for the future, when RIT will be the top choice
for students interested in career education, just as Harvard is
first for liberal arts and MIT leads in research.
“RIT will be
the preeminent model of a technological university preparing our
students for productive lives,” says Simone. “It will
provide the most opportunities for students to work with industry
and government agencies throughout their time at RIT – both
through our co-op program and through on-campus opportunities
for collaborative research.”
In connection to the
emphasis on experiential learning, RIT actively cultivates partnerships
with industry – historically quite unusual for an academic
institution, says Wiley McKinzie, dean of the College of Applied
Science and Technology. McKinzie came to RIT in 1974 to teach
computer science and was instrumental in the introduction of numerous
innovative programs including telecommunications, information
technology and software engineering.
“Many of our
programs have industrial advisory boards that help us stay current
with developments in the field,” says McKinzie.
RIT traditionally has
developed new programs to meet the demands of the marketplace.
That’s another cornerstone of RIT’s approach to education,
says McKinzie, who is leading RIT’s new Academic Program
Typically, it has taken
a decade from the time an emerging field is identified to the
graduation of the first student trained in that area. In today’s
fast-paced world, that’s too long. The incubator is intended
to anticipate demand by students as well as industry. “We
hope to cut the time to five years,” says McKinzie.
to the world of work also is reflected in the approach to teaching,
McKinzie believes. RIT looks for industry experience as well as
academic credentials when hiring faculty, and teaching effectiveness
is continually assessed through student evaluations and scrutiny
by the department.
how the emphasis on teaching is reinforced,” says McKinzie.
“The typical RIT faculty member thinks of himself first
as a teacher and second as a researcher. That’s the opposite
of other universities.”
This view is shared
by Stanley McKenzie, who joined the faculty in 1967 and became
provost and vice president for academic affairs in 1994. Provost
McKenzie notes that emphasis on scholarship and research is increasing,
but with a distinctly RIT approach. Typically, projects have a
practical, real-world goal and are sponsored by industry or government
agencies, and student involvement is encouraged.
focus on applied research that enhances the educational experience
of students,” says McKenzie. “We have people doing
world-class research in some areas, but they all teach as well.
The teaching load here is three to five times greater than at
a research institution.”
The importance of faculty
research and academic scholarship is directly related to the increasing
number of graduate students, who ultimately are expected to account
for about 20 percent of the student body.
RIT has expanded the
definition of career education, Provost McKenzie believes, to
meet the demands of the global society of the future.
“A strong basis
in the humanities and social sciences is absolutely essential
to an RIT education,” he says. “We need the students
to be not only specialists in their fields. We need them to be
leaders in their professions, and to be citizens of the world.”