President Column

At Rose-Hulman, we have a tradition of leadership in higher education that is alive and well in 2012. We are in the midst of The "Great" Debate, a yearlong conversation on the future of our school. Within this debate we will chart the path from "best" to "great."

Your input is needed in The "Great" Debate. You, the alumni, parents, faculty, staff, and friends of Rose-Hulman are among the smartest, best educated, and most innovative people in the world.  Your ideas will help us continue to lead the way in teaching engineering, science, and math at the undergraduate level.

We are wrestling with how best to prepare our students for the challenges and opportunities their future holds. We are reconciling the difference between our aspirations and our realities at Rose-Hulman, and we are studying the leading edge of engineering, science, and math education to ensure we continue to lead the way.

If we can tap your collective wisdom, ideas, and experiences, we can envision a future for Rose-Hulman that will be truly great for our students and will enhance the impact our alumni have on the world.   

In the Fall issue of Echoes, I recalled for you some previous plans that guided our school through times of tremendous change-The Institute Commission on Self Study, conducted in the '70s, and the Commission on the Future of Rose-Hulman, in the early '90s. We are all grateful to those of you who participated in crafting those plans. Your vision steered this little engineering school in Terre Haute through past waves of change and challenge, and earned us national recognition as the best undergraduate engineering school in America for 13 consecutive years.

But, in today's world, 13 years is a very long time. Thirteen years ago technology's dot com bubble was intact; the Twin Towers dominated their skyline; my cell phone was a clam shell; Congress was contemplating a surplus; unleaded gasoline cost a dollar a gallon . . .


You get the idea.

Innovation, globalization, and hyper-connected networking have changed our lifestyles. Disruptive technology, disrupted markets, soaring oil and gold prices, and raging deficits have played significant roles in the way we do business, and the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, and China) countries have emerged as major economic competitors and partners. Our country has changed the way it handles calamity, fights disease, communicates news, delivers value, socializes, plays games, learns information, and how it goes to college. Yet demand for what we do at Rose-Hulman continues to increase. We have seen another record number of applications for admission this year. Those applications come from addresses and computers throughout the world.

So, we have to understand, as best we can, the major shifts taking place in the world around us. Today, we are witnessing a change in higher education-distance learning, online education, inverted classrooms, dual-degree programs with global partner schools, e-books, peer-to-peer learning, for-profit universities, and problem-based learning. Colleges and universities that will be strongest tomorrow will assess the ever changing landscape and improve what they are doing today.

There is no question in my mind that we are entering a period of disruption in the business model of higher education. But, I am less concerned about that than I am about our students and how the education we provide will serve them going forward.


In order to gain insight into the world into which our students will graduate, and to inform The "Great" Debate with the reality of just how much change we can anticipate, I have asked our faculty, staff, and trustees to read That Used To Be Us, by Thomas Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum. I hope you will read it too. I have found Thomas Friedman to be an intelligent, relatively unbiased reporter with unparalleled access to thought leaders across the world. Through our reading of a common book, we can all enjoy a common vocabulary in The "Great" Debate, and we can all better discuss the future of the education we believe our world demands that we teach.

So far in The "Great" Debate, we have reviewed thousands of pages of research on the current state of the art in engineering, science, and math education. We have also read publications developed by numerous engineering and scientific organizations about the future of engineering. We have met with alumni in three cities (Naples, Los Angeles, and Dallas) so far, with several other meetings planned during the next few months. We have met with more than 280 of our faculty and staff, dozens of students, and parents, and we have analyzed surveys of more than 20 percent of our alumni. There are many ways to get involved and impact the future of your school by sharing your experiences and ideas. We are determined to reach a majority of our constituents. Please join The "Great" Debate by attending one of our upcoming events. (See the list of cities inside the front cover page of this issue.)

Rose-Hulman is our school. As alumni, we have a great responsibility to ensure that our students of today, and tomorrow, benefit from a Rose-Hulman education as much as we have.

Let's make it happen. Make it fun.

President Matt Branam is a 1979 Rose-Hulman alumnus.