All universities brag about their graduates: the number of alums who wear judicial robes, the number of alums in the NBA, and these days, the number of alums with steady, well-paying jobs. Purdue University, on the other hand, is proud to have the largest number of alums who've slipped the bonds of Earth and ventured into space, including the first and last men to set foot on the moon. Take that, Ivies.
They don't call the sprawling 18,000-acre West Lafayette campus the "Cradle of Astronauts" for nothing. Purdue President France Córdova, herself once the chief scientist at NASA, says that while students may gaze longingly toward the heavens, the school is also focused on Indiana. The majority of its 39,000 students come from the Hoosier State. "We have an obligation to provide a great education for Indiana students, but also as one of the schools that educates a national and international workforce." Indeed, Purdue enrolls the second largest number of international students among U.S. public universities.
While it offers hundreds of majors across many disciplines, the school is best known for its engineering and flight programs. Purdue was the first university in the nation to own and operate its own airport, a feature that faculty and staff say can come in handy for jetting off to meetings with colleagues in Beijing, Washington, or Indianapolis. Too bad that Purdue Airlines operated as a company—another first for a university—only briefly, from the late 1960s to the early '70s. But it had the distinction of operating Hugh Hefner's Playboy DC-9 for several years.
In addition, famed pilot Amelia Earhart counseled students at the school and got funding from the university to design the ill-fated craft that was to carry her around the world. A dorm stuffed with memorabilia and exhibits is named in her honor.
Appropriate for its surroundings and its focus on meeting the needs of the state, Purdue also has a renowned agriculture program. "From the earliest days of space travel and discovery, to current efforts to feed our hungry world and achieve global food security," Gebisa Ejeta, agronomy professor and World Food Prize laureate, told the 2010 graduating class, "I would like to believe that Purdue's global impact has been generated not serendipitously, but by design."
More About Purdue University:
Fact: Astronauts? Alum who contributed most to humanity: popcorn king Orville Redenbacher (1928)
Undergrad enrollment, 2009: 31,145
Est. annual cost 2010-2011: in state, $21,820; out of state, $39,492
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