Road Trip: Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology

We toured some of Indiana's top schools and found out what it's like to attend them.

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Work-study jobs normally run the mundane gamut from reshelving books at the library to selling popcorn at basketball games. At the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, dozens of undergrads get paid to staff a homework hotline that has offered free tutoring to middle and high school students across Indiana for nearly two decades. Talk about embracing your inner geek. 

Rose-Hulman sits on the outskirts of Terre Haute on a pleasant, intimate campus, home to 1,800 students who aren't afraid to embrace the geek moniker. And these days, that's nothing to scoff at: While many newly minted grads are desperately searching for jobs nationwide, engineers (and Rose-Hulman grads) are in high demand. "Frankly, we're not worried too much about grads' first jobs. We're trying to make sure that they're happy in their second or third job," says James Goecker, who heads the admissions office.

It's a conservative place, typical for engineering schools, and proud of its small classes, hands-on teaching style, and intellectual rigor. Past presidents of the school traditionally welcomed freshmen to campus by reminding them ominously that only 1 in 3 would graduate. But those were the bad old slide rule days, before the school went coed and before colleges focused on things like student life and the graduation rate. 

Now, the slide rules have been replaced by college-issued laptop computers, and the graduation rate is around 80 percent. "Student success is no longer based on someone else failing, and that's a critical change in the campus culture," says Arthur Western, a professor of physics and optical engineering and vice president for academic affairs. "That said, if you're looking at college as a time and place to chill out, don't come here." Indeed, the admissions standards are tougher than ever. President Matt Branam says, only half-jokingly, that his application would likely be rejected if he were to apply to the school today. 

Women and the personal computer first appeared on the Rose-Hulman campus around the same time, after years of debate about the merits of going coed. Those arguments are long in the past, but the search is still on for more women. Most engineering schools have more men than women, but Rose-Hulman's student ratio is particularly pronounced: 80 percent are male. But whatever their gender, the students tend to be cut from the same cloth. Mariya Krisenko got hooked on Rose-Hulman after meeting an alumnus at her high school science fair. "If you make a joke about science or math around here, someone is going to get it, and they're going to laugh." 

MoreAbout Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology:

Plus Factor: Average starting salary for R-H alums: $59,464 (more than $10,000 higher than national average for college grads)

Undergrad enrollment, 2009: 1,964

Est. annual cost 2010-2011: $49,227 

Indiana Road Trip:

• Purdue University
• Butler University
• Wabash College

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