Tuesday, March 01, 2011

The Polytechnic Model

Polytechnic is defined as 'many disciplines.'

You've probably heard of a handful of schools with the Polytechnic designation, Cal Poly, Rensselaer Polytechnic, NYU Poly, and a handful of others. You may have even heard of my alma mater, USF Polytechnic. I proudly wear my many tee shirts emblazoned with the school name that my student activity fees bestowed on me and got asked more than a handful of times "what exactly IS a Polytechnic?"

Oh, I gave the definition above and expanded further that the polytechnic model is applied learning with an interdisciplinary approach. Netted down further-it is a hands on environment where you use the skills of more than one subject in each class. That first time I visited the campus and spoke to an admissions advisor, the explanation sold me on going to that campus instead of driving a little further to Tampa, where the course offering catalog gave many more options for times and sections of classes.

There are trade offs, though. A large school gives more sections, but they also have more students in them. You could go a whole semester attending every class and your professor might just know your name from the attendance roll and from submitting your scantron results in the Blackboard grading module. If you like that anonymity, a big school is good.

No, I liked the idea of applied learning and got so much out of the experience that I appreciated, but the past eight weeks have made me realize that it was so much more than hands on learning.

Smaller classes meant participation was not optional. It also meant my professors got to know me, my strengths and weaknesses. It meant that if I was quiet in class, they noticed. Participation was expected of everyone, and it meant discussion went far beyond the pages of the textbooks, that your peer's real world experiences as it related to that lecture topic might give you a new perspective.

Multi-disciplinary meant that research was not only encouraged, but required. The caveat was that professors didn't say "write a paper about BF Skinner," instead students were asked to explore a facet of behaviorism as it applied to learning. Not really knowing any different, I thought this was the expectation at most schools for a bachelor's degree.

I walked across that stage and collected a degree in December, knowing that I was given ample opportunity to think beyond the pages of the textbooks, beyond the words spoken in lectures. The experience of studying at a Polytechnic gave me the mindset that in anything I encounter, there are multiple ways of finding understanding-and none of them really are the only way.

Eight weeks ago, I started graduate school and was a little nervous. I have a purpose, a plan, a direction I want to go, but part of me wondered if I was up to the rigors of higher learning. After all, my program didn't require me to take the GRE, selecting me based on my grades. A lot of hard work went into those A's, A minuses and (cough cough) couple of B's, but still-were they enough?

Two months in, I realize that the experience of the Polytechnic education as an undergrad is identical to the experience as a Graduate student. I'm in slightly smaller classes, but the bones of what we do is the same. Participation is required, my research is self directed and my professors have learned me and my strengths and weaknesses. Heck, two used the exact same phrase "You've got a lot of life going on outside the classroom right now" to explain the stress of the Jane situation.

If people ask what grad school is like, I've been telling them that it's been exactly the same as my undergrad experience, but without the tests. (none of this semester's professors believe in assessing progress with them, using different measurements instead)

In talking to my classmates, though, the ones who started the same time I did, the switch to grad school has been a lot harder and a lot more work than what they encountered before. It just makes me appreciate the time I spent at a Polytechnic, and make me wish I could encourage others to choose the same if they have the option.




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