Content and Scope of Research

In looking at the educational landscape today, individualized pathways for learning seem to be a new trend; yet Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) has employed this method since the late nineteenth century by providing technical training for workers in industry through day and evening courses in a variety of subjects. For more than 130 years,  RIT has enabled each student to chart one’s own path as an academic through the pursuit of courses, programs, and degrees that value technical education, cooperative education, and career preparation.

RIT’s roots are tied to an earlier association, the Athenaeum, which was established in 1829 “for the purpose of cultivating and promoting literature, sciences, and the arts” which was coupled with practical technical training from the Mechanics Institute (established in 1885) to provide assistance for industry workers through day and evening courses in mechanical drawing, design, and fine arts. In 1912, cooperative education was begun. In the 1940s, classes were focused on training individuals for the defense industry. Working professionals attended classes at what then called the “Evening School.” Bringing the idea of individualized education into its middle years, in 1966, the College of Continuing Education (CCE) was developed to help working men and women expand their skills and increase their knowledge of business, science and art, while still being able to work and have the flexibility they needed. Expanding its reach to include full-time students, CCE was renamed the Center for Multidisciplinary Studies (CMS) in 1996. More recently, in 2015, the Center was renamed the School of Individualized Study (SOIS) which seeks to help each student create a customizable degree pathway, encourages independent study, and seeks to award college credit for a student’s real world experience.

Arranged chronologically with documents, photographs, and artifacts from the RIT Archive Collections, this exhibition looks at the earliest endeavors before moving on to the flexible approach during the post-WWII era and contemporary times. By connecting contemporary practices with a storied past, Charting One’s Course constructs a broad narrative of the history of RIT’s embrace of individualized education to demonstrate the ways in which these programs have, despite their granular approach, fostered community.

The onsite exhibit on the third floor of The Wallace Center is supported by an interactive timeline that charts the course of individualized learning from the late nineteenth century until today. In addition to plotting the history of individualized education over 130 years, the onsite and online exhibitions ask visitors to think about what education and community mean to them.