Will College of Tech be the difference in regional plans?

John Hitch

Local politicians, regional bioscience companies and global investors have all converged to upgrade the region between Cleveland and Pittsburgh from the Rust Belt to the “Tech Belt.”

A pact made earlier this year between Cleveland’s BioEnterprise and Pittsburgh Life Sciences Greenhouse spawned the idea of the Tech Belt. The partnership will nurture the 700 biotech companies in the greater area by jointly seeking investments and sharing resources, the medical consortiums said.

Situated geographically in the buckle of that belt is Kent State and its College of Technology. The nationally accredited college offers bachelor’s degrees in technology, industrial technology and aeronautics, along with a master’s in technology.

“The tech workforce will be the difference,” said Raj Chowdhury, dean of the college. He is convinced that his students can bolster businesses immediately following commencement. “Our curriculum (is) in tune with the marketplace.”

Currently, the college has 1,029 undergraduates and 71 grad students across Kent State’s eight northeastern Ohio campuses, with more than half at the main campus, according to RPIE’s Fall 2007 enrollment report.

That number is rising as fast as technology is changing. The college’s enrollment has gone up 15 percent from Fall 2006 to Fall 2007. The rest of Kent State’s departments registered a combined .003 percent change over the same period.

So why are students clamoring to take classes at Van Deusen Hall?

The College of Technology provides “niche services (students) can’t access at bigger universities,” said Tom Southard, the college’s outreach program manager. “We can be more user-friendly, more flexible.”

Many students believe that the department’s advising team is one such service.

The college’s size allows for advisers Lawrence Epps and Michael Gershe to get to know the students during their first year at Kent State.

Epps ensures that freshmen and associate degree students take at least one or two classes for their major in the first term. It gives the students “a good idea of what (their major) is all about,” he said. This keeps them wasting time in a field they may dislike, Epps said.

Amanda Hofstetter, junior computer animation and design major, praised the advising team’s candor. She said there wasn’t a lot of information available in her high school concerning her interest in video game design. The woman from Chardon said, “They are not afraid to tell you straight up what is going to happen to you. They don’t beat around the bush.”

She was also impressed with the college’s cutting-edge technology, which she said is parallel to programs she plans to use when she moves to Japan, what she calls the “Paris of Technology.”

Gershe believes successful students must take an active role in their education, stressing the importance of student organizations. “The student has to get involved,” he said.

This position has not only benefited students, but communities in need as well.

Initially going for a career in speech pathology, Neal Konesky switched to College of Technology after Gershe led him to professor Joe Karpinski. The professor was laying the foundation for a new major, construction management

Konesky was immediately sold on both the major and the professor, and soon became the first president of major’s student organization, which also quickly gained sponsorship from the Mechanical Contractors Association of America.

Only in existence for one semester, the student chapter has already planned a 10-day sojourn to Biloxi over winter break, where it will renovate houses with Habitat for Humanity. When the benevolent builders return, they plan to help out in Kent, the Pittsburgh native said.

“They are by far the best advisers on campus,” Konesky concluded.

The small class sizes make it easier for the faculty to give the students a more “hands-on” learning experience. Chowdhury calls it “learning by doing.”

Assistant professor Linden Adkins makes sure his computer hardware classes can apply their knowledge practically.

“I guarantee after one semester, they can build and repair their own computers,” he said of his students.

He also promotes business growth in the area. He wants to expand a program that has technology graduate students building small businesses’ computer networks. The students gain valuable experience and the companies don’t have to pay labor costs.

Even with all the accreditations and awards lauded on the college and its faculty, Dean Chowdhury is still most proud of his students’ dedication. “We have to kick them out of labs, they are so devoted to technology.”

The dean estimated graduates’ starting salaries could reach $50-60 thousand, but Epps said, “The salary is just a bonus. It’s something they love to do.”

Maybe now with the biotech industry taking off, the region can keep its most valuable resources from leaving.

Contact College of Technology reporter John Hitch at [email protected] .