Its goal was to increase the awareness and impact of the institution.
Five years later, the school released a study charting the progress made on these goals and Farvardin couldn’t be happier.
Applications have increased by more than 100 percent across the board. Specifically, the school of business has seen applications rise 151 percent.
There’s just one small problem: Farvardin thinks some people dismiss the data because Stevens is known primarily as a STEM school whose programs are in demand.
“STEM is good; STEM is hot (and) there is a lot of need for STEM,” he said. “We recognize it and we love it. We’ve been doing it for 147 years and we will embrace it for at least another 147 years.
“But, there’s more to the world than STEM, so our story is that we integrate technology into everything that we teach, STEM or not. That makes our product so much more compelling.”
The story of Stevens is just as compelling. “The Hidden Gem on the Hudson,” as some have called it, is one of the best-kept secrets in higher education.
Farvardin recently sat with NJBIZ. Here are just some of the highlights of the conversation:
NJBIZ: What are some ways that the school’s focus on technology has influenced the way it teaches seemingly unrelated fields? What does that mean for the students who attend Stevens?
Nariman Farvardin: When we teach finance, we teach a technology-infused finance; when we teach music, we teach a technology-infused music. And, therefore, the graduates of these programs have a differentiating advantage on their resume when they graduate. They know something that makes them far more marketable and relevant to what the world really needs.
That’s our secret sauce.
We are very proud of our placement record. All universities have to report, but you want your son or daughter to go to college so that they can become a professional and you can justify your investment. So, we keep track of what happens after our graduates leave the university.
There is a standard of reporting that is, ‘What percentage of your graduates either have a job or are in graduate school within six months of graduation?’
For us, the number is a staggering 96 percent, which is amazing.
But, a lot of people — as soon as I tell them this — try to come up with how they can rationalize this. You know how they do it? They go, ‘Well, you’re an engineering school and engineering is hot,’ which is true, ‘and that’s why you do so well.’
So, I did a very interesting study. We looked at the non-engineering graduates and I wanted to know the placement rate for those. I figured maybe 80 or 70 percent, which is pretty good.
Do you know what it is? 100 percent.
That’s what makes my story very compelling. This is unheard of. You would not get 100 percent of English majors, history majors, arts majors, finance majors and marketing majors with 100 percent. But the second you give them that technology advantage, they become incredibly marketable.
NJBIZ: With numbers like that, it seems job placement is something ingrained into the culture of Stevens in a very deep way. What are your thoughts on the roots of that focus?
NF: This university was founded as an engineering school. People don’t typically study engineering because they have these sublime ideas of becoming an engineer so they can do funny, interesting things.
Most people do engineering because they want to go to the real world, solve a problem and become a somebody. I don’t know many engineering graduates who went to school to do something completely unrelated to engineering. But, I know a lot of English majors who do that.
They think that, by studying English or philosophy, they become a more well-rounded person and they will figure out later what they want to do with their life. That’s really not the case with engineering.
Because of that, the culture of tying the education to a career is a very long-standing culture in this university. Now that we have broadened our activities outside of engineering, that culture still remains.
NJBIZ: When would you say the school began that broadening?
NF: I would say it started maybe 20 years ago. But, in the past five years since I’ve been here, we have really accelerated. We are empowering that and putting more resources behind that.
NJBIZ: And aside from your arrival and your ideas, what was the cause behind pushing that broadening?
NF: It’s very simple. We are a very strong believer that technology is the key driver of human progress. We are a very strong believer that technology is a key driver of economic development. And I am personally a very strong believer that technology is here to stay for a long time. All of these put together implies only one thing: It’s a big mistake not to embrace it.
I’m also a strong believer that our country, our world needs a lot of English and history majors, and a lot of sociologists and psychologists. But, I think the curriculum would be incomplete without giving some exposure to technology, because technology is such a driver.
Thirty-six years ago, we didn’t carry so much technology in our pocket.
NJBIZ: Tell us about some of your other programs; the leadership and management programs; the business programs, aside from the humanities. How are you building that up to create the next generation of leaders?
NF: We have two programs that give our students experiential learning, and one is the co-op program.
The first year, they’re on campus. Then summer between freshman and sophomore year, plus the fall, they work for a company. That makes it six months. Then, they come back and, the following spring and summer, they’re on campus taking courses. Then, the following fall, they’re back at the company and are back and forth.
The program becomes a five-year program and, at the end of the fifth year, they’ve finished their studies and amassed a tremendous amount of experience.
At Stevens, we are very proud of our experiential learning. We solve real problems. I’m not talking about engineering problems, I’m talking about real problems. And this world has a lot of real problems.
Because of that, when a student graduates from this university, they are more ready to hit the ground running.
For example, we sent out students to Thailand in this program we have called ‘engineers without borders.’ They don’t do much engineer work, but they go to these impoverished villages in the northern part of the country to help the real people. They don’t write a paper about impoverished people. They go there.
NJBIZ: What have programs such as this co-op program done for Stevens’ relationship to the surrounding business community?
NF: First of all, our relationship to the business community is on the grow. Secondly, there are a number of companies that are at the core. They are connected with us; they have been connected with us for a long time and they don’t change.
Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, Honeywell, Johnson & Johnson, AT&T, Lucent and Lockheed Martin, these companies are there every year. They’re on campus, they hire students, co-ops, interns, they do research.
Then, we have some companies that come and go because they are smaller, so we have both flavors.
For Sheldon’s full interview with Nariman Farvardin, click here.
Follow Andrew Sheldon on Twitter at @SheldonAndrewJ.