For all of you prospective students out there, I know picking a college to attend can be extremely overwhelming and stressful. I still didn’t know where I wanted to go by the time I reached the spring semester of my senior year in high school!
It really helps to know what kind of a career you want after you finish school, but don’t worry if you only have a vague idea of what you might want to do. Many, many people go to college and switch majors a few times until they find what suits them best. Here are five reasons why I ultimately decided to go to Florida Institute of Technology. Hopefully something here can help you decide if Florida Tech might be your type of school!
1. Great astrophysics program
The only reason I ever even heard about Florida Tech was because of a little pamphlet I got in the mail. It had a picture of the Ortega, our 0.8-meter telescope on the top of our physical sciences building, and my interest was piqued. I poked around online and found their projected schedule for an undergraduate in astrophysics, and my interest grew. Of course, the first couple years of classes sound a bit boring (you’ll probably get that anywhere; everyone has to build a baseline of knowledge in order to tackle the more complicated and more interesting classes!). The upper level classes, however, like astrophysics 1 & 2, quantum mechanics, observational astronomy, orbital mechanics, and so forth, sounded extremely interesting.
2. Location, Location, Location
Another big one for me was location. What better way to study astrophysics than on the Space Coast? Florida Tech is about a 40-minute drive to Cape Canaveral and the Kennedy Space Center, which I always make an effort to visit at least once a year, if not once a semester. It just doesn’t get old! This way I am also able to watch launches from the Cape, too, which I have never been able to do before, being from Utah and all.
I am extremely grateful to be here now, because NASA is starting to test its new launch vehicle, the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle, and eventually the new Space Launch System (SLS), a heavy-lift rocket more powerful than any ever built before. Living here in Florida is a great way to really see that the space program didn’t die with the shuttle, and it is actually progressing once again to beyond-Earth orbit.
Both of these things had a strong pull on me, but I didn’t want to decide until I had actually seen the campus for myself. So I attended one of Florida Tech’s Discovery Days, an event where prospective students get tours of the campus and get to see what it would be like on campus and in their probable departments. I fell in love with campus immediately.
I love that I can walk to all my classes in about fifteen minutes, no matter where I am on campus. I love that the student-to-professor ratio is about 1:15 (or at least that’s what it was when I applied; we have grown a bit since my freshman year, but I still doubt it’s much higher than that).
What really appealed to me about this was it meant my classes wouldn’t be handed to a graduate student and I never see the professor the entire semester. The labs are run by grad students, but the lectures are not, so there are plenty of opportunities to discuss things with the actual professor. Coming to Florida Tech would also mean I wouldn’t be stuck in a room with 300 other students. Even my most crowded freshman classes didn’t exceed 50 students!
While at Discovery Day, I was able to meet quite a few faculty from the Physics and Space Sciences department and got a tour of several of their labs, too (and the telescope, of course). I was then able to have lunch with Professor Oswalt and Professor Batcheldor — both of who were doing research in areas I find quite fascinating: Professor Oswalt studies white dwarves, Professor Batcheldor studies supermassive black holes. As a whole, I found the faculty cheerful and welcoming, and it made me want to come here even more.
5. Undergraduate research
Another thing I learned at Discovery Day that was paramount in my decision to come to Florida Tech is the school’s emphasis on undergraduate research. The first semester here, every freshman in the Physics and Space Sciences department has to take a class called “Freshman Seminar,” which usually consists of various professors coming to discuss what research they are doing so students can decide whose research group they would like to join.
Joining a research group is strongly advised, right from freshman year! Yes, you’ll probably be doing something fairly simple, perhaps even boring, at first, but it’s a great way to build up your resume for when you take enough classes to apply for internships later on. I was able to work in the Geospace Physics Lab for a year and a half with Professor Dwyer, starting my second semester of college, and now I am working with Professor Petit on magnetic fields of massive stars.
All in all, I love it here at Florida Tech. Anywhere you go is going to have its problems, and don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of things to complain about here. But I am glad I chose to come here, and I feel certain my degree from here will be able to get me where I want to go in my career as a physicist.