At the Fall Career Fair at Stevens Institute of Technology September 27, Christopher Nutting M.Eng. '17 of MIT's famed Lincoln Laboratory was chatting and exchanging questions with Stevens undergraduates, mostly seniors, alongside hundreds of other campus recruiters that day.
“My colleague and I were swamped all afternoon talking to a wide spectrum of students, from mechanical and biomedical to space systems engineering majors,” he recalled. “I was very impressed with how sharp and prepared they were. They not only asked great questions, they also answered questions in a way that I was able to understand their design projects.”
The day-long career fair marked Nutting’s first visit to the Stevens campus in Hoboken, New Jersey, a notable event since he is also a graduate of the university—with a twist.
The MIT researcher received a master’s degree in space systems engineering from Stevens in January through StevensOnline, which offers more than 125 online courses, covering 17 master's degrees and 50 graduate certificates in engineering, management and computer science.
Nutting, who holds a bachelor’s in mechanical engineering from Northeastern University, worked in industry early in his career. But it was at Lincoln Laboratory, he says, where he found his “niche” in systems engineering.
“I had looked at different programs, but the space systems engineering program at Stevens pretty much had everything I needed for what we do at Lincoln.”
It’s no wonder he found what he needed at Stevens. The university is a leading provider of systems engineering education and research. The School of Systems and Enterprises (SSE) at Stevens, launched ten years ago, remains the only school in the nation focused on interdisciplinary academics and research rooted in systems thinking.
Additionally, SSE’s graduate programs in systems engineering are ranked among the top 40 in the nation by U.S. News and World Report.
“Working in the defense aerospace industry, I felt the need to get an advanced degree so that I could really contribute to the programs here at Lincoln,” he explained. “Some of the thought processes that I got from Stevens I’ve been able to transfer here as we look to improve our own internal processes.”
An online education that offers flexibility without sacrificing quality
The online master’s program at Stevens made it possible for Nutting to advance his career while balancing work, family and life. Time management, he says, was critical to completing the program in just two years.
“My kids were in high school and I was putting in quite a number of hours at work. So I had to be able to carve out time during the week and weekends to get assignments done, and participate in group meetings and attend lectures online. Adjusting to that process was challenging at first,” he admitted.
Along with the self-discipline needed to complete the program, Nutting praised Stevens for delivering a high quality educational experience via StevensOnline’s award-winning technology platform – WebCampus.
“The systems that were in place were very helpful, the instruction was great, and I found the online collaboration to be a very good experience,” Nutting said. “The impression I get from my own experience with StevensOnline is that the university is always looking for ways to improve their online programs.”
Robert Zotti, assistant dean at WebCampus, would agree with that assessment. Providing students with the optimum online learning experience requires a continuous and thorough examination of the best tools and methods that can be brought to bear on each specific class, says Zotti.
“At WebCampus, we offer instructors training and advice on how to best take advantage of our eLearning infrastructure; try to find an ideal balance of interaction in all its forms (instructor-to-student, student-to-student, discussion posts, email, etc.) for their particular course; and offer to assist instructors in the enhancement of course materials, including but not limited to videos produced in our recording studio.”
To critics who say that online coursework is somehow easier, or less rigorous, than traditional classroom instruction, Nutting says his StevensOnline experience quickly dispels that notion.
“What I found is that you’re challenged more because you’re not in front of the professor all the time. So they ask more of you just to make sure that you are doing the work and are keeping up.”
As for the kind of hands-on research experience normally associated with graduate study, Nutting says his position at Lincoln provided the perfect proving ground for what he was learning at Stevens.
“Each semester I was able to apply what I was learning directly to what I was doing at work, so I feel like I got the research experience in a way that was tailored to my situation.”
He adds that his advisor and professors were readily accessible whenever he had a question, and that his interactions with classmates were far more collaborative than he expected.
“It wasn’t just the time in class, there was a lot of contact, either through emails or phone calls, and teaching amongst ourselves. One person may grasp a concept before somebody else, and they then would explain it to the rest of the team. So we all kind of played off each other’s skills, which worked out really well.”
To learn more about Stevens’ online degree programs and certificates, WebCampus, application requirements, and more, visit StevensOnline.