Capitol College's curriculum suits scientific-minded

"They are poised perfectly for the information age"

November 30, 2003|By Erika Hobbs | Erika Hobbs,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

It takes little prodding to persuade Capitol College president G. William Troxler to share an inside joke: "There are 10 types of people in the world: Those who understand binary code and those who don't."

For the technologically challenged, "10" represents the number two in binary, a computer language.

Welcome to "geekdom," as Troxler -- who keeps a cookie jar marked "geek repellent" on his desk -- affectionately calls Capitol College, a Laurel institution that markets itself as Maryland's only free-standing science and technology school.

Its students not only understand binary code, they get the joke. They are the ones, Troxler says, who have played a role in crafting technologies -- from vacuum tubes in early televisions to NASA satellites today -- that have defined American culture in nearly every decade since the 1920s.

Capitol College, tucked inside 52 wooded acres off the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, was founded in 1927 as Capitol Radio Engineering Institute, a correspondence school that offered only electronics courses. Five years later, it opened a residence division in Washington and offered special military-training programs in radio technology.

After name changes and short stints in Silver Spring and Kensington, the college moved in 1980 to Laurel, funded by a $1 million state challenge grant. By 1987, it was flourishing with several bachelors' degree offerings, and settled on a new name, Capitol College.

The accredited, four-year college now offers 12 undergraduate degrees, six graduate degrees and several professional certificates and associate's degrees in computer science, information management, engineering and telecommunications.

It offers all graduate programs and some certifications online. Capitol College is a National Security Agency Center of Academic Excellence in Information Assurance Education, a coveted position among technology institutions.

"Our students are more relevant today than ever before in our history," Troxler said. "They are poised perfectly for the information age."

Clearly, Troxler pointed out, Capitol College is not for everyone. Students are steeped in math and science, and begin taking degree-related courses freshman year.

They are required to begin their capstone projects early. The degree-making projects have run from the whimsical -- a "squirrel whacker" that chases critters from birdbaths -- to the frugal, such as a personal lock box that prevents thieves from stealing electricity at marina slips.

While the school does offer requisite English, history and humanities classes, the selections are few and tailored to the left-brained student. The "Horror Fiction" class studies Stephen King, while "Arts and Ideas" features a broad overview of art, drama, music and philosophy.

Although the three-building school opens onto a lush soccer field, it has no sports teams. Its main clubs are honors societies and professional organizations.

But it's not for a lack of trying, said Tony Miller, director of career services. Its sports teams only recently folded.

"These are the kinds of students you will always find with their heads tucked into textbooks at all hours of the day," Miller said. The average student enters Capitol College with a 3.0 grade point average and an SAT score of 1,000, he said.

The college also distinguishes itself from larger, traditional schools with its open-laboratory policy. The labs are open 24 hours, and students can drop in and stay as long as they like -- perfect for the working and time-crunched student, Miller said.

Employers, including NASA, MCI WorldCom and Northrop, Grumman, look favorably on Capitol students because they have the hands-on experience needed in the marketplace, he said.

"That's our advantage over the major schools," said Miller. "They end up competing with us."

Students and teachers greet each other on a first-name basis on a campus where the student ratio is roughly 18 to 1. Faculty offices sit across the hall from work stations, and because the school has an open-door policy, students often find themselves chatting with different instructors for help.

"They treasure you here," said Camille Tobias, an 18-year-old astronautical engineering major.

In 2000, the William G. McGowan Charitable Fund gave the college $3 million to create an academic center named after the founder of telecommunications giant MCI. The center will house the college's new Space Operations Institute.

Under the 2-year-old program, a partnership with NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, students work with Honeywell Technology Solutions to operate four NASA satellites.

Edward Chang, the university program mission manager for Goddard, said the center is preparing to train replacements for NASA's aging work force.

Capitol's location and student caliber make it an ideal recruiting pool, he said. The team of seven students who now work with Goddard has become an integral part of operations, he added.

"We're happy with the way things are going there," Chang said.

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