As the Cold War was heating up, Harvey Mudd College in Claremont, California, came into existence.
The tiny college welcomed its first incoming freshman class in 1957, in a world where atomic weapons were reality.
This fact drives the school’s culture, Harvey Mudd President Maria Klawe told Business Insider.
Founding president Joe Platt’s vision of the school was driven by the fact he thought scientists involved in the development of atomic weapons didn’t consider the long-term impact their work would have on society.
“He wanted to create an undergraduate education where people really would think hard about the work that they do and what the consequences of that work will be,” Klawe said.
Mudd’s curriculum, therefore, developed differently than elite schools founded in the 17th and 18th centuries. It focused intensely on team approaches to solving problems and collaboration.
“Everybody strives to do better, but when they are striving to do better it’s not about their own career — it’s more about we’re striving to make this place better,” Klawe said.
Indeed Mudd is known for its rigorous, high-performing student body, with graduates who outperform even those in the Ivy League. It routinely shows up on lists that rank the best value colleges and, based on median salary, its graduates out-earn those from Harvard and Stanford
about 10 years into their careers.
Klawe believes students and faculty work harder at Mudd than at any other place she has taught.
She is in a unique position to make this charge, having previously taught at Princeton University, and attributes not just a different student culture as responsible for this effect, but also one among faculty.
“If you’re at one of the top research universities, like Princeton … you’re going to be judged by the impact of the research that you do, the number and size of the research grants you bring in, the success of your post docs and PhD students,” she said. “If you see somebody coming up for promotion or tenure and they are the most fabulous teacher in the universe but their research is only ‘good’ they will not get promoted or tenured.”
At Harvey Mudd, the opposite is true, according to Klawe, who said teaching is the most important thing for Mudd professors.
“We’re very clear about what we value,” she said.
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