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RIT Museum

The RIT Museum provides a dedicated space for exhibits that allow for more in-depth explorations of RIT’s rich history and an opportunity to present exhibitions drawn from RIT/NTID’s unique Deaf Studies Archive as well as the University Art Collection. Exhibits change every six months. Visit often and enrich your understanding of the university’s past and learn about these special collections!

Location: Third floor, The Wallace Center
Open the same hours as The Wallace Center

Currently at the museum:

Charting One’s Course: The History of Individualized Education at RIT


In looking at the educational landscape today, individualized pathways for learning seem to be a new trend; yet Rochester Institute of Technology has employed this method since the late nineteenth century by providing technical training for workers in industry through day and evening courses in a variety of subjects.

The foundations for this approach were laid in the Rochester Mechanics Institute Trustee minutes where principal Eugene C. Colby proclaimed that “the object shall be to promote such practical education as may enable those persons receiving instruction to become better fitted for their occupations in life.” To meet the needs of the immediate community and industry in Rochester, the earliest day and evening classes were offered in the following areas: drawing, mathematics, philosophy, and domestic science. Evening classes were taken by employees who worked during the day. These were the majority of the enrollees. However, day classes were filled by public school teachers and homemakers in addition to youth of varying ages. In either case, certification, rather than a finite degree, was the goal.

From the 1920s through the 1970s, changes in education, enrollment patterns due to World War I and World War II, and national interests shifted the emphasis of education at the Institute, as elsewhere in the U.S. For instance, classes were focused on training individuals for the defense industry. To meet this need, many working professionals attended classes at what was then called the “Evening School.” In response to the growing number of Americans enrolling in coursework, RIT began to award its first degrees by offering the Applied Arts & Sciences (AAS) degree in 1951—the first of its kind in the state! Shortly thereafter, RIT added Baccalaureate (1953) and Master’s degrees (1960) to its offerings.

Bringing the idea of individualized education into its middle years, in 1966, the College of Continuing Education (CCE) was developed to help working men and women expand their skills and increase their knowledge of business, science, and art. Expanding to include full-time students, CCE was renamed the Center for Multidisciplinary Studies (CMS) in 1996. In 2015, CMS was renamed the School of Individualized Study (SOIS) where students create customizable degree pathways that also encourage credit-bearing real world experience.

For more than 130 years, RIT has enabled each student to chart one’s own course through the pursuit of courses, programs, and, eventually, degrees that have valued technical education, cooperative education, and career preparation—all in an effort to meet the student’s needs as well as those of their current and potential employers and the global community in order, in the words of Colby, “to become better fitted for their occupations in life.”

In preparing this exhibition, we have come to realize the ways in which community was forged even as students were pursuing their individual passions. We invite you to examine the items in the exhibition closely and to visit the Archives to see the collections from which these documents, photographs, posters, and memorabilia were derived: together, they chart the course of individualized education from 1885 to the present day.

 See a digital version of the exhibit at