ECPI University: Education in action

John Olson, campus president, ECPI (photo by Denise Hilton)

ECPI University offers the traditional, theoretical approach to education, but it emphasizes and embraces an extremely hands-on approach, as well.

The focus has always been—at all levels—not just knowing about something, but also knowing how to do something, Campus President John Olson says.

“When a student goes out for a job interview, a potential employer ultimately wants to know, ‘what can you really do for me,” Olson says. “If you walk around the campus, you’ll see we are very lab-centric.”

A traditional set-up may have a lecture three times a week with a lab portion of the class twice a week, Olson adds. At ECPI, students are encouraged to jump right into their work, whether it’s programming, creating a circuit or something else tangible.

“We can really reinforce the ‘why’ with the ‘how’ then and there,” he says.

ECPI University, founded in 1966, has campuses in Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Florida. The Newport News campus has about 1,100 students and offers various certifications, associate’s and bachelor’s degree programs and a master’s degree in cybersecurity.

Programs include cloud computing; web design and development; cyber and network security; software development; electronics engineering; mechatronics; physical therapy assistant; sonography, radiography; dental assistant; massage therapy; medical assistant; healthcare administration; health information management; paramedic; nursing; criminal justice; homeland security; accounting; business administration; and IT management.

The average student is approximately 28 years old, Olson says.

“Most of the students don’t want to spend a lot of time going to school,” Olson explains. “They can’t afford to spend four or five years to get a bachelor’s, or maybe they have folks at home to take care of. We work with students to accelerate their program. If someone comes in with zero credits, we can work with them to complete a bachelor’s in two and a half years.”

There are a solid number of active duty military members and veterans on the Newport News campus, as well. The entire ECPI institution was ranked number two in the nation for the Military Times Best Colleges 2018.

Olson confirmed the staff at the Newport News campus takes the unique situations of military members into consideration.

“We look at whether any military training is equivalent to courses here. It often is,” he says. “We also work with their benefits to help them pay for their education, and our faster track schedule helps make that transition—from military to education to back into the civilian world—easier.”

Though ECPI does offer online programs, the Newport News campus schedules all in-person classes. The largest class holds up to 50 students, but the average class size is 12 students to one professor. According to Olson, this ensures faculty members can become more familiar with students.

Olson began his time with ECPI as an adjunct professor about 26 years ago. He worked as a full-time instructor for about five years, then moved to campus administration. He has been president since 1997.

“The most rewarding experience is graduation itself,” he says. “You know what these students have gone through. You see them walking across the stage—in some cases as the first person in their family to get a degree—and it’s amazing to be a part of that success story.”

Several years ago, Olson was coming back from lunch when he saw a student who had recently graduated. The student walked up to Olson, gave him a hug and said “thank you.”

“He wasn’t thanking me so much as the faculty and staff who really supported him during his time here,” Olson says. “I think that’s how a lot of the students feel—like they have a great support network.”

TO THE POINT:
ECPI University, Newport News
Address: 1001 Omni Blvd., Ste. 100,
Newport News, VA 23606
Phone: 757-849-0548
Email: request@ecpi.edu
Website: www.ecpi.edu
Contact: John Olson, campus president

Sally Grace Holtgrieve
About Sally Grace Holtgrieve 6 Articles
Sally Grace Holtgrieve is a full-time freelance writer for newspapers and magazines. Growing up, Sally Grace always checked out the maximum number of library books permitted. One week she would read everything on phytoplankton, and the next it would be Pakistan, Panama or veterinary science. When she got to college, she found it absurd that she was required to choose which subject was the most interesting, so she pursued a career in journalism. Now she learns new things every day and actually gets paid to ask too many questions. When she’s not writing, Sally Grace prefers to be traveling. Recently she went on a trip to Provence, France and on another to Big Bend National Park, Texas. She loved both because they were new and different. In fact, she likes everywhere as long as she’s never been there before.

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