These 10 Incredible Public Universities Are Changing The World

Want to change the world?

Then look no further than institutions of higher education. Although there are hundreds of public universities throughout the country, some are shaping the world more than others.

Today, we are discussing 10 amazing schools that are changing the world.

Each school on this list is committed to research, offers high-ranking programs producing world-changing talent, and is constantly innovating and pushing itself toward the future.

We also are only showcasing schools outside the top 100 in the US News National University list for this particular article.

So are you ready to change the world? Here are 10 incredible universities actively shaping the world:

Portland State University (Portland, OR)

Portland State University
Visitor7, Millar Library (Portland State University), CC BY-SA 3.0

Portland State University is well-known for its University Studies curriculum. Under this curriculum, which is unique to the school, students are required to take classes outside their major.

These classes are broken into themes, which include writing, diversity, ethics, and global studies. The idea is to produce well-rounded graduates who have strong communication and critical-thinking skills and a better understanding of how they can contribute to society.

Since the program was established in 1994, it’s received loads of awards and recognition, including the Pew Leadership Award, a spot on the U.S. News & World Reports “Programs to Look For” list, and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation Award.

Portland State University is also focused on sustainability. In 2004, the university adopted a “green building standard,” meaning each new construction project would meet LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) standards.

The campus has also been recognized for its mass transit systems and was even voted one of the most bike-friendly campuses in America.

George Mason University (Fairfax County, VA)

George Mason University
Photo by Nicolas Tan/Creative Services/George Mason University, An aerial view of the Johnson Center at dawn., CC BY-SA 4.0

George Mason University, a tier-one research university, is well-known for its research endeavors. In 2018, the school put $149 million toward sponsored research. Its goal is to hit $225 million by 2024.

The research conducted at the university ranges in nature, but one of its largest projects focuses on creating a more sustainable planet. The project involves more than 500 faculty members.

The university’s president, Ángel Cabrera, said: “It’s not [about] trying to be the best university in the world. We want to be an example of the best university for the world.”

The university also received a multimillion-dollar Center of Excellence Award from the Department of Homeland Security. The 10-year grant supports research in investigating patterns of criminal activities and forensics in an effort to stop transnational crimes.

Although George Mason University is certainly changing the world with its research and innovations, its willingness to adopt new technology can also be seen on campus. The university was the first to release a self-driving robot food delivery service. Students can order food from a handful of eateries, and robots will deliver the food for a small fee.

University of Rhode Island (Kingston, RI)

University of Rhode Island
Kenneth C. Zirkel, URI Carothers Library, CC BY-SA 4.0

Did you know a University of Rhode Island professor discovered the remains of the Titanic?

And CNN correspondent Christiane Amanpour graduated from the journalism school.

And the fitness guru who developed P90X, Tony Horton, also graduated from the university.

All of this is only a sampling of notable alumni and faculty members who come out of the public research university.

Current students are making waves, too. The school encourages undergraduate research with its Undergraduate Research and Innovation program (also known as URI squared). Recently, students have developed a peer-to-peer app for students that helps them buy and sell items across campus and advertise side gigs. Another student duo created an artificial intelligence curriculum for kids.

The University of Rhode Island also offers students research opportunities and fellowships over the summer. For example, science, engineering, and math students can take part in a 10-week oceanography program.

Ball State University (Muncie, IN)

Ball State University
Daniel Hartwig, Bracken Library, Ball State University, Muncie, Indiana, CC BY 2.0

Ball State University is focused on environmental sustainability. In addition to investing in hybrid vehicles and shuttle buses, Ball State uses a geothermal energy system. It’s the largest project of its kind in the country, and it’s allowed the university to cut its carbon footprint nearly in half.

For students, Ball State offers immersive learning projects. These projects allow students to earn course credits while getting out into the community and gaining real-world experience.

In the past, some of these projects have included teaching computer science to middle schoolers, studying archaeological sites in the Ottawa National Forest, and conducting research to treat patients diagnosed with dysphagia.

Ball State University’s list of notable alumni is quite, well, notable. It includes David Letterman, former host of the “Late Show;” Angela Ahrendts, former CEO of Burberry and a current Apple executive; and Jim Davis, the creator behind the “Garfield” comic strip.

San Diego State University (San Diego, CA)

San Diego State University
Geographer, Sdsumain, CC BY 1.0

Last year, San Diego State University received $148.5 million in research funding, and its emphasis on research is evident if you attend the school’s annual Student Research Symposium.

At the most recent symposium, approximately 500 students presented their research, receiving awards for up to $500. Last year’s winning research explored coral reef microbiomes, trans and gender nonconforming experiences within eating disorder treatments, and talking and listening healing circles.

This research extends even further. For example, university researchers recently discovered a third planet in the Kepler-47 Circumbinary System and studied a compound that reduces cardiac damage after heart attacks.

There are abundant opportunities for undergraduates to get involved in this research. The school offers a number of summer research programs (anyone want to go to Alaska?) and makes it easy for students to find mentors to work under.

Ohio University (Athens, OH)

Ohio University
Public domain photo via Wikimedia Commons

At Ohio University, numbers paint a clear picture of its innovation and research.

The school has produced 41 Pulitzer Prize winners and, from 2017-2018, 10 Fulbright Award winners. In 2018, approximately 900 Ohio University students presented projects at the annual research and creative projects expo. Finally, the school’s researchers hold more than 94 active patents. Oh, and you’ll find 3.3 million print and electronic volumes in the school’s library. Impressed yet?

Beyond the numbers, Ohio University’s School of Leadership and Public Affairs is well-regarded across the country. It’s focused on public policy innovation and specifically looks to help the Appalachian region.

For instance, the school has focused on substance abuse prevention and mental health services in the area. In fact, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration said what Ohio University is doing is a prime example of what other higher-education programs should be doing across the country.

Colorado State University (Fort Collins, CO)

Colorado State University
Spilly816, Spruce Hall, CC BY-SA 3.0

Colorado State University’s line-up of notable alumni is probably one of the longest you’ll see on this list.

It includes astronauts, the father of modern bouldering, a former “Saturday Night Live” castmate (Leslie Jones), the first woman to become a full-time coach in a major North American professional sport (Becky Hammon), and a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet.

It’s not just the alumni who are notable, either. Colorado State University has impressive faculty members, including a co-founder of the Peace Corps and the president of the Colorado Equal Suffrage Association.

At Colorado State, research remains at the forefront of its mission. In 2019, it generated nearly $400 million in research expenditures, and it’s been designated as an Innovation and Economic Prosperity University — only one of only six U.S. schools. Additionally, more than 5,000 undergraduates are directly involved in research.

Oregon State University (Corvallis, OR)

Oregon State University
Gregkeene, Weatherford Hall Oregon State University, CC BY-SA 3.0

Oregon State University is only one of four institutions in the U.S. to be a land-grant, sea-grant, space-grant, and sun-grant institution. That means the school does research in all four of those areas.

U.S. News & World Report also recently named it the top university in the Pacific Northwest for innovation, and it tied for 33rd in the nation, alongside Yale and Georgetown.

Some of the most notable innovative efforts happening at the school include cancer research breakthroughs, desalination technology to help communities experiencing drought, and the development of a vaccine for gonorrhea.

When it comes to innovation at Oregon State University, it’s not all about science and technology either. The school is focused on its students and helping alleviate the student debt crisis in the country.

With its new Undergraduate Student Success Initiative, it aims to increase graduation rates with new student support services, including more advising and financial aid. In 2019, 46.5% of students graduated debt free, compared to the national average of 34%.

University of Cincinnati (Cincinnati, OH)

University of Cincinnati
Greg Hume, UC Rec Center, CC BY-SA 3.0

Take a look at news headlines coming out of the University of Cincinnati, and you’ll quickly see it’s a university committed to changing the world.

You’ll read about recent bipolar disorder research and engineering students providing custom solutions for veterans with accessibility issues.

You’ll also find alumni named to the Forbes 30 under 30 list, and even the school’s assistant dean landed a spot on Cincinnati’s 40 under 40 list.

Outside the headlines, the university is considered to have one of the top music schools in the nation. Its College-Conservatory of Music was actually used as a model by the National Association of Schools of Theatre to create the guidelines for accrediting other musical theater programs across the U.S., according to OnStage Blog.

A number of students who have graduated from the program have gone on to perform in Broadway productions, win Tony Awards, and play leading roles in movies.

University of Texas at Dallas (Richardson, TX)

Public domain photo via Wikimedia Commons

Research is the foundation of The University of Texas at Dallas — literally.

It was originally established as the Southwest Center for Advanced Studies, a research arm of Texas Instruments. (You know, the brand of graphing calculator you used in high school.) Several years later, the school was given to Texas, where it became the University of Texas at Dallas.

In 2015, the Carnegie Foundation named the school on its list of doctoral universities with the highest research activity. Additionally, the university is associated with four Nobel Prizes and has faculty members who are part of the National Academy of Science and the National Academy of Engineering.

The school itself houses more than 50 research centers and institutes. One of the most notable is the William B. Hanson Center for Space Sciences, which conducts a NASA-sponsored mission. But it’s not all physics and engineering. Other research centers focus on Holocaust studies, professional sales, data analytics, and museums.

Notable University of Texas at Dallas alumni include Robert Rutford, an Antarctica explorer who also served as the university’s president, and James F. Reilly, a NASA astronaut who flew on three missions.

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