The story of institutional transformation at Rensselaer has been one of honoring tradition while changing the world. As higher education adjusts to the needs of 21st-century students, improving the overall student experience has been a core goal of The Rensselaer Plan since its inception.
Building on the success of the award-winning First-Year Experience (FYE), the Division of Student Life is embarking on several new initiatives designed to elevate the undergraduate experience to a new level. The new student life model is based on the concept of “Clustered Learning Advocacy and Support for Students” (CLASS).
“With the mounting challenges of the 21st century, we can do no less than to prepare our students fully and broadly for leadership roles in a complex, technology-based global future,” said President Shirley Ann Jackson. “If Rensselaer students are the people who will provide leadership for a changing world, then they must have a world-class educational experience to prepare them for this challenge.”
To begin the process and explore innovative ways to implement a residential college model at Rensselaer, a delegation from the Institute conducted campus visits to five northeastern colleges and universities, including Yale, Dartmouth, Middlebury, the University of Pennsylvania, and Lehigh to meet with campus administrators and learn more about their academic, curricular, residential, and co-curricular programs.
“There are many lessons that we learned from the campus visits which helped us to determine how to structure Rensselaer’s residential college model,” said Vice President for Student Life Eddie Ade Knowles. “Students at Rensselaer deserve an optimal undergraduate experience that educates and prepares them for a rapidly changing world. Meaningful change, of course, must be driven by well-based and meaningful plans. Overall, the objective of this new model is to integrate academic and student life initiatives in support of student success, while enhancing mentoring, community building, and experiential opportunities for student growth and development.”
Some factors considered in developing the CLASS initiative include: efforts to integrate students and faculty, the role of housing clusters, impact of diversity and flexibility in student’s affinity choices, assessment of existing facilities, review of current living and learning communities, and the inclusion of Greek life.
The CLASS initiative will support enhanced residence life programming, with assistance from upper-class and graduate student resident assistants, the initiation of individual class year deans, and infrastructure for the development of an international student experience and a student life arts program.
In October, Lisa Trahan, former dean of the first-year experience and interim director of residence life at Rensselaer, was appointed to the newly created position of assistant vice president for the student experience in the Division of Student Life.
Additionally, as students progress throughout their time at Rensselaer, each undergraduate class will have a dean whose sole responsibility will be to build on the successes of FYE and facilitate the reinforcement of building a healthy and meaningful affinity group development and class identity. A dean for the graduate experience also will be appointed to ensure that programs and services are provided for the growing graduate student body.
With the grand opening of EMPAC, the Division of Student Life also has embarked on a plan to develop an arts initiative that will generate new arts and signature programs. To kick off this effort, a number of the programs planned for this year’s Family Weekend and Homecoming event featured Rensselaer Union student music and performing arts groups.
In an effort to continually share updates and inform various campus constituents, alumni, and parents of progress and next steps involved in the implementation of the CLASS initiatives, an integrated action plan has been developed as part of the performance planning process.
“All of our students undergraduate and graduate bring their intellectual gifts, passion for learning, and spirit of adventure to the mission of nothing less than changing the world,” Knowles said. “The Institute is constantly evaluating the need for, and the effectiveness of, the programs and initiatives that will strengthen the student experience.”
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