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Enriching the Student Experience

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Dining Hall

The Institute is constantly evaluating the need for, and the effectiveness of, the programs and initiatives
that will strengthen the undergraduate experience. Photo by Mark McCarty

Rensselaer strives to offer a rich undergraduate experience

Students are at the center of the education enterprise at Rensselaer. For that reason, the improvement of the undergraduate experience is a core goal of The Rensselaer Plan, and a special focus of the Rensselaer Renaissance. As the profiles of six students who received their degrees last month attest, Rensselaer students are smart, involved, and multidimensional, and they deserve the best programs and facilities that we can offer.

While Rensselaer is known for its rigorous academic requirements, these demands should coexist in a nurturing environment that encourages the development of the whole person. This means offering a campus experience that is rich in opportunities for academic, cultural, social, personal, and spiritual growth.

This all begins for entering students with the Institute’s well-established First-Year Experience (FYE) program. Under the leadership of Dean Lisa Trahan, FYE, now in its fourth year, welcomes new students with a full schedule of orientation events, parent and family programs, social and cultural activities, and the popular Navigating Rensselaer and Beyond component, which, for five days, offers a growing array of diverse options, ranging from outdoor adventures in the Adirondacks to experiences in entrepreneurship to kite building with faculty from the School of Architecture, and much more. This provides an invaluable opportunity for students to get to know one another, and the Capital Region, and bond as a group before classes begin in late August.

An exciting new initiative to enhance student success is the Early Intervention Team, which involves a new role of “class dean,” who will be named for each class after the freshman year. These “deans” will lead a team that will provide support and outreach to the class, addressing concerns to help students stay on track in their work and in their lives, so that they may succeed at Rensselaer and graduate. Dean of Students Mark Smith has been named as the “dean” for the Class of 2007.

To keep students connected to campus life, this spring a Culminating-Year Experience signature event program was launched by the Office of the President, the Division of Student Life, and the Rensselaer Union UPAC Concert Board. It was kicked off with a concert at the Houston Field House with nationally known (at least to the students!) musical band Guster. This successful show was the first in what will be a series of memorable events that will further elevate the quality of student life on the campus — and provide more opportunities for students to interact broadly with each other, and to learn and to grow.

As the Institute plans for the campus of the future, renovating and building athletics facilities for students is a high priority. Nearly 4,000 Rensselaer students play varsity, club, and intramural sports. They deserve the best facilities in which to excel. A series of facilities upgrades and renovations began right after Commencement in May with the returfing of Harkness Field. Lower Renwyck Field will be turfed and upgraded as well and outfitted with new high-intensity lights and bleachers.

Additional major plans call for the building of a new athletics support facility with sports training and locker rooms, a sports medicine room, and more, near the Field House. Construction on this facility is scheduled to be completed sometime next year. Meanwhile, the vision for the East Campus includes a true field house, which would serve as a basketball and an indoor track and field facility, as well as a large gathering space for the Rensselaer community, a new gymnasium, and a natatorium.

On the academic front, the Institute is increasing its level of support for students, as they negotiate the demands and challenges of Rensselaer. To help students succeed, a computer-based early warning system has been instituted this year to alert faculty when students in first-year classes have been performing poorly. With this information, faculty are then able to give students the extra help they need as soon as possible. The system will be expanded to upper-level classes beginning next spring.

Meanwhile, freshman residence halls are becoming places of living and learning — they now include spaces where students can gather to work in teams, to study in groups, and to take classes. This past year in Nason Hall, for example, students were able to attend classes in economics or in humanities. In addition, they had the option of receiving supplemental instruction in the evening, offered through the Advising and Learning Assistance Center, or programs offered by FYE.

The Institute is constantly evaluating the need for, and the effectiveness of, the programs and initiatives that will strengthen the undergraduate experience. Indeed, if Rensselaer students are the people who are going to change the world, then they must have a world-class educational experience to prepare them for this challenge. This is nothing less than our duty to the exceptional students who choose Rensselaer.

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Rensselaer Magazine: Summer 2004
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Rensselaer (ISSN 0898-1442) is published in March, June, September, and December by the Office of Communications.

 
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