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The recently launched “CLASS” initiative represents a new vision for student life

By Jodi Ackerman Frank

When Shawna O’ Neal ’13 entered her first class this year, she already felt like a member of the Rensselaer community. The 18-year-old, who came to campus a week before course work began, hoisted up sheetrock with fellow students for a new Habitat for Humanity home a few blocks from the university. She also participated in a photo scavenger hunt to familiarize herself with downtown Troy and attended a seminar about green roof technology, among other activities.

At the end of the first two days, she stayed overnight at the Chapel + Cultural Center on the east side of campus, where she spent time and played games with other freshmen, student life staff, and upperclassmen.



“As an alumna, I understand the importance of a student’s experience outside the classroom and how it can help to foster a sense of belonging and a greater drive to excel at Rensselaer.”

Shannon Hitchcock ’05,
Assistant Dean
Blitman Commons

“All of these events really made me feel at home. I got to meet a lot of new people,” says O’Neal, a double major in physics and electrical engineering, adding, “I enjoyed getting to work with power tools!”

The events and activities that O’Neal participated in all fit under the umbrella of Rensselaer’s award-winning First-Year Experience (FYE) program. With its weeklong range of orientation activities and the subsequent support that helps freshmen navigate through their first year of college, the student life program is packed with ways for students to make connections with each other and with the university while engaging in their interests and hobbies.

Since FYE’s initiation in 2001, Rensselaer’s emphasis on enhancing the quality of life for its students has been a huge success. Last fall, Rensselaer’s freshmen-to-sophomore retention rate hit a new all-time high of 95 percent.

To sustain this momentum and build on the success of the student life experience at Rensselaer, the Division of Student Life has launched a new vision of what it will mean to be a student living on campus. Called Clustered Learning, Advocacy, and Support for Students, or CLASS, the initiative represents the commitment to a new paradigm for campus living and learning.

“CLASS will be built on the successes of FYE. It will expand and add similar student life programming to reach all undergraduate students and will serve graduate students, too,” says Eddie Ade Knowles, vice president for student life. “This initiative will truly enhance support for all our students and engage the broader Rensselaer community on their paths to success.”

A New Residential College Model. “Rensselaer campus life is transforming into a residential college model for undergraduates within a great technological research university,” says President Shirley Ann Jackson. “This residential program will elevate the quality of support for undergraduates. It will provide them with a greater sense of community and belonging and ensure that every student receives the best counseling, mentoring, and personal attention possible.”

In a nutshell, CLASS is a new residential college model that encompasses a comprehensive, campuswide living and learning community that supports students in a multitude of ways.

“CLASS creates a residential college model that’s unique to Rensselaer. It is a model in which the university embraces Rensselaer students regardless of where they live—on campus, in Greek life houses, or in off-campus privately owned residences,” Knowles says.

Clusters of residence halls, called residential commons, are a central feature of the initiative. The university is developing six of these commons to create smaller, more tightly knit communities for students that blend the academic, social, and residential aspects of university life in a way that fosters relationships not only among students, but also between students and the university’s faculty and professional staff. Beginning next fall, all incoming freshmen and sophomores will live in one of these commons, which will be supported by faculty, student life professionals, and upperclassmen and graduate student assistants.

“Learning is about relationship-building and sharing on many different levels. The residential commons model will provide opportunities to share and learn not just as an academic exercise, but as a life experience,” says Tom Tarantelli, director of the Career Development Center. Tarantelli was appointed acting assistant vice president for student life last summer to oversee the Office of Residence Life.

Statistics show that in addition to a quality academic program, students look for such positive life experience opportunities in their search for a quality university. This year, more than 12,350 students applied for the 1,340 slots that make up the Class of 2013, representing a growth of more than 135 percent since 2003. The university also continues to attract more women and minorities. Women now constitute close to 30 percent of the student population at Rensselaer, a notable figure among major STEM-based (science, technology, engineering, and math) American universities.
“Living and Learning” Page 1 2 3 Next

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