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“The rising application and student diversity and quality trends have run parallel with the exciting transformation that has occurred at Rensselaer over the last decade,” says Paul Marthers, vice president for enrollment. “It is clear that an unwavering focus on student quality of life on campus and beyond has been part of Rensselaer’s transformation process that continues to make the Institute that much more attractive to prospective students.”


CLASS will provide what Knowles refers to as a “multiple-touch” approach, one that through a supportive network of faculty, staff, and upperclassmen addresses the needs of the whole student. It’s an approach that offers overlapping support on multiple fronts, from academic and career counseling to helping students find the right student club and assisting them with campus living and in times of crisis.

“All of these elements taken together will ensure that every student knows where to turn for help at all times,” Knowles says. “It also will allow them to integrate work, their personal interests, residential living, and their leisure activities in a more holistic way.”

To Michael Zwack ’11, the student Grand Marshal who is spending his third year in a residence hall, CLASS puts into perspective why he chose to live on campus.

“I live in eastern Rensselaer County, so I had the opportunity to commute. But I chose to live on campus,” says Zwack. “College isn’t a 9-to-5 thing. It goes beyond just classes. Socializing with students, day trips, and attending football games are all part of the equation. So living on campus has been something that I really have enjoyed.”

Supporting a Living and Learning Community. Over the past year, Rensselaer has enhanced and built the necessary infrastructure to support a seamless living and learning community that allows students to study, dine, socialize, and find all the support they need at their fingertips.

In May, the university unveiled the Howard N. Blitman, P.E. ’50 Residence Commons situated at the bottom of the Approach, the century-old granite staircase that symbolizes the connection between the city of Troy and the Institute. This special commons is designed to house upperclassmen.

“When we open the doors to this brand-new commons, we set into motion our new vision for student life at Rensselaer,” President Jackson said during the grand-opening ceremony. “Within this hallmark commons, we are building a complete living and learning community—a place designed to foster a sense of belonging and a feeling of community.”

The building, which underwent a complete renovation, houses 148 double rooms for students, an apartment for live-in professional staff, and four rooms for resident assistants (RAs). All of the rooms have private bathrooms, and there is an on-site fitness center and dining facility. The building also contains multipurpose spaces for events. Rensselaer provides continuous shuttle bus service to campus.

On-campus residence halls, including Crockett and Hall, also are being refurbished and enlarged to ensure an environment that is conducive to a more interactive campus culture between faculty, students, and staff.

Setting the Stage. In the broader picture, CLASS consists of a two-pronged strategy. The first part is based on “time-based clustering” in which class deans will build on the successes of FYE by helping undergraduate students create a healthy and meaningful experience at Rensselaer and a sense of class identity.

Freshman students already have a class dean as part of FYE. To capitalize on this approach, beginning with the sophomore year, a dean for each class will stay with the same group of students all the way through graduation, helping them become successful in each level of education. These deans, who will serve as members of Rensselaer’s intervention team, will provide outreach services and offer counseling and academic advising. A dean for the graduate experience also will be appointed to ensure that programs and services are provided for the growing graduate student body.

Then there are the assistant deans of the residential commons, who will work to deliver high-quality experiential residence life programs that build community. They will live in apartments in the commons they serve and also provide outreach and assistance in collaboration with the class deans.

An assistant dean has been appointed for the new Blitman Commons as a result of a national search to fill the position. Shannon Hitchcock ’05, former assistant dean of residence life, joined Rensselaer in 2008, first serving as assistant director of residence life. She holds a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry and biophysics from Rensselaer and a master’s degree in higher education from Teachers College, Columbia University.

“I look forward to implementing the CLASS initiative as a way to boost the residential experience on campus,” Hitchcock says. “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.”

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