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Prabhat Hajela: Elevating the Undergraduate Experience
“Rensselaer will be defined by its level of exciting undergraduate education and by the undergraduate experience,” says Hajela. Sitting in his office in the Walker Laboratory, Hajela’s enthusiasm for the Undergraduate Plan the next major initiative of The Rensselaer Plan is contagious.
Calling for a renewed focus on the overall undergraduate experience, the initiative seeks to raise the level of academics, research, and international study opportunities available to undergraduate students, while boosting the student life experience.
“What makes a university great are its new discoveries,” says Hajela, who is working toward the initiative’s five-year goal of tripling the number of undergraduate students actively involved in research activities with faculty and graduate students. “Our undergraduate students are remarkable, and it’s important for us to engage them in the research and discovery process early. We should be getting them interested in independent inquiry now.”
Hajela, who also has worked with government officials in Washington to regulate Internet privacy and the control of unsolicited e-mail, conducts research focused on the analysis and optimization of structural and multidisciplinary systems through the development of innovative computational techniques. He has published extensively in the area of design methods that derive from the evolution process or mimic the behavior of a biological immune system.
In order to foster strong relationships between students and faculty, Hajela is working to develop living and learning communities for undergraduate students who share common intellectual interests. He hopes this will provide them with the opportunity to develop close mentoring relationships and lasting contacts with faculty, staff, and graduate students in their field.
Working to expand undergraduate academic programs in each of the five schools on campus, Hajela says he is committed to increasing the number of courses that are taught in Rensselaer’s innovative studio format, and he encourages the development of new programs for undergraduate students.
“The Foundations of Engineering program, the Product Design & Innovation program, and the Games and Simulation Arts and Sciences major are prime examples of new, exciting course offerings. Programs like these point to a new vibrancy in undergraduate education, and to the changing face of Rensselaer,” says Hajela.
In the future Hajela would like to create an Honors College at Rensselaer a special approach to recognize and reward undergraduate students for their academic and research accomplishments. Students admitted to the Honors College would have the opportunity to participate in a multidisciplinary seminar series, develop a thesis derived from their individual research, and earn diplomas marked with a special distinction.
The new opportunities on the horizon for Rensselaer’s undergraduate students are steps toward achieving Hajela’s overarching goal, “to revitalize and reposition undergraduate education.”
“Rensselaer is up there in terms of top college choices for very bright young students,” says Hajela. “I want prospective students to look at all of the unique opportunities we offer undergraduate students, and get excited. I want them to have a ‘Wow, I could do that at Rensselaer’ moment.”
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