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Rensselaer Alumni Magazine Winter 2005-06
Feature Articles President's View At Rensselaer Class Notes Features Making a Difference Rensselaer Milestones Staying Connected In Memoriam

The best is yet to come
“What we have accomplished at Rensselaer in the past five years is remarkable,” Jackson says. “While The Rensselaer Plan is a document of which we all can be proud, it is the people of Rensselaer who have made the promise of it a reality. What is more, our success is gaining for Rensselaer a national reputation as a model for academic transformation.”

And, “as the song says, ‘the best is yet to come,’ ” she adds.

The next major initiative is the Undergraduate Plan, which will build on The Rensselaer Plan’s commitment to develop a world-class undergraduate experience. The Institute’s growing faculty, expanding facilities, and model programs are attracting ever more outstanding students. Average freshman SAT scores have increased 60 points in recent years. The undergraduate program has received the highest ranking in years from U.S. News & World Report — 43rd, up from 46th last year.

“If we are to continue to attract the very best and brightest, we must focus on elevating our programs and expanding opportunities for our undergraduate students,” says Prabhat Hajela, vice provost and dean of undergraduate education.

A renewed commitment to undergraduate education has sparked the recent introduction of the Undergraduate Plan, to strengthen the overall undergraduate experience at Rensselaer.

With this in mind, Rensselaer is developing one of its most ambitious initiatives for the immediate future: the Undergraduate Plan.

The initiative will build upon Rensselaer’s innovative experiential approaches to education. Living and learning communities, which provide opportunities for groups of students who share common academic interests, are among programs being developed under the umbrella of the plan.

The plan calls for more opportunities for undergraduates to participate in research with faculty and graduate students. It sets a goal for research participation to nearly triple in the next five years, with up to 80 percent of students actively taking part in research activities.

“Our undergraduate programs must go hand-in-hand with what is being done at the graduate level because the most contemporary, forward-looking education one can expect happens when teaching is informed by research,” says Hajela, who is working across all portfolios to expand undergraduate academic programs. “Such expanded research efforts will also encourage entrepreneurship and contribute to building mentoring relationships between faculty and students.”

Another goal of the Undergraduate Plan is to provide an international experience for every undergraduate student. In preparing students to be good global citizens, comfortable in a multicultural environment, Rensselaer will provide enhanced and new opportunities for students to study abroad at universities around the world. In addition, the plan will increase offerings in international co-op and internship experiences and summer overseas semesters led by Rensselaer faculty.

Strengthening the student-advisement system is another focus. To support this effort, a new position has been created for an associate dean for academic advising, assessment, and special programs in the Office of Undergraduate Education.

The Undergraduate Plan will build upon Student Life’s well-established First-Year Experience (FYE) program and services. FYE, now in its fourth year, welcomes new students with a full schedule of orientation events, parent and family programs, and social, cultural, and educational activities.

“We want to help students become part of this community, discover their interests and their passions, and form friendships and social connections with their peers, from the moment they first step onto campus,” says Eddie Ade Knowles, vice president for student life.

A new FYE program this year is “Tuesday Night Toolbox,” which offers programming and events that focus on topics of concern to new students, such as healthy living, academic support, and career development. Student Life also is focusing on strengthening student support and counseling well beyond the orientation period. For example, the early intervention program involves a new role of “class dean,” named for each class after the freshman year. These deans lead a team that provides support for and outreach to the class, addressing concerns to help students stay on track.

For years, Jackson has warned that the United States faces a shortage of scientists and engineers, which could cause a decline in America’s economic leadership. She calls this phenomenon the “quiet crisis.”

“Unless we begin, now, to attract new groups of students, including women, underrepresented groups, and students with disabilities into science and engineering, we will not have enough scientists and engineers to maintain our national capacity for innovation and discovery, which undergirds our economy,” she says.

To address this issue as an integral part of the Undergraduate Plan, the Division of Student Life is increasing diversity, the applicant pool, and national visibility for the Institute by creating internal pipeline programs, and building relationships with national pipeline programs that focus on preparing students who might not otherwise go to college.

One recently established internal pipeline program is the Rensselaer Presidential Scholars, a six-week national summer program to attract talented high-school seniors. Beginning next summer, up to 30 seniors from around the country will take a credit-bearing course in science or engineering with a research component in biotechnology, information technology, engineering, or another science.


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