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Raising the Level of Living and Learning
This issue of Rensselaer magazine marks the fifth anniversary of the launch of The Rensselaer Plan, which has guided the unprecedented transformation of the Institute and propelled it to new heights of achievement and prominence. While the plan is “evergreen” and evolving, it also serves as an impetus for even more ambitious initiatives. With a record of solid accomplishments under the plan in research, programs, and facilities, the focus now turns more sharply on the overall undergraduate experience.
With this in mind, we have launched a new initiative: The Undergraduate Plan. This plan signals a major commitment to raise the level of the undergraduate experience at Rensselaer. Through the manifold elements of the plan, we will strive to create a living and learning environment to rival the best in the nation. Already through the implementation of The Rensselaer Plan, there have been significant changes at the Institute that have made the undergraduate experience livelier and more engaging. The Undergraduate Plan will build on this momentum as it will reach into myriad facets of the student experience at Rensselaer.
The plan encompasses academics, student life, and all the elements to serve the undergraduates of the future. First, we are committed to offering challenging, engaging, and highly relevant academic programs which combine theory with hands-on experiences. An exciting element of this will be an increased rate of participation of undergraduates in research with faculty and graduate students. Today, about 30 percent take part in research activities; the plan calls for an increase to 80 percent over the next five years. Hand in hand with this goal is the focus on preparing students to be global leaders through increased opportunities to study at universities around the world and to participate in international co-ops and internships.
The plan also builds on the strides made by the First-Year Experience program, which has made hundreds of Rensselaer students feel part of this community from the moment they arrive. Student retention and success begins in the critical first year. Thus, the plan expands upon programs and activities that ease the transition to university life, including enhanced and strengthened residential life programs, such as theme houses and affinity groups; academic Early Warning System and Early Intervention teams to keep students on track and succeeding in their studies; and programs and services to support student health, safety, and well-being.
Athletics are an important component of the undergraduate experience addressed by the plan, as more and more Rensselaer is attracting talented and smart student-athletes. Moreover, the plan includes ambitious projects to serve the more than 5,000 undergraduate and graduate students who play sports each year. Plans to upgrade athletic facilities will focus on what is called the East Campus Athletic Village, which will include a new athletics support facility, an additional artificial turf field, a basketball arena, natatorium, and a field house for indoor sports, including indoor track and field.
Finally, we must focus on the undergraduates of the future. It is clear that unless new groups of students women, underrepresented minorities, and students with disabilities enter technological fields in greater numbers, we will not have enough engineers and scientists to continue our national capacity for innovation and discovery. The Undergraduate Plan is addressing this and other elements of the “Quiet Crisis” by establishing a plan, led by the Division of Student Life, to increase the diversity of our student body, the pool of applicants to the Institute, and our national visibility by building relationships with a variety of national “pipeline” programs preparing students who might not otherwise attend college.
This initiative is in the early stages of planning, study, and implementation. Given its far-reaching goals, the support of all members of the Rensselaer community is crucial to its success. To move the plan forward, Prabhat Hajela, vice provost and dean of undergraduate education, is working across all portfolios to expand academic programs in targeted areas. Provost G.P. “Bud” Peterson is working with deans, department chairs, center directors, and faculty to ensure that the Institute has the capabilities to achieve the plan’s goals. Meanwhile, Vice President for Student Life Eddie Ade Knowles is focusing on the myriad aspects of the student experience.
With the mounting challenges of the 21st century, we can do no less than to prepare our students fully and broadly to lead in a complex, technology-based global future. The Undergraduate Plan represents Rensselaer’s strong commitment to providing a world-class undergraduate experience that will continue to attract talented and promising young people who will change the world.
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