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“Fun”damentals of Success

Besides the obvious benefits of fun and friendship, students who are actively involved in clubs gain a “social education” that helps round out their resume, McLean says.

“Lots of colleges view their student life activities as extracurricular programs — they have the stance that you come to college to go to class, study, learn, and get an education and then you join a club for stress relief, to have a good time, and to get out of residence halls and interact with other people on campus,” she says. “We like to view our programs as co-curricular programs — they do all the things that extracurricular programs do, but they also provide you with real-world experiences and interpersonal skills that supplement what students are learning from textbooks.”

President of the Black Students Alliance (BSA) Travis Carless ’07 agrees, and says his leadership skills are one of the most important things he’ll take with him as he graduates this May.

“Being president of the Black Students Alliance will help me many different ways in the professional world. I’ve learned firsthand how to successfully motivate my executive board and the BSA membership, which has helped me lead the group in exciting new directions,” says Carless. “I’ve also learned how to delegate tasks and effectively communicate with others. Many of the skills I’ve developed are a direct result of my involvement with BSA, and this experience is something that would be impossible to teach in a classroom.”

Matt Weed ’07, president of the Phalanx Honor Society, resident director, past chair of GM Week, and member of the tennis and fencing clubs, the orchestra, and Circle-K, easily draws connections between the experiences he’s had managing and participating in clubs and the experience he’ll need to succeed in the professional world.

“There are a lot of analogous points between the campus student activities environment and the business environment, and like the ‘real world,’ Rensselaer gives us a solid freedom to follow our ideas from start to finish,” he says. “Now [when I go on a job interview] I can say I have had real project management experience as a resident director. I can say that I have successfully managed a $35,000 budget as the GM Week committee chairman. And I can say that I have a personal and professional network that spans many industries and disciplines.”

Hartt says that clubs also give students valuable leadership experience, especially when dealing with unforeseen challenges. For example, the Rensselaer Union’s staff recently worked with a member of the Ballroom Dance Club who had to make the decision of whether or not to cancel a major weekend competition, in which other schools were scheduled to travel to the Rensselaer campus, due to forecasted inclement weather. She decided to cancel the competition — which turned out to be the right choice, given the two feet of snow that paralyzed the Capital Region over two days.


“We’re one of only a handful of student-run Unions in the country, and the responsibility and control that we’ve been given to manage our own affairs allows us to support many people to do many different things.”

James Fisher ’07, 123rd President of the Union

Beyond Books

“That probably wasn’t the happiest learning experience for the student, but it was valuable nonetheless,” says Hartt. “She learned firsthand how it feels to be responsible not only for yourself, but also for the safety of others, and got to evaluate the situation beyond the scope of what she and her club wanted to do. And she made the right choice.”

Follow the Leaders

The Institute’s commitment to an engaging student experience is evident in both the quantity and the variety of active student clubs on campus. The myriad opportunities students have to discover, create, and participate in new things all contribute to the positive student life experience.

“The Student Union exemplifies the nexus of the Rensselaer mission statement — ‘educating the leaders of tomorrow for technologically based careers.’ That statement speaks directly to students and their aspirations. It doesn’t talk about what we want Rensselaer to be, but rather what we want our students to become,” says Vice President for Student Life Eddie Ade Knowles. “In this student life activities cauldron, there are countless opportunities for students to have fun and gain valuable leadership experiences that will index their lives for the future.”

“Involvement on campus is the foundation that ties students to the rest of their classmates. The Union’s club structure and assortment provide a strong underpinning for social interaction on this campus,” says Fisher.

Participation in groups ranging from the Aeronautical Federation to Auto Shop, Culinary Club to the Korean Students Association, and WRPI radio to Wrestling provides fun outlets for students to complement and augment their academic experience while developing leadership skills, a sense of responsibility and accomplishment, and, perhaps most important, memories and friendships that will last a lifetime.

“Students here are really shown that their education is not just bookwork. They know that if they’re not involved in a student club activity, or athletics, or some form of an organized program, their resume is not complete,” says McLean. “The classroom is where we teach the subject matter that will prepare students for their professional careers, but what they do outside of class also helps them progress on that path toward becoming responsible adults. That’s what college life really is — it’s growing up and having a good time while you’re doing it.”

While tomorrow’s leaders surely can be found in classrooms and laboratories across the campus, they also may be dancing the foxtrot in the Armory, rappelling off a six-foot wall in the gym, or sending audience members into hysterics as part of an improv comedy group called Sheer Idiocy. If all else fails, check the pool.

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Rensselaer (ISSN 0898-1442) is published in Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter by the Office of Strategic Communications and External Relations, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, NY 12180-3590. Opinions expressed in these pages do not necessarily reflect the views of the editors or the policies of the Institute. ©2007 Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.