Rensselaer’s CLASS program: A new vision

As Rensselaer begins what will truly be a historic academic year, no doubt many of you have heard of Rensselaer’s plans to implement the CLASS initiative—the new vision for student life based on the concept of Clustered Learning, Advocacy, and Support for Students.

Last Friday, I had the opportunity to participate in the annual Student Senate Leadership Conference and discuss some highlights of the CLASS initiative with student leaders, and now I would like to share some of the exciting changes that are underway in the coming months and years.

Through launching the CLASS initiative, we hope to enhance the quality of support for all of our students throughout the undergraduate years. Clusters of residence halls or commons will be developed in order to create smaller, tightly knit student communities supported by faculty, student life professionals, and upper-class and graduate student assistants living in or near each of the commons.

Building on the success of Rensselaer’s award-winning First-Year Experience, the CLASS initiative paves the way for the Institute to further improve the overall student life experience. Each class will be supported by a team of Residence Life cluster assistant deans, upper-class and graduate student staff, faculty residential commons deans, and a class dean. This will ensure that every student knows where to turn for help at all times, and receives the best individual counseling, mentoring, and personal attention that Rensselaer has to offer. There also will be commons dean positions for greek life and off-campus living, who will expand programming for living/learning experiences while providing more counseling and support wherever a student may live.

Residence Life has already hired 73 upper-class students who will serve as resident assistants, with a goal of reaching 75 RAs in the coming weeks. Based on a national search, several candidates will be interviewed for the assistant dean of the residential commons position, specifically the Blitman Commons, and also a class dean position. The assistant dean will be responsible for managing residence hall activities, and class deans will be responsible for overseeing class-specific programs and affinity group development.

In the fall of 2010, as an extension of the First-Year Experience, the Institute will phase in the Sophomore Year Experience, in which all sophomores will live on the Troy campus or in fraternities and sororities who meet university standards and have signed on to partner with Rensselaer. The goal of the program is to provide students with a greater sense of belonging and community at Rensselaer.

Also, plans are underway to conduct an internal search for two faculty deans of the residential commons. These positions will be held by tenured faculty appointed to a 10-month, three-year contract, renewable based on performance. The appointed faculty members will live near the residential commons in university-owned homes. This new approach promises to create new forms of faculty involvement and student learning for all Rensselaer undergraduate students beyond the classroom.

To begin the process and explore innovative ways to implement a residential college model at Rensselaer, last summer, a delegation from the Institute conducted campus visits to five northeastern colleges and universities, including Yale University, Dartmouth College, Middlebury College, the University of Pennsylvania, and Lehigh University to meet with campus administrators and learn more about their academic, curricular, residential, and co-curricular programs. The information gathered from the site visits and lessons learned from observations helped us to develop Rensselaer’s residential college model.

During the course of the leadership conference, several student leaders informed me that they had contacted some of their friends who are attending the institutions that we visited, and many of their responses indicated that they favored the residential college model, especially the level of support provided, the close-knit sense of community, and the faculty mentoring.

We want to continue to provide compelling programs that are exciting and fun for all of you; provide a firm grounding in the fundamentals; bridge knowledge to practice; emphasize discovery, reasoning, and action; inculcate a world perspective and cultural understanding; foster creativity; and produce leaders. We hope that you will join us on this journey to transform your student life experience at Rensselaer.