When you ask students of prospective changes they’d like to see at the Institute, I bet you’d get a whole slew of responses. Myself, I only dream about two things changing at RPI, one of which is the lights in the Houston Field House. Have you ever tried to take a photo in there? Impossible! You get a little spoiled traveling to other arenas like the Mullins Center in Amherst, Mass., or Magness Arena in Denver, Colo., where it’s practically bright as day inside, but you immediately feel queasy when you enter the dark dungeon that is the Field House, imagining how grainy today’s shots will turn out. At the most recent hockey game I watched, in which the women’s team took on Mercyhurst College, I noticed all the previously burnt-out lights were replaced with shiny new ones, making it slightly easier to take pictures; I guess I’ll change my dream to having strobes added to the rafters. But that’s another story.
Now, my second desire is a little more difficult to get. How often have you sat in your lecture in the Darrin Communications Center and realized how unbearably uncomfortable those ’70s style yellow chair-things are? Are they chairs? I can’t imagine any sort of chair being so painful to sit on. It’s not just the DCC that I have gripes about, but most classrooms at RPI. How often have you had the pleasure of using a working desk during your IEA exam in West Hall, or a chair that wasn’t broken in one of those Sage classrooms? Not too often, well, at least if you’re me. Maybe I have bad luck, but I have a feeling that the majority of the student population has had the same problem.
While it’s nice that Rensselaer built the East Campus Athletic Village to enhance the lives of student-athletes on campus, what about the rest of the student body? Don’t get me wrong, I love ECAV. I think the East Campus Stadium and the adjourning building are a great addition to campus, but maybe instead of constructing such high-class athletic facilities, RPI should have focused on making sure the academic experience is the best it can be—and that begins with comfortable classrooms.
Over the summer, I wandered through the Notre Dame University campus—specifically their engineering building and large lecture halls—just to see how the rooms differed from those at RPI. I wasn’t too surprised to see that the engineering classrooms had walls covered in chalkboards, but was more so at the fact that all the chairs and desks in the room were uniform. And working! A student could chose to sit at anyone of the desk/chair combos and not worry about whether it would be sturdy enough to support their laptop while trying to figure out how to create the latest CAD model. The lecture halls were an entirely different story. Each room was like an auditorium—imagine being able to have class in the auditorium at the Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies … not that the average student is even allowed in the Biotech without it being some sort of special event. That’s what the rooms at Notre Dame were like. Why can’t RPI have classrooms like that?
On a more recent trip to the United States Military Academy at West Point this weekend, I got the pleasure of seeing one of the latest additions to campus. No, it wasn’t a new theater or a rugby field (although the campus is already littered with athletic grounds), but rather a gorgeous new library, located directly next to the barracks. It’s at a perfect location for late-night studying or just trying to get a minute to think in a relaxing atmosphere, unlike at RPI, where a student could very well get mugged on the way to Folsom Library. Not to mention, all that concrete isn’t too easy on the eyes. The point I’m making is that West Point, like Notre Dame, is another school focused on making academics and the learning environment a priority, rather than the next construction project they can brag about.
I can’t be the only one whose education is deterred by the conditions of the classrooms. Every time I step into DCC 330 (twice on Tuesdays and Fridays), I feel a wave of nausea wash over me. Maybe it’s that coffee spill in the second row that’s been there for about three weeks that’s festering a mold colony, or maybe it’s the hideous off-white walls surrounding me on all sides. Or maybe it’s the fact that as I look in the empty spot where one of those awful chairs should exist and realize that no one at RPI cares enough to have it replaced. Or how about those tiny desks in already cramped classrooms in the Ricketts Building? Those are some of my favorites, too. I guess I’m lucky because I’m a small person and can actually fit in those desks, but I’m pretty sure the average-sized human being couldn’t.
I know that new buildings on campus have probably been put to a halt due to the recent economic recession, but instead of constructing experimental performing arts centers that can’t be used by the students, biotechnology centers, or athletic villages, why not build new lecture halls and classrooms for the entire student population to use and benefit from? Rensselaer has been slipping from the ranks of the top schools in the nation, and I can imagine living and learning conditions are probably considerations used when determining said ranks. Why pick a school with classrooms like the DCC over one that has rooms where a student has ample space to spread out and focus? I wouldn’t. I guess we all came to RPI knowing about how uncomfortable the seats in the DCC are, but it doesn’t hurt to dream about better things, even if they don’t happen while I’m here. I can only hope for future generations of engineers that RPI steps up in the academic building department to make this truly a place to get a world-class education.