College is a place where people go for an education. The idea is that you go to classes and perhaps get involved in research. A process called learning takes place, and as a nice little aside, you end up with a diploma. Some may argue that for many of us, the focus is on the diploma and the learning is the side effect. Nonetheless, in the typical case, both of these outcomes arise, and everybody ends up happy.
Of course, the exchange of ideas that takes place hardly requires students to come to a college at all (except, perhaps, for some of the more research and experimentation-oriented experiences). Typically, this information can be found in a book, questions can be posed to the online community, and that learning process we hoped to achieve is met with nothing more that some determination and persistence.
So why is it that thousands of people bundle up in their jackets and snow boots and gather together on the top of a hill in a small city in upstate New York? Why, to state it simply, are we here?
What happens when a group of intellectuals, scientists, and engineers gather on the hillside is more than an exchange of ideas or germs, because it involves an institute which provides a catalyst in whose presence the exchange progresses much more quickly than it otherwise could. This experience occurs both in and out of the classroom. The educational process that turns us into successful engineers and business people is not only an education out of a book, but also an education in attitude, habits, and life.
The Union is part of this experience. So are athletics. The new facilities are a tribute to the importance of this facet of our growth. Another aspect is interpersonal; the relationship with like-minded people, peers, professors, and associates. Skills in this area are one of the reasons we throw ourselves at an experience like that offered at RPI, rather than simply grabbing a book off the shelf or signing up for online classes.
Arguably, these skills are lacking at RPI, though I’ve seen improvement over the last four years. There has been little done in the past by the Institute to remedy this. One possible solution is being implemented by the administration: the Clustered Learning, Advocacy, and Support for Students initiative. Ideally, it will address the problem at hand by encouraging like-minded students to support each other, and it will offer students a chance to see professors outside the classroom in a more friendly setting.
These are ideas that I can support. The details of the implementation can be argued about by somebody else, but the goals are good. If CLASS helps us make the entire RPI community a bit closer, it might just be worth a try. Even if it is not the best solution, it is a good stab at a noble cause; as always, the success will pivot on the will of you, the students. Let’s hope the initiative helps make your four year stay here about more than just an education.