Senate discusses academics with administration

In addition to the Student Senate’s normal business at last week’s meeting, several guests from the administration came to speak with the senators about updates within the sphere of academics. Provost Robert E. Palazzo, Vice President for Research Francine Berman, and Vice Provost and Dean for Undergraduate Education Prabhat Hajela discussed topics with senators ranging from the co-terminal degree program to undergraduate research.

Palazzo began with information regarding RPI’s unique co-terminal degree program. This program allows students to take both senior and graduate level courses in their fourth year at the Institute; the students will then continue at RPI for an additional fifth year and can receive both a bachelor’s and master’s degree, with the same financial aid package offered to the students as they had as an undergraduate.

Rensselaer generally does not offer funding for master’s students, and many have taken advantage of this new program. Palazzo stated that the program had “grown beyond the original expectation,” with 170 current students participating. Palazzo also noted that more students are taking part in the accelerated Ph.D. program, in which students can work to get a doctorate in only six or seven years starting on an accelerated track during freshman year. He remarked that the more graduates are involved in research, the more opportunities there are for undergraduates to participate in a research experience as well.

The next topic to come up in the discussion was the change made to the study abroad program this year, where students can only get credits transferred from RPI-affiliated programs while studying abroad. Palazzo stated that the reason for the change was so that the Institute can ensure that students get the same quality of an education when transferring credits from another institution. “When students transfer from an affiliated program, there is no issue with the credits,” he said.

Hajela added that the current policy for transferring credits from study abroad experiences is “a placeholder for a future policy.” Until then, however, Hajela said the goal is to make sure that the credits being transferred are up to RPI standards and that “they can interface with the current classes being taken.”

According to Palazzo, the Institute is also in the process of making an Office of International Education in light of the increased study abroad initiatives for undergraduates. This office will oversee the study abroad programs from the academic side of the experience.

Berman, new to Rensselaer this year, spoke to the Senate regarding the research aspect of education at the Institute. Looking to make the research side of things stronger in her new role, she stated, “Research is very important as part of the experience at RPI.” She hopes to see students able to get experience in working with advanced computer technology and tools before going off into the work force and is currently looking for the best ways to keep the technology end of things up-to-date at the Institute.

One of the things Berman will be doing in her new role is working with Vice President for Strategic Communications and External Relations William Walker to show exactly how distinguished the Institute is in terms of research, since she feels the press that RPI currently has is not doing Rensselaer justice.

After the guests from the administration had finished their discussion with the Senate, various appointments were on the agenda. The Senate confirmed the appointment of Nicole Gallant ’13 as the Executive Board’s Representative for the Class of 2013 in an 18-0-1 vote. Following this appointment, Tom Falls ’12 was confirmed as the Senate Treasurer and Dan Hakimi ’12 was appointed as the Undergraduate Representative to the Institute-wide Curriculum Committee. Additionally, Joe Young ’12 was selected as the Senate Representative on the Judicial Board Selection Committee, and graduate student Andrew Armenia was appointed as the Graduate Representative to the Institute Library Advisory Committee.

After committee reports, the Senate also approved the Judicial Board’s Bylaws revisions in a unanimous vote of 18-0-0.