On Thursday, Vice President for Student Life Timothy Sams held the annual Student Senate Cross-Cutting Review of the draft of the Student Life Performance Plan. However, due to low attendance, the event was repeated a second time on Monday.
This year, Sams changed the format of the review, using guest speakers such as Dean of Students Mark Smith and Assistant Vice President for the Student Experience Lisa Trahan. Sams explained, “I just didn’t see myself getting up here for an hour and a half just trudging through the Performance Plan, especially when you have intelligent people who can read.”
The event opened with an overview of the Performance Plan. One of the main focuses of the plan is the Clustered Learning, Advocacy, and Support for Students initiative. Director of the Union Joe Cassidy described CLASS as “building community, making connections, and enhancing the delivery of services.” Furthermore, Sams promised that a full publication on CLASS is forthcoming.
Another goal Sams emphasized was so-called “platform and site development.” This involves placing Student Life professionals at student traffic hubs, such as the Darrin Communications Center and the Commons Dining Hall, in order to get feedback and provide CLASS-based programming.
Finally, Sams talked about the department’s new strategy intended to improve communication with students. “As some of you know, the plan is due next week,” he said. “In my opinion, it’s a little too late to ask folks to chime in to change the plan.” Next year, he elaborated, in addition to the performance plan review, there will be “advisory groups” that include students for each department. These groups, Sams said, will be an integral part of creating next year’s Performance Plan.
The program then moved on to the several guest speakers, each of which chose a specific strategy from within the performance plan to highlight.
“The area I’m most interested in is retention and graduation,” said Smith. He pointed to growing gaps in graduation rates across gender, socioeconomic status, first generation immigrants, and disabled students. According to Smith, the US News and World Report considers retention and graduation in its ratings. He pointed to Calculus I as a course with strong support for first-year students. “Calculus is probably the model we are going to use for other courses,” he said. By improving other “gateway courses” like physics and computer science, Smith hopes to improve retention.
Next was Trahan, who talked about CLASS as a method for “creating strong experiences into, through, and out of Rensselaer.” In the Q&A segment afterward, student Dan Hakimi ’12 expressed concern about the inherent clustering of students in CLASS, saying, “A lot of students don’t understand why there needs to be a ‘sophomore experience,’ or why class years need to be separated in this way.” Trahan replied, “I don’t want anybody to get the impression that students are supposed to be distinctly separated just because of the class dean model.”
In general, the student reaction to the event seemed positive. Reilly Hamilton ’12 commented, “In a week where we have questioned communication repeatedly, it’s just a reminder that there are avenues of communication open … I just hope, despite what people are reading in the media, that it can be reiterated to students that avenues of communication remain open, and that problems can be solved at a lower level, rather than blaming all the problems on the top.”
Both iterations of the review are available on RPI TV’s website at http://rpitv.org/productions/427-2011-student-life-performance-plan-review and http://rpitv.org/productions/430-2011-student-life-performance-plan-review-meeting-two.