Student forums incite input on Plan

First forum covers student life, RPI leadership, second focuses on research

GRADUATE STUDENT JOE PERCHIACCA LEADS discussion during the second of two forums focused on collecting student input regarding the draft of the Rensselaer Plan .

The refresh of The Rensselaer Plan, the document which serves as the guide for every action taken by the Institute, has gone through all four of its open review sessions scheduled by President Shirley Ann Jackson. Two student forums have also been held for students to provide input without the atmosphere of a formal open session.

The first of the two forums occurred on Wednesday, October 10. The forum began with essentially the same presentation that had been given at each open session over the past two weeks. During this presentation, Vice President of Student Life Timothy Sams described the “Six Strategic Goals” for the new Rensselaer Plan. They were listed as follows:

1. Enhance national leadership in innovative learning and teaching (distinctive Education).

2. Dramatically expand [Rensselaer’s] Research Enterprise.

3. Increase our focus on Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

4. Achieve true intellectual, geographic, gender, and ethnic Diversity among our students, faculty, and staff.

5. Revitalize our diverse Communities.

6. Redesign and invigorate Enabling Activities.

Each goal emphasizes a change or revision that has been made in the draft of the new Plan. This was the focus of Sams’ presentation, as much of the rest of it was centered primarily on the history of The Plan and some of the accomplishments of the older document.

After the presentation was the main reason for the forum: the discussion period. The questions posed were the same as those during the open session the night before. However, during this forum, there were over 30 students and very few faculty and staff members. As a result, students asked more questions and made more comments than the students who attended the open session on Tuesday. The increase in participation was also due to the fact that the presentation was based on student life, as opposed to other aspects of The Plan, which many students feel to be the most student-relevant topic in The Plan.

The first question asked if the Institute’s current activities “align with and support our strategic goals.” The first student to respond made the argument that education, at its core, is important. This brought up a discussion of whether to focus more on retaining faculty members or on expanding research endeavors. Brian Nock ’13 and Russell Brown ’14 both made similar comments; Nock added that some researchers may not be able to teach or lecture well, and Brown stated that there was a lack of focus on the classroom experience, an experience which he felt was important.

Erin McAllister ’14 said that there was a need for a database which students could access to find out about research projects on campus, and Kenley Cheung ’13 responded by saying that DotCIO is currently working on one. Several other students agreed with McAllister after being asked about the issue by Sams.

Another discussion focused on clustering and whether it is actually beneficial to students. As clustering is an integral part of the Clustered Learning, Advocacy, and Support for Students program, this was an issue the Institute was interested in. Some students expressed concerns that, as a result of clustering, freshmen were isolated from upperclassmen and the help they may offer.

In regard to whether RPI stands out as a leader in academics and student life, several students commented that the Institute does well with academics but that it does not do much in terms of student life. They felt that the Rensselaer Union does much more for student life than the Institute alone and that this could be changed. Other students added that the CLASS initiative could be improved and publicized more.

As for criticisms and concerns about areas in which RPI does not excel, students responses varied widely. Cary Kaczowska ’13 felt that the Institute needs to bring back its language programs if it hopes to succeed on a global scale. Another student felt that there needs to be elaboration on RPI’s sustainability focus. Graduate student Joseph Perchiacca argued that a great deal has already been done to increase awareness of the Institute’s sustainability programs, using the growth of EcoLogic as an example. Cheung wanted to see an increase in e-learning, although Sams felt that traditional e-learning methods “don’t fit us.” Another student believed that there needs to be an increase in student participation, mentioning that “we need to find a way to make students care.”

Stephen Nock ’13 responded to the question of what The Plan is currently missing by stating that innovation isn’t emphasized enough, especially considering the numerous centers which have recently been established.

The students in attendance also felt that several programs are not working and should either be changed or let go if nothing can be done to improve the situation. These include the current study abroad program and academic advising programs.

Another forum, held on Monday, October 15, focused on research. However, less than 10 students showed. The presentation and discussion were led primarily by Perchiacca and Director of the Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies Jonathan Dordick. Some discussion was held, but the consensus was that research, in general, is going well. One graduate student made the argument that there should be more domestic graduate students, as the vast majority of RPI graduate students come from other countries.

For more information about the draft of The Rensselaer Plan, contact the Reassessment Leadership Committee, appointed by Jackson, at