I might not be graduating yet, but I’m still a senior. Many of the people who were at Student Orientation and NRB with me are graduating; a few have already graduated. It is scary, overwhelming, and really exciting at the same time. I want to talk about what I’ve seen over the last four years, including my story.
I applied to RPI early decision and I’ve never regretted it. I never even finished my applications for other schools that I had started just in case I didn’t get in to RPI. The summer after my freshman year, there were a few weeks of agony when I didn’t think I’d be able to come back to RPI due to a lack of enough financial aid. However, thanks to many people, including Vice President Lisa Trahan, I was able to get enough aid.
At the start of my freshman year, I had no plans to be involved with anything other than Vasudha, if even that. I spent my free time during NRB week with my nose in my biology book; that didn’t last long. I realized I wanted to do more for the environment. Second semester, I was secretary of EcoLogic. My freshman year was tough, what with adjusting to college life, changing majors, and trying to get Vasudha to be what I wanted it to be. My favorite moment was when I was inducted into White Key. Caution to anyone walking around in the Alumni House: the floor isn’t even, and it is quite easy to trip with clogs on! Tripping is also pretty embarrassing when Dr. Jackson and other important members of the RPI administration are present.
During my sophomore year, I began to involve myself far more heavily in extracurriculars and try out new things. By my fourth semester at RPI, I was an officer of three clubs, and that hasn’t changed. I decided to try out Senate after covering a few meetings for the media (both Stadler and Waldorf and The Poly) and being minimally involved with forced to come to Advocacy Community and Advancement Committee meetings. I became president of EcoLogic shortly after, as could have been predicted—I’d had my sights set on the 2012–2013 presidency pretty much since joining EcoLogic. It was my first experience as the head of a club and I was scared I would die.
I don’t know what happened, not exactly. During the years of 2011 up until last fall or so, every club I was involved in was composed of mostly upperclassmen without enough underclassmen to take leadership positions when said upperclassmen graduated. Some of the people I’ve talked to have pointed to Clustered Learning, Advocacy, and Support for Students, or said that the type of students RPI admitted changed. Anyways, students seem to be becoming more involved again and most of the clubs I am involved with are thriving. EcoLogic has a good core group of dedicated members who have done a great job making sure this year’s EarthFest is the biggest and best so far.
Spring my junior year, I became Outreach Coordinator of the Student Sustainability Task Force and then co-chair last fall when no one really wanted to do it. I really thought I’d be dissolving SSTF by the end of this year, but I am very happy to announce that’s not happening. We are working on several big projects; I am working on the Sustainability Report 2014, which I decided last spring that I was going to do before I graduate. Other members are working on different projects to advance sustainability at RPI.
It’s funny sometimes, now that I’m the old one and I was around for more of RPI history than around three-quarters of RPI undergraduate students. Lee Sharma has especially achieved notoriety. What a lot of people don’t know is that we were at Power Shift 2011 together. Around 30 people from RPI went to the conference in Washington D.C. I’ll never forget the moment when we found out that Lee had won the GM race. And I know people have their complaints, I know people have demonized her following the controversial Senate decision and the fact that she did not return to RPI the next semester. Lee was a quiet, strong leader with a lot of good advice. I think we were all frustrated with the fact that Laban Coblentz had disappeared. Coblentz was, for those of you who never knew him, approachable and always helpful with student projects. I worked for him for two weeks that fall and I learned so much. I think it’s important that we don’t blame Lee for everything, because she was just trying to help students out, as she was supposed to do. That was why we elected her in 2011.
Because I have a semester still, there are still a few more projects I want to accomplish. One problem that I have recently found out the depth of is “Cap-19” classes. Many HASS classes are capped at nineteen students in order for RPI to improve in its rankings. While an improved ranking of our alma mater is a good thing, if it hurts students in the process, I firmly believe that it is not. I have hardly begun talking with people about this issue, and already I have found out some of the ways students struggle. Freshmen and sophomores can’t get into the HASS classes they want—or, in some cases, need—for a major or minor. Classes are so small that discussions are difficult. I took Food, Farms, and Famine, in fall 2012. After the add deadline, enough people dropped that there were only a dozen or so people in the class. Fortunately, students in that class came from a wide variety of backgrounds, but that won’t always be the case. In a discussion-based class, having a few more students would help ensure that there is diversity in the class.
Lastly, another problem I have seen is that many HASS classes are offered rarely or not at all. At one point, I was hoping to do a Gender, Science, and Technology minor, but noticed that the courses that interested me were never offered. Offering a wider variety of courses with slightly larger class sizes could help students understand diversity better and advance sustainability (because many SUST courses are affected), but I need to do more research to see if that’s the case as well as good solutions. We have many non- cisgendered/heterosexual students at RPI, including myself. I don’t intend to do this project alone, and there are many groups I can see being interested in working on this or even taking the lead from me.
Looking back over the last four years, I realize I owe a lot to many people. Anasha Cummings ’12 always pushed me to try new things, join new clubs, and check out events. He knew the type of person I wanted to be and had suggestions for how to get there. My freshman year RA, Kyle Monahan ’12, was always (and still is!) someone I could bring a problem to or get advice from. Dozens of other people, too many to name, have given me advice, support, and encouragement throughout my time at RPI. I hope they know who they are, and I hope they know that I am incredibly thankful to them.