In mid-October, The Polytechnic offered a series of questions to members of the administration in charge of Summer Arch. Last week, the Office of Strategic Communications and External Relations provided us with responses that detail the approach, outcome, and implementation of the Summer Arch program. When reached for comment, Provost Prabhat Hajela offered his personal input as a staff member close to the Arch initiative.
To begin, The Polytechnic asked Hajela directly what the Summer Arch is, and what the Institute expects to accomplish through the program. In response, Hajela stated that “The Summer Arch is a transformative approach to student learning that involves restructuring of the academic calendar to build additional opportunities for experiential learning that complement curricular and co-curricular offerings at Rensselaer.”
Hajela continued to say that the program would be structured in such a way that “rising juniors will attend a full summer semester on campus, the Summer Arch, between their sophomore and junior years, followed by an ‘away’ semester taken during either the fall or spring of the student’s junior year.” He also took the opportunity to clarify that the Summer Arch will not require that students graduate late, but merely incentivises students to take advantage of “co-curricular activities” off-campus.
Next, Hajela was prompted to explain both the positive and negative aspects of the program. Hajela started with the benefits of the program: “enhanced student-faculty interactions,” “the flexibility of the ‘away’ semester,” and “the potential to accelerate or augment academic programs.” In explanation, the Institute feels that because juniors will be alone on campus, they will have greater opportunities to meet with professors and officials for individualized learning. Additionally, the semester away will allow students to pursue interests outside of academics. Furthermore, students could use the extra semester to pursue studies outside of a given field.
In terms of negatives, Hajela stated that “no clear negatives have emerged, but we will spare no effort in looking at all elements of the change.” However, Hajela also acknowledged that the implementation of any project of such a scale is presents challenges, but he expects to overcome them through the engagement of the entire Rensselaer community; “The Summer Arch Task Force is seeking input from faculty, staff, and students, as well as our partners in industry and academia.” Furthermore, “pilot programs will allow us to implement the changes at the right pace, ensuring the best experience for students in the pilot groups and for the general student body in the following years.”
The Summer Arch has been presented as an objective that works in accordance with the Clustered Learning, Advocacy, and Support for Students initiative that was implemented by President Shirley Ann Jackson several years ago. The CLASS initiative was presented to students as an effort to connect “students to a network of faculty, staff, and other students, ensuring that they are part of a strong community of learners.” In response, Hajela stated that “CLASS helps them develop intellectual agility, multicultural sophistication, and global awareness. The Summer Arch will provide excellent opportunities for Rensselaer students to further develop these attributes. Students will enhance their leadership and skills to support successful careers through hands-on, experiential activities such as internships, co-ops, research, meaningful service, and international experiences.”
In addition, the impact on Greek life and on-campus organizations was presented to the Provost. Hajela acknowledged that “there are still a number of logistical questions the Summer Arch Core Committee and the various subcommittees will be answering.” He continued to say that the Institute fully intends to investigate the impact to these key aspects of campus life through trips to Northeastern University and Dartmouth College. According to Hajela, “leaders from the lnterfraternity Council, the Panhellenic Council, and other student organizations will be visiting these campuses to learn from their peers how the student leadership process works within the structure of a unique academic calendar.” Hajela added that students are an active part of the Summer Arch Task Force, and hold a substantial role in the decision-making of the program; “Maintaining the strong focus on student leadership is a priority for Rensselaer.”
Finally, Hajela was asked to identify the motivation behind the implementation of Summer Arch. In response, Hajela again referred to learning initiatives outlined in CLASS: intellectual agility, multicultural sophistication, and global awareness. In speaking for the administration, he outlined the belief that modern problems must be addressed by groups of people coming together, and that “the Summer Arch is an important pedagogical construct that supports this vision. It creates experiential and professional development opportunities that will provide our graduates with collaborative experiences, multidisciplinary perspectives, and a true global view.”
The full set of responses can be found online at http://poly.news/s/0bmvo/.