Administration

Where’d he come from? Where’s he headed?

Since arriving last month, I have been asked by many variations of two questions. First, inquirers have sought information as to my background, such as where I have previously worked, what my previous responsibilities included, and about the kinds of projects and initiatives I have led or been involved with. The second question has been about my plans for the Rensselaer community, with some searching to determine if I will proceed with efforts similar to those endeavored at previous institutions. I want to be clear: I arrived here without presumption, with an overarching guide to contribute to the successful completion of the Rensselaer Plan 2024. More specifically, to build upon the excellent work of my faculty and staff colleagues and that of our exceptional current and former students, to fully realize Clustered Learning, Advocacy, and Support for Students, Summer Arch, Art_X@Rensselaer, and other student focused aspects of the Plan, culminating in the actualization of The New Polytechnic.

I have spent my career in higher education as a student affairs administrator devoted to student academic and personal success, safety, inclusion, and wellbeing. I have had the privilege to serve well respected and vibrant institutions as the University at Albany and Cornell University, and as many readers know, I also spent time here at Rensselaer between 2000 and 2006. What brought me back is the opportunity to continue to be involved in the innovation occurring here; innovation that has already generated shifts in the pedagogical framework in American higher education. Working here for President Shirley Ann Jackson is somewhat similar to the experience one would have had if they were working for Bill Gates when he developed MS-DOS, which of course evolved into what we know today as the Windows OS. Wait! Before any of you decide to take issue with any part of that comparison, please do keep in mind that it is merely meant to help articulate how I see this opportunity and the impact this work is likely to have on the approach institutions of higher education utilize for student learning in the future.

The other reason I returned… I cherish the time I spent here during the early 2000s. The Rensselaer community is remarkable, and at the center is our students. Rensselaer students are intelligent and creative. What one may not realize, without perspective, is how genuinely thoughtful our students are. I love the intellectual challenge they present, and it keeps me on my toes. More so, I appreciate their willingness to be involved in the work necessary to define a new pedagogical approach to education, or to identify solutions to social problems impacting our community members. I describe our students, in general, as truly good people who think of the answers and ideas to difficult problems and are willing to do the hard work required to implement the solution.

I am grateful for the very warm welcome I have received from students and colleagues since my arrival. I have spent these past few weeks meeting with colleagues and students involved in an assortment of activities, attending student events, listening, and learning about today’s Rensselaer. It has been informative and often inspirational. I am also aware of the concerns students communicated last year surrounding my position and others within the reorganized Division for Student Life. There is no doubt, we have a shared responsibility for the Rensselaer Union and I believe strongly that we need students to continue to lead as we look to the future of the student experience and to achieve all that this community has identified as goals. The relationship with the Office of the Dean of Students is a partnership. I see our role in this relationship foremost as support; as advisors to guide and counsel, not to direct; and, to provide consistency in the transition from one Union administration to the next, as President of the Union Chip Kirchner ’17 described in last week’s Derby column.

It has been my experience that students are uniquely positioned to successfully develop, design, implement, and sustain highly impactful initiatives which serve the community well. We need to provide them the support and guidance in those endeavors. Likewise, I need student insight, guidance and support to be effective in my role as the Assistant Vice President and Dean of Students. I am confident that this relationship will be a highly successful collaboration. I am elated to be here and excited to take a deeper dive.

I welcome thoughts, input and feedback from members of our community. You can reach me at apgart@rpi.edu.