Exploring RPI’s past with Jon Kessler ’79, ’82G

Founded in 1824, Rensselaer’s campus holds a variety of history from the collection of buildings to the organizations on campus. While many RPI students have only seen the current campus and heard the history of the school through myths and stories, Jon Kessler ’79, ’82G shared his experience at RPI and how much change he has seen in the school since he attended.

Kessler went to RPI as an undergraduate from 1975 to 1979, pursuing a degree in biology as well as becoming an active member of The Polytechnic. While reflecting on the intense academic rigor at the Institute, he noted that the Rensselaer Union provided an outlet of sorts that allowed him to pursue nonacademic interests. He led composing efforts at The Poly, working on the layout of the final product, and served as managing editor for one and a half years. A year and a half after receiving his undergraduate degree, Kessler returned to RPI for a Master’s program in technical writing. After reengaging with the newspaper, Kessler was elected as editor in chief of The Poly in 1981.

Alongside his work at the newspaper, Kessler also noted his work on the original student handbook. In contrast to the large compilation of regulations that exists today, information was randomly distributed in a variety of handouts. At the request of the Grand Marshal and Dean of Students at the time, Kessler compiled the first student handbook with some of his friends, earning him campus-wide recognition.

Besides his experience in writing and campus organizations, Kessler also did a lot of work in the Union itself. He spent a year and half of his undergraduate and graduate degrees as building manager of the Union. As such he learned a lot about the building itself and how it ran.

Kessler’s close connection with the Union drove his decision to donate to the Union specifically. With this donation, Kessler hopes to emphasize student leadership and maintain the Union’s independence. He believes that a student-run style combined with some professional guidance helps teach undergraduates and graduates alike about the problem solving and versatility associated with organizational leadership.

Throughout his recollections, Kessler reflected upon the massive academic burden faced by RPI students. He recognized the immense difficulty of completing a four year degree. Working in the Union and the publications it sponsored throughout his graduate degree helped him regain a lot of the confidence and motivation he lost as an undergraduate. While the RPI's academic rigor taught him how to persevere, a unique skill he picked up was the ability to solve complex problems, a quality he sees in graduates of all majors. He showed great admiration for individuals who have the ability to go through extreme pressure, much like the environment seen at RPI.

In all, Kessler reflected upon the many opportunities and organizations available to students in the Union, stressing its ability to become an outlet for the academic rigor seen at RPI. He hopes that his donation can provide improvements to the facilities and programs in the Union, ultimately benefiting RPI’s student body.