Student Senate

Konwerski presents draft of Student Life Performance Plan

Vice President of Student Life Peter Konwerski presented a high-level draft of the Student Life Performance Plan for Fiscal Year 2024 to the Student Senate on November 16. The plan described goals for improving student life at Rensselaer, highlighting issues that ranged from the living and learning experience to alumni engagement.

The first few objectives discussed ways to sustain undergraduate enrollment, improve student retention and success, and promote innovation in living and learning. To build school spirit, Konwerski mentioned creating a bucket list of essential activities RPI students should attend. He also outlined strategies to “enhance the Arch” program, which included student and community engagement over the summer and support for semester away opportunities.

Konwerski moved on to “translation and engagement,” which defined goals in preparing RPI students for the future. Konwerski laid out plans to refine campus resources, support public service opportunities for students, and establish corporate partnerships with the Institute. The Performance Plan also targeted ways to improve the infrastructure on campus, particularly in student housing and instructional spaces, and emphasized the need to foster local and alumni engagement.

After the presentation, Senate members raised numerous questions about the content of the plan. Community Relations Committee chairperson Talulah Patch ’24 asked if facilities were able to accommodate the large number of incoming freshmen this year. Konwerski responded that one of the first actions the administration took was to ask each dean what they needed immediately, noting that the overarching goal was to “retain as many [freshmen] as possible.” According to Konwerski, freshman retention was 97.6% in January 2022, but dropped to 89% by September of the same year. “We’ve got to do a better job,” stressed Konwerski, iterating that resources should be monitored as freshmen move through class years.

Web Technologies Group chairperson Gabriel Jacoby-Cooper ’24 followed up by clarifying if the large number of incoming freshmen was due to a higher than expected enrollment rate. Konwerski replied that there were a couple of reasons, such as attractive aid packages, which led to an increase in enrollment. Jacoby-Cooper then asked if the average class size would go down in future years. In response, Konwerski explained that the plan was to maintain future class sizes at “1650, in that ballpark.”

Class of 2024 Senator Harper Chisari asked what was the biggest contributor to undergraduates leaving. According to Konwerski, the biggest contributor was for personal reasons, followed by transferring, health and mental health reasons, financial reasons, and academic reasons.

In response to Student Life Committee chairperson Zach Barringer’s question on graduate student retention, Konwerski emphasized healthcare, childcare, and support for international students as priorities.

The Senate also gave feedback on what they thought was missing from the Performance Plan. Patch noted the plan focused on supporting high-performing freshmen, but it should also consider the challenges faced by low-performing students.

Jacoby-Cooper suggested more partnerships between the Center for Career and Professional Development and other companies. He also suggested a stronger focus on RPI’s IT and web infrastructure to improve services like DegreeWorks.

Academic Affairs Committee chairperson Ben Viner ’24 remarked that many of the problems faced by students stem from their classes. Viner recommended a closer relationship between Student Life and professors to target the problems directly, as well as including more resources for students to ask for help. Class of 2025 Senator Philip Paterson agreed, noting that academic issues were common stressors.

Paterson then went on to comment that student workers at RPI were not mentioned at all during the presentation. He suggested that student workers would benefit from a mentor program and an expanded support system, points which were echoed by Barringer.

Viner suggested the Institute should be more aware of religious holidays. This was seconded by Senate-Executive Board Liaison Raven Levitt ’26, who proposed an appeal system where professors can accommodate religious observances. However, Grand Marshal Cait Bennett ’22G noted the appeal system already exists, as students can reach out to their class deans. Bennett used this to exemplify the difficulty students face trying to connect with available resources.

Vice Grand Marshal Alexander Patterson ’23 concluded by asking if there were any important changes between this year’s plan and the last. Konwerski said the current plan placed higher priorities on mental health and the Arch, while student retention maintained an equal priority. Patterson followed up by asking what the most important priority was. Konwerski replied that student welfare was the main concern, remarking that Student Life’s goal was to ensure students made it from orientation to commencement. For the final question, Patterson asked if last year’s Performance Plan made any improvements to RPI as a whole. Konwerski said the sense of community at RPI felt stronger, highlighting the Spring Carnival as a contributing factor.

This Student Senate meeting was held on November 16. The next meeting will be held on Wednesday at 8 pm in the Student Government Suite.