President Schmidt on RPI at 200 and the Institute’s future

Editor’s Note: This article was altered on February 28, 2024 to correct inaccuracies in the discussion of campus safety improvements.

The Poly recently sat down with Rensselaer President Martin A. Schmidt ’81 to discuss his goals for the year, RPI at 200, and the future of the Institute. Schmidt, who celebrated his 64th birthday a few days prior on January 30, spoke with us for the second time since his tenure began.

Priorities for 2024

Schmidt’s main priority for the year is publishing the strategic plan. When Schmidt held his inauguration in October 2022, he outlined five areas–education, research, translation, regional engagement, and welcoming and inclusive environment–that RPI needed to think deeply about. Five working groups were created to handle each of those areas, and an idea bank was opened to the entire RPI community. The original goal of the idea bank was to get feedback on where the Institute would be in 10 years. Instead, many of the submissions to the idea bank were more short term in nature. Schmidt noted that “some of the stuff that came out of the idea bank we’ve just kinda handed over and said to people this looks like a really good idea.” He added, “putting feminine products in the bathrooms was something that came through the idea banks, we don’t need to wait for a 10 year strategic plan to think that’s a good idea.” While he initially wanted to release the strategic plan at the end of last year, Schmidt stated that he was being overly ambitious. He now hopes to release the strategic plan later this semester.


RPI will be celebrating its 200th anniversary this year. The official anniversary date is November 5, which is the same day as this year’s presidential election. Schmidt joked that “anything we try and do to draw attention to RPI on that day is probably going to fail, from a public relations perspective.” As such, the Institute is looking at using Reunion and Homecoming weekend for celebratory events. Schmidt also hopes to use part of the quantum computer ribbon cutting on April 5 to celebrate the bicentennial. Other events are being planned to be held throughout the year, but details have yet to be finalized.

Campus Safety

On January 26, a week before our interview, an RPI student was struck by a motor vehicle at the intersection of Burdett Avenue and Sherry Road and was subsequently hospitalized. When asked about the incident, President Schmidt reflected on a similar incident that occurred a year prior. In September 2022, sophomore Alana Tow was injured in a car accident at the neighboring intersection of Burdett and People's Avenue. Tragically, she passed away a day later. With her memory in mind and a desire to create a safer campus environment, the City of Troy, with financial support from RPI, repainted a crosswalk on Burdett and Sherry and installed hand-operated crossing lights. Since the incident on January 26, Schmidt stated that “we’ve decided that we need to think about additional interventions.” Schmidt also spoke with Mayor of Troy Carmella Mantello on January 27 and had a meeting with her and her team on February 1. As a result of the meeting, the Institute wants to work with the city’s engineer to examine various intersections and provide solutions to slow traffic and make intersections safer.

Campus Renovations

In 2008, Schmidt became the Associate Provost of MIT at a time when the university began to realize they had a $2 billion deferred maintenance problem. According to Schmidt, he was heavily involved in what would become the MIT2030 plan, a 20-year-long plan to renovate MIT’s campus. The cost for RPI’s capital renewal plan is much lower than that of MIT, with estimates sitting between $300 and $500 million. The strategy will be to go building by building and renovate them from the ground up, including dorms. Schmidt did say that “if we have a building that is in rough shape but we’re not really using it much, you don’t necessarily do anything with that. In fact, maybe you tear it down or dispose of it in some other way, and we have some of those.” We did ask which buildings were in the “tear it down or dispose” category, but Schmidt would not say until a report is completed.


In October 2017, then-President Shirley Ann Jackson announced a $1 billion capital raise with $400 million having been raised at the time of the announcement. President Schmidt stated that the capital raise has yet to be completed. Furthermore, in his Fall 2023 Town Meeting, Schmidt mentioned that RPI’s long term debt stands at roughly $629 million, which he says is manageable. In our interview, Schmidt stated that RPI is “probably not in a position to assume a lot more debt.”

Greek Life

Early on in his tenure, President Schmidt visited most of the fraternities and sororities on campus. Schmidt believes that “a healthy living group can be a very positive part of the college experience for students… I am somewhat agnostic to whether or not they’re in a dorm or in a fraternity or sorority.” During the forty years Schmidt spent at MIT, he found that interest in Greek life waxes and wanes, and when interest wanes, fraternities and sororities can sometimes be placed into difficult financial situations. We asked how Schmidt feels about allowing first-year students to join Greek life during their fall semester, which is not currently allowed. While he has heard from students who wished to have been able to join a Greek organization during the fall semester, students have also told him that waiting until the spring semester was beneficial.

Mental Health

Mental health is an ever present problem among universities across the country, RPI included. “This is a nationwide issue I saw at MIT, which is that the demands for mental health support, counseling support seem to be constantly growing,” Schmidt stated. According to the president, students can request counseling at a cadence of once every other week. Schmidt has spoken to students who feel that is insufficient, but at the moment the current regime is what RPI can afford to provide.

In the past, there have been instances of students struggling with mental health being pushed out by the Institute by not letting the student return to campus. While he was unable to comment on events prior to his administration, President Schmidt stated that he is not aware of any student being pushed out since his tenure began. Speaking from his personal experience, Schmidt has seen students he was an advisor for struggle while wanting to stay on campus, despite the university lacking the ability to support that student. Schmidt noted that “at some level it's a judgment call of the mental health professionals whether or not the institution can provide the support that student needs.”


RPI extended their test optional policy for undergraduates for the 2023-2024 application cycle. The Poly asked the president if he believes the test optional policy will be extended to future application cycles. Schmidt stated that he wasn’t entirely sure, adding that RPI doesn’t have enough data to determine whether or not it is necessary to require standardized testing. Referring to his experience at MIT, Schmidt stated, “MIT went back through requiring tests shortly after exiting COVID. And I know that decision was really informed by a lot of analytics that MIT had, that gave them the confidence that that test was a good proxy for whether or not people were going to be successful.”


President Schmidt has a five year contract with RPI expiring on June 30, 2027. He will most likely be able to renew his contract for another five years, with approval from the Board of Trustees. We asked the president what his salary is, but would not reveal it because that information is not public yet. However, since RPI is a registered non-profit, its financials are publicly available. Financials for Fiscal Year 2023, Schmidt’s first year as president, will be made publicly available at some point in the next few months.


Prior to our interview with President Schmidt, The Poly fielded questions through our Instagram and through a post on the RPI subreddit. The following are most of the questions we received that we didn’t ask earlier in the interview.

Can the RPI Pep Band be restored to the stage behind the goal at Houston Field House?

  • “I know that the Zambonis are there right now so that means building a stage. You know, we are looking at improvements we can make to the field house, so maybe that should be on the [list].”

Any plans to renovate Houston Field House?

  • “Yeah, there are some things, the ice needs to be replaced. And then I think there are some improvements that are absolutely necessary to improve accessibility. And longer term, I would like to see us make some more sustainable improvements.”

Any plans to expand the HASS department?

  • “No. But I will say, I think the real opportunity is integrating the schools…how do we overlap these disciplines?”

Will Arch be made optional?

  • “No, not right now… I’ve said let's lean in on this, let’s figure out what some of the challenges are, let's see if we can address some of those and then let's constantly assess. Hopefully at some point, we get to a point where it's like, everybody wants to do Arch, and then I'm sure it can be optional, but I think right now, we haven't done all the things we can do to make it maximally successful.”