Seize the potential of RPI
I was once told that college is the last time in your life that you will be able to focus on learning things solely for your own benefit and gain. In the future, it is likely you will primarily be learning to advance your career. Everything you do now should be purely motivated by self-improvement. I didn’t realize the significance of this statement at the time, but reflecting, I find it has defined my time here at Rensselaer.
When in school, you have the flexibility to learn skills that you’re interested in, build things that you want to or that benefit those around you, and you can spend your time how you please. Despite its flaws, RPI is one of the best places to take advantage of this time in your life, and I would encourage everyone to take advantage of the community around you.
Despite online rhetoric about the culture here, RPI is small enough for anyone to make fulfilling contributions to the community around them. With the unique structure of clubs and activities here, anyone can work their way. If you read Reddit, the school community can have a defeatist attitude about the culture here, and it’s easy to fall into that mentality. Many students don’t like the Arch and are questioning the student-run nature of the Rensselaer Union. Many argue that the school forces you into a path that stifles creativity or action on the part of the individual student. My experience here has been far from this. I have been a member of many clubs spanning a variety of areas, and in all of them I have had the ability to do things I wanted to do and contributed to something greater than myself.
I began at The Polytechnic, where I was able to learn about things far outside my comfort zone. It was a struggle working my way up through the ranks—I knew very little about the operations of a newspaper, and the senior members all knew what they were doing. Luckily, I was able to learn from my peers and branch out. Through The Poly, I learned about WebTech where I worked on several projects that many students use today. In WebTech, I was part of the deployment of the new Shuttle Tracker. I took ownership of my contributions and my work directly benefited people on campus. My extracurricular career continued, and I became more involved in Student Government before finally returning to The Poly.
I recount the variety of work I’ve done because I am not exceptional. Talk to the many RPI students or alumni, and you will find that many of them have had either a leadership role in clubs they care about, started a club, or built a project that was personally important to them. These projects range from video games to abstract art. If a club doesn’t exist, the infrastructure to create one is clear, straightforward, and governed by your fellow students.
This atmosphere is unique at RPI, and I encourage people to find what they are passionate about and put their passion into their extracurricular work. I fear this attitude will be lost if people are not enthusiastic about their activities. I often find I've gotten more out of my clubs than from my classes. They are where I've met friends, learned valuable communication skills, and actually made a measurable impact on the community.
Take the flexibility you have at a school the size of RPI and take charge of your life. If you want a club, go make it. If one exists, join it, and pour your free time into it. The benefits are endless. I do not want this spirit to be lost from RPI, and I would encourage everyone to branch out. You will learn a lot and do something great for yourself and your peers.