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Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)

Report: Students

While we routinely reach beyond our Institute into the broader world in visible and high-impact ways, the primary purpose of Rensselaer is the preparation and advancement of our students.

Students are the heart of our community.

At Rensselaer, it is well within our traditions to pursue building a community that is rich in diversity, and then bringing its members together as one. We recently welcomed the most diverse class the Institute has ever seen, which will become a daily opportunity for our students to experience and explore the unity underlying diversity.

Bringing together the full range of human perspectives at a residential university presents extraordinary opportunities for our students to understand the world. As they come together in classes, research, activities, and the conversations that naturally emerge from breaking bread together and sharing dormitory life, they will come to deep, mutual understanding.

Within our welcoming environment, empathy, insight, and profound appreciation of different perspectives will flourish. It is an essential dimension to our objective of providing students with the knowledge, skills, experiences, values, and habits of mind that will help them to bring the full value of who they are and what they are capable of doing to the world for generations to come.

No one has to tell Rensselaer students about the deep connections that underlie humanity. That understanding is implicit to who they are and how they work. By the time they graduate, their experiences will have built an appreciation of our common dignity and values, and they will be inclined to work across disciplines, cultures, genders, social classes, and other traditional barriers to find answers to complex problems that are fairer, more complete, and more creative than would otherwise be possible.

The Summer Arch, Rensselaer's most recent transformative teaching innovation, is designed to help students develop intellectual agility, multicultural sophistication, and a global view.


The Summer Arch, Rensselaer’s most recent transformative teaching innovation, is designed to help students develop intellectual agility, multicultural sophistication, and a global view. During the Summer Arch, which is built on a restructuring of the academic calendar, students will remain on campus after their sophomore year for a full summer semester of junior-level classes. They will then spend one semester of the traditional junior year away from campus, preferably abroad—pursuing a project aligned with their interests—but still graduate within the typical time span. Summer Arch will be piloted over the next two summers, before making it a required academic experience for all Rensselaer undergraduates in the summer of 2019.

During their summer on campus, students will profit from the focused attention of the faculty and Student Life staff at a key point in their educational careers, before they pivot to advanced classes. They will also take advantage of unique cultural, environmental, and professional experiences only available in this region in the summer. Then, during their “away” semester, Rensselaer juniors will go abroad, or do a co-op or internship, research, volunteer, or launch an entrepreneurial business—or some combination of the above.

In the context of Summer Arch, a key outcome for Rensselaer graduates is a greater appreciation and understanding of the global environment in which their careers will unfold. Immersion and day-to-day interactions in vastly different socio-economic and multicultural settings are essential for such learning, and are only possible if one lives and works in those environments.

When the students return to campus after their semester away, they will have had new experiences—and will be able to forge new connections. When they graduate after the Summer Arch, they will be in even greater demand with employers and graduate schools.


CLASS (Clustered Learning, Advocacy, and Support for Students) is a comprehensive approach to the student experience at Rensselaer. Through ongoing support, guidance, and co-curricular activities, CLASS connects students to a network of faculty, staff, and other students, ensuring that they are part of a strong community of learners. As our students strive to become the leaders of tomorrow, CLASS fosters personal and professional growth, creating gateways to transformative experiences that will help them realize their potential.

All first- and second-year students live in tight-knit communities centered in their residence halls, with live-in assistant deans supporting them, or in the Greek Life Commons. If, later in their college careers, they choose to move off campus, they are still connected through Greek Life or the Off-Campus Commons.

In the coming year, Rensselaer is establishing a physical Off-Campus Commons as a place where off-campus students will gather for CLASS-based programs, take breaks between classes, hold events, or catch a safe ride home.

Time-based clustering allows the Institute to offer programming and experiences designed for each stage of a college career. When students are freshmen, CLASS programming largely focuses on awareness of an issue. As they grow here, they are increasingly expected to lead, and Rensselaer offers them opportunities to do so.


Rensselaer is in the second year of another unique pedagogical innovation: Art_X@Rensselaer, which is designed to help students see and understand the science in and of art, and the art in and of science, and to explore the ideas that connect art, science, and technology.  Although the intention is for students to appreciate art in all its forms, Art_X is about helping all Rensselaer students acquire a new vocabulary for creativity. To make that happen, faculty have infused it throughout the curriculum.

For example, in the capstone design class taken by seniors in all engineering disciplines, students now address not just considerations such as function, budget, safety, and performance—but also aesthetics, and its relationship with—and sometimes conflict with—other considerations.

Art_X@Rensselaer also advances art appreciation and understanding, and has become an important part of the student experience outside the classroom. For example, students are encouraged to take full advantage of the productions developed and presented at the Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center—one of the most advanced performing arts venues in the world, which draws remarkable artists from around the world. A new program called EMPAC+ offers free tickets to all EMPAC-curated events to students who enroll—a gift that may well change their lives.

MORE THAN 1,690 STUDENTS—the largest incoming class in the Institute’s history

The Class of 2020, the largest incoming class in Rensselaer history, is also among the most academically, ethnically, and geographically diverse classes in history.


More than 1,690 students—representing the largest incoming class in the Institute’s history—joined Rensselaer this fall. The first-year students hail from 47 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and from countries all around the world.

The high-achieving group includes 544 women, representing 32 percent of the class; and 281 underrepresented minority students, representing 16 percent of the class. The continued geographic and international diversity of the incoming class reinforces the global reach and global impact of Rensselaer.

“We are proud of the fact that the Class of 2020 is not only the largest incoming freshman class in the history of Rensselaer, but also one of the strongest academically,” said Jonathan Wexler, vice president for enrollment management. “This is the most academically, ethnically, and geographically diverse incoming class in the history of Rensselaer!”

The overall class SAT average was 1370 based on the 1600 scale and 195 incoming students received a perfect 800 SAT critical reading, math, or writing score. Four students scored a 1600 on the critical reading and math portions of the exam. In the incoming class, 99 students were valedictorians or salutatorians of their high school graduating class.

A record total of 18,524 high school students filed applications to attend Rensselaer this fall, according to the Office of Admissions. This year’s total represents an increase of approximately 4 percent from the previous year.


Rensselaer strongly encourages undergraduate students from all five schools to take part in the Institute’s vibrant research enterprise. Whether the choice is to join an ongoing research project, or to seek faculty guidance in pursuit of research ideas, Rensselaer provides students with the opportunity to make research an integral part of their undergraduate education. In addition, programs like the Change the World Challenge, a twice-yearly competition created to support entrepreneurship education, inspire students to consider ways to transform their ideas into innovative products and services for social and global impact.


Amparo is developing a prosthetic socket that is easier and cheaper to make than current options. Sockets are the interface between a prosthetic device and the amputee’s limb. They have to be made by a specially trained prosthetist and custom fit to the amputee, so they are the most expensive part of a prosthetic limb.

Aiding Amputees

A student team named “Amparo” has developed a prosthetic socket that makes it easier and cheaper to connect a patient’s residual limb to a prosthetic leg. The socket is made of a thermoplastic material that becomes pliable when heated and, as a result, offers significant advantages. It can be easily molded and customized for each patient, without the expensive casting and tooling required for existing sockets. Fittings can be done more quickly and don’t require the specialized skills of prosthetists, who typically practice in major population centers. Many amputees must travel for days to see these specialists. Amparo can be reheated and remolded to maintain the proper fit—an important consideration because the size and shape of residual limbs fluctuate over time.

Hand-Gun Safety

Another student team took home the top award in this year’s New York Business Plan Competition and a $100,000 grand prize. Team Dual:Lock’s winning idea focuses on a conveniently placed stainless-steel sleeve or “safe” into which gun owners will slide and lock their fully armed, ready-to-use pistols. At the top of the “safe” is a biometric scanner—the location of this sensor places the user’s hand in a ready-to-fire position—that releases the lock the instant it recognizes the gun owner’s registered thumbprint. This technology can sharply reduce firearms injuries caused by unauthorized or unintended users, including suicide victims, children who encounter loaded guns in the home, and criminal suspects who get their hands on officers’ weapons.


Architecture students in the Center for Architecture, Science, and Ecology have been developing building products from coconuts and other agricultural waste as a sustainable, low-energy alternative to plywood and other materials made with synthetic adhesives. In many tropical countries around the world, people widely use coconuts for their fruit, milk, and cooking oil. Unfortunately, the husks are thrown away by the millions, leaving to waste what might instead be transformed into a multifaceted building material. The architecture students are using coconuts to create non-toxic wall modules and an acoustical panel system that can help cool buildings passively.

Entering Freshman Highlights

1691incoming students +20%increase in new female students
+34%increase in underrepresented minorities over 2015 incoming class +22%increase in geographic diversity
1370 average SAT score 28 ROTC program 2016 candidates who started active military service as officers.
16 average number of AP credits per student 200+ NCAA Division I & III athletes
The Rensselaer Medal is a tradition more than 100 years old that honors high school students who have distinguished themselves in mathematics and science. This scholarship is valued at $100,000 ($25,000 per year). There are 200 enrolling medalists.