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Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)

Student Life Committee Meeting - May 2016

From the President's Desk

Re: Student Life Committee Meeting - May 2016

Trustees Present:
Arthur Golden, Chair
Neal Barton
Howard Blitman
George Campbell, Jr.
Wanda Denson-Low
Ronald Zlatoper
Janet Rutledge
Paula Simon
Shirley Ann Jackson, President, Ex-officio

Staff Present:
Elisha Mozersky
Frank E. Ross, III
Jon Wexler
Linda Schadler
Stanley Dunn
Lee McElroy
Claude Rounds
Virginia Gregg

Guests Present:
Marcus Flowers ‘16, GM (past)
Nicholas Dvorak ‘16, PU (past)
Paul Ilori ‘17, GM
Chip Kirchner ‘17, PU
Lester Gerhardt
Nicholas Thompson
Jen Church
Morgan Schweitzer
Mike Caiola
Antoinette Maniatty

Chair Arthur Golden called the meeting to order at 1:05 p.m.

The minutes for the December 2015 Student Life Committee meeting were unanimously approved as distributed.


Student Life Developments

Dr. Frank Ross, Vice President for Student Life

  • We are implementing changes in the Student Life organization to enhance the student experience.
  • Key to the CLASS educational programming model is expansion of the reach of the Archer Center for Student Leadership Development to ensure all Rensselaer students have leadership education as part of their collegiate experience. Staff in the Archer Center will be working with the Student Life staff in our living and learning communities—Residential Commons, Greek Commons, Off Campus Commons to develop leadership education opportunities for students.
  • As a result of the planning for Summer Arch we will be adding two permanent staff positions to the Archer Center.
  • Student Life is conducting national searches for a number of key leadership positions:
    • Assistant Vice President for Student Transitions
    • Assistant Vice President / Dean of Students
    • Assistant Vice President for Student Support and Resource Centers
    • We will also begin the national search process for a new Director of the Rensselaer Union. We will be working with an executive search firm to cultivate candidates over the summer, and will have candidates on campus in August for interviews with students and other members of the Rensselaer community.
    • Our Human Resources division last week conducted training with many of our student leaders to prepare them for the interview process.
  • Ross has been meeting with newly elected Rensselaer Union student leaders to plan for the year ahead, including scheduling a student forum in the fall to provide updates to students and to ensure students have an opportunity to provide input during the performance planning process.
  • Ross thanked Marcus Flowers and Nick Dvorak for their leadership this year and work on behalf of students. He congratulated them on their upcoming graduation.

Update on Summer Arch

Dr. Linda Schadler, Vice Provost and Dean of Undergraduate Education
Dr. Frank Ross, Vice President for Student Life

  • The presenters discussed that the Summer Arch is a rescheduling of the academic calendar that would include the Summer Arch semester, followed by a required ‘away’ semester, either in the fall or spring semester of the Junior year, that would allow students to engage in meaningful personal / professional developing experience, such as an internship, co-op, international travel, community service, research, etc.
  • They discussed the implementation timeline for the Summer Arch:
    • Pilot Year 1: For the class entering in 2015, (250 students). Optional for students in the School of Engineering and Lally School of Management. Students must have minimum3.0 GPA, 32 credits earned, and be on track for graduation.
    • Pilot Year 2: For the class entering in 2016, (300-350 students). Optional for students in all schools. GPA requirements will depend on the school; students must be on track for graduation.
    • Full Implementation: For the class entering in 2017, all students will participate.
    • Exception Process for some Athletes, some ROTC, and Albany / RPI accelerated Med School Program (special cases considered on a case by case basis).
    • The Residential Commons and classrooms to be used will be air conditioned for the Summer Arch.
  • They discussed the campus-wide planning that has occurred for the Summer Arch:
    • President Jackson appointed a Task Force, with four subcommittees: Academic, Student Life, Professional and Personal Development, and Infrastructure and Administration Functions.
    • Subcommittees include faculty, staff, and students.
    • Faculty, staff, and students visited both Dartmouth College and Northeastern University to benchmark existing programs. (In response to questions, it was noted that the Dartmouth program is approximately 40 years old and has been very popular with students.)
  • The work of the Academic Subcommittee (Associate Deans, Faculty at Large, Student Senate Rep), to date has included:
    • Faculty Senate Curriculum Committee has started coordinating curricula across the schools.
    • Resource Plans have been approved for FY 17, which include significant investment in staff, facilities, and continued commitment to faculty hiring.
    • Modified academic calendar has been approved.
    • Draft Exception Process and Policy approved for some student groups, including student athletes and ROTC.
    • New expanded advising approach is being developed to support Summer Arch and will be in place Fall 2017.
    • Transfer student planning relating to Summer Arch is ongoing.
    • Developing a purposeful summer experience that is more diverse but of equal rigor with the comparable semester Junior year classes.
  • They discussed the details of the inaugural pilot year for the Summer Arch:
    • School of Engineering: Some traditional curriculum, but with smaller class sections.
    • Materials is adding a skills course that will facilitate a broader lab experience in later semesters. All are planning field trips to local companies to see facilities, manufacturing, etc.
    • The Lally School: 2 courses in first 6 weeks. 4 weeks in class, 2 weeks abroad (in either China or India) finishing other course via online learning.
  • There was a discussion of revisions and expansion to the advising program to incorporate Summer Arch. This includes preparation for Summer Arch and the implementation of the new advising software, Degree Works.
    • Degree Works will allow students to develop an online plan of study that will map to the degree audit; run “what if” scenarios; and plan for semesters away. Academic advisors will use Degree Works to focus on professional development and mentoring.
    • Degree Works will allow advisors to place notes electronically in a students’ file; monitor degree progress more easily; and offer more and better counsel to students for professional development opportunities.
    • Degree Works will allow faculty and staff to better track students’ degree progress which can improve retention; project course enrollments; and efficiently handle changes in major, transfer courses, late adds, etc.
    • Freshman year advising goals include: review educational goals and requirements; implement plan of study; support for choosing major; review student responsibility in advising; referring to academic advisors and support services across campus; and earliest possible discussion of career interests and passions and to support students’ planning.
    • Sophomore year advising goals include: review of plan of study; integrate academics with co-curricular activities to explore career path; declare major; CCPD career counseling with CCPD staff; and planning for Summer Arch away semester.
    • Junior year advising goals include: A strong external focus; career / Grad school mentoring; identifying students for external scholarships; translating goals/interests into course of study; and degree completion preliminary review.
    • Senior year advising goals include: job search mentoring; graduate school mentoring; follow up on Summer Arch Away Semester; and assuring graduate requirements are met.
  • The work of the Student Life Subcommittee (comprised of students, faculty and staff) has consisted of:
    • Developing co-curricular “signature summer experiences” not available to students during the regular academic year
      • Opportunities to deepen students’ affinity to the institution and their class through class-specific social activities, luncheons, outings, etc.
      • Opportunities to engage in cultural arts, both on campus (EMPAC) and also in the region (for example, SPAC).
      • Opportunities to work with faculty to explore career and research interests.
    • Student services will be available for students during the summer:
      • Student Health Services (counseling and medical services) will be open.
      • Residence Life staff will offer programming and support.
      • Union and Mueller Center will be open, and there will be support for clubs and activities, intramurals and fitness classes.
      • Summer programming through the Union will continue.
  • The work of the Professional and Personal Development Subcommittee has focused on developing systems to prepare students for the ‘away’ semester.
    • Focus on enhancing support for students’ personal and professional development
      • Building on existing success in CCPD by working with hundreds of employers who participate in the career fairs, provide co-ops or internships, or come to campus for information sessions for students.
      • As a result of Summer Arch planning, we have received support for an additional two staff members in the CCPD.
      • Summer Arch Faculty Guide has been developed.
      • We will be refurbishing the CCPD entrance area.
      • We surveyed over 400 employer contacts regarding Summer Arch and how the CCPD can assist in its implementation at their organizations.
    • Development of a Summer Arch Seminar
      • We are developing a zero-credit, required seminar for all first-year students.
      • This seminar is a collaboration between academics and Student Life.
        • The goal of the seminar is to support students’ exploration of professional and personal goals, and to prepare them for the “away” semester.
  • Presenters discussed the timeline for activities related to Summer Arch, including:
    • March - May 2016: The CCPD held information sessions on the Summer Arch Experiential Learning Opportunities.
    • Student Orientation - 2016: Benefits of Summer Arch brochure with specifics on some of the curricular and co-curricular field trips, specific companies with interesting jobs, unique class options.
    • Early Sept - Parent Webinar: Webinar to talk to parents about the Summer Arch and answer any questions they have.
    • October 2016: Students declare interest in participation.
    • November 2016: The Office of Financial Aid will provide a timetable for filing for financial aid for the summer session.
    • Early Spring 2017: To help students find away semester opportunities they will participate in a set of professional development webinars and seminars to develop their resumes and interviewing skills.
    • Early Spring 2017- Parent Webinar: Webinar to talk to parents about the Summer Arch and answer any questions they have.
    • March 2017: Students register for summer classes and sign up for on campus housing and dining programs.
    • Summer 2017: Students attend the Summer Arch semester.
  • The presenters shared they are developing metrics and assessment strategies for Summer Arch, to address and improve the program on an ongoing basis.

Student Leadership Reports
Presentation by the Past President of the Union

  • Nicholas Dvorak ’16, 126th President of the Union, reported on his term as PU, including that it was a very successful budget year for the Union; the new Collegiate Store has been very successful and students are satisfied with the new services; successful implementation of new practices in the Union, and the Assistant Director of Student Activities position within the Union has been filled.
  • He gave updates since last presenting to the Board, including discussing changes to the Athletics budgets process, restructuring in the Division of Student Life, and campus protest and meetings with administration.
  • He presented reflections from his time as PU, and discussed the value of the Union in Student Life.
  • Following graduation, Nick will be working for ExxonMobil in Baton Rouge, LA, and serving as the Class of 2016 Alumni Class President.

Presentation by the Past Grand Marshal

  • Marcus Flowers ‘16, 150th Grand Marshal, presented on projects during his term as GM, including water bottle filling stations, development of a research directory, use of preferred names, and coordination with DotCIO for software to increase university engagement.
  • He shared referendum items presented to students during GM Week and results from the voting.
  • He discussed the campus community environment and recent changes on campus

Presentation by the President of the Union

  • Chip Kirchner ’17, 127th President of the Union, presented on upcoming priorities. He indicated they have been meeting with the Vice President for Student Life in planning for the interviewing and hiring of the Director of the Union. They will be filling remaining administrative staff vacancies.
  • He discussed the new Executive Board Members, noting that there was a large pool of applicants this year. There are two remaining seats being held for students representing the Class of 2020.
  • He discussed the increased enrollment, and the positive impacts from the student point of view. He indicated there are questions on further impacts including faculty and classroom space.
  • He discussed the Union Annual Report (UAR), and how it will be used as a tool for performance Planning and as a platform for communication. They will be aligning Union goals with the vision of the Rensselaer Plan 2024.

Presentation by the Grand Marshal

  • Paul Ilori ‘17, 151st Grand Marshal, discussed Performance Planning and Cooperation and the desire to develop planning documents for leaders within the Union Internal performance planning for Union. They are working with the Vice President for Student Life to schedule a performance plan presentation to student leaders in the fall semester.
  • He discussed outreach in Troy as a priority, and that they are planning a joint community service project with Russell Sage College.
  • Discussed residence hall improvements. This is the third year of the Student Senate cooperating with Resident Student Association and Vice President Rounds on a survey gathering student feedback. Students gave positive feedback on ongoing renovations of the Quad.
  • He described Summer Arch as a transformative program with significant student interest. He indicated students would like clarification on classrooms, housing, burnout and which faculty would be teaching in the summer.

Discussion followed the student leader reports:

  • Students discussed the success of the Collegiate Store and increased customer satisfaction.
  • It was noted that the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute bylaws are public and available on the university’s website.
  • Fostering greater continuity for long range planning in the Union would be positive.
  • Student leaders expressed their preference that the Director of the Union continue to report directly to the Vice President for Student Life.
  • General agreement that student leaders having conversations with the Vice President for Student Life is good for communication and enhanced working relationships. Dr. Ross will work with the GM and PU to ensure sufficient frequency and content of communications.
  • General recognition that the student leaders need to facilitate accurate and complete communication of information to students.
  • Student leaders were encouraged to be aware of things students do not know and seek correct information and then share with students.
  • There was discussion around the use of technology, the web, and the Poly for dissemination of information to students.
  • Many of the questions posed around Summer Arch have been answered on the Summer Arch website for quite some time. Discussion of the need to make students aware of what is already there and how to access it. For example, encourage people to visit the website and review the FAQ’s.
  • There was a reminder that information could be publicized but students could still have concerns and that student leaders can help be sure that Student Life is made aware of any such concerns.
  • Many administrators have student advisory committees that provide opportunity for student input and communication, which was recognized as another important vehicle for communicating information and raising questions.
  • Student leaders were encouraged to make sure information and plans are written down and transferred to their successors to provide continuity given changes in student leadership every year.
  • An idea was suggested to develop a guide for students to know where on campus to go for resources and to have questions answered.


A motion to adjourn the meeting was made and seconded. The meeting was adjourned at 2:35.