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Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)

Remarks at First-Year Parents Welcome Reception

Category: University Events
August, 2018

First-Year Parents Welcome Reception

Shirley Ann Jackson, Ph.D., President, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Good afternoon. I am delighted to welcome all of you to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute—and to the Rensselaer family.

I hope that moving in went well. I know from personal experience what a bittersweet experience it is, saying good-bye to a child about to begin college. You are proud of your children—as you should be, but it is hard to let go—I can assure you that we will do everything in our power to keep your student safe, happily connected to the community here, and thriving both academically and personally.

We are so pleased that your students have chosen to attend Rensselaer. The Class of 2022 is one of the most high-achieving classes we have ever enrolled. This past year, we saw the greatest number of applications for admission in our history.

The range of accomplishment and talent in this class is something in which we, and you, can take great pride. Our First-Year Class has very high combined average SAT scores (1409), and 161 of its members had perfect scores of 800 on either the SAT critical reading or mathematics component. The class includes 95 high school valedictorians and salutatorians. Equally important, our newest students include celebrated musicians, athletic champions, outstanding community volunteers, an author of two (yes, two!) books, inventors, entrepreneurs, and at least one volunteer fireman.

So, you will not be surprised to learn that we expect great things from this class—the Class of 2022.

Your students also make up the most diverse class we have ever admitted. They hail from 45 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and from countries all around the world. Almost 300 of our first-year students are citizens of countries other than the United States.

Ultimately our goals for our newest students include their developing intellectual agility, multicultural sophistication, and a global perspective—qualities we consider key to a world with great global challenges that demand collaborations across borders of all kinds. The friendship your students forge with each other will play an important part in their development.

They are already beginning to establish those friendships, with the Navigating Rensselaer and Beyond program they are now embarked upon. This program exposes students to the region surrounding Rensselaer through outdoor adventures, cultural and historical experiences, and community service opportunities—while encouraging them to bond with each other. By the time they attend their first classes, your students will have found classmates with whom to share the excitement and challenges of their first year.

This weekend is the first of many programs designed to build a sense of camaraderie among students. Our Office of the First Year Experience provides students with support in acclimating to every aspect of their new environment, from academics, to banking, to information technology. We make certain that our first-year students receive the special attention they need and deserve.

This is all part of what we consider one of the very best student experiences in the nation—we refer to it as Clustered Learning, Advocacy, and Support for Students, or CLASS. Since our students live here and grow here, CLASS is based on both residential- and time-based clustering. With CLASS, we nurture Rensselaer students in tight-knit, residential groups. And they will have unique growth experiences with their classmates as they progress.

Should they decide to move off-campus as upperclassmen, they still will be part of a strong residential community through the Greek Life Commons and Off-Campus Commons—which now has a physical home base on the campus. We recently instituted a new program called Safe Ride, a service that offers free rides between campus and home in the later hours. Our students’ safety is always our first consideration at Rensselaer.

But CLASS also is about offering your students opportunities appropriate to their stage of development, all led by a Class Year Dean.

One such example is our reorganization of the academic calendar, The Arch, which is designed to help our students pivot from the first two years of mastery of fundamentals and exploratory study, to the specialized and experiential focus of the last years of undergraduate work. 

Under The Arch, all undergraduates remain on campus during the summer after their sophomore year, completing junior-level classes. During their summer on campus, they will profit from the exclusive attention of our faculty and staff at a critical juncture in their educational careers. Our Center for Career and Professional Development focuses on these rising juniors, readying them for a semester away with programs, panels, and networking opportunities, to aid them in choosing the precise experience that best expresses their talents, reflects their wishes, and expands their horizons.

In the fall or spring of the junior year, our students leave campus for at least a full semester, to enjoy an intellectual or pre-professional experience specifically suited to their own passions and interests—and still graduate on time. Their time away may be a semester spent studying abroad, an internship in their chosen field, an intensive research project, a volunteer service post, or the launch of an entrepreneurial enterprise.

Under The Arch, our students not only expand their academic horizons—they also develop professional skills and exposure to new cultures of all kinds. Rensselaer graduates already are in high demand from the best employers and graduate schools. The Arch experience will only make them more outstanding.

Our pedagogy at Rensselaer is truly innovative—and you can trust that as we educate your students for deep knowledge in their chosen fields—we also ensure that they are gaining the skills to make them intellectually and personally agile, and ready to seize opportunities in the future that none of us can readily foresee today.

With humanity now creating 2.5 quintillion bytes of digital data daily—and growing—we believe that every Rensselaer graduate, in every field, is going to need to understand how to find insights within diverse datasets to define and address complex problems. So, we are the first university in the nation to institute a requirement in “data dexterity.” Rensselaer students must complete two data-intensive courses, one to establish the foundations of data modeling and analysis, and a second specific to their major.

We also are aware that much of our students’ growth here will take place outside the classroom. Our varsity athletic programs are top-notch, and many of our students participate in intramural or club sports. Nearly 250 clubs are recognized by the Rensselaer Union. They range from the extremely serious—including many wonderful service organizations—to the delightfully fun—including the Model Railroad Society and the Cheese Appreciation Club. No matter what interests your students has, he or she is sure to find a community of the like-minded here.

We appreciate the confidence you have shown in entrusting your children to Rensselaer, and we will do our utmost to take good care of them—and to make certain that they have the tools to excel.

Of course, your children still need the support of their families, and we need your support as well. I urge you to join our Parents of Rensselaer organization, an important source of information and advice, both for you—and for us.

I look forward to getting to know each of you over the next four years, and I hope that you will visit as often as you can—especially on Family Weekend, on October 19th through the 21st, when you will have the opportunity to attend classes here, and to experience firsthand the very special nature of the education we offer.