Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
BackgroundInterview Date:April 2019
Gender Identity: Female
Sexual Orientation: Heterosexual
Graduation Year: 2021 – I’m in a five-year program
High School Experience: Private Catholic school in Maryland with a graduating class of 58 students. There was a culture of going to college.
First Generation College Student: No
Extracurricular Activities: I’m in the Black Student Alliance (BSA) and a professional organization called the National Organization of Minority Architecture Students (NOMAS).
Did any of your extracurricular activities have a particularly big impact on your experience?
NOMAS especially has because it has given me a lot of help with my career coming out of school. BSA has allowed me to make a lot of the friends that I have here.
Can you describe your weekly coursework for your major?
A lot of our times goes towards studio, which is a semester long project and each semester the project is different. Along with studio, we have other classes that help with our project in studio or allow us to learn technical architecture stuff. Projects are generally our major graded assignments.
Is there anything you feel your major’s department does especially well or especially poorly?
We have a lot of access to materials and equipment. The resources we have are really good.
How would you describe the learning environment? Do you think it’s competitive or collaborative?
People in the Architecture School are able to help you out a lot if you have a question. We have an established mentorship program, so even though it’s a competitive school people are here for each other.
How accessible are your professors?
Because it’s a small school, there is a personal relationship with our professors. We get one-on-one critiques of our work and stuff like that. That’s definitely helpful with learning more. [In the Fall of 2018, there were 302 students in the Architecture School, making up about 4% of the undergraduate population.]
What has been your favorite class in your major?
Materials and Design. I got a lot of hands on experience in the studio and learned a lot about materiality, and how buildings work in terms of stress and structures.
Why did you choose your major? Are you happy with your choice?
I had a lot of interest in high school, including interior design – I love things like HGTV – and I have a passion for film and photography. Looking down the line, I felt that Architecture had a combination of all those things. Now, I’m really happy with my choice and I’m glad I made it.
On and Around Campus
Where have you lived on campus?
First Year: North Hall with one person
Second Year: Stackwyck with three other people.
Third Year: I’m in an apartment in a multi-family house. There are three apartments in the house. I live with three other people.
How was transitioning from Maryland to Troy, NY in terms of location?
The terrain is different because here it is really hilly. But, the vibe of the local businesses around the area remind me a lot of where I come from, so it wasn’t that weird of a transition. Also, because I went to a really small high school made it easy to transition to another small school [in the Architecture School] so it wasn’t that hard to fit in here.
Can you describe the level of safety you’ve experienced on and around campus?
There are a lot of outlets for safety here. We have public safety, of course, and we also have a Safe Ride service where you can call them if you need a ride home. Also, when there is any sort of incident on campus you get a text about it. I feel pretty safe.
Pros and cons of being in Troy, NY?
1) The local businesses. Each business has a sense of originality and you can discover new things here.
1) Sometimes you can be trapped in Troy if you don’t have a car. If you need to go to Home Depot, it’s about a 15-minute drive, so if you don’t have a car you’re stuck on campus.
What kind of weekend activities or nightlife do you like to participate in?
Every Saturday there’s the Troy Farmer’s Market which is really nice and cute, especially in the spring and summer times. In terms of nightlife, it’s mostly on campus and I go to fraternity parties. Parties happen on Tuesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays depending on where it is in the semester. Like, there won’t be any parties around finals or midterms.
What is the impact of Greek life on nightlife?
For the students who are under the age of 21, it’s pretty much the only option. My freshman year I went to a lot of different fraternities, including the historically Black and multicultural fraternities, to see which ones I liked. Now, I go to parties that are hosted by the historically Black fraternity and also another multicultural fraternity, Phi Iota Alpha, which is a Latino fraternity.
Just because this campus is a predominantly White institution, there is only one historically Black fraternity, Alpha Phi Alpha. Normally at other campuses the Divine Nine fraternities have a bigger presence, so sometimes I feel like a lot of the minorities here on campus are left to go to all the other fraternities instead of Alpha Phi Alpha or Phi Iota Alpha [because they can’t host everything every weekend].
How happy are you with the weekend options at RPI? Is there anything you would change about them if you could?
I’m half-happy. I think the school could throw more events for the students, or if they do throw events they are not seen or heard about. There are certain groups of students voices who are not that listened to about the weekend options. A lot of students venture out to UAlbany to have a good time because what they are looking for isn’t at RPI.
How did you meet your closest friends?
Through my major and through the Black Student Alliance.
How would you describe the overall social scene at RPI?
People who I’ve talked to outside of the Architecture major are pretty awkward. I think that just has to do with math and engineering focus and the general nerdiness of the campus, but that’s fine.
How is being a woman on a campus that has a strong male majority? [About 68% of students are men.]
I don’t think I really notice it because I spend a lot of my time in the architecture building and a lot of the architecture students here are female. Also, I don’t really notice it because there are not a lot of dating options here for me because the guys here just aren’t my type.
To what extent do you think people of different races and sexual orientations mix socially?
In terms of different sexual orientations, people mix perfectly fine. But, in terms of different races, people like to stick with their group. [The undergraduate population is 4% Black, 14% Asian, 9% Hispanic, and 51% White.]
How would you describe the Black community at RPI? How strong is it?
The Black community is becoming stronger every year. This past two years there have been more Black students on campus, especially in the Architecture school. In terms of having a social impact on the campus as a whole, we kind of struggle with it in terms of having our issues heard. We are starting to have more multicultural people on the Union executive board, but in the past it wasn’t that way, so if you don’t have people who look like you representing you, it’s hard to get things done that are in your favor. [Since 2013, the number of Black/African-American students has increased by over 100%.]
To what extent do people in Greek life and not in Greek life mix socially?
They mix a lot. I see my friends who are in Greek life all the time and they have no problem hanging out with people outside of their frat or sorority.
How do you like the size of RPI in terms of undergraduate enrollment? [RPI has about 6,600 undergraduate students.]
When I came here it made me feel comfortable because I come from a small school, so it felt right at home for me. Lately, they’ve started taking more and more students and that’s caused some problems with students being able to find housing. The number of undergraduate students has increased from 5,557 in 2014 to 6,590 in 2018.]
Has the alumni network helped you find internships or jobs?
I’ve used resources from the NOMAS chapter for building relationships with alumni and trying to get myself out there. For example, NOMAS has a conference every year that we go to. It’s a great opportunity for us to market ourselves.
What have you used the career office for? How helpful are they?
I haven’t used the career office.
Have you learned any computer programs that have been or will be helpful professionally?
I’ve learned the Adobe Suite, AutoCAD, Rhino 6, and Rhino 6 has different plugins like Grasshopper, Ladybug, and Diva. I’m going to start learning Revit which is a big program for architecture firms to use.
Have you used financial aid? If so, how accommodating was the office to your needs?
I got a scholarship to come here and I haven’t had any problems with financial aid.
Advice for Prospective Freshmen
What is something that you wish you knew about RPI before you entered as a freshman?
I wish I knew the steps it took to be an architect. I could have been a Civil Engineering major for my undergraduate degree and then done a Co-Term in Architecture and still would have been able to be an architect. I wish I knew that.
What is something a prospective student of color may want to know about RPI that we haven’t touched on?
There are definitely organizations and resources in place to help those students. The minority students on campus, even though a small portion, are a strong force on campus.
What is something that a prospective student may miss on a visit that’s worth checking out?
Reasons to attend RPI:
1) The education. There’s a history there with it being the first polytechnic institute.
2) The professors are phenomenal, especially in the Architecture school.
3) The kind of care they have for freshmen. They have different activities that kept me here.
Reasons to not attend RPI:
1) If you’re a minority on campus, there are times when you could feel uncomfortable where people might be uncultured or say things out of pocket. [The undergraduate population is 4% Black, 14% Asian, 9% Hispanic, and 51% White.]