Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
BackgroundInterview Date:May 2019
Gender Identity: Female
Race/Ethnicity: Biracial: White and Pacific Islander
Sexual Orientation: Heterosexual
Graduation Year: 2022 – I’m in a five-year program
High School Experience: Private school in New Jersey with a graduating class of about 46 students. There was not a strong culture of going to college, only about 4 or 5 people in my class ended up going to four-year institutions.
First Generation College Student: Yes
Extracurricular Activities: I [have a leadership position in] National Organization of Minority Architecture Students (NOMAS) and I’m part of a co-ed acapella group.
Did any of your extracurricular activities have a particularly big impact on your experience?
Acapella, like most non-academic clubs, is really great. It’s a really nice escape from classwork. I also met a lot of people I wouldn’t have met otherwise in different majors, which is a really invaluable experience. NOMAS is also really great because it gives me the opportunity to have a leadership position within my school and be able to make changes. They’re both really nice to have aside from just regular classes.
Can you describe your weekly coursework for your major?
Architecture is unique in that there are rarely exams, even for the final. For example, this semester I took five Architecture classes and I only had one exam. Everything is really project-based. Studios are your biggest classes and the most demanding in terms of hours because you spend them working on whatever project that is. Then, a lot of your other architecture courses pertain to what you’re doing in studio, so some of your finals might involve working on your studio project. Most projects are ongoing so you aren’t turning in assignments on a week to week basis, it’s very linear.
Is there anything you feel your major’s department does especially well or especially poorly?
The Architecture School community is very closed off, so many people that I know in school don’t know any other people in other majors. It’s nice that it fosters a very tight-knit community, but at the same time, it limits the opportunities to meet people in different majors because you rarely have classes that are with other majors and your workload doesn’t those of other majors. The workload prevents you from making friends outside of the major. I think that can be one of the main pitfalls but, at the same time, it’s a nice advantage having that community.
How would you describe the learning environment? Do you think it’s competitive or collaborative?
Most of the classes you have end up being team-based, so a lot of classes have a lot of collaboration and you learn things for the first time with your peers. That gives you a different experience and probably makes you learn more. At the same time, it can be very competitive, especially with studio where it’s the main class you take and it’s a very different atmosphere. At the end of the semester, there are award ceremonies for people that professors may have found particularly special or gifted and then those people are praised, so there is a lot of competitiveness in the studio classes.
How accessible are your professors?
It widely varies. There is one professor who doesn’t email his students directly and has his secretary do it, but then there are other professors who are in the Greene Building, which is our architecture building, most hours and you can even text them and they’ll come to speak with you. I think it’s about a 50/50 split from accessible to not accessible.
Why did you choose your major? Are you happy with your choice?
I really love design and I’m very passionate about being able to apply design to the real world, so even though the fine arts are really great, I’d like to see what I love being applied to the real world. I want to be an urban planner at the end of my studies, so I’ll probably go to graduate school, and I want to design housing for economically disadvantaged families and communities. I’m definitely happy with my choice.
How was transitioning academically as a first-generation college student? Were there any systems in place that helped you adapt?
As a first-generation student, I didn’t personally experience that much outside help with college. Because of my major, I did have a lot of friends who were going through a very similar struggle with the vigor of the course load, so the camaraderie that is inherent with my program was very helpful. We were all going through a similar struggle, so I didn’t get any specific support because of being first-generation, but it was helpful to be a part of.
What kind of weekend activities or nightlife do you like to participate in?
I tend to go to Greek life parties. RPI doesn’t have a lot of them, but when there is a party it’s fun to go to. There are also a lot of performances available at EMPAC. Being part of an acapella group, I perform a lot. There are also a good number of restaurants to choose from in downtown Troy.
What nights of the week do you regularly go out?
Being an Architecture major, I rarely go out during the week. I just go out Fridays and Saturdays. If there is a party and I do have enough work finished, I would go to a party on Friday and then Saturday might be a more chill night where I just hang out with friends.
What is the impact of Greek life on nightlife?
I have a lot of friends in different fraternities and sororities so I hear a lot about what’s happening in Greek life. The impact of Greek life is pretty nice because a lot of RPI students might not have that much happening outside of their academics or maybe haven’t even been to parties before coming to school, and that is an important part of most college experiences. Lately, the parameters put around Greek life have been detrimental for socialization, especially for the incoming class where, again, there might be people who have never been to a party and would benefit from that socialization and find communities where they make friends and flourish. Like, some of my friends are better off because they’re in a sorority or fraternity that makes them very happy and strengthens their sense of self and identity. I would say that the steps being taken towards the negative parts of Greek life have been pretty rough and should have been handled better.
How happy are you with the weekend options at RPI? Is there anything you would change about them if you could?
Parties are a big part of my weekend, so if I were to change anything, it would probably have to do with the Greek Task Force. They should come up with a different way of disciplining certain Greek life organizations for misconduct because it really affects the social aspects of the school. I’d like them to have it so parties can still go on but in a safe way. Because of the Task Force, more parties have to be underground and then there are more opportunities for misconduct to happen and room for people not feeling safe.
How did you meet your closest friends?
I think most people would agree that the friends you make the first semester of your first year are not the ones you end up sticking with. All of my friends up until last semester were all Architecture majors and then I joined my acapella group which allowed me to meet people in different majors and be exposed to a different environment, which is really nice. The clubs definitely helped me meet people outside of my major. Overall, my friends come from my clubs and my major.
How would you describe the overall social scene at RPI?
It’s definitely different than most colleges because we are a STEM school so the social scene is very minor and definitely not a priority. If you’re coming to this school, it’s mostly academics first. The social life is definitely lacking within Greek life, clubs, and the other ways the university tries to foster a community and have people socialize.
To what extent do you think people of different races and sexual orientations mix socially?
I would say a lot. There is a lot of diversity in a lot of organizations and social life, more so than many places in the United States you might go, which is really nice. The mixing within clubs, organizations, and friend groups could be better, but, in general, it’s pretty good. Then the LGBT community – as well as other racial communities – does a good job of having people that are represented and having groups where people of the community can have a community for support and for them to bond with. [The undergraduate population is 4% Black, 14% Asian, 9% Hispanic, and 51% White.]
How would you describe the student body?
The first word that comes to my head is intellectual. Everyone at RPI is very intelligent, driven, and ambitious individuals. I would emphasize “individual” because most people at RPI are very independent and not so much followers
To what extent do people in Greek life and not in Greek life mix socially?
I would say pretty well. I know a lot of people in Greek life who have a lot of friends who are not, as well as people in Greek life that are very close to the people in their organization, so I think that there’s a pretty good overlap.
If at all, how did being a first-generation college student affect your social transition?
I don’t think it affected me that much. It’s a very different experience being a first-generation Caucasian as opposed to somebody who might be from a minority demographic. Being White, most of the times things are much more seamless and the transition as a first-generation student wasn’t that different. Nobody really asks you that either, so that’s nice.
How would you describe the Pacific Islander community? How strong is it?
My father is a native Hawaiian and I do have a part of my identity that are Hawaiian which means a lot to me. However, on campus, there is not much going on for that. There is a lot of diversity, but there are not many Pacific Islanders or Native Hawaiians. The Philippine American League, which is a club for people that are either Filipino or appreciate Filipino culture is really strong and that’s a great community. I know there are a lot of people who are Hawaiian that are part of that. Specifically for Hawaiians, there is not that much.
Has the alumni network helped you find internships or jobs?
No, but I could have a different experience with that because the Architecture department is very isolated and a lot of the things we do is different from what the rest of the school does.
What have you used the career office for? How helpful are they?
I haven’t really used them. I was planning on trying to work with them to figure out what the Summer Arch and Semester Away will end up being like.
How do you feel about the Summer Arch program?
I’m not in the minority in this, but I feel like it potentially could be a really helpful program and give a lot of opportunities for people but the execution isn’t there. As an Architecture student, I’ll do the program next summer. Maybe it will have a lot of opportunities further down the line to be helpful, but at this point, I think it’s probably a waste of time.
Have you learned any computer programs that have been or will be helpful professionally?
RPI is definitely very tech-heavy, so the very first day of class you start working on Rhino, which is a 3D program for modeling. Although it is not super common in most firms you’ll work in after school, it’s is pretty similar to Revit and AutoCAD. It’s definitely helpful in that you’re already familiar with modeling on a computer in general, but it will likely not be what you’re using after you graduate.
Have you used financial aid? If so, how accommodating was the office to your needs?
I wouldn’t be at RPI if I didn’t get a decent amount of financial aid. After the fact, they’re not that helpful. They’re pretty unreachable and it can be convoluted to try to navigate the system itself and the people within the department. For example, I used to apply for work-study and then they told me there wasn’t enough money in their budget for me to have a job on campus as a work-study. I then tried to reach them in multiple different ways and different methods and they wouldn’t get back to me. When they eventually did they would just redirect me to a different outlet.
Advice for Prospective Freshmen
What is something that you wish you knew about RPI before you entered as a freshman?
I think any Architecture major would say the same. No one will tell you the amount work you have to do. People will tell you that you have a lot to do, but you will never understand the magnitude of it. I wish I was prepared somehow for that, maybe just mentally and emotionally, or maybe I would have just started drinking coffee sooner. The amount of work is something you’ll be blindsided with when you start.
What is something that a prospective student may miss on a visit that’s worth checking out?
The EMPAC. I feel like a lot of people I meet who aren’t Architecture majors don’t know much about it. It’s a really beautiful building that has a lot of interesting free events that happen. It’s really nice that you always have the opportunity to go to a show for free on campus.
Reasons to attend RPI:
1) The networking and different opportunities you have both locally and internationally. It is a big name and a lot of companies know of RPI. It’s prestigious, so that will help with job opportunities.
2) The education I have received for Architecture is really quality. Generally, I think people have an educational experience that is unique.
3) Although the school is 31% women, the School of Architecture actually has a female majority.
Reasons to not attend RPI:
1) If finances are an issue for someone, don’t come because of the hefty sticker price of the school. [For 2019-2020, total costs are $73,816.]
2) At least at the moment, the administration doesn’t really work for the students. Everything seems very donor-based and monetarily charged. There’s not a lot of change happening on campus that seems to be focused on benefitting the students. [See RenewRensselaer.org, a website started by alumni concerned over the changes happening at RPI and the direction they feel the school is going in.]
3) A downfall is that it’s so heavily male. [About 69% of students are male.]