An Interview On
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Background

Interview Date:March 2019

Gender Identity: Male
Race/Ethnicity: Hispanic
Sexual Orientation: Heterosexual
Graduation Year: 2019
High School Experience: Private school in Fort Worth, Texas with a graduating class of about 350 students. There was a culture of going to college.
First Generation College Student: Yes
Major: Architecture
Minor: None
Extracurricular Activities: I’m part of Greek life, I participate in RPI’s Photography Club, and the School of Architecture’s National Organization of Minority Architecture Students (NOMAS).

Did any of your extracurricular activities have a particularly big impact on your experience?
I’d say Greek life has had a larger impact than the other clubs. Photography is something I do on the side. I don’t do a lot for NOMAS, which only meets so often. I originally wasn’t interested in Greek life due to my preconceived notions of what it would be like. Then, I started rushing because I was bored during my initial few weeks, and got to know and became friends with the brothers at my current fraternity. I knew if it was something I didn’t like I could drop it.

Academic Experience

Can you describe your weekly coursework for your Architecture major?
Initially, you’re taking a lot of classes with the majority of the student body, like calculus and physics, but very quickly it shifts to all architecture students. You’ll spend the majority of your time in the Greene building. Your biggest time commitment each semester is your studio class, whatever it is. You start off with Architecture Studio 1, which is a five-credit course that meets three times a week. For that, you have drawing assignments with feedback from the professor.

Is there anything you feel your major’s department does especially well or especially poorly?
It does really well with your creative freedom. There are lots of opportunities to talk with professors, get to know them, and have you included in their research. You can do pretty much whatever you want with your studio projects, your professors are there to guide your ideas. The School of Architecture could be better in terms of professional development. It’s definitely getting better now, but earlier I didn’t have a lot of good luck with internships and would have liked them to have talked to us more about what we need to do to put ourselves out there.

How would you describe the learning environment? Do you think it’s competitive or collaborative?
It’s very collaborative. There’s an open studio, and your friends are usually always in the same room with you. You can also ask them for advice, and your professors are more than happy to help. It’s a great learning environment.

How accessible have the professors in your department been?
It depends. The professors in computer science or calculus have office hours, so I could go in or email them. For Architecture, my studio professors have a lot going on because a lot of them teach as a side job, so they don’t check their emails as frequently. They get back to you, but in two or three days opposed to a lot of the Architecture professors that get back to you within a day.

What was the process of getting involved in research?
It was really about being in the right places at the right time. My teacher was recently hired by the School of Architecture, and she didn’t have a lot of knowledge of other students. She messaged one of my friends asking him to be a TA for her, but he wasn’t available, so he asked if I was free. After being a TA for her, she was impressed with my work ethic so she asked me to come along and do research with her.

Why did you choose your major? Are you happy with your choice?
I’m very happy with my choice. Going into RPI initially, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. What made me pick it is my advisor at the time saying I should start architecture now if I’m interested in it because it’s easier to drop out of it than join later. I started doing it and fell in love with the work you output at the end, as opposed to being a math or engineer major where everything is test based. In architecture, you produce a model or drawing that you can really put your time into. You work for a product, not just a number.

How was transitioning academically as a first-generation college student? Are there systems in place that help you transition?
I was kind of thrown into the pool and had to swim. There were other programs when you’re a freshman, such as having a learning assistant. They are there to help you with study habits and such. You really have to reach out to them if you’re in trouble, and if you don’t and get put on academic probation, it’ll then be mandatory to reach out to them. I didn’t have much trouble transitioning.

On and Around Campus

Where have you lived on campus?
Year 1: Hall Hall with one roommate.

Years 2 and 3: In the fraternity house for two years.

Years 4 and 5: Moved to an apartment with one roommate then switched to an apartment with two roommates.

How was transitioning from Fort Worth, TX to Troy, NY in terms of location?
Fort Worth is very spread out. You have to drive everywhere, as opposed to living on a college campus where you’re pretty much walking everywhere you want to go. That was an interesting transition. The climate took a little bit to get adjusted to because I had never seen more than an inch or two of snow. Here, it really comes down, and even with 5 or 6 inches of snow, classes still aren’t canceled. That was really weird to me.

Can you describe the level of safety you’ve experienced on and around campus?
I’ve never felt particularly unsafe. I’ve seen bulletins go up from a person getting punched walking around downtown Troy, but I feel like you actively have to go out of your way to be in a situation where you feel unsafe.

Pros and Cons of being in Troy, NY?
Pros:
1) In the good areas of the city, people are really nice.
2) The city has a lot of history to it, and it’s interesting if you want to learn about it.
3) The city takes the initiative with things. Once a month there is Troy Night Out, where the students of RPI are invited to come to the city and explore. They have Chowder Fest and [Rockin’ On the River]. They have really good programs to get people outdoors and involved.

Cons:
1) There is no really good local supermarket to get groceries. Walmart is about a 20-minute drive.
2) The city has bad roads for driving.

Social Opportunities

What kind of weekend activities or nightlife do you like to participate in?
I think the city has a good selection of bars. My favorite bar in the city is a Biergarten. It’s a good environment, and it’s something to do. The RPI Hockey team is D1, and it’s pretty exciting to see them at some point, especially when we play our rivals.

What nights of the week do you regularly do things? Are there regular places you go or things you do on certain nights?
The school is in the middle of a transition out of the fraternity parties. Our whole Greek life system is being evaluated right now. The fraternity party scene has really died down since I was a freshman when every Friday and Saturday we’d go out. Lately, it’s been just me and a few of the older brothers going out to a bar Friday night, and then Saturday I would mainly stay in and hang out with friends because I don’t feel like going out two nights in a row. [30% of men are in fraternities, and 16% of women are in sororities.]

How happy are you with the nightlife? Is there anything you would change if you could?
I would like it if we could [party] openly with our fraternity again.

Campus Culture

How did you meet your closest friends?
I met most of my closest friends through the fraternity. I’m really close with my current roommates, and they are the year below me. I was already a brother when they came into the fraternity, and we just started hanging out because we had a very similar sense of humor.

How would you describe the overall social scene at RPI?
You really have to put yourself out there if you want to be social because there’s nobody who’s going to tell you to. If you’re a person who likes staying in your room, nobody is going to force you to go out.

To what extent do you think people of different races and sexual orientations mix socially?
I’d say it’s pretty mixed. As a minority, it’s not something I’ve particularly noticed, but I feel like I see people of mixed races hanging out. I never really ask about sexual orientation so I wouldn’t particularly know that, but I do have a few gay friends. [The undergraduate population is 4% Black, 14% Asian, 9% Hispanic, and 51% White.]

To what extent do people in Greek life and not in Greek life mix socially?
I would say we mix a lot more during rush because we have events for rushees and the general campus. We’d have an event that we call lobster fest, where we buy a bunch of lobsters and it’s open to everybody on campus, not just people that are rushing. We have our end of the year dog days where we bring in therapy dogs to our house and invite everyone to come during finals week to come to play with dogs because it’s a very stressful time. I’d say it’s mainly us opening our doors and inviting people in. We also mix with clubs, because we try to do philanthropy and social events.

How would you describe the Hispanic community on campus, and how strong is it?
It’s not really here, especially when compared to coming from Texas where thirty to forty percent of my high school was Hispanic. Here, I’ve spoken Spanish to five people, only one of them being Hispanic.

How do you like the size of RPI in terms of undergraduate enrollment?
I think it’s a good size. I’m talking mostly in relation to the School of Architecture because that’s where I’m most affiliated, but we have probably 50 or 60 people per class. I feel like that’s really good because you can talk to your professor as long as you want during class time. They’re never overwhelmed by how many people they have to talk to. [RPI has about 6,600 undergraduate students.]

Do you think people are happy with their choice of RPI by the time they graduate?
I wouldn’t say people leave loving RPI, I’d say people leave loving the community of RPI. There’s a lot of work in the school, and the administration is really at odds with the student body right now. [See RenewRensselaer.org, a website created by alumni concerned about changes happening at RPI.]

Careers

Have you learned any computer programs that have been or will be helpful professionally?
I’ve learned a lot of 3D modeling software like Rhino, a little bit of Revit, and the Adobe Creative Suite. I’ve also picked up Java and Python.

Financial Aid

Have you used financial aid? If so, how accommodating was the office to your needs?
It’s extremely helpful for me. I don’t come from a family of great means, so without them, I wouldn’t be able to graduate with my degree. They are really easy to contact. You can email them or walk down to the office, and they are responsive.

Advice for Prospective Freshmen

What is something that a prospective student may miss on a visit that’s worth checking out?
There’s this new place called Off-Campus Commons that not a lot of people know about right now. It’s a good study place that’s off the beaten path. A lot of my friends go there, and they find it very odd because not a lot of people know about it, so they like it better.

What is something that a prospective first-generation student may want to know that we haven’t touched on?
It’s a lot of schoolwork, but it’s not work that you will feel is useless. Everything you learn will help you in a future endeavor. All my friends who’ve gone through it have gone to get really good jobs and feel like they’re ahead of other students because of the work they’ve done at RPI.

Reasons to attend RPI:
1) You’ll meet a lot of people from different backgrounds.
2) There’s a lot of good research and career opportunities at RPI.

Reasons to not attend RPI:
1) The weather is pretty bad at certain points.

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