Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
BackgroundInterview Date:April 2019
Gender Identity: Male
Sexual Orientation: Heterosexual
Graduation Year: 2020
High School Experience: Public school in New York City with a graduating class of about 250 students. There was a culture of going to college.
First Generation College Student: Yes
Majors: Information Technology and Science and Technology Studies double major
Extracurricular Activities: I’m in a fraternity, I’m on the IFC Student Government, and I work for the student newspaper.
Did any of your extracurricular activities have a particularly big impact on your experience?
My fraternity was definitely the biggest impact on my experience here. It was what got me to want to be involved in student government and some philanthropy and community service events on campus. It also made me want to get involved in the student newspaper so I could report on things going on on-campus. Also, it’s been a great support network.
Can you describe your weekly coursework for your majors?
It really depends. For my Information Technology major, it’s a lot of projects and tests. They will tell you that we have a certain problem and we have to program something that solves it. Typically, it’s very tedious and difficult. You also have to take a lot of math and science courses outside of your major, as well as humanities courses, so it’s a little bit of everything. The math courses vary from some having problem sets that you submit online and some just have exams.
Is there anything you feel your majors’ departments do especially well or especially poorly?
They’re both smaller majors, which I think is really cool because I get a lot of individual attention. They’re both interdisciplinary, so I’ve been able to take business courses, law courses, and I’m also able to take a lot of computer science and engineering courses. It’s great because the school has a lot of different offerings in both tech and humanities and I’ve been able to take advantage of both sides.
How would you describe the learning environment? Do you think it’s competitive or collaborative?
It’s very competitive and collaborative, which is kind of weird. The workload is very difficult and that’s the reason people collaborative. There are also a lot of group projects. It’s very hard work, it’s not competitive in terms of competing with other people.
How accessible are your professors?
It really depends. In the intro courses like Calculus 1 or biology, I’ve found the professors are less accessible. Typically, you’ll get help from your TA’s in those courses. Once you finish your first year, your professors are very accessible.
What has been your favorite classes in your majors?
For Information Technology, it was Data Resource Management. We did data analytics for research purposes and helping solve business problems. The professor owned a few companies so he was able to give his perspective from the field, which was really cool.
For Science and Technology Studies, it was Laws, Values, and Public Policy. We did a lot of legal briefs for the course and I needed to write a 20-page reflection on a Supreme Court case. I thought it was really cool to learn about how law applies to the things I’m learning about.
How was transitioning academically as a first-generation college student? Are there systems in place that help you transition?
My fraternity was the biggest one, but the advisers are also great. There’s also a tutoring center called ALAC that provides tutoring services to everyone. My fraternity was helpful because the older guys were able to help me with picking classes [and navigating the school]. Also, we do study hours and there’s an incentive where you can get a better room if you study more in the house.
Why did you choose your combination of majors? Are you happy with your choice?
I started in Computer Engineering and was working on hardware, but then I learned that I like software more. I like software in terms of applying it to business problems, so I thought that Information Technology was a good mix of computer science and business. I also like the humanities and law a lot, so Science and Technology Studies offers a lot of courses in law, policy, the environment, and things like that. It was only going to be two or three extra courses and I took them for my humanities requirements and it ended up working out that I liked it. I just added it on for fun.
On and Around Campus
Where have you lived on campus?
Freshman: Quadrangle Dormitory with one roommate. It was a pretty big dorm.
Sophomore: In the fraternity house with one roommate.
Junior: In the fraternity house in a single.
How was transitioning from New York City to Troy, NY in terms of location?
Troy is kind of a mix between suburban and urban. It’s an urban city with not a lot of people, so I really like that you can walk anywhere and there are a lot of different shops and restaurants and there is an art scene. It’s also in New York, so I found it very easy to transition.
Can you describe the level of safety you’ve experienced on and around campus?
The campus is very safe. There is the Blue Light System, we have cameras and public safety is good. It gets bad when you go to downtown Troy. There are certain parts of Troy that are pretty sketchy. You probably won’t end up there, but if you do they are sketchy.
Pros and Cons of being in Troy, NY?
1) There is an art scene. Like, there are tech startups, nifty boutique shops, and a farmer’s market.
2) We’re near Vermont but also kind of a small city.
3) We’re near Albany. [Troy to Albany is about a 15-minute drive.]
1) The main con is it’s very cold. Sometimes during the winter, you don’t know what to do outside of campus because it’s so cold.
What kind of weekend activities or nightlife do you like to participate in?
If you don’t join a fraternity, there is not much of a nightlife if you’re not 21. But, if you’re 21 there are a lot of bars. Fraternities and sororities also do mixers together and clubs do a lot of things during the weekend. Usually, mixers are Friday or Saturday nights and people will do things within their own houses and organizations on Tuesday nights because it’s common to not have class on Wednesday.
How exclusive are the fraternities on campus?
It used to be very open, but the school’s been cracking down on Greek life so now everything stays within the organization and who they’re friends with. Like, if I want to bring a friend who’s not in the fraternity it’s fine, but the parties aren’t public. We’re also a dry campus now so that changes things.
What’s an alternative to going to a party or a bar that you like for a night out?
Just chilling with friends in a room. People do things in their dorms a lot. A lot of people play video games, join clubs, and do volunteer work. Most people are very busy studying so they will do that too.
How did you meet your closest friends?
Through the fraternity.
How would you describe the overall social scene at RPI?
I don’t want to call it dead, but it’s not great. It’s very underground. You become very close with either your fraternity or sorority or group of friends, but outside of that, there is not that much mixing going on, unfortunately.
To what extent do you think people of different races and sexual orientations mix socially?
A lot. I don’t think that’s much of a concern here because RPI’s a pretty liberal school. It’s not a big deal for people to have friends who are of different races and sexual orientations. [The undergraduate population is 4% Black, 14% Asian, 9% Hispanic, and 51% White.]
How would you describe the student body?
It’s nerdy, geeky, but there’s definitely more of a community around being nerdy. It’s not weird to be nerdy here. It used to be more of a study hard party hard scene, but that’s kind of died.
To what extent do people in Greek life and not in Greek life mix socially?
Not as much as it used to be. I talk to people in my classes, of course, but typically, people in Greek life don’t mix a lot with people not in Greek life unless they’re in organizations or clubs together.
How do you like the size of RPI in terms of undergraduate enrollment? [RPI has about 6,600 undergraduate students.]
It’s a very good size, it’s not too big or too small. You’ll walk around the campus and see people you know all the time but you also won’t be overwhelmed. It’s not so small that you [feel claustrophobic].
Do you think people are happy with their choice of RPI by the time they graduate?
Generally, I don’t think people are happy about going here because of the whole social scene. Academically, it’s a great school. People usually come out of here making a lot of money. But socially, people are not happy with the social life they have here. [For the Class of 2018, 80% of students seeking employment secured jobs within six months of graduation. The average salary for Bachelors students was about $71,000.]
If at all, how has being a first-generation student impacted your social transition?
For me, I don’t feel like it hasn’t impacted me too much. It’s weird for me because I grew up with a lot of family in the house and my culture is very close to me. Some people didn’t understand why I acted certain ways, did certain things, or that I was religious because most students that go here are kind of atheist and very Americanized. There were some people who vibed with me but there were also a lot of people who didn’t get it.
What have you used the career office for? How helpful were they?
I took a semester off and worked at a tech company on a co-op [internship]. They helped me with that process and allowed me to take off a semester, plan my courses when I got back, enroll in classes, and do financial aid stuff when I got back. But, in terms of actually getting a job, they didn’t help that much.
Have you learned any computer programs that have been or will be helpful professionally?
I’ve learned a crazy amount. C++ is a big one. I’ve learned Python, Java, Sequel, HTML, PHP, R, there’s a bunch of stuff. I haven’t done much Excel because pretty much only in the business classes do you work with that.
Have you used financial aid? If so, how accommodating was the office to your needs?
They’re really great. I’ve heard about some people having a negative experience but they’ve been very easy with me.
Advice for Prospective Freshmen
What is something that you wish you knew about RPI before you entered as a freshman?
I knew there was a gender ratio and that the school didn’t have a lot of girls, but I didn’t know how it would impact my social life coming in. It makes it harder to date and stuff like that. It’s not that bad, I can still meet girls, but it’s definitely easier elsewhere. There are great girls here, but you can’t be really picky as a guy.
What is something that a prospective student may miss on a visit that’s worth checking out?
It’s been getting better lately, but the administration likes to have a lot of control over student life. When I came here, the Student Union and Greek life were entirely run by students, but now that I’m a junior, the Union is no longer run by students entirely and the control of Greek life is going to the school. If anything, RPI is becoming more like any other school, but I think that was something special that we had and now I think it’s kind of upsetting. Because of that, RPI students have protested a lot and there is a lot of solidarity from that.
Reasons to attend RPI:
1) Great education, great jobs, and great graduate schools. RPI also has a great grad school and you can go there too.
2) I think you come out of RPI as a more competitive job applicant. When I worked as an intern, the other interns didn’t know as much as me off the bat and the employers were impressed.
3) We still have a great, very strong Greek system. [30% of men are in fraternities, and 16% of women are in sororities.]
4) There’s a lot to do on campus, there are a lot of nerds, and Troy is a great area for outdoor activities.
Reasons to not attend RPI:
1) If you don’t like the cold, that’s a great reason to not go here. It snows a lot and it’s very cold.
2) If you want a campus that has a lot more parties, this isn’t a great place. You’ll have fun here, but it’s not going to be a party experience.
3) The school has a good humanities program, but there aren’t as many traditional humanities offerings. The offerings for humanities are good, but they are not as good as other schools.