An Interview On
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Background

Interview Date:March 2019

Gender Identity: Male
Race/Ethnicity: White
Sexual Orientation: Heterosexual
Graduation Year: 2019
High School Experience: Public high school in central Florida with an IB program with about 100 students in the IB program with the overall graduating class of about 500 students. There definitely was a culture of going to college in the IB program.
First Generation College Student: No
Major: Materials Engineering
Minor: Business
Extracurricular Activities: I’m part of the Outing Club.

What impact did the Outing Club have on your experience?
It’s a good way to meet upperclassmen and other students, as well as any other club at RPI. They’re all very open and have a good mix of upperclassmen.

Academic Experience

Can you describe your weekly coursework for your major?
Generally, I take two Materials Engineering courses and two other courses that I want to take per semester. It’s very controllable how you want to make your schedule especially if you are transferring in credits. For my Materials Engineering courses, I didn’t have much weekly homework, it was just quizzes, exams, or projects. It is up to you to keep up with your work on a week to week basis.

Is there anything you feel your major’s department does especially well or especially poorly?
You get to know the professors really well in the department. You’ll know all of them by name and most of them will know who you are and if you have any problems you’ll be able to go to them and address them personally.

How would you describe the learning environment? Do you think it’s competitive or collaborative?
It’s very collaborative. Most people will form a group and work with that group. There’s almost no competition.

How accessible have the professors in your department been?
They’re very accessible for the most part. A lot of them have their doors open so you can just go in whenever and talk to them.

What has been your favorite class you’ve taken for your major?
The synthesis and processing class you take your senior year is a really great class because it wraps up what you’ve taken so far and lets you put together all the information you’ve learned and do something actually meaningful.

Why did you choose your major? Are you happy with your choice?
It’s something I’ve been interested in for a while. I took some elementary courses in it in high school and that’s how I knew that I liked it.

On and Around Campus

Where have you lived on campus?
Freshman: Hall Hall in a single.

Sophomore: Sharp Hall with six students sharing one apartment and a common living room and bathroom.

Junior & Senior: Moved to an apartment with one roommate off-campus. It was actually cheaper than living on campus.

How was transitioning from Florida to Troy, NY in terms of location?
It’s not bad, you get used to it. The only difference is the winter. I didn’t find the transition very difficult.

Can you describe the level of safety you’ve experienced on and around campus?
Troy’s definitely not the safest area, but if you use common sense you’ll be fine. Just don’t go wandering around off-campus at night. Recently there have been some incidents, like there was a stabbing last week, so you just have to be aware of your surroundings.

Pros and Cons of being in Troy, NY?
Pros:
1) It’s pretty much just the school here so you’re not going to get distracted too much.
2) Downtown has a nice shopping area. There are several small restaurants and shops you can go hang out at.
3) You’re not too far from Albany and Saratoga Springs, so you’re in the middle of some cool areas.

Cons:
1) Safety. [The violent crime rate in Troy is 85% higher than the national average and the property crime rate is 48% higher than the national average.]
2) The cost of living is higher than it should be because people take advantage of the college being there. Rent is much higher within walking distance of the college, but if you have a car and don’t mind driving 10-minutes you can get a much better value.

Social Opportunities

What kind of weekend activities or nightlife do you like to participate in?
I really like to go places with friends over the weekend. We’re only about two hours from Boston, New York City, and Hartford, so there are a lot of places you can go to for weekend trips that are really accessible. You can also take Amtrak or buses to a lot of places. I personally really like going to Boston because it’s not too bad of a drive and there are a lot of fun things to do there. Also, Airbnb’s are really accessible so if you go with some friends you don’t have to spend too much.

What are some of the events you like to do on campus?
There are acapella concerts and movies that a club puts on, but I don’t really go to those. If I’m going to be on campus, I’m just hanging out with friends.

How happy are you with the weekend options at RPI? Is there anything you would change if you could?
I don’t think I would change anything. I think there’s something for everyone no matter what you’re looking for. I personally just like to hang out off campus and travel, and that is available to me.

Campus Culture

How did you meet your closest friends?
My freshman dorm and then also being in classes with them.

How would you describe the overall social scene at RPI?
A lot of people form their own groups and stay within those groups. Once you find friends, it’s pretty good. Freshman year everybody’s very friendly with each other. Like, RPI has a large international community and a lot of the international students will stick together, and then each major will form their own friend group. Those groups will then also mix through their clubs and people will form friend groups through those too. [About 15% of undergraduates are international students.]

To what extent do you think people of different races and sexual orientations mix socially?
I think we mix fine. It’s not really a topic that’s an issue on campus.

How has going to a school with such a small population of females impacted your experience? [About 31% of students are female.]
I don’t think it’s actually too much of an issue. If you’re looking for a girlfriend, it’s accessible. I think that ratio is skewed by international students because they’re mostly male and tend to hang out together. It doesn’t feel like there is that small of a population when you’re here.

How would you describe the student body?
Overall, I think the student body is pretty upset with the school and has a very negative opinion of RPI right now. There three main topics of issue with the students right now. There is The Arch, which is being forced upon the students. Over a longer period of time, the Union takeover by the school has been a really big issue. The Union used to be completely student run but the school has added administrators to be in charge of it and has taken power away from the students. We’ve had several protests on campus. RPI recently was ranked one of the worst schools for student free speech by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. [See Times Union article, “RPI students lament ‘culture of fear’ as protestors face judicial action” and article, “RPI starts mandatory summer session for students.” See RenewRensselaer.org, a website started by alumni concerned over the changes happening at RPI and the direction they feel it is going in. Also see SaveTheUnion.xyz, a website dedicated to stopping the changes happening with the Union.]

How have these issues affected the mood on campus?
The overall mood on the campus is definitely dampened. People will put up posters with their feelings about the Union and they are taken down. I think everybody just feels that the administration doesn’t listen to them and spend money to bring more revenue to the school. There’s just a lack of transparency with a lot of what’s happening on campus. They’ll make decisions and the students have no idea when it was in the process of happening. Like, the Summer Arch program they just announced and not many students knew about it before it was already implemented.

How do you like the size of RPI in terms of undergraduate enrollment? How has that impacted your experience?
I liked it when I was a freshman but recently it’s been overcrowded. The school doesn’t have enough resources for the current number of students they’re bringing in every year. The classrooms are completely full and I’ve had classes where students have to sit on the floor or there are broken desks and people have to write on their laps. [The number of undergraduate students has increased from 5,557 in 2014 to 6,590 in 2018.]

Careers

Has the alumni network helped you find internships or jobs?
Not really. I just found it through talking to recruiters myself.

What have you used the career office for? How helpful are they?
I think they’re pretty useless. A lot of students and I think they’re out of touch with what recruiters in certain industries are looking for. I’ve also gotten contradictory information from different counselors.

Have you learned any computer programs that have been or will be helpful professionally?
I’ve become very familiar to Excel and that’s pretty much it. I was required to take an introductory level Computer Science course and that taught me MatLab, which I haven’t used much since.

Financial Aid

Have you used financial aid? If so, how accommodating was the office to your needs?
I used them when I was first applying and they gave me the package of what I was awarded and I haven’t worked with them since.

Advice for Prospective Freshmen

What is something you wish you knew about RPI before you entered as a freshman?
I wish I knew what their long-term plans were because when I came here I thought it was going to stay relatively the same school that I saw in high school, but it’s changed drastically over the past four years. I had no idea the school was aiming to expand and add more students, but that’s what they’ve done. [The number of undergraduate students has increased from 5,557 in 2014 to 6,590 in 2018.]

What is something that a prospective student interested in Materials Engineering may want to know that we haven’t touched on?
A lot of the equipment and facilities they have on campus are become really out of date. If you’re looking to go into science or engineering, there are a lot of other places that are more on the cutting edge. Also, a lot of the stuff that they have at RPI that is really up to date isn’t’ available to undergraduate students.

What is something a prospective student may miss on a visit that’s worth checking out?
Definitely check out the RPI Reddit page and post there to see what students are saying and what the students are feeling. Also, check out the Renew Rensselaer page.

Reasons to attend RPI:
1) You’ll meet an interesting mix of students here from very different backgrounds. There’s everyone from international students to ROTC students to people who are from the New York area. It’s a very diverse community.
2) If you’re in a smaller department, you’ll be able to get to know your professors really well. If you’re in a bigger department, you’ll get a lot of interesting professors from different backgrounds.
3) There are a lot of clubs at RPI that are open to undergraduate students. It’s cool to see how many options you have coming in as a freshman.

Reasons to not attend RPI:
1) The administration is one of the biggest problems on campus and there’s a very negative perception of them on campus from the students.
2) The value of RPI, in comparison to a public university, is not as worth it because I don’t think you’re getting all that much in return for how much more you’re paying, especially considering the facilities on campus aren’t very good. There’s a lot of things you see that should be fixed, like, sometimes our WiFi doesn’t work or the projectors don’t work. [Total costs of RPI in 2019-2020 is $73,816.]
3) Most of the curriculum is more focused on science than engineering in my opinion. You have a lot more lecture-based classes than hands-on engineering. Both other students I talk to and I think it’s outdated, especially because the older students I’ve spoken with who now work in the industry say that most of what they’ve learned at RPI is nothing like what they experience now.

Notice: Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute is a trademark. Induck uses it for descriptive purposes, not to imply affiliation with, endorsement from, or sponsorship by Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

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