Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
|Motto||Knowledge and Thoroughness|
|Endowment||$676.5 million (FY2015)|
|President||Shirley Ann Jackson|
|Location||Troy, New York, U.S.
|Campus||Suburban, 265 acres (107 ha)|
|Colors||Cherry and white
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (//), or RPI, is a private research university located in Troy, New York, with two additional campuses in Hartford and Groton, Connecticut. It was founded in 1824 by Stephen van Rensselaer and Amos Eaton for the "application of science to the common purposes of life" and is described as the oldest technological university in the English-speaking world. Built on a hillside, RPI's 265-acre (107 ha) campus overlooks the city of Troy and the Hudson River and is a blend of traditional and modern architecture. The institute operates an on‑campus business incubator and the 1,250-acre (510 ha) Rensselaer Technology Park. Numerous American colleges or departments of applied sciences were modeled after Rensselaer. The university is one among a small group of polytechnic universities in the United States which tend to be primarily devoted to the instruction of technical arts and applied sciences.
Rensselaer is organized into six main schools within which there are thirty-seven departments: the School of Architecture; School of Engineering; School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences; School of Information Technology and Web Science; School of Science; and the Lally School of Management & Technology. The university offers around one hundred forty degree programs in sixty fields leading to bachelor's, master's, and doctorate degrees.
- 1 History
- 2 Campus
- 3 Academics
- 4 Research and development
- 5 Students
- 6 Athletics
- 7 Student life
- 8 Notable alumni
- 9 See also
- 10 References
- 11 Further reading
- 12 External links
Stephen van Rensselaer established the Rensselaer School on November 5, 1824 with a letter to the Rev. Dr. Samuel Blatchford, in which Van Rensselaer asked Blatchford to serve as the first president. Within the letter he set down several orders of business. He appointed Amos Eaton as the school's first senior professor and appointed the first board of trustees. The school opened on Monday, January 3, 1825, at the Old Bank Place, a building at the north end of Troy. Tuition was around $40 per semester (equivalent to $800 in 2012). The fact that the school attracted students from as far as Ohio and Pennsylvania is attributed to the reputation of Eaton. Fourteen months of successful trial led to the incorporation of the school on March 21, 1826, by the state of New York. In its early years, the Rensselaer School strongly resembled a graduate school more than it did a college, drawing graduates from many older institutions.
Under Eaton, the Rensselaer School, renamed the Rensselaer Institute in 1832, was a small but vibrant center for technological research. The first civil engineering degrees in the United States were granted by the school in 1835, and many of the best remembered civil engineers of that time graduated from the school. Important visiting scholars included Joseph Henry, who had previously studied under Amos Eaton, and Thomas Davenport, who sold the world's first working electric motor to the institute.
In 1847, alumnus Benjamin Franklin Greene became the new senior professor. Earlier he had done a thorough study of European technical schools to see how Rensselaer could be improved. In 1850 he reorganized the school into a three-year polytechnic institute with six technical schools. In 1861, the name was changed to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. A severe conflagration of May 10, 1862, known as "The Great Fire" destroyed more than 507 buildings in Troy and gutted 75 acres (300,000 m2) in the heart of the city. The "Infant School" building that housed the Institute at the time was destroyed in this fire. Columbia University proposed that Rensselaer leave Troy altogether and merge with its New York City campus. Ultimately, the proposal was rejected and the campus left the crowded downtown for the hillside. Classes were temporarily held at the Vail House and in the Troy University building until 1864, when the Institute moved to a building on Broadway on 8th Street, now the site of the Approach.
One of the first Latino student organizations in the United States was founded at RPI in 1890. The Club Hispano Americano was established by the international Latin American students that attended the institute at this time.
|1825: 10 students|
|1850: 53 students|
|1875: 181 students|
|1900: 225 students|
|1910: 650 students|
|1925: 1,240 students|
|1945: 1,604 students|
|1950: 3,987 students (dormitory construction on "Freshman Hill")|
|1965: 5,232 students|
|2013: 6,995 students|
In 1904, the Institute was for the fourth time devastated by fire, when its main building was completely destroyed. However, RPI underwent a period of academic and resource expansion under the leadership of President Palmer Ricketts. Named President in 1901, Ricketts liberalized the curriculum by adding the Department of Arts, Science, and Business Administration, in addition to the Graduate School. He also expanded the university’s resources and developed RPI into a true polytechnic institute by increasing the number of degrees offered from two to twelve; these included electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, biology, chemistry, and physics. During Rickett's tenure, enrollment increased from approximately 200 in 1900 to a high of 1,700 in 1930.
Another period of expansion occurred following World War II as returning veterans used their GI Bill education benefits to attend college. The "Freshman Hill" residence complex was opened in 1953 followed by the completion of the Commons Dining Hall in 1954, two more halls in 1958, and three more in 1968. In 1961, there was major progress in academics at the institute with the construction of the Gaerttner Linear Accelerator, then the most powerful in the world, and the Jonsson-Rowland Science Center. The current Student Union building was opened in 1967.
The next three decades brought continued growth with many new buildings (see 'Campus' below), and growing ties to industry. The "H-building", previously used for storage, became the home for the RPI incubator program, the first such program sponsored solely by a university. Shortly after this, RPI decided to invest $3 million in pavement, water and power on around 1,200 acres (490 ha) of land it owned 5 miles (8.0 km) south of campus to create the Rensselaer Technology Park. In 1982 the New York State legislature granted RPI $30 million to build the George M. Low Center for Industrial Innovation, a center for industry-sponsored research and development.
In 1999, RPI gained attention when it was one of the first universities to implement a mandatory laptop computer program. This was also the year of the arrival of President Shirley Ann Jackson, a former chairperson for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. She instituted the "The Rensselaer Plan" (discussed below), an ambitious plan to revitalize the institute. Many advances have been made under the plan, and Jackson has enjoyed the ongoing support of the RPI Board of Trustees. However, her leadership style did not sit well with many faculty; on April 26, 2006, RPI faculty voted 149 to 155 in a failed vote of no-confidence in Jackson. In September 2007, RPI's Faculty Senate was suspended for over four years over conflict with the administration. On October 4, 2008, RPI celebrated the opening of the $220 million Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center. That same year the national economic downturn resulted in the elimination of 98 positions across the Institute, about five percent of the workforce. Campus construction expansion continued, however, with the completion of the $92 million East Campus Athletic Village and opening of the new Blitman Commons residence hall in 2009.
RPI's 275-acre (111 ha) campus sits upon a hill overlooking Troy, New York and the Hudson River. The surrounding area is mostly residential neighborhoods, with the city of Troy lying at the base of the hill. The campus is bisected by 15th Street, with most of the athletic and housing facilities to the east, and the academic buildings to the west. A footbridge spans the street, linking the two halves. Much of the campus features a series of Colonial Revival style structures built in the first three decades of the 20th century. Overall, the campus has enjoyed four periods of expansion.
RPI was originally located in downtown Troy, but gradually moved to the hilltop that overlooks the city. Buildings that remain from this time include Winslow Chemical Laboratory, a building on the National Register of Historic Places. Located at the base of the hill on the western edge of campus, it currently houses the Social and Behavioral Research Laboratory.
Ricketts Campus, 1906–1935
President Palmer Ricketts supervised the construction of the school's "Green Rooftop" Colonial Revival buildings that give much of the campus a distinct architectural style. Buildings constructed during this period include the Carnegie Building (1906), Walker Laboratory (1907), Russell Sage Laboratory (1909), Pittsburgh Building (1912), Quadrangle Dormitories (1916–1927), Troy Building (1925), Amos Eaton Hall (1928), Greene Building (1931) and Ricketts Building (1935). Also built during this period was "The Approach" (1907), a massive ornate granite staircase found on the west end of campus. Originally linking RPI to the Troy Union Railroad station, it again serves as an important link between the city and the university. In 1906 the '86 Field, homefield of the football team until 2008, was completed with support of the Class of 1886.
Post-war expansion, 1946–1960
After World War II, the campus again underwent major expansion. Nine dormitories were built at the east edge of campus bordering Burdett Avenue, a location which came to be called "Freshman Hill". The Houston Field House (1949) was reassembled, after being moved in pieces from its original Rhode Island location. West Hall, which was originally built in 1869 as a hospital, was acquired by the Institute in 1953. The ornate building is an example of French Second Empire architecture. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973. Another unique building is the Voorhees Computing Center (VCC). Originally built as St. Joseph’s Seminary chapel in 1933, it was once the institute's library, until the completion of the Folsom Library in 1976. Interestingly, the new library, built adjacent to the computing center, was designed to match colors with the church, but is very dissimilar architecturally; it is an excellent example of the modern brutalist style – a style that has invited comparisons with a parking garage. The university was unsure of what to do with the church, or whether to keep it at all, but in 1979 the institute decided to preserve it and renovate it into a unique place for computer labs and facilities to support the institute's computing initiatives and today serves as the backbone for the institute's data and telephony infrastructure.
Modern campus, since 1961
The modern campus features the Jonsson-Rowland Science Center (J-ROWL) (1961), Materials Research Center (MRC) (1965), Rensselaer Union (1967), Cogswell Laboratory (1971), Darrin Communications Center (DCC) (1973), Jonsson Engineering Center (JEC) (1977), Low Center for Industrial Innovation (CII) (1987), a public school building which was converted into Academy Hall (1990), and the Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies (2004). Tunnels connect the Low Center, DCC, JEC and Science Center. A tenth dormitory named Barton Hall was added to Freshman Hill in August 2000, featuring the largest rooms available for freshmen.
On October 4, 2008, the university celebrated the grand opening of the Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center (EMPAC) situated on the west edge of campus. The building was constructed on the precipice of the hill, with the main entrance on top. Upon entering, elevated walkways lead into a 1,200 seat concert hall. Most of the building is encased in a glass exoskeleton, with an atrium-like space between it and the "inner building". Adjacent to and underneath the main auditorium there is a 400-seat theater, offices, and three studios with 40-foot (12 m) to 60-foot (18 m) ceilings.
In 2008, RPI announced the purchase of the former Rensselaer Best Western Inn, located at the base of the hill, along with plans to transform it into a new residence hall. After extensive renovations, the residence hall was dedicated on May 15, 2009, as the Howard N. Blitman, P.E. ’50 Residence Commons. It houses about 300 students in 148 rooms and includes a fitness center, dining hall, and conference area. The new residence hall is part of a growing initiative to involve students in the Troy community and help revitalize the downtown. RPI owns and operates three office buildings in downtown Troy, the Rice and Heley buildings and the historic W. & L.E. Gurley Building. RPI also owns the Proctor's Theater building in Troy which was purchased in 2004, with the intention of converting it into office space. Due to the historic nature of the building, there was resistance by the Troy community and RPI has not done any redevelopment. Advocates are hoping to restore the building back to its original use.
The Institute runs a 15-acre (6.1 ha) campus in Hartford, Connecticut, and a distance learning center in Groton, Connecticut. These centers are used by graduates and working professionals and are managed by the Hartford branch of RPI, Rensselaer at Hartford. At Hartford, graduate degrees are offered in business administration, management, computer science, computer and systems engineering, electrical engineering, engineering science, mechanical engineering and information technology. There are also a number of certificate programs and skills training programs for working professionals.
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute has five schools: the School of Architecture, the School of Engineering, the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences, the Lally School of Management & Technology, and the School of Science. The School of Engineering is the largest by enrollment, followed by the School of Science, the School of Management, the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences, and the School of Architecture. There also exists an interdisciplinary program in Information Technology that began in the late 1990s, programs in prehealth and prelaw, Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) for students desiring commissions as officers in the armed forces, a program in cooperative education (Co-Op), and domestic and international exchange programs. All together, the university offers around 140 degree programs in nearly 60 fields that lead to bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees. In addition to traditional majors, RPI has around a dozen special interdisciplinary programs, such as Games and Simulation Arts and Sciences (GSAS), Design, Innovation, and Society (DIS), Minds & Machines, and Product Design and Innovation (PDI). RPI is a technology-oriented university; all buildings and residence hall rooms have hard-wired high speed internet access, most of the campus buildings have wireless, and all incoming freshmen have been required to have a laptop computer since 1999. In 2004, Forbes ranked RPI first in terms of wireless as the "most connected campus". Nationally, RPI is a member of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities (NAICU) and the NAICU's University and College Accountability Network (U-CAN).
With the arrival of the president, Shirley Ann Jackson, came the "Rensselaer Plan" announced in 1999. Its goal is to achieve greater prominence for RPI as a technological research university. Various aspects of the plan include bringing in a larger graduate student population and new research faculty, and increasing participation in undergraduate research, international exchange programs, and "living and learning communities". Financially speaking, the plan allocates half of its money for research, a quarter for scholarships, and a quarter for campus platforms, such as athletic facilities. So far, there have been a number of changes under the plan: new infrastructure such as the Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies, Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center, and Computational Center for Nanotechnology Innovations (CCNI) have been built to support new programs, and application numbers have increased. In fact, in the three years between 2005 and 2008 application numbers doubled from 5,500 to 11,000. As of 2014, Rensselaer received a record number of applications: 18,569. According to Jared Cohon, president of Carnegie Mellon University “Change at Rensselaer in the last five years has occurred with a scope and swiftness that may be without precedent in the recent history of American higher education.” Although the number of doctoral students has increased, the plan has not increased the overall number of graduate students. The number of graduates on the Troy campus has dropped from a high of 2,617 in 1999 to 1,228 in 2007, a decrease of more than 50%. These pages show a decrease from 1,839 in 1999 to 1,228 in 2007, a decrease of 36% (Hartford students were not included in the 1999 figure).
The ability to attract greater research funds is needed to meet the goals of the plan, and the university has set a goal of $100 million annually. Fourteen years later, in FY2013, research expenditures reached this goal. The university recognizes the relatively small size of its endowment compared to its competition (cf. Case Western Reserve U., University of Rochester, etc.). To help raise money the university mounted a $1 billion capital campaign, of which the public phase began in September 2004 and was expected to finish by 2008. In 2001, a major milestone of the campaign was the pledging of an unrestricted gift of $360 million by an anonymous donor, believed to be the largest such gift to a U.S. university at the time. The university had been a relative stranger to such generosity as the prior largest single gift was $15 million. By September 2006, the $1 billion goal has been exceeded much in part to an in-kind contribution of software commercially valued at $513.95 million by the Partners for the Advancement of Collaborative Engineering Education (PACE). In light of this, the board of trustees increased the goal of the $1 billion capital campaign to $1.4 billion by June 30, 2009. The new goal was met by October 1, 2008. Shirley Ann Jackson's compensation ranked 1st among US private university presidents in 2014. As of 2015, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute is facing debts and liabilities of nearly $1 billion, and has seen a sharp decline in its overall net assets (currently at $443.73 million, down from $929.7 million in 2000) over the past 13 years. In 2015, RPI was ranked #13 in New York State by average professor salaries, averaging $136,900.
|This section needs to be updated. (October 2014)|
|U.S. News & World Report||41|
|U.S. News & World Report||379|
RPI ranks among the top 50 national universities in the United States according to U.S. News & World Report. The same source ranks RPI 24th for "Best Value" in undergraduate education. In 2005, the School of Engineering was ranked 16th in the nation for undergraduates, and 34th in the nation for graduates. Four of the graduate engineering programs are ranked in the top 20 (electrical engineering, materials science and engineering, industrial engineering and mechanical engineering), seven of 11 are ranked in the top 25, and all are ranked in the top 40 in the nation. In 2006 U.S. News put the graduate applied mathematics program at 20th.
The Leiden Ranking (2011/2012) placed RPI at 23 among 500 world universities according to the proportion of top 10% most frequently cited publications of a university. The Leiden Ranking 2011/2012 explained that the ranking "is based on publications in Thomson Reuters’ Web of Science database in the period 2005–2009. Only publications in the sciences and the social sciences are included... Furthermore, only publications of the Web of Science document types article, letter, and review are considered in the Leiden Ranking." Therefore the result is normalized by university size. If ranked by number of publications in that period, RPI is at 258/500.
The Newsweek/Kaplan 2007 Educational College Guide named Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute one of the 25 "New Ivies", a group of 25 schools described as providing an education equivalent to schools in the Ivy League.
The Lally School of Management and Technology’s entrepreneurship programs ranked 21st in the United States, and its technological entrepreneurship program was ranked sixth by Entrepreneur magazine. The Lally School's corporate strategy program was ranked eleventh in the nation by BusinessWeek.
The electronic arts program is one of the highest ranked departments at RPI. For four years in a row, 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2006, U.S. News ranked the iEAR program 8th in the US. The Master of Fine Arts in multimedia/visual communications program was ranked 6th in 2008 and 2009 by U.S. News.
In 2008, a new ranking called America's Best Colleges released by Forbes.com placed RPI at 49, and then at 42 a year later in 2009. As of 2016, Forbes' America's Top Colleges list ranks Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute at #135; #109 in Private Colleges; #62 in Research Institutes; #62 in the Northeast. In 2009, Forbes and Payscale.com reported that among U.S. colleges, RPI had the 21st highest average starting salary and 36th highest average mid-career salary for graduates, based on actual earnings information. The 2008 Times Higher Education–QS World University Rankings ranks RPI at 174 among the top 200 universities worldwide for overall academics, and number 50 among the top 50 universities for technology. The 2010–2011 Times Higher Education rankings show RPI moving up to 104 among the world's top 200 universities. The Global University Ranking, which utilizes a combination of major international ranking systems, ranked RPI in the range 74-77 in 2009. In 2012, RPI was ranked as the 4th best engineering school in the world by Business Insider.
Based on reports from College Factual, in 2014 USA Today ranked RPI among the top ten colleges in the U.S for an undergraduate major of engineering (#5). In 2015 the undergraduate physics program was also ranked in the top ten (#6) by USA Today and Animation Career Review ranked RPI #8 in the nation in Game Design..
- U.S. News & World Report Graduate Rankings (2013):
- 6th, multimedia/visual communications
- 14th, nuclear engineering
- 17th, applied mathematics
- 20th, materials engineering
- 21st, aerospace/aeronautical/astronautical engineering
- 22nd, chemical engineering
- 24th, mechanical engineering
- 25th, industrial/manufacturing/systems engineering
- 26th, electrical/electronic/communications engineering
- 27th, civil engineering
- 27th, computer engineering
- 34th, environmental/environmental health engineering
- 39th, biomedical engineering/bioengineering
- 47th, computer science
Research and development
In the 2012-2013 academic year, RPI's enrollment included 5,379 resident undergraduate, 1,237 resident graduate, 281 graduate students on the Hartford campus, and 98 distance learning graduate students. The institute attracts sixty-two percent of its students from out-of-state, from forty-nine states and sixty-seven countries. Among the class of 2017, 72% were in the top 10% of their high school class. The average high school GPA of the class of 2017 was an A-/B+ and the average SAT score in the 50th-percentile was 1288-1488. The acceptance rate in 2014 was 36%. The yield rate (percentage of admitted students who attend) was 22.06% in 2013.
In 2013 about 13% of students received the RPI medal/scholarship in high school, which is a merit scholarship of $15,000 a year. Altogether 94% of full-time beginning undergraduate students receive either need-based or merit-based financial aid.
RPI became coeducational in 1942. In 1966, the male-to-female ratio was 19:1, in the 1980s it reached as low as 8:1, and in the early 1990s the ratio was around 5:1. In 2009, RPI had a ratio of 2.5:1 (72% male / 28% female), Both the class of 2011 and the class of 2012 have a ratio of about 2.3:1, or about 30% female.
The RPI Engineers are the athletic teams for the university. RPI currently sponsors 23 sports, 21 of which compete at the NCAA Division III level in the Liberty League; men's and women's ice hockey compete at the Division I level in ECAC Hockey. The official nickname of some of the school's Division III teams was changed in 1995 from the Engineers to the Red Hawks. However, the hockey, football, cross-country, tennis and track and field teams all chose to retain the Engineers name. The Red Hawks name was, at the time, very unpopular among the student body; a Red Hawk mascot was frequently taunted with thrown concessions and chants of "kill the chicken!". In 2009 the nickname for all teams has since been changed back to Engineers. In contrast, the official ice hockey mascot, known as Puckman, has always been very popular. Puckman is an anthropomorphic hockey puck with an engineer's helmet.
During the 1970s and 1980s, one RPI cheer was:
- E to the x, dy/dx, E to the x, dx
- Cosine, secant, tangent, sine
- Square root, cube root, log of pi
- Disintegrate them, RPI!
Ice hockey (men's)
RPI has a competitive Division I hockey team who won NCAA national titles in 1954 and 1985. Depending on how the rules are interpreted, the RPI men's ice hockey team may have the longest winning streak on record for a Division I team; in the 1984-85 season it was undefeated for 30 games, but one game was against the University of Toronto, a non-NCAA team. Continuing into the 1985-86 season, RPI continued undefeated over 38 games, including two wins over Toronto. Adam Oates and Daren Puppa, two players during that time, both went on to become stars in the NHL. Joe Juneau, who played from 1987 to 1991, and Brian Pothier, who played from 1996 to 2000, also spent many years in the NHL. Graeme Townshend, who also played in the late 1980s, had a brief NHL career. He is the first man of Jamaican ancestry to play in the National Hockey League.
The ice hockey team plays a significant role in the campus's culture, drawing thousands of fans each week to the Houston Field House during the season. The team's popularity even sparked the tradition of the hockey line, where students lined up for season tickets months in advance of the on-sale date. Today, the line generally begins a week or more before ticket sales. Another tradition since 1978 has been the "Big Red Freakout!" game held close to the first weekend of February. Fans usually dress in the schools colors red and white, and gifts such as T-shirts are distributed en masse. In ice hockey, the RPI's biggest rival has always been the upstate engineering school Clarkson University. In recent years RPI has also developed a spirited rivalry with their conference travel partner Union College, with whom they annually play a nonconference game in Albany for the Mayor's Cup.
Ice hockey (women's)
The women's ice hockey team moved to the NCAA Division I level in 2005. During the 2008-09 season the team set the record for most wins in one season (19-14-4). On February 28, 2010, Rensselaer made NCAA history. The Engineers beat Quinnipiac, 2-1, but it took five overtimes. It is now the longest game in NCAA Women's Ice Hockey history. Senior defenseman Laura Gersten had the game-winning goal. She registered it at 4:32 of the fifth overtime session to not only clinch the win, but the series victory.
The lacrosse team represented the United States in the 1948 Olympics in London. It won the Wingate Memorial Trophy as national collegiate champions in 1952. Future NHL head coach Ned Harkness coached the lacrosse and ice hockey teams, winning national championships in both sports.
The Red Hawk baseball squad is perennially atop the Liberty League standings, and has seen 8 players move on to the professional ranks, including 4 players selected in the MLB draft. The team is coached by Karl Steffen (Ithaca '78). The Red Hawks play their home games at the historic Robison Field.
American rugby was played on campus in the late 1870s. Intercollegiate football begin as late as 1886 when an RPI team first played a Union College team on a leased field in West Troy (Watervliet). Since 1903, RPI and nearby Union have been rivals in football, making it the oldest such rivalry in the state. The teams have played for the Dutchman's Shoes since 1950. RPI Football had their most successful season in 2003, when they finished 11-2 and lost to St. Johns (Minn.) in the NCAA Division III semi final game.
The Houston Field House is a 4,780‑seat multi-purpose arena located on the RPI campus. It opened in 1949 and is home to the RPI Engineers men's and women's ice hockey teams. The Field House was renovated starting in 2007 as part of the major campus improvement project to build the East Campus Athletic Village. The renovations included locker rooms upgrades, addition of a new weight room, and a new special reception room dedicated to Ned Harkness. Additionally, as part of the renovations through a government grant, solar panels were installed on the roof to supply power to the building.
As part of the Rensselaer Plan, the Institute recently completed a major project to improve its athletic facilities with the East Campus Athletic Village. The plan included construction of a new and much larger 4,842‑seat football stadium, a basketball arena with seating for 1,200, a new 50-meter pool, an indoor track and field complex, new tennis courts, new weight rooms and a new sports medicine center. The Institute broke ground on August 26, 2007, and construction of the first phase is expected to last two years. The estimated cost of the project is $78 million for phase one and $35–$45 million for phase two. Since the completion of the new stadium, the bleachers on the Class of '86 football field on the central campus have been removed and the field has become an open space. In the future the new space could be used for expansions of the academic buildings, but for now members of the campus planning team foresee a "historic landscape with different paths and access ways for students and vehicles alike".
The students of RPI have created and participate in a variety of student-run clubs and organizations funded by the Student Union. The Union is unusual in that it is entirely student-run and its operations are paid for by activity fees. About 170 of these organizations are funded by the Student Union, while another thirty, which consist mostly of political and religious organizations, are self-supporting. In 2006 the Princeton Review ranked RPI second for "more to do on campus."
Phalanx is RPI's Senior Honor Society. It was founded in 1912, when Edward Dion and the Student Council organized a society to recognize those RPI students who had distinguished themselves among their peers in the areas of leadership, service and devotion to the alma mater. It is a fellowship of the most active in student activities and has inducted more than 1,500 members since its founding.
Greek organizations are popular with 29 social fraternities and five sororities. There are two co‑ed fraternities, Psi Upsilon, a social fraternity, while the other, Alpha Phi Omega, is a service fraternity. As such, about a third of men are in fraternities and about a fifth of women are in sororities. Theta Xi fraternity was established by RPI students on April 29, 1864, the only national fraternity founded during the Civil War. The Theta Xi Chapter House is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.(See the List of RPI fraternities and sororities.)
RPI has around twenty intramural sports organizations, many of which are broken down into different divisions based on level of play. Greek organizations compete in them as well as independent athletes. There are also thirty-nine club sports.
Given the university's proximity to the Berkshires, Green Mountains and Adirondacks, the Ski Club and the Outing Club are some of the largest groups on campus. The Ski Club offers weekly trips to local ski areas during the winter months, while the Outing Club offers trips on a weekly basis for a variety of activities.
The Rensselaer Polytechnic is the student-run weekly newspaper. The Poly prints about 7,000 copies each week and distributes them around campus. Although it is the Union club with the largest budget, The Poly receives no subsidy from the Union, and obtains all funding through the sale of advertisements. There was also a popular student-run magazine called Statler & Waldorf which prints on a semesterly basis.
RPI has an improvisational comedy group, Sheer Idiocy, which performs several shows a semester. There are also several music groups ranging from a cappella groups such as the Rusty Pipes, Partial Credit, the Rensselyrics and Duly Noted, to several instrumental groups such as the Orchestra, the Jazz Band and a classical choral group, the Rensselaer Concert Choir.
Another notable organization on campus is WRPI, the campus radio station. WRPI differs from most college radio in that it serves a 75-mile (121 km) radius including the greater Albany area. With 10 kW of broadcasting power, WRPI maintains a stronger signal than nearly all college radio stations and some commercial stations. WRPI currently broadcasts on 91.5 FM in the Albany area.
The RPI Players is an on‑campus theater group that was formed in 1929. The Players resided in the Old Gym until 1965 when they moved to their present location at the 15th Street Lounge. This distinctive red shingled building had been a USO hall for the U.S. Army before being purchased by RPI. The Players have staged over 275 productions in its history.
- The Alma Mater (Here's to Old RPI) – sung at formal events such as commencement and convocation, also played and sung by the Pep Band at hockey and football games. It was published in the first book of Songs of Rensselaer printed in 1913.
- Hail, Dear Old Rensselaer – used to be the fight song during the 1960s. It is still played today by the Pep Band at athletic events.
- All We've Learned at Rensselaer – sung at the RPI commencement ceremonies by the Rensselyrics. Although the Rensselyrics are an a cappella group, this song is accompanied by piano. Each verse or section has a different musical style, several of which are closely based on Billy Joel songs or other popular songs.
First Year Experience and CLASS programs
Another notable aspect of student life at RPI is the "First-Year Experience" (FYE) program. Freshman begin their stay at RPI with a week called "Navigating Rensselaer and Beyond" or NRB week. The Office of the First-Year Experience provides several programs that extend to not only freshman, but to all students. These include family weekend, community service days, the Information and Personal Assistance Center (IPAC), and the Community Advocate Program. Recently the FYE program was awarded the 2006 NASPA Excellence Gold Award, in the category of "Enrollment Management, Orientation, Parents, First-Year, Other-Year and related".
Since 2008, Jackson's administration has led an effort to form the CLASS Initiative ("Clustered Learning Advocacy and Support for Students"), which requires all sophomores to live on campus and to live with special "residence cluster deans". The transition to this program began in early 2010 among some resistance from some fraternities and students who had planned to live off campus.
According to the Rensselaer Alumni Association, there are around 90,000 RPI graduates currently living in the United States, and another 4,378 living abroad. In 1995, the Alumni Association created the Rensselaer Alumni Hall of Fame.
Several notable 19th century civil engineers graduated from RPI. These include the visionary of the transcontinental railroad, Theodore Judah, Brooklyn Bridge engineer Washington Roebling, George Washington Gale Ferris Jr. (who designed and built the original Ferris Wheel) and Leffert L. Buck, the chief engineer of the Williamsburg Bridge in New York City.
Many RPI graduates have made important inventions, including Allen B. DuMont ('24), creator of the first commercial television; Keith D. Millis ('38), inventor of ductile iron; Ted Hoff ('58), father of the microprocessor; Raymond Tomlinson ('63), often credited with the invention of e-mail; inventor of the digital camera Steven Sasson and Curtis Priem ('82), designer of the first graphics processor for the PC, and co-founder of NVIDIA.
In addition to NVIDIA, RPI graduates have also gone on to found or co-found major companies such as John Wiley and Sons, Texas Instruments, Fairchild Semiconductor, PSINet, MapInfo, Adelphia Communications, Level 3 Communications, Garmin, and Bugle Boy. Several RPI graduates have played a part in the U.S. space program: George Low (B.Eng. 1948, M.S. 1950) was manager of the Apollo 11 project and served as president of RPI, and astronauts John L. Swigert, Jr., Richard Mastracchio, Gregory R. Wiseman, and space tourist Dennis Tito are alumni.
Political figures who graduated from RPI included federal judge Arthur J. Gajarsa (B.S. 1962), Major General Thomas Farrell of the Manhattan Project, DARPA director Tony Tether, Representative John Olver of Massachusetts's 1st congressional district, and Senators Mark Shepard of Vermont and George R. Dennis of Maryland.
Notable ice hockey players include NHL Hockey Hall of Famer and 5-time NHL All Star Adam Oates (1985), Stanley Cup winner and former NHL All Star Mike McPhee (1982), two-time Calder Cup winner Neil Little (1994), former NHL All Rookie Joé Juneau (1991), and former NHL All Star Daren Puppa (1985).
Other notable alumni include 1973 Nobel Prize in Physics winner Ivar Giaever (Ph.D. 1964); the first African-American woman to become a thoracic surgeon, Rosalyn Scott (B.S. 1970); director of Linux International Jon Hall (M.S. 1977); NCAA president Myles Brand (B.S. 1964); adult stem cell pioneer James Fallon; Michael D. West, gerontologist and stem cell scientist, founder of Geron, now CEO of BioTime (1976); director Bobby Farrelly (1981), David Ferrucci, lead researcher on IBM's Watson/Jeopardy! project. 66th AIA Gold Medal winning architect Peter Q Bohlin and Matt Patricia, assistant coach for the New England Patriots. Luis Acuña-Cedeño, Governor of the Venezuelan Sucre State and former Minister of Universities. Andrew Franks, current kicker for the Miami Dolphins of the National Football League.
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