Navigating Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and Beyond

Helping First-Year Students Adjust to Campus Life and the Local Community

August 26, 2016


Troy, N.Y. – Starting classes, meeting peers, and exploring a new geographical area all at once may seem intimidating for many first-year students making the transition to college and campus life. But, it’s not like that for incoming first-year students at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, according to staffers in the Office of the First-Year Experience. This year,  more than 1,700 students—representing the largest incoming class in the Institute’s history—are joining the Rensselaer campus community.

From August 23-28, Rensselaer will officially welcome members of the Class of 2020, and introduce them to the local community through a weeklong series of events known as “Navigating Rensselaer & Beyond” (NRB), the official continuation of the orientation program. Created under The Rensselaer Plan in 2001, NRB is usually organized around three general themes: adventure/team building; cultural/historical; and community service opportunities—all designed to help students get to know one another.

“When students arrive on campus, and especially in a new environment, it can be intimidating,” said Janelle Fayette, dean of the Office of the First-Year Experience. “As a new student, you’re thinking about moving into your residence hall, meeting your roommate(s), wondering what your first day of class will be like, and so much more. In addition, for the majority of our students, this may be the first time that they are living away from home, especially if it’s a great distance, so finding a way to familiarize our new members of the Rensselaer community with not only the campus, but also the city of Troy and surrounding areas, is an ideal way to lessen student stress.”

The incoming class of over 1,700 students will participate in more than 80 activities organized by Rensselaer staff, departments, and student clubs. The NRB program is supported by 520 students, alumni and alumnae, faculty, and staff volunteers.

Some highlights of the week include overnight trips to the Adirondacks and the Berkshires, volunteer opportunities with local organizations such as Joseph’s House and Troy YWCA, supporting housing construction projects with Rensselaer County Habitat for Humanity, working with residents and current students to continue Hurricane Irene recovery and restoration efforts in Schoharie County; building an electric vehicle or a hybrid go-kart; creating a giant Rube Goldberg machine, performing contemporary a cappella music or in traditional, concert band, wind, or jazz ensembles, learning a variety of modern forms of ballroom and Latin dances, discovering how to build basic radio equipment, getting hands-on experience in emergency services, and more!

Signature campus and community-themed activities included the annual greeting at the 8th Street Approach, at which President Shirley Ann Jackson will greet and shake hands with each member of the class. This will be held on Friday, August 26 from 3 to 4 p.m. This 15-year old tradition was started by President Jackson to personally welcome the new students to Rensselaer and to Troy. After the handshake, students make their way downtown for the annual Welcome Festival, a free celebration featuring live entertainment, outdoor activities, arts, and crafts. The Rensselaer Welcome Festival will be held from 3 to 7 p.m. Immediately after, attendees will have an opportunity to enjoy live music and entertainment, a scavenger hunt, games, prizes, and more as part of Troy Night Out.

The week’s activities will culminate with the First-Year Convocation, held in the East Campus Athletic Village Arena on campus. Members of the Class of 2020, President Jackson, and other members of the Rensselaer community participate in the event. The ceremony, hosted by the Office of University Events, will feature guest speaker Eric Ledet, associate professor and laboratory director of the Musculoskeletal Mechanics Laboratory in the Department of Biomedical Engineering in the School of Engineering. The ceremony also includes a video compilation of the week’s activities.

While at Rensselaer, the incoming class will experience facets of The New Polytechnic, an emerging paradigm for teaching, learning, and research at Rensselaer. The foundation for this vision is the recognition that global challenges and opportunities are so great they cannot be adequately addressed by even the most talented person working alone. Rensselaer serves as a crossroads for collaboration—working with partners across disciplines, sectors, and geographic regions—to address complex global challenges, using the most advanced tools and technologies, many of which are developed at Rensselaer. Research at Rensselaer addresses some of the world’s most pressing technological challenges—from energy security and sustainable development to biotechnology and human health. The New Polytechnic is transformative in the global impact of research, in its innovative pedagogy, and in the lives of students at Rensselaer.

“We want our students’ transition to college life to go as seamlessly as possible,” Fayette said. “NRB helps students forge new lasting friendships and create memories that will sustain them through four or five years of academically challenging course work. The goals of the program are to build affinity groups that bring students with similar interests together, as well as helping students create strong, stable social communities inside and outside of the residence halls and classrooms. The ‘Beyond’ component of NRB represents the continued support given well into the year.”               

For more information about the Navigating Rensselaer & Beyond (NRB) program, visit

To view last year’s NRB video featuring the Class of 2020, visit

Note: Join the social media discussion. Follow the Class of 2020 on Twitter using the hash tag #RPI2020


About Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, founded in 1824, is America’s first technological research university. The university offers bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees in engineering; the sciences; information technology and web sciences; architecture; management; and the arts, humanities, and social sciences. Rensselaer faculty advance research in a wide range of fields, with an emphasis on biotechnology, nanotechnology, computational science and engineering, data science, and the media arts and technology. The Institute is has an established record of success in the transfer of technology from the laboratory to the marketplace, fulfilling its founding mission of applying science “to the common purposes of life.” For more information, please visit  

Written By Jessica Otitigbe
Press Contact Jessica Otitigbe
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