RPI to launch sophomore summer-inspired ‘Summer Arch’

by Emilia Baldwin | 8/4/16 6:34pm

The Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, located in Troy, N.Y., has decided to adopt an academic schedule much like the College’s D-Plan that will include a summer term similar to sophomore summer at Dartmouth. Starting in 2017, the new schedule, known as the “Summer Arch,” will be optional for the rising juniors of the Class of 2019 and will be mandatory by the time the Class of 2021 arrives on campus, said Linda Schadler, engineering professor and vice provost and dean of undergraduate education at RPI. The school announced Summer Arch in September.

Schadler, who is one of the main drivers behind RPI’s new plan and who has a son at Dartmouth, said the initiative intends to enrich the undergraduate experience by encouraging students to pursue career-related opportunities earlier than they might have with the previous schedule. She said that by having a year-round schedule, students will be able to more easily pursue their interests, whether those be industry-related or academic.

“We really hope that students will explore their passions early on and see what works for them during their away term,” Schadler said.

She added that the initiative was introduced by the administration, but students are playing a large role in implementing it since the schedule is being put into effect in stages. By 2021, the Summer Arch will be mandatory for all students except those who are otherwise granted permission. These exceptions would include some varsity athletes, Schadler said.

Associate dean for undergraduate studies and engineering professor Kurt Anderson thinks the efficacy of the plan will depend on how well the university implements the program. While he supports the opportunity to allow students to undertake paid co-op internships, unpaid internships and international programs, he worries about the options that will actually be available during away terms.

He said that he especially worries for students who do not compete with the top of the class, noting that those in the bottom third of the class might have issues finding co-ops and internships worth their time. He added that his biggest concern is that the Summer Arch could be a burden for students.

“My greatest worry is if it is implemented poorly, it could become a detriment rather than a benefit to the school,” Anderson said.

Anderson also expressed concern over the shortened length of the Summer Arch compared to a normal semester at RPI. Unlike Dartmouth’s quarter system, RPI’s Summer Arch will continue to be a semester system. Anderson said that having 12-week, rather than 14-week courses would be like “fitting 10 pounds into an eight pound bag.”

Christina Paolicelli, a rising senior at RPI majoring in electrical engineering, said that her opposition of the Summer Arch partly stems from her experience of being able to graduate in three years instead of four, which she thinks will be harder for students if they are required to complete work experience during their away term. RPI, unlike Dartmouth, still accepts AP credits, allowing many students to graduate early, if they so choose.

“I’m graduating in three years and I don’t think that would have been possible at all if I had done some sort of co-op or internship in the middle of the year,” she said.

Anderson expressed a similar sentiment, saying that the career opportunities that the Summer Arch provide were already all available to hard-working students. Anderson said that these students have always been able to seek internship or co-op opportunities, which he said could be the “most valuable” part of the undergraduate experience.

Anderson said he does not think the new schedule should be required or imposed on students, especially as he looks at colleges with his son and wife.

“If a school were to tell my son or my wife and I that there was some sort of necessary requirement, we would immediately cross that school off,” Anderson said. “There are so many good programs out there without those requirements.”

Paolicelli said that the student body is largely upset with the new program, though she and most of her friends will have graduated by the time that it is put in place.

“I haven’t really heard any positive opinion on it,” she said.

She said that the student body has not been satisfied with the administration lately, though she added that the board and the administration have been willing to discuss concerns regarding the Summer Arch with various students and student groups.

“Most people I know are just happy they aren’t being grandfathered into the program,” Paolicelli said.