Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, commonly known as RPI, was established as a purely technical school and was the first institution to award a civil engineering degree. Today, RPI is still a technical institute, but it also offers the most liberal arts options, including a variety of innovative programs and academic choices for underclassmen.
RPI is the oldest technical college in the nation. It was established in 1824 as The Rensselaer School by the lieutenant governor of New York at the time, Stephen Van Rensselaer. It was not a polytechnic institute until the 1850s, and the name was not changed to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute until 1861. Since then, RPI has continued to be a front-runner among technological universities, with the five schools of Architecture, Engineering, Humanities & Social Sciences, Management, and Science all leading in their areas. They all have curricula focusing on the integration of technology with knowledge.
While RPI began as an engineering school, it has recently expanded into humanities and social sciences with majors such as Electronic Media, Arts, and Communication, Electronic Arts, Game Design, Communication, and Psychology. The EArts and EMAC programs are unique because they do not require any kind of artistic background and focus on computer-aided design. EMAC combines the arts and communications majors and was one of the first programs of its kind established in the U.S.
RPI has a fairly large campus, 275 acres, for its small student body, so the walk to class can sometimes be lengthy. It’s located on a hill, so some students can see the Hudson River from their dorms. The campus is divided into two parts, with the east housing most of the dorms, athletic fields, and classrooms, while administrative buildings mostly reside on the west side. The two sections are connected by a bridge. Most buildings are built in a neo-colonial style, with red brick and accented windows and doors. RPI is nearing completion of the Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center (EMPAC) on the westernmost tip of campus, an ultra-modern venue that will house concert halls, theaters and offices.
The McNeil Room and Rathskellar are both in the Union, which is the center of everything on campus. These are very common meeting places, whether for homework groups, lunch with friends, clubs, or just to meet up and hang out with people. The Games Room is also located in the Union, but it serves a very different purpose from the two dining and meeting areas. The Games Room offers billiards, table tennis, darts, and more for a small price.
Big Apple Pizza, better known to most of us as Pizza Bella (its former name), is popular enough during the week, but going there on a weekend night means a long wait inside the tiny store. The food is fairly cheap and tasty and much more accessible than I Love’s on 4th St, the other pizza shop favored by RPI students. Because of its proximity to campus and late hours, Big Apple tends to attract a lot of business from the drunk population.
The fraternities and sororities are natural hangouts for members, but on the weekends they are often flooded with friends looking for a good time. Most of the houses are not on campus, but most are close by and easy to find.
Troy isn’t considered especially aesthetically pleasing, but there are a few favorite eateries and smaller clubs downtown. There's also a waterfall within walking distance of campus. For an impromptu road trip, students sometime venture to NYC, Boston, and even Canada.
There are plenty of places to hang out off-campus. The Ruck is a bar that RPI students frequent. It’s something of a dive, but that’s part of the appeal. You absolutely cannot leave the Ruck without trying one of their famous wing burgers – it’s pretty much an initiation to the school. Another popular hangout is Bomber’s Burrito Bar in Albany. They have huge, cheap, delicious burritos (their pulled pork burrito is my personal favorite) and a birthday margarita that will have your whole table feeling a healthy buzz. The 76 Diner in Latham is open 24 hours a day. The food there is good and inexpensive.
If you’re looking for something to do outdoors, Prospect Park is within waking distance of campus and has a lot of open grassy areas, picnic tables, and grills.
One of the best places to hang out off-campus is one that most students don’t even know about – Troy Falls. It’s a waterfall about a half-mile walk away from campus, slightly off the beaten path. In the warm weather, it’s the perfect place to have a picnic, hang out, go swimming, cliff dive, etc. It has a completely different feel from the rest of Troy because the gorge it’s in isolates it from everything else.
Troy, NY, is not a place that would normally be considered a college town. Its uninviting and rundown atmosphere stands in stark contrast with the red brick and modern buildings of RPI. Though Troy's appearance at first sight doesn't create a positive impression, it has bits and pieces of charm that attract students. Once set to be the artistic mecca of New York, Troy has since fallen from grace, but it still retains some charm in its art galleries, restaurants, farmer's market, and Revolution Hall.
The most popular hangout spots in Troy are simply the off-campus apartments that students live in. Most students spend the majority of their free time hanging out with their friends, and the easiest place to do that is at home. Other than relaxing at apartments/houses, students like to go out to eat, visit friends at nearby colleges, and some occasionally go to the nightclubs in Troy and Albany. Many of the students are real homebodies, and choose to spend most of their free time on or near campus.
When there’s a long weekend or no projects to do, trips to New York City, Montreal, and Boston are often on the agendas of students who love to travel and explore.
Troy Night Out is a monthly arts/cultural event sponsored by RPI involving various art venues, music shows, and restaurants. For details on what’s being planned now, go to www.troynightout.org.
There really aren’t too many unofficial traditions at RPI, because every time something becomes popular, RPI wants its name on it. As such, there are a lot of 'official' traditions that have lost their original luster over time because they are RPI-sponsored.
One tradition that used to be rich was GM Week. Students would vote for the new Grand Marshall and President of the Union, the highest elected student government positions. They would celebrate with a week-long party and a parade on GM day, usually sponsored by a domestic beer company. The U.S. government gets the blame for killing this tradition by raising the drinking age to 21. Since that happened, RPI has taken complete control of the week, so that it is now a mockery of what it once was. There is a lot to do each GM week, but it’s seldom anything that anyone wants to do. Nowadays, a lot of students don’t even know when GM Week is, and those who do usually choose not to participate
RPI’s most prominent tradition is a particular set of chants unleashed during hockey games. Not only do we yell about Clarkson sucking, but when the other team gets a penalty, the player’s name is followed by “sucks!” and the reason for penalty is always drowned out by a huge chorus of “sucking!” Also, when the other team scores, the offending player’s name is followed by “sucks!” (Whoever started these either really likes the word “sucks” or wasn’t very original.)
Raymond Samuel Tomlinson (1963) invented e-mail.
Richard Herbert (1983) is the president of Pantone, famous for its Pantone Matching System for color printing.
Rick Mastracchio (1987) is an astronaut who recently added "space walker" to his resume during his work on the STS-118 space shuttle mission.
George Low (1948) was one of the leaders of the Apollo space program.
Adam Oates (1991) is an NHL Hall-of-Famer.
Allen B. Dumont (1924) created the first commercial television.
RPI is known for its stellar Division I men’s ice hockey team, the Engineers. They are the only sport at RPI that attracts a sizable number of fans (between 3 and 5,000) to Houston Field House arena on Friday and Saturday nights. Students stand in the Hockey Line for weeks and even months before tickets go on sale. During the Big Red Freakout, a major game held in February, everyone is decked out in RPI colors, red and white, and you would think you are at a major state sports school for the day. RPI’s biggest rival is Clarkson University.
Though we compete academically with some of the top schools in the nation, RPI’s most famous athletic rivalry is against Clarkson University’s sporting groups. At hockey games, RPI students and fans are known to cohesively yell “One minute…and Clarkson still sucks!” at the last minute of each period — even when we’re not playing Clarkson. It bleeds over into other events too, even racquetball tournaments (which aren’t timed). However, it is all in good fun, as many of us have friends or relatives who attended or are attending Clarkson.
Other than hockey, the lacrosse and football teams have a fairly good reputation. Although intramurals and club sports aren’t particularly popular on campus, there are over 25 teams to choose from. Not surprisingly, the most popular intramural league here is ice hockey.
The Video Game Design major was started at RPI.
RPI had the first association of Latin American students, formed in 1898.
In 1844, James Henry Salisbury, the creator the Salisbury steak, graduated from RPI.
Laptops are preselected for students at RPI.
Housing conditions as RPI vary greatly by dorm. Freshmen get a chance to bond on Freshman Hill, while upperclassmen aren’t so lucky--they aren’t guaranteed housing space on campus and often have to venture out to Troy to find a place to live.
Though RPI is not a very large school, on-campus housing is only guaranteed to freshmen, and after that, anybody wishing to live on campus must go through the lottery system to get a room. No single dorm is the most popular, partly because some dorms are freshmen-only, and each of the others has its pros and cons.
Freshmen have the opportunity to live in one of eight dorms on campus. Six of these are freshmen-only and located on Freshman Hill, while the other two are mixed. Of all the dorms freshmen can live in, Barton Hall is by far the most coveted. It is one of the (very) few with air conditioning, and it also has the largest rooms available for freshmen. Barton’s residents tend to undergo some joshing about their “status”, such as a Cary Hall resident’s window sign proclaiming “A/C is for wimps” (someone in Barton fired back that “A/C is for pimps”). The other most popular dorms for freshmen are the Quad, with some suite-baths and close proximity to campus, and BARH, with decent-sized rooms and its own dining hall.
Upperclassmen can live in any of the other dorms besides those six that are freshmen-only, and they have a wide variety of pros and cons. North Hall, E-Complex, and the Quad are the closest to the academic buildings. They have rooms on the smaller side, no A/C, and shared floor baths, whereas the faraway Colonie Apartments are large, air-conditioned, and have private bathrooms. Each of the remaining dorms (BARH, the four dorms on Freshman Hill, RAHPs, and Stackwyck) all have varying degrees of likability, but some are also more appealing than others because of personal needs and wants. Because of the variety of amenities and locations, it’s fairly easy to find a dorm that will suit your needs – the only issue is actually getting into it!
Many students move into their respective fraternity and sorority houses, and others find apartments nearby. Troy Student Housing hold the largest number of leases with students, yet their business practices are not always up to par.
Across from the Commons, there are some mixed dorms that upperclassmen live in. There isn’t too much to say about Nason and Davison. Warren is where all of the really hardcore geeks tend to congregate (the sci-fi and LARPing clubs hold their meetings there). Nugent Hall holds GroundZero, theme-based housing that puts on shows with local bands in their basement most weekends and occasionally during the week. Sharp Hall is RPI’s answer to apartments, with suites containing a living area and six bedrooms.