Students at Rensselaer are part of a diverse campus community of artists, engineers, scientists, athletes, entrepreneurs, community service volunteers, and sustainability advocates.
Noting growing student interest in sustainability, climate change, and other environmental factors, Rensselaer established Vasudha, a living-learning community focused on “Earth, Energy, and Environment.” Launched three years ago by the Office of Undergraduate Education, Vasudha is a place where first-year students with a passion for learning about and solving problems related to the environment can call home. This year’s group of 37 first-year students is based in Nason Hall, where they enjoy a dedicated lounge and classroom.
“In Sanskrit, an Indian language, the word Vasudha means ‘earth and its elements,’” said Prabhat Hajela, vice provost and dean of the office of undergraduate education. “Living-learning programs give students with different backgrounds, but with a shared passion in a particular field, the opportunity to study and live in close proximity within a residence hall, facilitating studying, networking, and close friendships. Most importantly, seeing and interacting with faculty within residential areas helps enhance the overall student experience.”
At Rensselaer, the goals of establishing a living-learning community are simple but meaningful: to create educational environments and opportunities in the residence halls and to develop mentoring and personal connections between faculty, staff, administrators, and students outside the classroom.
Since its inception, 93 students have participated in Vasudha. The program, designed for all majors, specifically encourages a multidisciplinary environment, where mechanical engineers, biologists, humanists, and others can all work together. During the fall, the students who elect to participate in this program are enrolled in a common course Nature/Society (IHSS-1970). The students may also elect to enroll in a special section of Introduction to Biology (BIOL-1010) taught by Susan Gilbert, professor and chair of the Biology Department, and Dr. Brad Lister, an ecologist and research professor of biology. While still a comprehensive introduction to modern biology, the Vasudha section of Introduction to Biology gives special emphasis to the central themes of energy, the environment, and biodiversity. During their second semester, students can participate in the Vasudha Research Experience, an introduction to independent inquiry directed by Professors Hajela and Lister.