Academic Resources The Hidden Curriculum, Episode 6 | Class of 2024

Academics at RPI can be challenging, but you do not have to figure it all out on your own!

Brace yourself, midterms are coming...

The first few weeks of your first semester can be overwhelming academically - you have to figure out which websites to log into and what time to do so, adjust to a new pace of learning when compared to high school, and do all of this in a new environment. Then, just as you get into the swing of things, it seems like a new challenge immediately shows up with midterm exams and projects! Read on to make sure you know all of the resources on campus that can support your academic success, and walk away with an action plan to prepare for midterms effectively!

So, what will we cover in this episode?

  • The Advising and Learning Assistance Center (ALAC)
  • The Center for Global Communication and Design (Comm+D)
  • Early Warning System Notifications (and what to do about them!)
  • First Year Experience (FYE) and Class Dean support options
  • An action plan for midterm season
Let's begin...

Advising and Learning Assistance Center (ALAC)

You have likely at least heard of ALAC by now, and that's a good thing! They are the big name on campus when it comes to helping you succeed in your current classes. While they are most well-known for tutoring, their other services may just be the missing piece you need to really take your academics to the next level.

Their services include:

1) Tutoring Services

ALAC provides free tutoring for the majority of the courses you will take over your first few years at RPI (and often for upper-level classes too). The tutors are fellow RPI students who have taken and received high grades in the class you need help with. Not only can they help teach you the concepts, but their first-hand experience can be extra helpful in strategizing how to prepare for exams and quizzes!

This semester, tutoring is available via Webex. Many courses have standard drop-in hours where you can simply log in for help at the designated time. Many other courses are available by appointment by emailing the designated contact. You can find the tutoring schedule, which is updated every semester, on ALAC's webpage at the link below.

While there are no specific guidelines about how you have to show up to tutoring, here are some tips to make the most out of your tutoring sessions!

  1. Come prepared with questions! If you come in and tell the tutor, "Well, I just don't understand anything from lecture this week," they will still try to help, of course, but it will be harder for them to know where to start.
  2. Sometimes tip #1 can be tough if you aren't sure exactly what's tripping you up. If that's the case, bring in a practice problem or two that you struggled to get through as an example. Obviously, remember that a tutor cannot do a graded homework question for you (#academicintegrity).
  3. Pay attention to fellow students' questions. For some of your larger classes, the tutors may end up with many students in the same Webex room and need to take turns answering questions. Instead of zoning out until your question comes up, watch other questions get addressed. You may get an answer you didn't know you needed! If the tutor is spending time on a concept you fully understand, feel free to work on other homework in the background for a few minutes.

2) Academic Coaching/Learning Assistance

This seems to be one of the services that is lesser-known in ALAC since we have students every year who are surprised that this is an option! Many RPI students often tell us that they were able to get through high school with minimal (or no) study skills required. Then, once college classes begin, they realize that they cannot coast on smarts alone and struggle with things such as time management, studying effectively, and organization. This is where academic coaching can help!

The academic coaches in ALAC are full-time professional staff members like your Hub advisor. Their job is to help you with everything mentioned above to make sure you are able to develop the skills you need to achieve academic success.

Not sure if academic coaching is right for you? Here are some common student concerns we hear that we think are best addressed with an academic coach!

  • "I spend a LOT of time studying, but the time I am putting in isn't reflected in my grades."
  • "The stuff I am learning in lecture makes sense, but I can't keep track of everything and got a few 0's because I forgot to turn in a homework/lab."
  • "I am overwhelmed and can't figure out how to manage my time to get everything done. I keep pulling all-nighters and that doesn't even get me there."
  • "I have a learning disability and didn't think I would still need my accommodations in college, and I am now realizing that I would like to have them as an option." (In these cases, you will specifically want to meet with Arielle Roberts, our Learning Skills Specialist

Don't just take it from us, hear from the whole Learning Assistance team below!

To make an appointment, email alac@rpi.edu with your name, RIN, and a few details on what help you are looking for. Someone will be in touch soon after!

3) Learning Assistant Program (LA's)

Last but not least, ALAC oversees the Learning Assistant program! If you are living on-campus, your hall has a Learning Assistant (LA) who is assigned to your area. They are an upperclassmen who is there to answer your questions about academics and connect you with ALAC where appropriate. You have likely met them by now, so make sure to say hi and keep the lines of communication open!

The Center for Global Communication and Design (Comm+D)

As Hub Advisors, we tell students every year that we believe this is one of the most underrated resources on campus. While it is easy to think that math and science skills are what make a quality engineer, those skills will only get you so far if you are unable to communicate well through writing and presentations. Building strong communication skills takes time and practice, and the incredible team at Comm+D is available to help you every step of the way.

Meet one of their fabulous undergraduate mentors below!

Projects that Comm+D can help with include (but are not limited to):

  • Reviewing a paper or technical report for your class to see if your ideas make sense
  • Taking the resume you reviewed with a career counselor in CCPD and making it more visually appealing
  • Helping you figure out the best way to visually represent data
  • Listening to you give a presentation so you can get feedback before presenting to your class
  • Assessing your application materials for jobs, internships, or graduate programs
  • Looking at design work for a website you are designing to see if you are getting across the branding and messaging that you want
  • Writing correct English and helping international students develop language skills

To help with these things, Comm+D offers support through:

1) One-on-One Consultations

This is the main method of service offered by Comm+D where you can work one-on-one with either an undergraduate mentor or a graduate teaching assistant to get feedback. There are two different methods to get this individualized support!

  1. You can book a "Real Time" appointment and go over your document, presentation, design, etc. in real-time with a Comm+D mentor. To do this, you book an appointment through their portal (link provided below), upload the file you plan to review during your appointment, and log back in to their portal 5 to 10 minutes before your appointment to join the session. They often (but not always) have same-day availability, but most mentors wrap up by 7:00 PM, so plan accordingly!
  2. You can upload your content and get asynchronous, written feedback from Comm+D without having to meet during a live appointment. To do this, select "Online Tutor" as your appointment type and upload the file you want to receive feedback on. After that, keep an eye on your email for a notification that someone has responded to your content.

To book an appointment, register for an account in their portal and sign up here!

2. Language and Culture Support Services

RPI has brilliant students join us from all over the world every year, which means that a significant percentage of our campus community is multilingual.

As a result, Comm+D specifically trains mentors on how to provide specialized support in one-on-one feedback for multilingual students who would like extra help with their English skills. While Comm+D mentors are not English as a Second Language instructors, they are well-versed in how to help with oral communication, grammar, vocabulary, and common English idioms/sayings.

Chinese Mentor Program

If you are an RPI student that wants to develop Chinese language skills, you can go a step beyond the available classes on campus with the Chinese mentor program through Comm+D!

This program connects Chinese language learners with mentors that are native Chinese speakers. This program, overseen by Dr. Jianling Yue, promotes both language development and cross-cultural learning. All campus community members who are interested in learning about Chinese language and culture are welcome to participate!

To sign up for a meeting with a Chinese mentor, contact Haowen He at heh4@rpi.edu. Each week, you will get an email with a scheduling link to book a time!

3. Online Resources

Comm+D can provide you tons of value without ever even booking an appointment (though we still highly recommend you do)! They have gathered a large list of free online resources that you can reference as you work on any sort of writing, oral communication, or design project. Check it out at the link below!

Early Warning System Notifications (EWS)

As your first round of exams, quizzes, and homework assignments went around, you may have received an email from RPI's Early Warning System (EWS) notifying you that something about your performance in a class may need attention. These emails can be surprising and a little scary, so let's talk about them - what do they mean, how serious are they, are they common, and what do you do if you get one (or more)?

What is an EWS?

An EWS is an email notification, generally initiated by your professor, that lets you, your academic advisor, and your Class Dean know that your professor is concerned about some aspect of your class performance. While all EWS's should be taken seriously, not all EWS notifications are the same. The various types are:

  • Test Performance: This is sent if you received a low score on an exam (or multiple exams). There is no official threshold institute-wide for what constitutes a low score/what should qualify for an EWS, so professors have some latitude to decide what they would consider noteworthy.
  • Missing/Poor Assignments: This is sent if you have failed to hand in some of your assignments, or the ones you did hand in are low quality. We see these most frequently for missing homework assignments or lab reports.
  • Poor Attendance: This should be pretty self-explanatory, but many professors will notice and care if you are not consistently showing up to class. Every class has a different policy on attendance and how it will impact your grade, so if you receive this EWS, odds are your grade is being impacted by missing class.
  • Failing the Course: Obviously, this is the most serious EWS. This generally indicates that some combination of the factors in other EWS notifications has led your professor to believe you are in danger of failing the course overall.

What do they mean?

In all honesty, it depends!

EWS notifications are very common. One Hub advisor checked her notes, and 33% of the students in her caseload received at least one EWS last semester. Many RPI students who get them will go on to be successful in their degree, and sometimes even in the class they received the EWS for. The goal of the system is to let you know there may be an issue while it is still early enough to do something about it.

So, if you accidentally missed a homework or two in the first few weeks and get an EWS for it, there is no reason to panic as long as you make a plan to get on track for the rest of the semester! However, if you are receiving multiple EWS notifications for one or more classes, or you receive any notification that suggests you are failing a course, it's time to take action.

What should I do if I get one or more EWS notifications?

First and foremost, don't panic!

Again, many wonderfully smart and successful RPI students have received an EWS at some point along the way. Receiving one does not mean you are in trouble or are a bad student, it just means that it is time to assess what is going on and make a plan for success moving forward.

Second, it is always a good idea to talk to the professor of the class you received an EWS for.

The notifications fall under general categories, and you can get more specific feedback about their concerns by talking one-on-one. You can do this over email, during office hours, or by requesting to set up an appointment with them to discuss your performance. They can give you guidance as to where you stand in the class and what they think needs to happen next for you to be successful.

Finally, think about whose help you may need to get on track moving forward. Then, make a plan to reach out.

  • Are you struggling to understand the concepts and topics taught in class? Make a plan to attend your professor, TA, or mentor's office hours, or attend ALAC tutoring for help with the subject.
  • Are you struggling with organization or time management? Make an appointment with an academic coach to create a plan to get on track.
  • Have you talked to your professor and decided your best course of action may be to drop one particular class? Email or book an appointment with your Hub advisor to make sure you understand the possible consequences (many times there aren't any, but you want to make sure!) and discuss how to adjust your future course plans accordingly.
  • Are you struggling in most, or all, of your classes and feel as though the semester is beyond repair? We will discuss this worst case scenario more in-depth below, but in these cases, you will want to make an appointment with your Class Dean as soon as possible.

First Year Experience and Your Class Dean

The Office of the First Year Experience (FYE) ushered you in to this year with all of their involvement in Student Orientation. However, your connection to them doesn't have to end there. While we hope this will never be the case for you, FYE and your Class Dean are an excellent resource if significant personal circumstances (physical or mental health, family struggles, etc.) are impeding your ability to succeed in your classes. And, in appropriate cases, they work with you to facilitate the Leave of Absence process if you ever find yourself in a place where the best move for you personally is to withdraw for the semester. Read on to learn about situations where you should consider pulling in your Class Dean.

Excused Absences

If you have missed class, it is possible that your professor will request documentation to confirm that it is an excused absence. If your absence was a direct result of going to the Student Health Center, that process will generally be automatic. However, there are many more things that qualify for excused absences (including positive things, like weddings), and in those cases, you will need to reach out for the excused absence documentation.

To do this, email success@rpi.edu with the circumstance and any accompanying documentation. Details about common qualifications for excused absences and the required proof can be found at the link below.

Personal Circumstances Impeding Academics

Throughout the course of the semester, it is common to have some weeks that are tougher than others. Also, sometimes the answer to struggling in a class is simply to talk to your Hub advisor, drop it, and move on.

However, if you are in a situation where your mental health, physical health, family circumstances, or other serious issues are keeping you from performing up to your potential in several classes, that is when it is best to pull in your Class Dean. They can help coordinate communication with your professors for absences or extension requests, work with ALAC if you may need to consider dropping one or more courses after the drop deadline, and pull together both academic and student life resources in creative ways to try to help you persist successfully.

If these interventions are enough to get you back in a stable place for the semester, fantastic! However, once in awhile, students and their families may decide that the best move is to withdraw from the semester until life circumstances can settle down again. If so, the Class Dean can help you there too.

Leave of Absence

A leave of absence (LOA) is when a student intentionally withdraws from a semester of courses. The same term is used whether it is done before the semester begins (ex. it is the summer and you decide to take the fall semester off) or during the semester (ex. you started the fall semester and decided to withdraw midway through). While it may seem intimidating, it is sometimes the best option if you need time away from school to get your physical, mental, financial, or other circumstances back in order.

The Student Success website has excellent FAQ pages about LOAs and readmission. We have provided the links here, and pulled some highlights in the text below.

1) What will happen to my grades? As with many items on this list, the answer is that it will vary slightly based on the details of your situation. Obviously, if you declare the leave of absence before the semester begins, there will be no grades (and therefore no impact on your GPA) for the semester of your leave.

If you leave before the end of the 8th week of classes, your classes will be removed from your transcript, no grades will be given, and you will not receive credit for your courses. If you leave after the 8th week, your classes will remain on your record, you will receive "W" grades (reflects withdrawal, does not impact GPA), and you will not receive credit for your courses.

2) Will I get any money back on tuition? This depends on when in the semester you officially drop. As long as you withdraw before the end of 9 weeks, you can expect to receive at least some money back. The credit goes down each week the semester goes on, so if this is something you are seriously considering, do not delay in meeting with the Class Dean. The Bursar's Office has the tuition refund schedule available under "Refunds" at this link.

Much like tuition, housing and dining can potentially be refunded on a prorated basis. From the effective date of your leave, you generally have 72 hours to move out of campus housing.

3) Will this delay my graduation? Again, this will depend on a few factors. If you came in to RPI with transfer credits (AP/IB/etc.), it is possible your incoming credits could still have you on track to complete your requirements in the standard 4 years. Even if you don't have transfer credits already, there are options like taking summer courses at a community college that can get you back on schedule. If a leave is the right choice for you, it's important to take the time you need. Your advisor can always help you make a plan to figure out your schedule moving forward!

4) How long can I take a leave for? There is no set limit, but most commonly, students choose to take leave for one semester or one year.

5) I heard I have to go through a readmission process to come back, should I be worried? Honestly, no. The readmission process is not looking to penalize you or be competitive in any way. The main reason people get denied readmission is because they fail to submit their readmission application (or submit an incomplete one) and fail to resolve holds on their account (ex. Bursar hold). As long as you follow the steps laid out for you (your Class Dean will cover this in LOA counseling/set up), things should be pretty seamless and you don't need to worry.

With all of that being said, who is the first year Class Dean and how do you meet?

Your Class Dean for your first year at RPI is Janelle Fayette. Her email is fayetj@rpi.edu and you can book an appointment with her at the link below.

Your Midterm Action Plan

Now that we've covered all of your options and resources, how do you put it all together and make an action plan for success? To wrap up this episode, we will discuss tangible ways to prepare for papers, presentations, and exams.

Preparing for an Exam

Often, one of the toughest parts of studying for an exam is simply getting started. After all, many exams are worth a significant percentage of your grade and there is a lot of material to cover! However, if you can break things down into smaller steps, we guarantee it will make it easier to start early, be effective, and stay on track.

Your Action Steps:

  1. Make note of any upcoming exams on your calendar. Then, for each exam, work backwards from the test date to make your study plan. A good rule of thumb is to allot one day for every chapter you need to study (reviewing notes/doing practice problems), and then an additional day to review everything cumulatively. Often times, about one week of preparing should give you plenty of time to do all of this without too much stress.
  2. As you study, make note of any practice problems or concepts you struggled with. These will be the prime things to go back over on your final review day so you can be as efficient with your time as possible.
  3. Identify and write down any available mentoring hours, office hours, or tutoring sessions available leading up to your exam. You certainly don't have to go to all of them, but it makes it easier to drop in and get your questions answered if you don't have to stop your study flow to look this up later.
  4. DO NOT PULL ALL-NIGHTERS. So often, students feel pressured to do this because it seems like a way to demonstrate how hard you are working. However, there is nothing more counterintuitive to your success. Sleep is the time that your brain consolidates short-term memory (the things you just read/practiced) into long-term memory (information you can recall later). If you don't sleep, you are setting yourself for the nightmare scenario we hear from students pulling all-nighters every semester: "I stayed up all night studying and swore I had everything memorized, but the moment I looked at the test, I blanked." Get some sleep, it will be better for both you AND your grades.

Preparing for a Paper or Presentation

While papers and presentations can be daunting, there is something nice about having a little more control over the process when compared to an exam. If your early preparations are on point, you will be ready to execute these assignments effectively!

Your Action Steps:

  1. Do not underestimate the power of a good outline! Any paper or presentation you create will have an overall point you are trying to get across (thesis statements, anyone?). Before diving in, you can save yourself a lot of time and future stress if you map out how you will make that argument. Outline your paper ahead of time and use that as a starting point to grab sources and start writing.
  2. Make sure to complete your paper or presentation at least one day before the due date. It can be really difficult to effectively edit and proofread something that you have been staring at for hours. If you leave yourself enough time to sleep on things and give it all one last look with fresh eyes, odds are you will quickly find little things to brush up before submission.
  3. Take advantage of Comm+D's services! One of the options for Comm+D feedback, as mentioned above, is to simply upload your materials and get written feedback. This doesn't even require you to log in at a certain time. With that available as an option, it is legitimately a free chance for feedback and improvement with very minimal effort on your part! Use it.
  4. Say it out loud. This tip is more obvious for presentations since you should absolutely be practicing what you will say. However, this is a great tip for paper writing as well! Reading things out loud is one of the simplest ways to catch word omissions, run-on sentences, and spots where you can say things in a clearer way.

Complete Episode 6

To complete each episode of The Hidden Curriculum, you will take a quick quiz. This allows your Hub Advisor to know if you have completed each required episode, and helps to reaffirm the information that we really want you to walk away with.

Click the button below to finish this required step!

The School of Engineering First-Year Advising Hub

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