Colleen Smith, the new dean of the graduate experience, recently partnered with the Mueller Center and the Graduate Student Council to develop an outdoor program; 20 graduate students, along with four team leaders from campus, traveled to Stratton Mountain in Vermont for a day hike. Photo by Andrew Yale ’14.

According to The Rensselaer Plan 2024, a successful research-based graduate program rests in a residential experience that complements students’ training as scholars. Part of the mission of Clustered Learning, Advocacy, and Support for Students (CLASS) is to enable a distinguishing experience for undergraduate and graduate students. To build out that aspect of the graduate program, Rensselaer has appointed Colleen Smith to the newly created position of dean of the graduate experience.

Smith will oversee programming and initiatives that build affinity groups, promote student engagement, and support retention efforts, specifically assisting with the Graduate Orientation Programs. Smith will also work to provide time-based support to graduate students appropriate to their year in graduate study. In addition, the position will also create an opportunity to identify and support graduate students in need of intervention and make appropriate referrals and/or provide appropriate support.

“Collaboration is essential for the success of this position,” said Smith, who joined the campus community in August. “Collaboration is what makes it possible for me to connect graduate students to available resources, support, and opportunities for involvement and engagement with other graduate students, undergraduate students, faculty, staff, and alumni.”

Smith noted that since joining the Rensselaer community, she has been able to collaborate with many campus partners including the Office of Graduate Education, the Graduate Class Council, colleagues within the Division of Student Life, graduate faculty, staff, and students from the five schools, and other departments across campus.


Colleen Smith

“The opportunity to partner with other individuals on campus has led to the development of graduate forums that focus on professional, personal, and career development topics and social events that encourage interdisciplinary and affinity group development,” Smith said. For example, she recently partnered with the Mueller Center and the Graduate Student Council to develop an outdoor program for 20 graduate students. The group, along with four team leaders from campus, traveled to Stratton Mountain in Vermont for a day hike.

“I am interested in working with Rensselaer graduate students because Rensselaer values support beyond the classroom as a principle that is just as important as interdisciplinary study, research, and entrepreneurship for graduate student success,” Smith said. “I look forward to collaborating with more campus partners to enhance the overall graduate student experience at Rensselaer.”

Smith is currently a doctoral candidate in education policy and leadership. Prior to Rensselaer, she served as a project assistant for the Graduate School Office of Professional Development, and worked to create a series of programs for graduate students at UMass Amherst. She received her master’s in college student personnel administration from Canisius College, and her bachelor’s in English from LeMoyne College.

“As a university, Rensselaer maintains a commitment to providing high levels of support and services to students,” said Lisa Trahan, assistant vice president for the Office of the Student Experience. “In this position, Colleen will serve as a liaison between Student Life and the Office of Graduate Education to provide a comprehensive approach to the graduate student experience. Colleen brings an invigorating perspective to the newly created position that will support our unique approach to cultivating relationships among our diverse student body, in order to promote the exchange of ideas and experiences, and more robust social, recreational, and cultural opportunities.”