Penn's Rachleff Scholars: A New Kind of Engineering Student
July 6, 2009
At Penn's School of Engineering and Applied Science, innovation happens every day -- and not just in classrooms and labs as students and faculty push the boundaries of technology. It happens almost as often in the School's bold new academic programming: classes and initiatives designed to open new doors for the engineers of tomorrow.
For the past year, Rachleff Scholars, SEAS's new research-based honors program, has been doing just that.
Designed to promote research among the top 5-10% of SEAS undergraduate students, the program is committed to getting its scholars (recruited into the program before they matriculate) hooked on research early and enmeshed in a vibrant network of faculty and student researchers that will keep them moving forward.
And by doing that, Rachleff Scholars aims to do even more. "We want," says Director Jan Van der Spiegel, "to build up a strong community of undergraduate scholars and researchers at SEAS, many of whom will serve as role models for the larger population of students. And ultimately, we hope to motivate and excite young minds at SEAS to pursue research careers in engineering."
It's an ambitious agenda -- one that is particularly appealing to Andy Rachleff, W'80, who, along with his wife Debbie, made a generous gift to endow the program. University Trustee, Chair of the SEAS Board of Overseers, and longtime donor, Rachleff is also a renowned venture capitalist with a special appreciation for "visionaries with daring ideas."
For Rachleff, the program is an inspired solution to a trend many have mentioned but few have addressed: a diminishing supply of top-quality engineers in the U.S. and an attendant drop in innovation. "Besides providing students with an extraordinary academic experience, this type of program is carefully laying the groundwork that will reverse these trends," says Rachleff, who credits SEAS Dean Eduardo Glandt with making the Scholars Program happen.
Over three years in the making, the Rachleff Scholars Program encompasses honors and graduate-level courses that teach students to design their own projects and carve out their own unique research interests, a funded summer research experience with a Penn faculty member, and an exceptionally tight network of advising and faculty support.
For students like Evan Mossop, ENG'12, one of nine inaugural Rachleff Scholars, it all adds up to "an incredibly stimulating experience." "This program has put me on a path I'm not sure I would have found on my own," says the freshman, who is feeling out several potential research projects now. "I'm exploring new areas, asking new kinds of questions, seeing connections" -- and starting to think, it would appear, of research not just as a single project but as a way of life.
photo: members of the inaugural class of Rachleff Scholars
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