RSE Alumni Retreat to Discuss the Future of RSE Attracts Big Turnout!

The RSE Trustees and the Alumni Advisory Committee (AAC) hosted a virtual retreat to discuss the future of RSE on November 14, 2020. The Retreat had 74 registered attendees ranging from the class of 1947 to current RPI students. The purpose of the meeting was to:

  • Educate Alumni on the survey and the progress of the AAC;
  • Review current status of the RSE Future Strategy Initiative and concepts;
  • Gain initial feedback from the Alumni on proposed future concepts; and
  • Provide a path and timing to a decision on the RSE Future Strategy.

The future direction of the Society is being considered. The issues are substantial. This retreat is one of several. A follow-up retreat is planned for February 20, 2021. Like the November 2020 retreat, this retreat will be “virtual”.

The Retreat was opened by a State of RSE presentation by the Society President, Tom Keating ‘75. Tom provided an update on the current status of the suspension and highlighted the changes at RPI, RSE and the US higher education system that are driving the need for RSE to address a revised long-term strategy for the Society. 

Don Thoma ’83, the Chair of the AAC, provided a summary of the RSE Alumni Survey results. 263 alumni responded to the survey for an amazing 44% response rate. The survey highlighted a number of consistent observations:

  • RSE was an important part of the alumni experience at RPI,
  • There is a strong affiliation with RSE by its alumni members,
  • There is a desire by alumni to engage with students to “pass it on”, and
  • While the alumni stated a preference to maintain RSE as a social fraternity, there is clear recognition that times have changed, that RPI and RSE is not the same as the “good old days” and significant changes are necessary for RSE to endure and thrive for another 150 years.

Don provided an update on the activities of the AAC over the past 5 months. The AAC consists of 32 RSE members and has met formally over 10 times since August.  The AAC started by reviewing the results of the survey to provide a baseline of Alumni sentiment on the state of RSE and obtain input on future options.  The AAC focused on two options from the survey:  A revised fraternity model and  an independent non-fraternity organization with a RPI mission.  Both options included similar core components that include:

  • A focus on academic success,
  • Professional and career development, and
  • Focused concentration on activities that are aligned with key interests of students such as entrepreneurship, sustainability, the promotion of STEM education, and philanthropic pursuits.

Three themes were explored in more detail and included professional development led by Cary Nadel ’77, entrepreneurship led by Dave Hall ’80, and sustainability led by Keith Smith ’79.  The result of the AAC work created a thought piece called RSE 3.0 – The Mission for the Next 150 Years. The document can be found on the website.

The thought piece is meant to provoke an exploration of potential concepts and to provide a basis for discussion and debate.  A lot of research, analysis and development still needs to be done to develop a pragmatic and executable plan.  Don provided an overview of RSE 3.0 concepts to get the dialog started. 

Like everyone in the COVID world, the RSE Alumni are quite adept at navigating the remote Zoom world.  We broke into five discussion groups led by Cary Nadel ’77, Dave Hall ‘80, Keith Smith ’79, Ed Herger ’72 and Don Thoma ’83 and began a lively discussion on the current status of RSE, the possible solutions and areas that we need to explore.  While there were many important topics discussed in the breakout sessions, there were several key takeaways.

  • The state of fraternities in general does not bode well for long-term Greek Life at RPI without substantial changes being made,
  • The pool of RSE candidate members is shrinking and the demands for student’s time is increasing,
  • RSE must create a model that differentiates itself from other activities and provide a value to the students,
  • We acknowledged our relationship with RPI has not always been the most positive. We are an RPI-based organization and we need to build a productive relationship with RPI going forward,
  • It is essential that significant academic and professional development be part of RSE 3.0,
  • There was some excitement and support for an entrepreneurship theme as part of RSE 3.0 including ties with the Severino Center for Technological Entrepreneurship, part of RPI’s Lally School of Management,
  • There was also a desire to explore the theme of technology solutions to sustainability given the interest by students and the faculty on this topic,
  • There is the possibility of outside support and funding for causes such as the environment or areas like entrepreneurship through grant programs and we should explore these,
  • Given the need for differentiation and access to students, there was discussion on a need to appeal to a broad base of students and not get too specific on a single theme.
  • There was strong agreement that the social component of the shared experience of common activities and living arrangements enabled life-long bonding,
  • The financial business model will be a critical part of the development plan both in terms of capital requirements to upgrade 1501 Sage to the new mission, as well as a sustainable operating business model to support RSE 3.0,
  • Governance of RSE 3.0 will be critical to ensure ongoing support and success of the organization. The role of Alumni and RPI involvement in the governance of RSE 3.0 needs to be carefully considered,
  • The transition plan to RSE 3.0 needs to be pragmatic and executable, meaning we need to develop a plan that can be accomplished with a realistic view of continued Alumni support in both time and money,
  • Finally, RSE is currently negotiating reinstatement with the Dean of Students Office and we must be very careful on the introduction, coordination and development of RSE 3.0 to ensure the best possible result.

There is a lot of work to be done.  The purpose of this November retreat was not to make a decision, but to fully engage interested Alumni and begin the journey of charting RSE’s path for the next 150 years, RSE 3.0.  The AAC and Trustees will continue through the winter to engage the key RPI organizations and the RPI administration on reinstatement and support to explore future components of RSE 3.0.  A very important part of the formation of RSE 3.0 will be ensuring we develop something that is of interest and valuable to RPI students.  We have begun student outreach programs to ensure we base RSE 3.0 on a solid assumptions.  Our second retreat with Alumni, planned for Saturday, February 20, 2021, to further refine these concepts and to discuss a draft plan. The ultimate objective is to develop a fully realized RSE 3.0 plan that includes how we transition from the current RSE to RSE 3.0. We will develop this plan in the Winter and Spring of 2021 and present the RSE 3.0 plan at RSE Spring 2021 Society Meeting on Saturday, April 24, 2021 for approval.

Alumni involvement and support for RSE 3.0 is essential to our success.  The high degree of engagement during the Survey and the Retreat show that we have a strong organization held together by our common bonds of our time at 1501 Sage Ave.  If you would like to help ensure the legacy of RSE, please get involved with the AAC. If you have any questions or would like to get involved, please contact me at


Don Thoma ‘83

RSE Member Relations Officer and AAC Chairman

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