Learning Assistance

Exceptional students are drawn to Rensselaer in part by our rigorous education standards.  ALAC offers many services to help you meet your academic goals effectively:

ALAC’s full range of learning assistance helps students start well, stay focused, and succeed in their academic adventure. Contact us at 518.276.6269 for more details about services.  We are here to help.


Tutoring Services

Tutoring services cover course-specific material in interactive group sessions for many undergraduate core courses, with an emphasis on first-year and second-year classes in the schools of science and engineering.

Drop-in tutoring provides opportunities for undergraduates to review class material with graduate and undergraduate tutors proficient in the course topics.  The goal is to help students become independent learners by having tutors guide them through solving practice problems while demonstrating strategies for exploring a topic.  Their role is not to provide answers, but rather to help students understand questions and identify methods for solving them.








    Drop-In Tutoring Schedule

    Drop-in tutoring sessions are offered for selected courses in the schools of science and engineering.  As shown below, some sessions are held in the ALAC Tutoring Center on the first floor of Folsom Library; other sessions meet in locations around campus.  Note that:

    • If you want help with a 1000-level or 2000-level course not listed on the tutoring schedule below, please contact the Advising & Learning Assistance Center.
    • Drop-in tutoring is suspended on any day that classes are not in session (such as holidays or snow days). 







    Graduate Teaching & Learning Assistants (TLAs)

    Drop-in tutoring sessions are supervised by graduate Teaching & Learning Assistants (TLAs). TLAs also hold open office hours, lead extra review sessions before major tests in core courses, and coordinate workshops on academic-related topics (such as MatLab software and file version control) and professional development (such as tips for preparing for GRE exams and applying for graduate school). The TLAs act as an outreach arm of ALAC, and interact closely with faculty to provide feedback on areas of concern for students.  Each TLA is an outstanding student referred to ALAC by their respective department chair, then approved and funded by the Vice Provost and Dean of Graduate Education.


    ****** FALL TLA STAFF - OFFICE HOURS - TBA   ******




    Learning Support

    The Rensselaer academic experience brings many new and exciting challenges to some of the finest young minds in the world.  For such students, high school work may have been easy, with no need to study or to think about how to study.  The more challenging college curriculum, though, may require learning new skills to adapt to the new circumstances.  Academic support is also available for students referred by Rensselaer’s Office of Disability Services.

    Individual academic coaching

    Learning support includes individual academic coaching by professional staff on organizational skills, time management, learning strategies, and similar topics critical to academic success. Students may find it helpful to have occasional or regular sessions with ALAC's professional staff to identify academic challenges and develop strategies for success.  To arrange a session with a Learning Skills Specialist, contact ALAC.   

    Undergraduate Learning Assistants (LAs)

    Undergraduate Learning Assistants (LAs), trained and supervised by ALAC staff, live in first-year residences to provide informal support, workshops, and early intervention. Learning Assistants help first-year students become active, independent and successful learners.  LAs are assigned to a specific first-year residence hall where they live and assume responsibility for interacting frequently with the residents of that hall while providing academically-related programs, information and assistance. The LA serves as a liaison between their undergraduates and the Advising and Learning Assistance Center.  They are Rensselaer juniors, seniors, or co-terminal undergraduates hired, trained, and supervised by ALAC.

    In 2017, ALAC added an "international LA" to consult with the residence LAs and help students from other countries adapt to American language and culture.

    The Advising & Learning Assistance Center is currently accepting applications for  two LA positions, as well as an International LA position.  The deadline for all applications is Friday, April 28th, 2017. Please click on the link below to apply, and you will be redirected to the application.


    LA applications for the academic year 2018-2019 are now being accepted. Please click on the link below to apply. All application submissions will be reviewed starting in October 2017.



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    Language and Culture Support

    International students can get Language and Culture Support to help ease their transition to American culture and the English language.  The transition can be both exciting and intimidating.  The high level of interactive learning in many of Rensselaer’s classes may be a complete change for students used to a more passive classroom experience.  ALAC offers a variety of programs to help with the academic, social, and linguistic challenges, while providing opportunities to ask questions about community resources, confusing observations, and more. 

    Spring 2017

    • NEW support for first-year international students! ALAC has a Learning Assistant (LA) in each first-year residence.  There is now an international LA to help students adjust to American language & culture. Jiaqi "Ethan" Geng moved here from China in 2015, so he understands the challenges of studying in a new language & culture.  Freshmen, you can contact him at gengj3@rpi.edu, or see your residence's LA for more information.
    • "W@1 Tea & Talk": Informal conversations every Wednesday, 1-2:30 pm, in Folsom Library, 1st floor.  Open to all: international students, scholars, faculty, staff, or family members.  No appointment is necessary, just come!
    • Reference books and bulletin board: Materials that may be of interest to the international community are available outside Folsom 155.  Books can be used only in the library; other items, such as maps and handouts, are free to take.
    • ADMN1010 "Oral Communication for International TAs": This zero-credit course is designed to help international teaching assistants develop their skills for communicating with students and colleagues in an academic setting.  Limited to teaching assistants in the fall; others are admitted in the spring semester as space allows.
    • PLANS FOR FALL 2017: ALAC now has undergraduate Intercultural Program Assistants (IPAs) wqorking on developing activities that will bring together international and American students. Watch for details.

    Summer Academic Program for Rensselaer International Students (SAPRIS)

    The Summer Academic Program for Rensselaer International Students (SAPRIS) helps our school's new first-year students start their college adventure early.  Participants have the chance to build connections with each other, returning students, Rensselaer faculty, and professional staff.

    NOTE: For information in Chinese, email us to request the Chinese version. To join WeChat's SAPRIS Family, contact henryjulius. Our 2017 SAPRIS QQ group is number 213999406.
    如需SAPRIS项目的中文信息,请发邮件至sapris@rpi.edu索取。如想加入本项目的微信群(SAPRIS Family),请联络henryjulius。2017年SAPRIS项目的QQ号为 213999406。

    This optional program enables participants to settle into Rensselaer with a combination of coursework, on-campus living, and regional field trips.  SAPRIS students participate in two highly interactive courses taught by Rensselaer faculty members: a four-credit Speech Communication class, and a one-credit ESL class. The speech communication course prepares participants for the many oral reports they will make in other classes, and also fulfills one of the school's requirements for graduation. Evening and weekend field trips introduce participants to the Rensselaer campus, community resources, and regional attractions.  When the semester begins, participants understand academic expectations, are familiar with the campus and region, and have an established network of friends and colleagues.

    In 2017, participants will arrive on July 8th, and participate in the courses and local activities through August 18th.  The group will then travel for an extended field trip, and return to campus in time to join other first-year students in Student Orientation-IV (SO-IV).  A single program fee of $12,000(USD) covers just about everything. With SAPRIS, SO-IV, the SO-IV related field trip, and the Navigating Rensselaer and Beyond program, you will have housing, food, and fun activities right up to the start of your first full semester.  For more details, please read the sections below.  You are welcome to contact sapris@rpi.edu with any questions related to this program.

    Start early, start right, start with SAPRIS!

    APPLICATION DEADLINE: Monday, April 17.
    Later applications only with permission.  Contact sapris@rpi.edu.

    If you have Google access, apply online.
    OR: if no Google access, download the application as a pdf file (preferred; click here for free Adobe Reader software) or download a Word document. Save your completed pdf or Word application and email your file to sapris@rpi.edu

    Overview of program

    SAPRIS will prepare you for the rigorous academic adventure that attracts you to Rensselaer. The seven-week program includes six weeks of classes, plus a field trip to Niagara Falls, Buffalo, and other locations before you start SO-IV.  The single comprehensive fee covers all program costs, including tuition (65% of the fee), on-campus housing, food, textbooks, activities, transportation and admissions for field trips, and more.

    The dedicated SAPRIS staff includes faculty members and teaching assistants for the coursework, learning assistants to provide support and activities in your on-campus housing, and other Rensselaer folks to participate in field trips. Staff from our Advising & Learning Assistance Center wil be available for formal meetings and informal discussion throughout the program.

    For 2017,  participants should arrive on July 8th (preferred) or 9th.  Monday July 10th will be used to take care of transition details, such as getting your Rensselaer ID, touring the campus, setting up a bank account, shopping for supplies, and adjusting to the time difference.  Classes will start on Tuesday, July 11th, and meet every Monday, Tuesday,  Thursday, and Friday until August 18th.

    TO APPLY: If you have Google access, apply online.
    OR: if no Google access, download the application as a pdf file (preferred; click here for free Adobe Reader software) or download a Word document. Save your completed pdf or Word application and email your file to sapris@rpi.edu

    APPLICATION DEADLINE Monday April 17.  Later applications accepted only with permission.

    Frequently Asked Questions

    SAPRIS is a seven-week summer program to welcome international students to Rensselaer and to American academic culture. The list below shows questions we think you might have about SAPRIS. Do you wonder about something not mentioned here? Just email your question to us at sapris@rpi.edu.

    Who can apply for the Summer Academic Program for Rensselaer International Students (SAPRIS)?

    Any international student accepted to Rensselaer as a first-year undergraduate student is eligible to apply. However, you must pay Rensselaer the deposit to confirm your enrollment for the Fall 2017 semester before you can be admitted to this summer program.

    What are the benefits of attending this program?

    SAPRIS is designed to help you with the many transitions you will be facing. This includes giving you experience with academic research and team projects while you adapt to American language and culture. Taking a communication course through SAPRIS enables you to work in a small group of international students and get feedback from faculty skilled in teaching communication to non-native English speakers. You also will receive additional support tailored to your needs in an English as a Second Language (ESL) lab. When courses start in the fall semester, you will be prepared because you will understand the campus, the services, and faculty expectations. You also will have experience communicating on a small project team, something that is a part of many Rensselaer courses.

    My spoken English is not very strong, so I am worried about taking a public speaking class. Do I have to take the course?

    Yes, you need to take the Speech Communication course as part of the program. We understand that learning English can be very challenging. This program enables you to take the public speaking course now, to improve your speaking skills before school starts. The teacher for the summer class is very experienced in helping international speakers, plus you will get extra support in language-specific sessions.

    My spoken English is very good, do I need to participate in the English as a Second Language sessions?

    Congratulations on your success! Conversational English and academic English are very different, however. As a new college student you will be adjusting to many different Englishes (academic, RPI-specific, field-specific, age-specific), plus slang and more. The ESL sessions will be tailored to help you improve in all areas of language.

    Because these are summer courses I will not have to do any homework, right?

    Wrong! The courses are designed to introduce you to rigorous academic expectations, so you will have to read the textbooks, do library and internet research, prepare speeches, meet with your teammates outside of class, and do other assignments to fulfill class requirements. Because you will be focused on only one full course, though, you can handle the workload while having time to socialize, explore, and relax.

    I am comfortable exploring an area on my own. Can I choose not to do the activities part of the program?

    The program combines language and culture exploration, so the group activities are an important part of the program experience. But some weekends (Saturday/Sunday) and many weeknights will be unstructured, so you can explore on your own then. You get free service on the local public buses with your RPI student card. Troy is about three hours from New York City (to the south) and Boston (to the East), so adventure is easily available.

    What does the SAPRIS program fee cover?

    A single program fee covers just about everything! Most of the fee (65%) is tuition for credits that will count towards your Rensselaer degree.  The comprehensive program fee also covers: residence hall housing and food; health insurance; Health Center fee; transportation and admissions for program-sponsored activities; program staff, and more. Other costs, such as supplies for your residence, printing, additional travel, and personal purchases, are not covered. Transportation from the Albany International airport, Rensselaer train station or the Albany Greyhound station will be included for arrivals on July 8 or 9.

    I have family in the area and could stay with them for the program. Can the housing cost be taken off the program price?

    Living on campus is an important and required part of the program. All first-year students are required to live on campus for their first year, so this program will help you adjust to residence life and to campus services. You would still be able to visit family or friends on the weekends.

    The program sounds great. How do I sign up?

    The first step is to complete a free online application. If you have Google access, apply online.
    OR: if no Google access, download the application as a pdf file (preferred; click here for free Adobe Reader software) or download a Word document. Save your completed pdf or Word application and email your file to sapris@rpi.edu

    After I apply, what’s next?

    Program applications will be reviewed on a rolling basis, with messages sent to the email address you list on the application. After you have paid your deposit confirming you will come to Rensselaer, and are accepted for SAPRIS, you will receive an email requesting a completed Financial Statement confirming you will pay the SAPRIS fee. (That completed form is needed before we start processing the I-20 needed for your visa. The SAPRIS fee will appear on your June 1 bill from Rensselaer Bursar’s office. You then need to pay the bill within three weeks to hold your course and room registration. (More information about this will be included with your confirmation.)

    Can I include the cost of the program with my fall bill?

    No. In keeping with Rensselaer policies, the fee for any summer program must be paid in full before attending a summer class.  Your Student Orientation-IV fee, however, will be included in your fall bill.

    Did we answer your questions? If not, email us at sapris@rpi.edu for a personal response.

    Did you like our answers? 
    TO APPLY: If you have Google access, apply online.
    OR: if no Google access, download the application as a pdf file (preferred; click here for free Adobe Reader software) or download a Word document. Save your completed pdf or Word application and email your file to sapris@rpi.edu.

    APPLICATION DEADLINE is Monday April 17.  Later applications may be accepted only with permission.

    Start early, start right. Start with SAPRIS!

    Read what past SAPRIS students say!

    "SAPRIS was a huge help.  I was always nervous giving a presentation.  But now I know how to start preparing [a speech] and how to give it.  That has helped me a lot because so many classes have oral reports." (2014 participant, in a January 2017 conversation)

    "SAPRIS helped me make friends even before the fall semester began. It helped me feel like I belong here." (2016 participant)

    "SAPRIS really helped prepare me for the fall.  When classes started in August, I was ready from Day 1.  I saw other international students struggle for a month or more, trying to adjust." (2016 participant)

    "I was already [living] in American culture but I needed time to adjust myself to the new environment... For people who have never been in America, the adjustment is even harder." (2015 participant)

    "My high school experience was very relaxing and easy. [SAPRIS] helped me learn how to study harder and get adjusted to the expectations of college." (2015 participant)

    "I never knew how important it was to ask for help. [SAPRIS] helps students know you have to ask for help if you need it." (2015 participant)

    "The whole summer program is like a buffer between my high school and college." (2015 participant)

    "Having a one-on-one meeting with the professor was helpful. If I had not been required to meet with the professor I wouldn’t realize how important it is to talk with the professor. Now [in the fall semester] I go to office hours with my professors when I have questions." (2015 participant)

    "The practice in research really helped, because I knew how to interview people and find information. I was so nervous before when I interviewed someone." (2015 participant)

    "What really helped me in the ESL [sessions] was the personal experience with someone who was an international student. When she talked about her experience in America, that really helped me a lot." (2015 participant)

    "The trips are really helpful to know how to get around Troy and know what’s in Troy." (2015 participant)

    "I felt very prepared for my fall courses. I have a better understanding about what college is all about, and what things I can expect from college." (2015 participant)

    请阅读历代SAPRIS学生的留言 ( Read what past SAPRIS students say in Chinese!)

    “SAPRIS对我们帮助很大。课上有许多课都需要口头报告需要我们进行公共演讲。我以前对准备演讲没有头绪以及不知道如何进行演讲,所以每次演讲时感到非常紧张,但是,进过SAPRIS的历练,我如今知道如何开始准备以及进行演讲! ”(2014SAPRIS 参与者,在2017年一个座谈会里说)


    “SAPRIS帮助我为秋季学期做准备。当8月秋季学期课程开始时,我第一天就做好了充足的准备。我看到其他不是SAPRIS的国际学生需要花一个月或者更久,去适应新的大学生活” (2016届参与者)

    “虽然我已经在美国生活了多年,  但是我还是需要时间调整自己使自己适应美国大学环境......所以对于一些从未在美国生活过的学生来说,这个调整阶段将显得更艰难。”(2015届SAPRIS参与者)






    “SAPRIS的一些与研究方法有关的作业诸如采访和搜集信息对我帮助很大。在参加SAPRIS之前,当我采访他人时,我会在还没采访之前就感到十分紧张。而经过SAPRIS的历练后,我对这一过程有了更深层次的理解,再也不会在采访他人时感到紧张。” (2015参与者)

    “ESL真正帮助我的是一些高年级国际生的个人经验分享。在听了他们讲自己的美国或者是RPI的生活和学习经验后,我了解了更多关于国际生在美国校园生活与学习遇到的种种困难及解决方案。” (2015参与者)




    Assessment of international TA speaking skills

    Assessment of international graduate teaching assistants’ speaking skills identifies new ITAs who need to improve their oral communication skills to be effective both for the TA and the students they will be teaching.  ALAC provides classes and support to help them do so.

    International graduate students who are offered a teaching assistantship have an initial language assessment, which results in one of three possible outcomes: sufficient skills, with no further testing needed; skills that need development through courses and self-study before the TA can work with a group of students; or skills that have a mix of strengths and weaknesses, requiring additional assessment in a brief interactive presentation.

    For ITAs who are required, or wish, to improve their spoken English, ALAC offers a course on Oral Communication each semester.  In the spring, non-TAs, including other graduate students, family members, undergraduates, or others, may be able to join the course as space allows.

    Overview of ITA Language Assessment

    Test of Spoken English

    Teaching involves stronger comunication challenges, and a higher level of language skill, than just being a student. New international teaching assistants (ITAs) whose first language is not English must have their speaking skills assessed to be sure that the skill is sufficient to promote success for themselves and the students with whom they will work. If you have taken the TOEFL exam and scored 26 or higher on the speaking section, you are exempt from testing. Students from Canada, Great Britain, Australia, and other countries where English is the primary language should speak to the Director of Language & Culture Support; they may be excused from testing.  All other students must take the SPEAK test (Speaking Proficiency English Assessment Kit) to evaluate his/her oral proficiency.  Note that studying as an undergraduate or graduate student at an American college, and even experience as a teaching assistant at another college or university, is not sufficient for being exempted from testing.  We want to be sure that you meet our expectations for communication ability. 

    SPEAK Test

    The SPEAK test is approximately 20 minutes long, and evaluates speaking skills in a variety of aspects. There are seven sections on the test that involve:
    * Answering brief questions
    * Giving directions using a map
    * Telling a story from a series of pictures
    * Answering questions based on a single graphic
    * Explaining a schedule or notice

    Testing is done by appointment only. The student will have a printed booklet and taped instructions, and record themselves on equipment provided by ALAC. A sample test can be reviewed prior to starting the assessment.

    After the test a trained evaluator rates the student's oral communication based on their pronunciation, grammar, fluency, and overall comprehensibility. The test is scored on a scale of 20 - 60, and results are sent to the student, plus the appropriate department chair and graduate program administrator. The flow chart shown below describes the process and outcomes of test scores.

    First-time teaching assistant
    Speak test
    Score 40 or below* Score 45 - 50* Score 55 - 60
    Oral skills not yet sufficient. Language limitations on TA work; no assignments requiring formal communication with groups of students. Must take the course on Oral Communication for International TAs (ADMN1010), and be re-assessed with a microteaching at the end of the semester. Further assessment needed to determine if skills are suffiicient.  TA must take a Microteaching evaluation before the start of the semester. Oral skill is deemed fully satisfactory; no language-related restrictions on TA assignment.  TA is invited to contact the Director of Language & Culture Support if any questions or adjustment concerns.

    * Note that in the Spring semester, microteachings may not be possible, so a score of 45-50 may require taking the Oral Communication course. The TA can meet with the Director of Language & Culture Support following the SPEAK test for informal evaluation.


    Microteaching sessions

    Microteaching sessions are given to assess the new ITA's English and teaching skills in order to determine the level of contact the TA should have with undergraduates. Presentations are evaluated based on factors including:
    * Audience awareness (topic choice; depth of detail; wording)
    * Fluency (limited pauses or repetition; ability to formulate effective sentences)
    * Coherency (clarity of logic and statements; use of connectors and transitions)
    * Grammar (appropriate for conversational English; clear verb tense and structure)
    * Pronunciation and intonation (clear wording and emphasis)
    * Interaction & nonverbal elements (gestures, facial expressions, eye contact; use of questions; drawing on board or overhead projector. Note: digital graphics such as slides or photos are not allowed)

    Reviewers usually include a representative from the Office of Graduate Education, a designated faculty member from the student's department, and ALAC's Director of Language & Culture Support. Immediately after the microteaching session reviewers decide the appropriate next step (as shown in the table below).

    Possible microteaching outcomes  
    Not yet sufficient Partially Satisfactory Fully Satisfactory
    TA work limited to grading and possibly office hours. TA must take Oral Comm. for TAs, and have another microteaching at the end of the semester. No language-related restrictions on TA assignment, but TA must take ADMN1010 and have another microteaching at the end of the semester. Fully approved; no language-related limitations on TA assignment.