PREFACE: The Rensselaer Summer Engineering Design Program

PREFACE is a two-week residential summer experience at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute for talented high school sophomores and juniors (who will enter the 11th or 12th grade in Fall 2020), from groups that have been historically and traditionally underrepresented or underserved in science, engineering, and technological fields, and are interested in pursuing careers in engineering and technological professions.

For more than 40 years, PREFACE as provided a premiere, pre-college introduction to the various engineering disciplines, which has allowed students to get first-hand knowledge of what engineers do and what it takes to become an engineer. PREFACE students are exposed to 21st Century global challenges and use engineering design and manufacturing processes to develop possible solutions.

The 2020 program will focus on engineering solutions to create a more sustainable environment. In partnership with Rensselaer, the Troy School District (TSD) Community Greenhouse was initially established to introduce sustainability through agriculture; it has in addition become an important, ongoing site for senior capstone projects in Rensselaer’s Multidisciplinary Design Laboratory (MDL). Four separate capstone teams have proposed possible solutions to a variety of challenges including the harsh northeast climate and limited water and power sources that diminish the effective greenhouse growing season. Working in teams, the 2020 PREFACE students will be tasked to complete their own capstone projects, modelled on the format required of senior Rensselaer engineering students. They will be introduced to greenhouse and the challenges facing it, review the prior capstone proposals, and work with the TSD greenhouse coordinator and the engineering project manager to design, manufacture and test their own prototype solutions to increase the greenhouse growing season and productivity. In addition to the greenhouse engineering design capstone project, students will attend classes in electronics, manufacturing and CAD, and will visit Rensselaer’s engineering departments and learn from faculty members about pursuing a degree, research opportunities, and possible careers in academia and industry in each engineering discipline.

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The two-week PREFACE Program will be held Sunday, June 28, through Saturday, July 11, 2020. It will provide you with a first-hand view of what it’s like to be a college student, living and studying on Rensselaer’s campus. As a PREFACE participant, you will be mentored through the program by Rensselaer undergraduate students who have been trained as teaching resident assistants (TRAs). You will live with a PREFACE roommate in air-conditioned Barton Hall, Rensselaer’s newest residence hall, and eat in Russell Sage Dining Hall.

The School of Engineering will welcome you to campus, and you will learn about the various engineering disciplines at Rensselaer and about research and career options in those fields. You will get hands-on experience working with Rensselaer faculty members in Introduction to Engineering Design and Manufacturing Processes, and in Introduction to Electronics.

During the two weeks you will also be exposed to some of the other highlights of college, like participating in recreational sports, going to movies and concerts, engaging in community service and exploring the local community. You will have access to campus recreational facilities, including basketball, tennis and volleyball courts, soccer fields, the outdoor track, the Mueller Fitness Center, and the Rensselaer Union. You will learn about the campus clubs and organizations, leadership development and career and professional development opportunities. You will also gain insight into the college application and financial aid process.

Rensselaer is committed to ensuring your health and safety throughout the PREFACE Program. You will have full access to the doctors and nurses at the Rensselaer Health Center during your stay. Proof of personal health insurance is required for all participants in the event that emergency services are necessary at area hospitals. The PREFACE Program is permitted annually to operate by the Rensselaer County Office of the New York State Department of Health and is required to adhere to strict standards to ensure your safety throughout the program on campus, in the classrooms, residence halls and dining halls, and on field excursions in the community.



The PREFACE Program will:

  • Provide experiences using the engineering design process to resolve a problem (e.g., design, troubleshoot, innovate, model, revise, and assess outcomes);
  • Create opportunities to develop leadership and team-building skills;
  • Highlight career opportunities available to the engineering professions as a means to develop a deeper understanding of the role and expectations of an engineering education; and,
  • Present a snapshot of college life and its academic, social, cultural, civic, and environmental experiences.


PREFACE Core Disciplines are taught by Rensselaer faculty and staff members. Programs include Introduction to Electronics, Introduction to Engineering Design, Computing with Solid Works, and Introduction to Manufacturing Processes.

  • Exploration of the engineering disciplines in Rensselaer's School of Engineering including Biomedical, Mechanical, Aeronautical, Electrical and Computer Systems, Civil and Environmental, Nuclear, Materials, Industrial, and Chemical.
  • Leadership Development facilitated by Rensselaer's Archer Center for Student Leadership Development including Engineering Design Projects and Team Building.
  • Career Development including seminars offered by Rensselaer's Career Development Center.
  • College Preparedness including interactive sessions on the admission application and financial aid processes.
  • Civic Engagement including exploring the region, volunteering and giving back to the community.
  • Professional Development including local research and development plant visits and NYS professional engineering society presentations.

Eligibility, Selection, and the 2020 Application

To apply, you must be entering the 11th or 12th grade in September 2020. You must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident with a background traditionally underrepresented and underserved in the fields of engineering. Since PREFACE is taught in English, you must have a strong understanding of the English language.

Selection is based on your high school academic performance and your standardized test scores, the quality of your essay, and the strength and relevance of your recommendations. Twenty students will be selected to participate in 2020.

The application deadline is 11:59 PM EST, on March 27, 2020. Applications received thereafter will not be accepted for the 2020 PREFACE Program. Applicants are advised to review the entire application in advance to determine what information they will need, before they attempt to complete and "submit" the application form.

Acceptance notification will be before the end of April, 2020.

2020 Application

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute is now accepting applications from students who will be in 11th or 12th grade in Fall 2020,  for the summer session (Sunday, June 28 –Saturday, July 11).

Students may directly access the 2020 PREFACE application.

Applicants are advised to review the entire application in advance to determine what information they will need, before they attempt to complete and "submit" the application form.  Student applications must be received no later than 11:59 p.m. ET, March 27, 2020.



The 2020 cost of per student to attend is $3,750. This pays for room, board, the health center fee, and all associated program costs while on campus. The fee will be payable by accepted students upon notice of selection in the program. The fee does not include the cost of round-trip transportation to Albany: students must arrange their own automobile, flight or rail transportation to the area; Rensselaer will provide participants' local transportation once they arrive in the region to and from the Albany International Airport and the Rensselaer AMTRAK Station.

Financial Aid: The program provides a limited number of partial scholarships to qualified students on the basis of demonstrated need but is not able to provide full scholarships. Students whose families make less than $40,000 annually are encouraged to apply for partial aid, but the option is open to all applicants. The financial aid request is part of the student’s online application, and applying for a scholarship does not have an effect on the admissions decision.

Students may want to bring spending money for personal and miscellaneous expenses such as snacks and souvenirs. 



For more information, email, or call (518) 276-3098.



PREFACE has been funded through generous donations from individuals, corporations, and foundations over the years. If you believe in the value of inspiring young minds and creating opportunities for high school students to learn more about their own potential in engineering and technological professions, please consider a gift to The PREFACE Program at Rensselaer. Your gift will have direct impact by providing financial aid scholarships for students from historically underserved or underrepresented communities to be exposed to science, technology, engineering and mathematics professions at an early age. For more information, please contact the Office of Institute Advancement at (518) 276-6494.

The program has received funding in the recent past from:


  • Robert L. Cummings '69 and Annette Bacol
  • Mrs. Dorothy Lemelson 'FR
  • Dr. Robert C. Kohberger ’67, ’71, ‘75


  • The Grainger Foundation
  • William Gundry Broughton Charitable Private Foundation, Inc.
  • The Haas Foundation


  • United Technologies Corporation
  • Bank of America
  • Time Warner Cable
  • The Boeing Company
  • General Motors
  • General Electric
  • Lockheed Martin
  • IBM Corp.
  • O'Brien & Gere
  • Knolls Atomic Power Lab
  • Procter & Gamble


Many thanks to all PREFACE donors!