PREFACE: The Rensselaer Summer Engineering Design Program 2021

PREFACE is a summer experience hosted by Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute for talented high school sophomores and juniors (who will enter the 11th or 12th grade in the fall of 2021) interested in pursuing careers in engineering and technological professions, from groups that have been historically and traditionally underrepresented or underserved in science, engineering, and technological fields.  

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

Rensselaer offered the program virtually for the first time in 2020, due to the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic. 27 students attended the two-week virtual program from their homes, eight hours a day, synchronously across four time zones. Because of the continued uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, it is necessary to conduct the program virtually again in 2021. To improve upon last summer’s experience, we will now provide the 80 hours of content over three weeks. All students will attend presentations at the same time, but will then receive individual attention through interactive, team-based instruction in smaller groups.

The 2021 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. Since then, it has become an important, ongoing site for senior capstone projects in the Rensselaer Multidisciplinary Design Laboratory (MDL). Six 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 effectiveness of the greenhouse growing season.

Working in teams, the 2021 PREFACE students will complete their own capstone projects, modeled on the format required of senior Rensselaer engineering students. They will be introduced to the greenhouse and the challenges it faces, review prior capstone proposals, and work with the TSD greenhouse coordinator and the Rensselaer project manager to research, design, and propose solutions to improve the greenhouse growing season and productivity. In addition to the greenhouse engineering design capstone project, students will attend classes in electronics, manufacturing, and CAD, visit Rensselaer engineering departments, and learn from faculty members about degree and research opportunities as well as possible careers in academia and industry in each discipline of engineering.

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The three-week PREFACE Program will be held Monday, June 28, through Friday, July 16, 2021. The program will provide you with a firsthand perspective of what it’s like to be a college student on the Rensselaer 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).

The School of Engineering will welcome you to campus virtually, 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," "Manufacturing Processes," and "Introduction to Electronics."

During the three-week program, you will learn about some of the other aspects of the college experience. Rensselaer students and professional staff will introduce you to campus clubs and organizations, as well as athletics, health and wellness, leadership development, and career and professional development opportunities. You will gain insight into the college application and financial aid process. You will learn about the campus, Troy, and the Capital Region, and for fun, you will be able to engage in engineering challenges and trivia contests for prizes!




The PREFACE Program will:

  • Provide experiences using the engineering design process to solve 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 in 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 the Rensselaer School of Engineering, including biomedical, mechanical, aeronautical, electrical and computer systems, civil and environmental, nuclear, materials, industrial, and chemical.
  • Leadership development facilitated by the Rensselaer Archer Center for Student Leadership Development, including engineering design projects and team building.
  • Career development, including seminars offered by the Rensselaer Center for Career and Professional Development.
  • College preparedness, including interactive sessions on the Admission’s application and financial aid processes.
  • Professional development, including virtual visits to local research and development companies and NYS professional engineering society presentations.

Eligibility, Selection, and the 2021 Application

To apply, you must be entering the 11th or 12th grade in September 2021. You must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident with a background traditionally underrepresented and underserved in science, engineering, and technological fields.

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. Forty students will be selected to participate in 2021.

The application deadline is 11:59 PM EST, on Friday, April 16, 2021. Applications received thereafter will not be accepted for the 2021 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 take place the first week of May 2021.

2021 Application

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute is now accepting applications from students who will be in 11th or 12th grade in Fall 2021,  for the summer session (Monday, June 28 –Saturday, July 16).

Students may directly access the 2021 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, April 16, 2021.



The 2021 cost per student to attend is $800. This pays for all associated program costs, including the cost of instructors, supplies and materials, the program T-shirt, and mailing costs to the students’ homes. The fee will be payable upon notice of selection in the program.

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 earn annual wages within the federal poverty guidelines 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 impact the admissions decision. 



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PREFACE has historically been funded through generous donations from individuals, corporations, and foundations. If you are interested in inspiring young minds and creating opportunities for high school students to learn more about their own potential in engineering and technological professions, please consider making a gift to the PREFACE Program at Rensselaer. Your gift will have a direct impact by providing financial aid scholarships to students from historically underserved or underrepresented communities so they can 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!