Aside from the aesthetic pleasures of beautiful grounds, the quality of campus landscaping plays an integral role in both attracting prospective students and retaining current students, according to research by Phillip Waite, assistant professor of horticulture and landscape architecture at Washington State University. Waite presented his research at the 2007 National Conference on Student Recruitment, Marketing, and Retention, where he observed that an ideal college campus includes multiple areas for students to sit, play, and interact.
“If students see other people enjoying [the campus] playing Frisbee on the lawn, classes being held outside that clicks for them,” Waite told the Daily Californian newspaper while speaking on the same topic in 2005. “The built environment often has an impact on us... below the threshold of our conscious awareness.”
James Nondorf, vice president for enrollment, believes these first impressions are critical to the thousands of families who visit campus each year. “No matter how amazing our academic and student life offerings might be, if the campus environment is not equally impressive, we would be unable to enroll these incredibly bright young men and women,” he says. “Every week we receive comments on the beauty of our campus and it is one clear example to our visitors of the renaissance taking place at Rensselaer.”
Creating a welcoming environment that encourages student, faculty, staff, and visitor interaction is an important goal for his team, Litwin says, adding that one of the major areas where such interaction takes place is on the campus’s athletic fields, which have been undergoing their own transformation.
Litwin, in concert with Jack Holstein, manager of site services, oversees four staffers who are responsible for maintaining the Institute’s 10 athletic fields including Anderson, Harkness, and ’87 Field and approximately 90 acres of turf that are in constant use by varsity athletic teams, students participating in intramural and club sports, groups of friends playing pickup games, and campus events such as Commencement and Convocation.
“The field maintenance is very challenging, as events are often times held on them when we should be performing renovations,” says Litwin. “Having enough recovery time in between games and events is crucial to the health and safety of the playing field.”
By making the grounds more inviting and user-friendly, Litwin wants members of the Rensselaer community to also see the campus as an oasis in the city. “Other than our campus, the immediate surrounding area of Troy is pretty much cement and brick, so we kind of look at ourselves as a diamond in the rough,” he says. “People can come here and sort of lose themselves and forget they are in the city.”