Inside Rensselaer
* An Overview of Rensselaer’s 202nd Commencement
President Shirley Ann Jackson presides over the Commencement ceremonies.
An Overview of Rensselaer’s 202nd Commencement
More than 2,000 students will receive degrees from Rensselaer May 17 at 9:30 a.m. on the Harkness Field. They represent the next generation of leaders, scientists, entrepreneurs, patent holders, and innovators, in fields ranging from engineering to architecture, from fine arts to science, and from business to the military. A few of the students are profiled in this issue.

A Global Community
In 2008, graduating students come from 41 states outside of New York state and 41 other nations including: Brazil, Canada, China, Egypt, Hong Kong, Israel, India, Kenya, Kuwait, Nigeria, Pakistan, Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Swaziland, and Turkey.

Taking the Podium
David Gergen, political analyst, editor, best-selling author, and Harvard professor, will deliver the Commencement address. Gergen has spent his professional life immersed in American public life. He has worked on both sides of the political aisle as director of communications for President Ronald Reagan and counselor on foreign policy and domestic affairs to President William Clinton. He also served as a White House adviser in the Nixon and Ford administrations. Gergen is currently a professor of public service at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government and director of its Center for Public Leadership.

Class President Sarah DiNovo, a dual major in design, innovation, and society, and mechanical engineering, also will address the class. The Loudonville, N.Y., native has developed a next-generation law enforcement badge that incorporates the bulky safety features that officers typically carry on their bodies and in their cars into a state-of-the-art wearable network. Called the “SmartBadge,” the patent-pending device combines a camera, a global positioning system, a Bluetooth chip, and an officer’s radio into a single unit.

Honorary Degree Recipients
Gergen will receive an honorary degree of Doctor of Laws during the ceremony. Shirley M. Tilghman, Ph.D., highly accomplished molecular biologist and educator who became the 19th president of Princeton University in 2001 — the first woman to hold the position — will receive an honorary degree of Doctor of Science. Major General Charles Bolden Jr., USMC (Ret.), who became an astronaut in 1981 after serving 13 years in the U.S. Marine Corps as a pilot during the Vietnam conflict, will receive an honorary degree of Doctor of Engineering.

Achieving a Lifelong Dream
A “can do” attitude for getting the job done is a well-known component of Rensselaer’s DNA. That ability to think and do has characterized the Rensselaer graduate since 1824. This year, Rensselaer graduate Desiree Roberts of Averill Park N.Y., will have a lot to celebrate as she fulfills the second part of her master plan — earning a Ph.D. in management operations. During Rensselaer’s 202nd Commencement, Roberts will be escorted to the stage by her daughter to receive her doctoral degree with a smile, noting that “if you want something badly enough, you can make it happen.”

In 1995, at the age of 43, she lost her eyesight. Five years later she decided to go back to school. In 2004, Roberts walked across the stage at Rensselaer’s 198th Commencement exercises receiving her master’s degree from the Lally School of Management & Technology, and one step closer to her lifelong dream of becoming a college professor. Along the way, she reconnected with an old friend, and married the man she calls “the love of her life” in March 2005. Last year, she joined the faculty at SUNY Empire State College, where she serves as an academic area coordinator and assistant professor in management.

Roberts says that “it was pure, unadulterated grit” that kept her going. “Moving forward did not happen overnight,” she said. “It took me a year or two to realize that moving on depended wholly on me and my attitude about life in general, and my life in particular,” she added. “I had a great deal of help along the way. I remain deeply grateful to all those who believed in me, in particular, my husband.”

Continuing Academic Excellence
Many graduates will continue their studies after graduation. Among the schools that graduates will be attending are Albany Medical College, Bryn Mawr College, Cornell, Duke, Harvard, Johns Hopkins, New England School of Law, Purdue, RIT, Stanford, Vanderbilt, Virginia Tech, Yale, and, of course, Rensselaer.

All in the Family
The Rensselaer degree is well-known throughout the world as a symbol of technological excellence and achievement. Rensselaer alumni are leaders. They are collaborative, able, and smart. This year, 125 members of the Class of 2008 are Rensselaer “legacies,” students with relatives who attended the university.

Special “legacy” graduates walking across the stage with a long history at Rensselaer include Michelle Georgens, the eighth member of the Anderson/Georgens clan to graduate from Rensselaer, with a history that spans three generations and six decades. Eighteen family members are expected to attend and cheer Michelle on as she receives her degree in architecture.

Service, Leadership, Scholarship Honored
At the May 12 Class of 2008 Zero Year Reunion Brunch and Awards Celebration, seven graduating seniors were honored for their contributions to the Institute. The Willie Stanton Award, presented to the senior(s) judged to have contributed the most in service to the student body, was awarded to Elizabeth Kelly, a chemical engineering major, from Westfield Mass., and Trent Gillaspie, a dual major in management and design, innovation, and society from Littleton, Colo. The Livingston W. Houston Citizenship Award, honoring the “first citizen of the college,” ranking high in character, leadership, scholarship, and athletic ability, was awarded to Brendan McGowan, a management major from Mesa, Ariz., and Kelly Owen, an aeronautical engineering major from Ballston Spa, N.Y. The Leopold L. Balleisen Prize, honoring a senior student athlete who has won a varsity letter in at least one sport during two undergraduate years and who stands highest academically in the senior class, was awarded to Michael Milligan, a chemical engineering major from Saco, Maine.

Service to Their Country
Forty-two students will be graduating from Rensselaer’s ROTC programs and starting active military service as officers with the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force. In the Army, 22 graduates have been assigned as active duty officers in military police, military intelligence, infantry, medical, transportation, armor, and engineer branches. Ten Naval graduates will work in aviation, surface ship, submarine, nursing, and Marine Corps assignments. In the Air Force, graduates will become civil engineers, air battle managers, pilots, navigators, finance, contracting, and weather officers.

Next Generation of Innovators in the Work Force
Preliminary results indicate that, despite the economic downturn, Rensselaer students — in all areas of study, including management, humanities, social sciences, information technology, and engineering, are still getting good jobs. Heading from the stage to offices and locations around the country, Rensselaer graduates will work for companies that include: BAE Systems, Boeing, Bristol-Myers Squibb, DreamWorks Animation, Deutsche Bank, GE, Intel, IBM, Lockheed Martin, Merck, Microsoft, Teach for America, U.S. Patent & Trademark Office, and W.L. Gore, to name a few. “Today’s employers desire students who have had some experience while in college,” said Tom Tarantelli, director of the Career Development Center at Rensselaer. “This is what gives a student the competitive edge when it comes to landing a full-time job.”

Parting Gift
Each year at Commencement, the graduating class presents the university with a gift. The Class of 2008 is excited to present a unique and spirited gift to the university, raising more than $3,800 to install an electronic carillon bell system atop the Rensselaer Union. More than 100 members of the class have donated to the project so far. “The Class of 2008 strives to rekindle tradition at RPI and bring collegiate spirit to the campus as a New Ivy and to current and prospective students and alumni,” said Trent Gillaspie, 2008 class gift chair. The Rensselaer Union is the center of campus, which provides a great home for a highly customizable bell system that can change in volume and frequency of rings per day and/or per hour. The bell is intended for a single ring between the hours of 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. (later on weekends) with the Rensselaer alma mater ringing at noon each day. Past class gifts have included the footbridge, waterfall, a clock, and the granite “Rensselaer” marker at the corner of 15th Street and Sage Avenue.

Awarding Excellence in Counseling
Frank Wright, director of the undergraduate program and clinical assistant professor in the Lally School of Management & Technology, has been selected as this year’s recipient of the David M. Darrin Counseling Award, which will be presented during the Commencement ceremony. Wright has been a mentor to countless students since he joined the faculty in 1997. He is recognized by his students for his unwavering commitment to his students, his ability to motivate his students to pursue a path of lifelong learning, and his passion for teaching among other things. The award was established by David M. Darrin ’40 to recognize a faculty member who has made an unusual contribution in the counseling of undergraduate students. The selection of the award recipient is made by Phalanx, Rensselaer’s student leader-ship honorary society.

Notable Moments in Commencement History
As Rensselaer has evolved, so have its Commencement ceremonies. Here are several notable moments in Commencement history:

  • Commencement 1908 marked the first time Rensselaer graduates wore the classical cap and gown. An article in the July 10, 1908, Polytechnic notes that for the first time faculty wore gowns and hoods symbolic of their degrees and graduates wore gowns.
  • In 1948, Commencement was forced outdoors to the ’86 Field because the graduating class was the largest ever — 380 candidates. In 2002 (the first outdoor Commencement since 1948), the ceremony was forced indoors because of snow.
  • Over 80 percent of the Class of 1950 were World War II veterans and 40 percent of the men in that class were married.
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Inside Rensselaer
Volume 2, Number 9, May 16, 2008
©2008 Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
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