Inside Rensselaer
Focus on:
Rick Hartt ’70

Managing director of the Rensselaer Union set to retire; celebrations planned for Feb. 25, 26

Rick Hartt ’70, managing director of the Rensselaer Union, will be retiring March 4. A special celebration — coordinated by the Division of Student Life and student leaders — will take place on Friday, Feb. 25. The event will be held from 3 to 6 p.m. in the Rensselaer Union McNeil Room. All members of the Rensselaer campus are invited to attend. In addition, Hartt also will be honored by members of the campus on Saturday, Feb. 26 during an event that will be held in the RPI Playhouse from 2 to 4 p.m. Space is limited. Individuals will receive tickets on a first-come, first-served basis. If you would like to attend, RSVP to Cameron McLean in the Student Union at

The Division of Student Life is planning a national search for a new director of the Rensselaer Union, a leadership position that is critical to the advancement of Rensselaer as a top-tier technological research university with global reach and impact. In the coming months, more news on leadership, as well as longer-term plans, will be shared with the campus community.

“For nearly 33 years, Rick has been a permanent fixture in the lives of students and alumni here,” said Eddie Ade Knowles, vice president for student life. “One can easily dub him the resident historian on student traditions, who will readily dispense a fun factoid or two about iconic moments in student life history.

“Over the years, serving on the student life team with Rick has been a wonderful, exhilarating experience,” Knowles added. “We’ve shared a collective vision that has never wavered about the importance and the value of continuous elevation of the student experience.”

Hartt received his bachelor’s degree in philosophy from Rensselaer in 1970 and a fellow classmate of his noted that during pledge education sessions at Acacia, Hartt and his “circle of curious-minded brothers” would talk late into the night following their reading of Markings, a collection of personal reflections by Dag Hammarskjold, a Swedish diplomat, economist, author, and the second secretary-general of the United Nations.

Hartt joined Rensselaer as director of student activities in 1978 and was appointed as director of the Rensselaer Union in May 1983. A tireless advocate for students, he has worked as a mentor and adviser to thousands of student leaders who are dedicated to improving services that students offer to their peers through the Rensselaer Union, a student-run, self-supporting, and self-governing body that organizes, manages, and finances student activities.

Rensselaer is one of just 20 or so colleges and universities in the United States that operates using this structure. Today, the Rensselaer Union’s multimillion dollar budget supports more than 200 clubs and organizations and intercollegiate athletics.

In 2006, the Middle States Commission on Higher Education commended the Rensselaer Union, recognizing it “as an unusual, if not unique, student organization. Run entirely by students, the Union is a justifiable source of pride for the Institute.”

Hartt also collaborated with Linda Teitelman McCloskey, with the approval of the Executive Board of the Rensselaer Union, to create the Center for Student Leadership Development in 1989. McCloskey serves as director of the center, which focuses on interdisciplinary collaboration, ethical awareness, teamwork, discovery, creativity, and action that bridges theory to practice. In October 1992, the center was officially named the Mary Jane and Hugh Archer ’37 Center for Student Leadership Development.

In working with students, Hartt says that he has learned many things from them. “Rensselaer students are risk-takers. They truly care about volunteering, and it shows in the innovative programs and projects that they have created, which positively impact the student body and surrounding community. The students have the best sense of the world and are the driving force of the Rensselaer Union.”

Father Ed Kacerguis, who has known Hartt for more than 20 years said, “Rick Hartt, is thoughtful, considerate, a gentle genuine presence when he enters a room. A leader who asks the hard questions in a positive way that allows all sides to be heard.”

“I have known Rick Hartt for many years,” said Henry Scarton, associate professor of mechanical engineering and mechanics, and director of the Laboratory for Noise and Vibration Control Research. “He has always been a champion for the students and through his office, he has played a key role in giving the students the freedom to successfully carry out their various student activities.”

A true patron of the arts and a die-hard music fan, Hartt encouraged the creation of student art groups, and provided support for the development of new student life arts initiatives. He has attended more than 1,000 performances coordinated by student arts groups and the Union Programs and Activities Committee (UPAC). His and his wife’s enjoyment of Rensselaer’s a cappella groups, the Dance Club, and the RPI Players is evidenced by their support for these organizations and consistent attendance at their events.

 Hartt has also been instrumental in working with students to produce a series of programs and concerts held on the Rensselaer campus and in the Troy community.

To support the younger generation, Hartt and his wife, Julia MacDonald ’72, helped Mary D’Amico create the Young Actors Guild, a nonprofit theater organization best known for teaching the performing arts to students ages 8 to 18. Celebrating its 22nd season this fall, area elementary, junior high, and high school students continue to put their acting talents to the test by participating in programs that include classes in acting, dance, movement, music, cartooning, stage combat, and creative writing — taught by professionals.

Registrar Sharon Kunkel noted that when she thinks of Rick Hartt, she thinks of someone who truly appreciates and values the talents of Rensselaer’s students. “He loves music and is a devoted fan of the many diverse performing musical groups on campus and in fact has campaigned long and hard for more music courses and more performing space. He’s the person I call when I need an honest opinion about a student issue, concern, or initiative.”

While at Rensselaer, Hartt has also served as chairperson of several student life committees on a range of projects, including alcohol policy, facility construction, the first-year experience, and budgeting.

Hartt recently received the Albert Fox Demers Medal, the second highest award given by the Rensselaer Alumni Association to alumni or friends who stimulate interest in the welfare of the Institute. Additional awards include the service award from the RPI Players and the Athletic Department’s Tom Sheehan Award. In 2001, Hartt received the Pillar of Rensselaer Award.

“Rick is respected on campus for his commitment to working with students, faculty, and staff with the goal to improve the experience of both RPI staff members and students on this campus,” said Mike McDermott, director of the Rensselaer Union bookstore, who has known Hartt for more than 30 years.

“Rick has been a beacon for multiple generations of Rensselaer students and student leaders,” said John Kolb ’79, vice president for information services and technology, and chief information officer for the Institute. “They have found him to be a patient listener, a great resource for advice and counsel, and above all, always an advocate for all students.”

While at Rensselaer, Hartt has carved out time to serve as president of the board of the Troy YMCA and the Rensselaer Newman Foundation, and as a board member of the Rensselaer Alumni Association, Doane Stuart School, and the Rensselaer County Volunteer Bureau.

Following retirement, Hartt and his wife plan to spend more time volunteering with the RPI Young Actors Guild and several civic and educational organizations including the Troy YMCA, the Rensselaer Newman Foundation, Aqueduct Rowing, and the Hoosac School. They also are preparing for a long-anticipated trip to China by taking Mandarin language courses.

“Rick leaves behind a legacy of leadership, mentorship, and stewardship,” Knowles said. “I have often referred to Rick as the ‘Great Collaborator’ because he has consistently worked across the campus to build lasting relationships in support of the Union and dear old RPI. As an alumnus, he has more than given back to his alma mater; he has given all of himself, unconditionally, in service to students and the entire Rensselaer family.

“Rick has come to epitomize so many roles,” Knowles added. “He is a respected friend, colleague, leader, role model, mentor, and educator, Pillar of Rensselaer, and an individual who has shown unwavering loyalty to the Institute. Rick Hartt deserves tremendous accolades for having devoted his life to polishing what has become a jewel of excellence, the Rensselaer Union.”

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Inside Rensselaer
Volume 5, Number 2, February 4, 2011
©2010 Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
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