Inside Rensselaer
Volume 6, No. 7, April 13, 2012
Mark Century

Town Meeting

  Town Meeting
At the spring Town Meeting, President Jackson outlined the grand challenges facing the world in the 21st century, and said that Rensselaer is taking steps now to align its efforts to meet those problems head on. Photos by Kris Qua.

President’s Town Meeting: Rensselaer To Address
“Grand Challenges” of 21st Century

Rensselaer and other universities play critical roles in finding solutions to the grand challenges facing the world in the 21st century, and Rensselaer is taking steps now to align its efforts to meet those problems head on, according to President Shirley Ann Jackson. During her spring Town Hall address to the Rensselaer community at the Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center (EMPAC) Concert Hall, she said these grand challenges required “each of us to devote our thinking, creativity, and actions to both acute and emerging needs.

“For those of us at Rensselaer, helping to meet these needs is indispensible to our fulfilling our commitment to leadership,” she said. “We explicitly dedicate our talent, time, and effort to ‘changing the world”

The challenges outlined by President Jackson included:  energy, water, and food; infrastructure and resiliency; global business and global capital markets; cognition, communication, and culture; computational social science; digital humanities; science, technology, and society; disease and disease mitigation; advanced materials, including those beyond silicon; advanced manufacturing and digital fabrication; big data/networks/high-performance computing; and new pedagogies for a new generation of students.

“So, the grand challenges are incorporated across the Institute as our highest priorities as we focus our research plans,” President Jackson said. “This is not to say that these priorities are our exclusive targets. But the grand challenges are set as an overarching concept for optimizing research growth across Rensselaer, even as we strengthen support for individual faculty in achieving their goals.”

The leadership of the Institute is using the grand challenges as touch points for ongoing efforts under The Rensselaer Plan, as well as efforts to refresh the plan. These efforts come to life, President Jackson explained, during events such as the recent Institute IdeasLab presentation at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. The presentation, titled “Concept to Commerce With Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute,” included President Jackson and three Rensselaer professors.

“The World Economic Forum provides one example of engagement, but I believe we can multiply our opportunities for participation, and we can do more to prepare ourselves to make key contributions,” she said. “Our deans are central to our taking on the grand challenges. Each looks to see how, given our strengths and potential, Rensselaer can respond most effectively to help to create solutions.”

“The grand challenges are set as an overarching concept for optimizing research growth across Rensselaer, even as we strengthen support for individual faculty in achieving their goals.”—President Jackson

President Jackson noted that the Faculty Senate has been reconstituted and recently held its first meeting, attended by Acting Provost Prabhat Hajela. “Distinguished elected representatives of our faculty will provide judgment and insights that will help guide our decision making, and I am looking forward to working with them,” she said.

In terms of building the Class of 2016, President Jackson reported that once again applications from prospective students set a record, with over 15,200 filing applications—an increase of 4.4 percent over the same period a year earlier. The increase included more women, under-represented minorities, and international students. Graduate applications also reached the highest level in a decade: 4,297.

To help provide the financial underpinnings to meet the challenges and continue the transformation under The Rensselaer Plan, President Jackson reported that the Board of Trustees recently approved a Fiscal Year 2013 budget that will enable the Institute to focus its energy and resources on core activities that are central to our mission and purpose. The $383.8 million balanced budget will help fuel an effort at the heart of our academic enterprise: recruitment and hiring of key faculty.

“In Fiscal Year 2013… we will recruit to fill 48 tenured and tenure-track faculty positions, spread across the academic schools, which will include six constellation hires,” she said. “Additional support for the research enterprise, including research seed funding, is incorporated into the budget.”

Under the budget approved by the trustees, she said, tuition for full-time undergraduate and graduate students will be $43,350—an increase of 4.2 percent—below the range of 4.5 to 5 percent increases at other universities. At the same time, financial aid will be increased by 6 percent from the current level to $89 million.

“We must anticipate that the next several years will continue to prove economically challenging for our country and the world,” President Jackson said. “Rensselaer, like other universities, has not been immune. Strategic direction and focus have never been more critical. As we navigate our way through the economic recovery, The Rensselaer Plan will remain our compass.”

In other developments that will take place later this year, President Jackson announced that the new Center for Cognition, Communication, and Culture will open in the EMPAC building this fall. This important new interdisciplinary center will address diverse areas that include: development of collaborative, synthetic immersive environments; the design and use of, and interaction with, intelligent agents; research in creativity and cultural processes; and multimodal perception and cognition.

President Jackson closed by saying that the grand challenges don’t represent the only problems we have, but they provide a good starting point.

“We can take confidence in the steps we have already taken and in the evidence that the world is looking for our ideas, answers, and judgments,” she said. “Our world faces unprecedented challenges— and opportunities. Rensselaer will be there to lead the way to solutions.”

Full text of Town Hall Meeting Address

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Inside Rensselaer
Volume 6, Number 7, April 13, 2012
©2012 Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
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