THE RENSSELAER PLAN
The Rensselaer Plan is visionary.
It also is practical, innovative, and thorough, in the best Rensselaerean
Photograph by Gary Gold
The Plan is rooted in four basic concepts: to build on Rensselaer’s unique strengths; to build on our reputation for distinctive, high quality education; to dramatically expand the research enterprise; and to value entrepreneurship as a hallmark of progress.
Our goal is ambitious, and our timetable is equally so; we have set ourselves five years to reach specific milestones.
Within this period, we must sustain and enhance our recognized leadership in educating our students. And, we must become leaders in key research fields, because the creation of new knowledge is critical to “leading-edge learning environments” for our students.
Leading-edge research enables us to partner with our students in discovery and to open their minds to inquiry. In addition, it helps generate new funding to enhance the educational process, and to attract worldwide interest in Rensselaer as an incubator for innovation.
The Plan is “evergreen,” designed to be reviewed, altered, and reinforced as changing needs dictate. It will guide our decisions and provide a basis for measuring performance, prioritizing projects, and identifying allocation of resources.
Rensselaer’s Unique Strengths
The Rensselaer Plan is both ambitious and evolutionary, setting dramatic new directions while drawing from the Institute’s established strengths in interdisciplinary inquiry, interactive learning, and entrepreneurship:
1. Interdisciplinary inquiry. Rensselaer has led the way in multi- and interdisciplinary curriculum, teaching, research, and outreach. To supplement our strengths, we have formed alliances with partners with complementary expertise. As technologies converge, this “low walls, no walls” interdisciplinarity will be our leading competitive advantage.
2. Interactive learning. “Learning by doing” is a founding principle at Rensselaer. While other schools were still practicing a pedagogy of recitation, early Rensselaer students were involved in laboratory demonstrations, discovering and learning for themselves. More than 175 years later, Rensselaer is a recognized interactive leader, both on campus and at a distance. The Plan will extend Rensselaer’s interactive leadership through more “virtual environments,” connecting students and faculty with other universities, researchers, businesses, and spheres of influence in the technological community. It will also include graduate students in this expanding network, so they can fully explore the resources for their chosen fields.
3. Technological entrepreneurship. As stated in the Plan, “Rensselaer people have performed the research, developed the technologies, produced the innovations, and formed the enterprises that defined and accomplished the technological agendas of the 19th and 20th centuries.” The Plan assures that we will do no less in the 21st.
Interactive Education: A Rensselaer Tradition
Since its founding in 1824, Rensselaer’s core mission has been education—with innovative pedagogy a hallmark.
A simple but radical idea—that students learn better by taking a hands-on approach to a subject—has been a bedrock principle from the beginning.
At its best, interactive learning creates an almost magical synergy —minds inspiring minds, ideas leading to new possibilities, discoveries leading to new technologies and industries.
To ensure that all students have this experience, the Rensselaer Plan calls for expanding the Undergraduate Research Program and adding a thesis or comparable major scholarly work requirement for seniors.
To provide an incentive for this activity, faculty who open their labs and encourage student participation in research projects will be rewarded.
As we progress toward our goal of world-class status as a research university, that synergy between education and research will become even more critical. The Plan supports this goal at every level.
Rensselaer is committed to providing an undergraduate experience that surpasses all others.
Our commitment to students will extend beyond the classroom to include orientation programs that build strong affinity groups with team-building exercises such as wilderness experiences. In addition to finding ways to enliven and enrich campus culture, we will attend to basics with a rolling renovation or replacement of facilities and residences.
As today’s students access information on the Internet or by communicating via computer, with “outside” resources, we will continually ensure that our information infrastructure gives students the maximum benefit of access to information—within the Rensselaer community, to students in other schools, to faculty, to research programs (see also “Wired!").
Expanding the Research Enterprise
The most significant transformation in The Rensselaer Plan is the imperative to create a research portfolio of substantially greater size, quality, prominence, and impact. We do not intend merely to improve or achieve parity—our goal is nothing less than acknowledged global leadership in our key areas of focus.
Reaching this goal depends on building on core research arenas that offer future growth with broad impact. Focusing on these basic areas of research will allow Rensselaer to continue leading in fields with increased significance, new intellectual challenges, and relevance to broad societal and technological needs. Building on our core strengths will also provide the link between our existing endeavors and exciting new research arenas.
Three core research strengths have been identified as the building blocks for future expansion: microelectronics, advanced materials and nanotechnology, and modeling and simulation of complex systems.
Rensselaer has already established a recognized base of knowledge in these areas. Each fits our broader goals in that it impacts all five of our schools, exemplifies interdisciplinary effort, and holds promise for stimulating the development of new fields of research.
In microelectronics, for example, Rensselaer researchers have made important contributions to the science and technology of interconnects, devices, architectures, and packaging that will expedite the next generation of microelectronic systems and nanoelectronic systems.
Advanced materials and nanotechnology— areas in which Rensselaer has a long history of important work—will also be key to future breakthroughs in developing materials with radically different properties and functions that will impact medicine and communications, in particular.
Rensselaer’s distinguished record in applied mathematics, engineering and design simulation, and scientific computation supports our expertise in modeling and simulation of complex systems. With the explosion of information technology and its significance in virtually every aspect of society, the Institute is ideally positioned to capitalize on these strengths as we address future directions in these technologies.
Information Technology and Biotechnology
In developing the Plan, we have identified two further areas we believe are critical to our goal of achieving greater prominence as a world-class research university: information technology and biotechnology. All indicators suggest that these two research arenas are closely aligned with global and societal priorities; they will be primary drivers of economic growth worldwide.
Biotechnology is already transforming health care and agriculture, and opening up enormous possibilities for sustainable resource management.
Information technology is a driving force today in every industry and profession, transforming them while spawning new areas of research, such as the human genome and e-commerce.
Both of these areas offer enormous opportunities and challenges. Realistically, we can’t hope to dominate them. But we can—and intend to—achieve prominence in focal areas within these disciplines, providing the base for growth in years ahead.
Our core strengths give us the foundation to expand into these critical research arenas.
For example, microelectronics is increasingly moving toward both information and biosystems. This is especially fertile ground for scientific exploration at Rensselaer, where we have pioneered in the basic architecture of electronic systems.
Another example: biotechnology. Its inherent complexity requires mathematical expertise to calculate, model, and simulate. Rensselaer’s strong presence in these disciplines will attract researchers, businesses, and partnering opportunities.
We are selecting faculty and building infrastructure to facilitate this process. We will continue to identify key areas that build on core strengths, assemble the people to create “constellations,” build research facilities, and identify endowment possibilities to support the constellation concept as well as operating and faculty start-up costs (see Reaching for the Stars).
The Plan boldly states that we will grow research funding from $40 million to $100 million annually over the next five years. A significant portion of our current support comes from industry and is well above the national average. We must expand funding from all sources with emphasis on the research arenas where we must focus the greatest resources.
The dramatic growth we have targeted in research requires an equally dramatic expansion in research-based master’s and doctoral degree programs. The Plan calls for doubling the number of doctoral degrees awarded annually—from 125 to 250—over the next eight to 10 years.
It is an ambitious goal, but one the Institute can support with increased funding, faculty involvement, and more opportunities to do meaningful research.
Selected residential professional master’s programs that coincide with the intellectual, research, and educational goals of the sponsoring school will be offered. Graduate students will use the interactive tools already in use by the university’s undergraduate population, in order to extend their team-building possibilities and studio-based learning.
The quality of graduate education will be further enhanced through programs such as market research, marketing, business planning, and relationship-building aimed at preparing graduates for life after Rensselaer.
In addition, the university will step up efforts to recruit high-achievement students from across the country and around the world, as well as identifying the very best of Rensselaer’s undergraduate student body to pursue master’s and doctoral degrees here.
Programs for working professionals allow universities to transfer research results and innovations directly into the workplace and address lifelong learning needs.
Rensselaer is at the forefront of this new educational focus, with close to 3,000 working professionals enrolled in graduate academic programs at various sites throughout the country.
The Institute’s working professionals program is an exciting and rewarding enterprise, one that will be expanded by developing new programs aimed at top-level students as well as corporate executives and advanced professionals.
The same interactive advantages afforded our other students will be incorporated, especially those that link the professional with relevant research opportunities. Partnerships with major corporate and government groups will be increased, to position Rensselaer as the educator of choice.
Finally, we will seek to attract professionals working offshore, and to establish learning centers strategically located to facilitate their enrollment, with special attention to Asia, South America, Europe, and Africa.
These initiatives are targeted toward making Rensselaer a more “distributed” university, anchored in Troy and Hartford, but reaching a broader audience of working professionals through regional sites, distance education, and international partnerships.
For more than 175 years, Rensselaer has demonstrated unique strength in translating scientific discoveries to practical application. Looking ahead, rapid technological change and an emerging global marketplace present remarkable opportunities for our kind of scientific innovation and technological entrepreneurship.
The Rensselaer Plan will infuse entrepreneurship throughout the schools and programs. A general curriculum requirement will be established in this area, and new programs will be offered to teach entrepreneurial fundamentals through hands-on courses such as Introduction to Engineering Design, Inventors Studio, and Multi- disciplinary Design Laboratory. We will offer special programs and continue to generate student enthusiasm through such competitions as the popular Formula SAE car project.
The Plan will also provide more opportunities—more internships, co-op experiences, and faculty projects—so students can work in an environment where technology is being commercialized, theory turned into practice, ideas transformed into tangible value.
For all its visionary aspects, the Plan has a “real-world” pragmatism. We will create intellectual property policies that both encourage innovation and allow the university to take equity positions in new ventures where appropriate. And we will help match researchers with entrepreneurs to take those intellectual properties to market.
We see entrepreneurship as a way of life at Rensselaer, where fundamental education and research programs evolve into practical applications, systems, products, and knowledge. The Plan’s initiatives establish a firm foundation for expanding our research activity and managing innovation.
Today, the Incubator Program, Rensselaer Technology Park, and the Severino Center for Technological Entrepreneurship are national models—and they are only a beginning. Through the Rensselaer Plan, we will ensure that the technology life cycle—from idea to discovery to impact on the global marketplace—is an inherent part of the education and research continuum in the Rensselaer process.
A Rensselaer for the 21st Century
World-class people create world-class universities. To reach our goals means drawing from the entire range of communities—and people—that comprise Rensselaer: students, faculty and staff, administrators and trustees, the neighborhoods, cities and regions we live in, the global community of alumni, friends, businesses, and professional partners.
That is our universe—the source of our vitality and empowerment. The Plan calls for specific actions aimed at making these ties even stronger.
Toward a New Rensselaer
The Rensselaer Plan
is consonant with our history, drawing from our strengths, informed by
the best thinking across the full range of the Rensselaer community.
In becoming a research university of global scope, we will create, to paraphrase former MIT President Paul Gray, a community of learners—some young, some older—engaged together in creating, disseminating, and applying knowledge, skills, and judgment.
In the end, our research-focused education leads our students toward greater self-sufficiency, knowing how to proceed when there is no clear path—skills critical in a radically changing world.
Though our means is technology, our ultimate goal is profoundly human—to produce better students, wiser scientists, more fully realized men and women.
Those are goals worthy of our very best efforts, and of the proud history of Rensselaer.
Alumni interested in reading the full text of The Rensselaer Plan can access it online at www.rpi.edu/Plan/.