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Shedding Light Around the World
Reunion 2000


President's View

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Looking Ahead

President's View
Shirley Ann Jackson, Ph.D.


Our Time in historyr


At the start of a new academic year—and the beginning of my second year as president—we are seeing solid progress toward the realization of the Rensselaer Plan.

As you know, I believe that this is Rensselaer’s time in history—its time to extend existing areas of excellence in undergraduate education, to enrich the student culture, to expand graduate programs, to win recognition as a top-tier technological research university. That conviction drives the Rensselaer Plan, and informs its blueprint for the Institute.

As one of its boldest ambitions, the Rensselaer Plan calls for the Institute to establish a significant presence in two focal areas of research: information technology and biotechnology. In biotechnology, in particular, we pursue a sphere that is largely new for Rensselaer—yet unmistakably, a major driver of today’s economy, and critical to human health and welfare.

Given the breadth of the biotechnology arena, and the many large and established programs in biotechnology in universities across the nation, we have devised a specific strategy in order to secure our presence in this field. Our plan revolves around the formation of “constellations,” which, like the astronomical term, refer to stars, in this case renowned faculty, surrounded by additional outstanding faculty, graduate fellows, and undergraduate students. To extend the metaphor further, these constellations will create critical mass in our effort, and convey immediate credibility to our peer institutions.

With characteristic Rensselaer speed and agility, we created our first constellation over the summer, in bioinformatics. We have hired two nationally known faculty to lead the bioinformatics initiative, mathematician Michael Zuker, of the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, and Charles “Chip” Lawrence ’68, who holds joint appointments as research professor of computer science at Rensselaer and chief of the Biometrics Lab at the Wadsworth Center, a public health research laboratory of the New York State Department of Health. These renowned researchers, along with faculty members Chris Bystroff, assistant professor of biology, Wilfredo Colon, assistant professor of chemistry, John Salerno, professor and chair of biology, Mark Wentland, professor of chemistry, Mohammed Zaki, assistant professor of computer science, and others, form the nucleus of bioinformatics constellations, the first of several planned in biotechnology .

Our progress in our second focal area, information technology, also proceeds apace. As noted in my June column, a gift from Gail and Jeff Kodosky ’70 has enabled us to begin recruiting faculty and graduate fellows for a constellation in physics, information technology, and entrepreneurship. This constellation also will be the first of several planned for the field of information technology. To bring you up-to-date about Rensselaer’s existing research activity in information technology, and about alumni who have made a major impact in this field, we have included two articles in this issue, “Pioneers of the Internet” and “Untangling the Web!”

Other news from the university conveys the forward momentum that Rensselaer is experiencing.

The graduating class last May accepted an average starting salary of $48,600 for a B.S. degree and $65,200 for an M.S.

Undergraduate applications for this fall’s class, up 21 percent over the last five years, reached their highest volume since 1986. Selectivity has increased, SAT scores and other measures of academic achievement are up, and our yield—the percentage of students who choose to enroll after we accept them for admission—is now second only to MIT.

The incoming graduate class is strong as well. Mid-summer numbers indicate enrollment is at a five-year high, at 5.4 percent over 1996. Confirmations from doctoral students and minorities are ahead of last year, and quality indicators remain strong, with significant increases in GMAT and GRE quantitative and analytical scores.

This year, all of our students will experience a new level of service and new opportunities thanks to three projects that are online for the start of the new academic year. The Mueller Center, dedicated last May, serves as a fitness and community center for the entire campus (see March 2000 Rensselaer).

The revitalized Rensselaer Union reopened in August with new meeting spaces, a fresh new look, and a technology and telecommunications infrastructure that rivals any school in the country. A celebration including past and present student leaders takes place on Sept. 23.

The first new residence hall since 1977, Barton Hall, is fully “wired” with 15 miles of data cable. Built to meet the needs of the next generation of students, Barton Hall is designed to extend the Institute’s collaborative learning environment, with student team conference rooms, work centers, and lounges equipped for working. Barton will be dedicated on Sept. 22. Look for a full presentation about these exciting student projects in the December issue of Rensselaer magazine.

And the campus is now home to a piece by renowned 20th-century sculptor (and former Rensselaer faculty member) George Rickey.

These are exciting times at Rensselaer, and I expect the pace of change to accelerate even more in the year ahead. As always, I welcome your feedback about our initiatives, and I look forward in the coming year to meeting more of our alumni family whose support is so important to our success.