Extraordinary gift has galvanized campus; bold endorsement of Rensselaer Plan has jump-started efforts to transform the Institute
Location of Electronic Media and Performing Arts Center. Photo by Gary Gold

The historic gift of $130 million that we received in December from an anonymous donor has galvanized campus. The extraordinary generosity and commitment of this donor represent both a bold endorsement of the ambitious goals of the Rensselaer Plan, and a material investment in our aspirations to transform the Institute.

Now, while surely we are "well begun," we are far from "half done." The excitement—and the challenge—still lies ahead. The journey from idea to realization is just beginning. The magnanimous early financial support we have received will jump-start our work. But we must still delineate the full shape of our plans and obtain sufficient financing to achieve them.

As we advance rapidly on many key fronts, I am pleased to share with you the activity under way on campus on critical projects.

First, we have begun to recruit for six "constellations" at the heart of our strategy to greatly enlarge the research enterprise. (The faculty for one of the seven constellations—bioinformatics and biocomputation—already are in place.) These constellations will be comprised of "stars"—distinguished faculty who have earned outstanding reputations in the information technology and biotechnology focal areas in which we are choosing to invest. If you read the special issue of Nature last month, the one that reported the unveiling of the maps of the human genome, you may have seen the advertisement that formally launched our nationwide search.

The search for these constellations is a historic moment for Rensselaer because they represent the means by which we create a national research presence in new areas that are vital to society—and critical to a first-rank research program—but are not now in the Institute's portfolio. We chose these areas carefully, with the assistance of experts who include a Nobel Laureate from Rockefeller University as well as faculty researchers from Harvard, the University of California at San Diego, Georgia Tech, and the New York State Department of Health. The biotechnology search team is headed by Georges Belfort, professor of chemical engineering at Rensselaer, and the information technology search team by Joseph Flaherty, Rensselaer's Amos Eaton Professor of Computer Science.

Senior faculty members who are experts at the forefront of their disciplines form the nucleus of each constellation. At the same time, we are recruiting two junior faculty for each of the six areas. This approach will meet the realities of the academic marketplace. For distinguished faculty, the opportunity to work with and guide the next generation of researchers is a necessary element of a senior position. In addition, a substantive research effort demands the critical mass provided by high-caliber graduate students whose collaboration with faculty is a central component of a university research program. By bringing in distinguished senior faculty and junior faculty, we will be able to attract highly promising graduate students, post-doctoral staff, and others.

Of course, the recruitment package to attract these world-class researchers must include state-of-the-art research facilities as well. To meet this need, we are building a $60 million biotechnology and interdisciplinary studies center that will represent a unique asset for campus.

Today, most of our faculty work in laboratory facilities distinct to their discipline, and our life sciences laboratory facilities are relatively small. The center will be about 200,000 square feet, roughly the size of the Jonsson Engineering Center, will face 15th Street, and be adjacent to the George M. Low Center for Industrial Innovation.


  • Functional Tissue Engineering
  • Integrative Systems Biology
  • Biocatalysis and Metabolic Engineering
  • Bioinformatics and Biocomputation

  • Future Chips
  • Pervasive Computing
  • Multiscale Computation

  • Information Technology
  • Biotechnology
  • First-Year Experience
  • Electronic Media and
  • Performing Arts Center
  • The facility will integrate programs and facilities from the life sciences, physical and information sciences, and engineering. It will offer the most advanced equipment and infrastructure to support research in emerging areas of science and to explore innovation in new fields of application.

    Again, work is well under way. Burt Hill Kosar Rittelmann of Butler, Pa., and Bohlin Cywinski Jackson of Pittsburgh have been chosen as the architects and engineers for the biotech center. Together, these firms designed the $21.9 million Carnegie Mellon University Software Engineering Institute, and Burt Hill designed the $50 million Genomics Institute at Princeton University. The architects—including alumni Dick Rittelmann '60, principal-in-charge; Peter Bohlin '58, design architect; Jon Jackson '73, lead architect; and team members Harry Gordon '73 and Michael Maiese '90—are working closely with our biotechnology planning committee, headed by Arthur Sanderson, vice president for research, and Ted Mirczak '66, interim vice president for administration. In addition, site work for the facility is in progress.

    We are also moving ahead swiftly on plans to construct the Electronic Media and Performing Arts Center as a means to broaden campus discourse, enrich the cultural environment, showcase our signature offerings in the electronic arts (see article), and reach out to the greater communities of Troy and the Capital Region. It will be constructed in the vicinity of the Richard G. Folsom Library and the Materials Research Center.

    In this endeavor, also, we are bringing in expertise from beyond campus to assist the EMPAC committee, chaired by John Tichy, chair of mechanical engineering, aeronautical engineering, and mechanics. We have enlisted the services of Roger Schluntz, dean of architecture at the University of New Mexico, to assist with the formal design competition and in the selection of a jury that will choose a design firm in May.

    Schluntz has served as the consultant for a number of significant architecture and urban design competitions throughout the United States. He has twice served as a panel member for the National American Institute of Architects Honor Awards Program, and was appointed a member of the Design Competitions Task Force for the national AIA Committee on Design. He also was an adviser to the Design Arts Program of the National Endowment for the Arts in the early 1980s. On a parallel track, a campus committee is touring similar facilities to create a solid base of benchmark information. In late February, for example, a contingent that included Troy Mayor and Rensselaer Trustee Mark Pattison brought back ideas from a visit to the Benaroya Hall in downtown Seattle, Meany Hall of the University of Washington, and the Experience Music Project, an interactive music museum in Seattle.

    Finally, we will greet the members of the Class of 2005 when they enter next September with a revamped and enriched student orientation program that will begin with their arrival on campus—and will continue throughout the entire first year. The initial orientation will give students the choice of a variety of tracks, including a wilderness experience, historical and cultural activities, or community service, all imbued with an overarching theme of entrepreneurship. Our commitment to this program includes the creation of a new dean of the First-Year Experience who will design and direct this program, with a goal of creating a connection between Rensselaer and its students that will grow deeper during their years at the Institute and continue throughout their lives.


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