Since nearly its beginning, Rensselaer has had an international presence and a global impact through its students and alumni.
The Pi Eta Scientific Society, established in 1866, for example, was an academic fraternity that included students from China, Japan, and Latin American countries.
Consider the nearly 200 students registered at the university in 1874more than a dozen were from Cuba, Ecuador, Peru, and Puerto Rico. Three Japanese students also were registered in the same year. They came to study at Rensselaer as part of Japans effort at modernization, following the Meiji Revolution of 1867.
One of these Japanese students, Seijiro Hirai, was a prominent figure in the building and nationalization of Japans railway system in the late 1800s.
Hirais name stands among those highly regarded Rensselaer alumni who brought the railroad industry to prominence here and abroad. The Class of 1935 dedicated its yearbook to Hirai and nine other alumni who have obtained the highest positions that the railroads can offer.
Selected by the Japanese government as one of the first Japanese students to study abroad, Hirai received his masters in civil engineering from Rensselaer in 1878. He worked for the U.S. government before starting his career as a railway engineer in the Colonization Bureau in the Island of Hokkaido in 1881. One year later, he was appointed chief of the railway section of the Mining and Railway Bureau of the Hokkaido Government.
He turned to the private sector in 1888 and became the chief engineer of the Osaka Railway Company, where he succeeded in building the companys line.
Hirai eventually was appointed president of the Imperial Government Railways.
During his presidency, he was honored with a distinguished service award by his government for effectively transporting troops and munitions during the Russo-Japanese War. Two other Rensselaer alumni, Souichiro Matsmoto, Class of 1876, and Toyojiro Terashima, Class of 1895, also were instrumental in building Japans railway system.
Hirai was an active international alumnus. One of the six entryways in the E Complex residence hall bears Hirais name to honor his contribution to a dormitory system at Rensselaer in the early 1900s.
|Rensselaer Magazine: March 2002|
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