and her husband, Morris Washington (l); son Alan is enrolled as a
freshman at Dartmouth College.
As she departed the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, her colleagues
in Washington, D.C., said farewell by presenting her with an "Energizer
Bunny" that now resides in her office in the Troy Building. The souvenir
captures the boundless energy that is another of Jackson's signature characteristics.
She showed her ability to charge a room with her own energy during her
first day as president. On her way into a campus lecture hall for a welcome
ceremony, she worked her way across the rows of seats, reaching out to
personally greet faculty, students, and staff before her formal remarks.
One Saturday last winter, while she was winding down her duties at the
NRC, she no sooner had landed in New Jersey from a trip to Africa with
Vice President Al Gore, than she took to the road for a weekend in Troy.
That evening, the hockey-fan-in-the-making joined the crowd in the Houston
Field House, where she beat a big bass drum for the Rensselaer Engineers
Not surprisingly, one of her avocations is mountain climbing, which
she first took up while living in Switzerland early in her career. A high
point of the year is an annual outing led by her sister Barbara Avery,
a dean at Loyola Marymount University, who takes a group of 12 to 15 women
on a hiking trip, usually in the Sierras. "Hiking is a bonding experience.
You get to know people on the trail," Jackson says. "It's something I
hope to do with faculty and administrators."
Jackson has new heights in mind for Rensselaer as well. "I want Rensselaer
to be a first-rate technological institution with global reach and global
impact," she has said. "If you parse that sentence, it tells you everything."
From her first day on campus Jackson has declared that the pursuit
of excellence will be the sine qua non of her tenure as president of Rensselaer.
"I envision a university community focused on excellence at all
levels, and a university community where the pursuit of excellence is
embodied in the regard all members of the university have for one another,"
An important element of the vision is the creation of "communiversity."
" 'Communiversity' means the university as a community that is part
of an even larger communityTroy, the state, the nation, and beyond,"
Jackson says. "And at its broadest level it means that we are an integral
part of a larger world." The presidential inauguration will reflect this
theme with daylong activities and entertainment on the Troy riverfront
to bring together town and gown.
Describing herself as a pragmatist as well as visionary, Jackson
will translate her vision into action by leading a strategic assessment,
planning, and rebaselining initiative to define Rensselaer's goals and
identify the means to attain them. "You have to take a holistic approach,"
she says. "We have to look at what it is we want to be. What does that
mean? How does that translate into activities and accomplishments?"
Rensselaer trustee Mary Good, co-chair of the presidential search
committee, says the committee chose Jackson because they foresaw her ability
to deliver on a bold vision.
"Shirley, when she walks into the room, has a presence that simply
conveys to people that this is a person who is in charge of herself, and
who has a purpose in life," says Good. "Clearly, in a university president,
what you are almost asking for is a water walker. A person who is able
to lead the students, the faculty, the board of trustees, and the other
stakeholders, and that's not an easy mix in any situation.
"You need someone who has a vision of what the world will be like
in the beginnings of the 21st century and what the university will have
to do not only to survive, but to excel. It must be a person who relishes
the job and who is absolutely intrigued by the challenge. It must be someone
whose personality is such that they absolutely will not accept anything
less than success. Failure is not an option. When all the discussion was
finished, we believed Shirley Ann Jackson had the best chance at moving
us to be a truly premier institution in the next century."
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