Nuclear Safety


Aim For the Stars



Gary Gold

Jackson 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 at half-time.
 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," she said.
 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 community—Troy, 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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