With her appointment as president of Rensselaer, Jackson adds a new dimension
to a varied career that she has, until now, described as a "three-legged
stool" encompassing government, industry, and academe.
Each step has laid the foundation for the one to follow, beginning
with her bachelor's degree in physics in 1968 from MIT and a Ph.D. in
theoretical physics from MIT in 1973. She conducted research at the Fermi
National Accelerator Laboratory (Batavia, Ill.), the European Organization
for Nuclear Research (Geneva, Switzerland), and other research laboratories
until 1976 when she joined AT&T Bell Laboratories in Murray Hill, N.J.
At Bell Labs, she conducted research in theoretical physics, solid-state
and quantum physics, and optical physics. Her theoretical work resulted
in her being named a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences
and of the American Physical Society.
It was at Bell Laboratories that she met her husband, Dr. Morris
A. Washington, also a physicist. A Vietnam veteran who graduated Phi Beta
Kappa from Fisk University in Nashville, Tenn., Washington earned his
Ph.D. from New York University. He now conducts research on laser development
for undersea fiber optic communications systems for Lucent Laboratories/Bell
Labs Innovations. They have one son, Alan, who graduated last spring from
the Pingry School in New Jersey, and is enrolled as a freshman at Dartmouth
In 1991, Jackson was appointed a full professor at Rutgers University,
where she taught both graduates and undergraduates and advised Ph.D. students.
She also maintained research ties to AT&T Bell Laboratories. "As a researcher,
you have more ideas than you can work on yourself," Jackson says. "Rutgers
gave me the opportunity to build a research group with young people, to
educate them, and to make them partners in research."
During this time, she also continued to build her expertise in science
and technology policy that she had begun to develop while a researcher
at AT&T Bell Laboratories. From 1985 to 1995, she was appointed by three
successive governors to serve on the New Jersey Commission on Science
and Technology, created to develop university/industry partnerships in
areas important to the state's economy. The commission exercised responsibility
for directing about $200 million to create new academic research programs,
advanced technology centers, start-up companies through technology transfers
and incubators, and a venture capital network. In 1993, she was awarded
the New Jersey Governor's Award in Science, the highest award given to
a resident of the state.
Sept. 22-25, 1999
are under way for the inauguration of
18th president on Friday, Sept. 24.
"Honoring Tradition, Changing the World Rensselaer in the 21st Century"
has been selected as the inaugural theme.
Activities, which will span several days, include
symposia, a concert by Branford Marsalis, a gala, and a community
For a complete schedule of events, visit our Web
site at www.rpi.edu and click on
Named by President Clinton in May 1995 to serve as chairman of the NRC,
Jackson sailed through the Senate confirmation hearings to take command
of an agency comprising about 3,000 employees with a budget of $500 million.
The Washington Post described the challenges that lay ahead for
the new Chairmanregulating the safety of the United States' aging
nuclear power plants, tackling the politically sensitive subject of extending
nuclear power plant licenses, and addressing problems of nuclear waste.
Over a five-year term, she re-established the NRC's credibility
as the watchdog for nuclear safety, and she created a new paradigm for
the Commission, whose regulatory approach had been largely unchanged in
a quarter century. "We have become far more introspective and self-critical
in examining our own regulations and programs," Jackson told the annual
"all employees" meeting of the NRC in June as she concluded her term.
"We have learned to demand a bottom-line focus on resultsfrom both
ourselves and from those we regulate."
IS IT THAT YOU REALLY WANT TO DO?
Paul Leath, chairman of the physics department at Rutgers, was provost
during a period when Jackson served on the school's board of governors
and while she was a member of the New Jersey Commission on Science and
Technology. Later, the two scientists occupied adjoining offices in the
"What always most impressed me about Shirley Jackson was her diplomacy
and her good judgment and levelheadedness on the Board of Governors and
the New Jersey Commission," Leath says. "There were always times when
the board would go off on a tangent, and Shirley was always that voice
of sanity that brought them back and focused them. She had an amazing
ability to sit quietly while crazy arguments were going on, and finally
she would interrupt and ask, 'What is it that you really want to do?'"
Jackson knows how she will begin to answer that question as she
commences her tenure as president: "Aim for the Stars."
"I see Rensselaer as a premier technological university," she says.
"A recognized leader, an institution that competes on an international
as well as national level with the very best.
"A university is unique," she says. "It undertakes the great challenge
and carries with it the tremendous responsibility of building the future,
helping young people to prepare for productive and fulfilling lives, and
developing new knowledge for the good of humankind.
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