Nuclear Safety


Aim For the Stars


Gary Gold     

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 College.
 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.


Inauguration Celebration
Sept. 22-25, 1999

Plans are under way for the inauguration of


as Rensselaer's 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 gathering.

For a complete schedule of events, visit our Web site at and click on "Inauguration Information."

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 Chairman—regulating 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 results—from both ourselves and from those we regulate."


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 physics department.
 "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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