Why Not Change the World?

Great days lie ahead

Shirely Ann Jackson, Ph.D.It is with a tremendous sense of pride and enthusiasm that I join the Rensselaer community as your 18th president. Founded on 175 years of commitment to technological education, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute lays claim to a truly distinguished history.

As I begin my tenure, I have a lively sense that all of you have established your personal history with Rensselaer, while I am just beginning to write mine. Throughout almost two centuries, Rensselaer has grown and renewed itself to meet the challenges and to grasp the opportunities of the era. A roll call of alumni today serves to illustrate the evolutionary changes that have transformed Rensselaer in the second half of the 20th century. Classes who graduated immediately following World War II witnessed a burgeoning student body, a new attention to research, the strengthening of the graduate school, and growing ties to industry. Throughout the years that followed, these trends deepened and grew. Alumni of the '60s recall the continued expansion of the physical and intellectual landscape, with construction of a new Student Union, a new Materials Research Center, and the development of the upper campus. The '70s and '80s witnessed the aggressive "Build" program in engineering, and the farsighted vision of Rensselaer 2000, that together transformed Rensselaer into a modern research university. In the current decade, Rensselaer has pioneered innovations in learning that have earned the university both national and international recognition while expanding its research portfolio.

Today, as we rapidly approach the new millennium, Rensselaer stands poised to attain a new level of accomplishment. The conditions now in our society and our world have never been more propitious for bold action that will win greater prominence for Rensselaer and create an institution of broad global impact. This is a period in which Rensselaer will meet the challenge, "Why Not Change the World?"

At the brink of a new century, the world is witnessing a pace of technological advancement that is nothing short of astonishing. In less than 10 years, the Internet has exploded from a little-known tool of academicians to a force that has revolutionized communications, commerce, and the economy. Biotechnology has metamorphosed the life sciences, from genetically engineered drugs and minimally invasive surgical techniques, to new agricultural breakthroughs with the potential to mitigate the age-old scourge of world hunger. The explosion of data in all the scientific disciplines, at a scale never before seen, creates a tremendous challenge and opportunity to advance the state of knowledge for humankind. The global village is no longer metaphor, but reality.

In this rapidly evolving world, I envision Rensselaer as a premier technological university, attaining an even greater level of prominence in our nation and in the world by responding to the opportunities and needs of the age.

Over the next several months, I will be leading a strategic planning exercise that will draw on external as well as internal expertise to undertake a rigorous examination of Rensselaer's current strengths and its direction for the future. The fruit of this process will be the Rensselaer Plan, a strategic blueprint that will articulate our vision, inform our decisions, and guide our investments and allocation of resources for the coming years.

Of course, specific plans for the future must await the participation of all our stakeholders, but even now some general concepts are clear. We must redouble our commitment to strengthening our existing "spires of excellence" in research. In addition, we must identify and create research programs in new areas that build on our present capabilities, extend our intellectual reach, and capture current opportunities.

We will reaffirm our commitment to the principle that research and education are inseparably intertwined, and that our faculty are dedicated both to the discovery of new knowledge and to the education of our students. We will take a global view and attain global impact by embracing diversity and by enlarging our reach to beyond the campus—to the local community, the state, the nation, and the world.

As Rensselaer sets its sights on ambitious goals, your support as alumni will be critical. I hope to meet many of you soon, and I look forward to engaging you on behalf of this great university—your university—which I now am privileged to join. I invite you to contact me, at president@rpi.edu, with your ideas, your suggestions, and your vision of Rensselaer in the 21st century.


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© 1999 Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
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