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The 18th-century barn will be converted into a 21st-century classroom to interest young people in careers in science and technology. Photo by Mark McCarty

Making A Difference

Preserving Rensselaer’s Dutch Heritage

Entering the Rensselaer Technology Park in North Greenbush, visitors are surrounded by green meadows and lush forests, evidence of the rich glacial soils of the Hudson River valley prized by Dutch farmers more than 300 years ago. Today, it is fertile ground for the nearly 2,300 employees of 50 resident companies of the Tech Park representing a diversity of high-technology enterprises.

Situated on the homestead of the Philip DeFreest family, one of its original Dutch settlers in the mid-18th century, the land includes historic buildings typical of a working Dutch farm: a farmhouse restored 20 years ago to house the park’s administrative offices, and a magnificent Dutch barn.

The DeFreest Homestead is a longtime interest of honorary trustee C. Sheldon Roberts ’48, and especially of his wife, Patricia. Roberts was one of the founders of Fairchild Semiconductor, the first company to manufacture integrated circuits — a development that fueled the growth of California’s Silicon Valley. As Rensselaer trustee, he was on the team that implemented Rensselaer 2000, the plan that foresaw the development and ultimate success of the Tech Park and a budding regional technology economy.

The DeFreest House was originally built in the 1740s, partially constructed of European brick used as ballast in Dutch fur trading ships that sailed up the Hudson. Patricia Roberts, committed to the preservation of the house, enjoyed a hands-on involvement in the restoration project. Today, the house and the surrounding homestead are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Robertses are turning their attention now to the Dutch barn on the homestead. Proceeds from their recent gift to Rensselaer will document and restore the barn structure and transform its interior into a 21st century classroom for local schoolchildren. Through this project, the couple is helping to preserve an irreplaceable part of Hudson Valley history, and with future programs in the 21st century classroom they hope to stimulate the declining interest on the part of young people in careers in science and technology.


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Between 1630 and 1850, Dutch barns dominated the landscape in the Hudson and Mohawk River valleys. They were distinguished by their H-shaped structural frame, which provided a strong core to support the roof and external walls. The DeFreest barn as it now stands was constructed around 1820 of thick, 50-foot beams of virgin-growth hemlock more than a hundred years old when hewn, many reused from earlier structures on the site. The structural elements of the barn are in extraordinary condition.

“The homestead is reflective of pre-industrial society, and the materials came out of the ground. Everything here came off the land very close to where the barn stands,” says Michael Kelley of J.M. Kelley Ltd., a local firm hired for the project that is experienced in the documentation and preservation of Dutch barns in the region. “This building is a good candidate for rebuilding. There is really very little that’s missing. Overall for the age of this building, the condition is amazing.”

Patricia Roberts recalls, “I can remember first seeing the DeFreest House at the end of a muddy path and realizing that it must be saved in order to preserve our past but also, as importantly, to become the centerpiece of the Technology Park. We also recognized that the nearby Dutch barn could serve a similar purpose by preserving some of its history and giving it a new purpose — to become a launch pad for our children’s future.”

“Sheldon and I are very excited about turning this wonderful structure into a classroom for the future, a classroom devoted to inspiring elementary school-aged children about careers in science and technology,” she says.


Supporting Scholars

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Cameron Keating ’06 and Jason Trotter ’05

Patroon scholars (l-r) Cameron Keating ’06 and Jason Trotter ’05. Photo by Mark McCarty

Jason Trotter ’05 has taken his Rensselaer education to the streets of Rochester, N.Y., where he worked on an internship to develop improved lighting solutions for the city.

Trotter, a mechanical engineering student, was attracted to Rensselaer for the many opportunities he would have here, including internships like this one. But without financial aid, coming to Rensselaer would not have been possible for him. That’s where Carl Pavarini ’69, Ph.D. ’73, comes in.

Pavarini is making Trotter’s education possible through his gifts to the Patroon Scholars Program of the Rensselaer Annual Fund. Through the Patroon Scholars Program donors provide tuition support for one or more undergraduate students throughout their stay at Rensselaer. Participation in the program requires a multi-year pledge of $24,000, or $6,000 per year for each year of undergraduate education for each student (five years, or $30,000, for students in the School of Architecture). Donors to the program are provided with regular information about the student(s) they are helping and, wherever possible, opportunities to meet them.

According to Pavarini, satisfaction in giving to this program is twofold. It is an “opportunity for a personal connection and to do some mentoring.” Plus, he enjoys “knowing where my money is going and seeing the result.” For Trotter, “one of the best things is knowing that an actual person is helping me out.”

For Sheila and Dick Gottardi ’68, their interest is not only in current students, but in ensuring that Rensselaer is able to attract “the best students we can.” Dick Gottardi says, “we wanted to help students who couldn’t go to Rensselaer without us.” The couple supports two students through their Patroon Scholar gifts. In the words of one of their students, chemical engineering major Cameron Keating ’06, “I really would struggle without their support. It is a huge help.” For Gottardi, this program offers a way for him to give back to current students as a way to say thank you for the support he received as a student at Rensselaer.
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Rensselaer Magazine: Summer 2004
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Rensselaer (ISSN 0898-1442) is published in March, June, September, and December by the Office of Communications.

 
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