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At Rensselaer

Making a Difference

Building International Engineering and Science Capacity

A gift of $1.25 million from Sean O’Sullivan ’85 will assist in building engineering and science capacity in Africa. The new program aims to bring to developing nations the experiential learning program that is the Rensselaer instructional hallmark. It will involve select universities in South Africa and Ghana in a five-year collaboration in science and engineering research, education, and development.

The program will feature a two-month summer experience for students on both the Rensselaer campus and on-site in Africa, in which cross-cultural teams will work together on real-world, interdisciplinary science or engineering problems related to such areas as energy and the environment, transportation, potable water, and infectious and chronic disease control. Concurrently, the program will offer a summer institute of educational and training opportunities for African university faculty and administrators.

In Africa, demand for higher education is increasing rapidly as growing numbers of students earn secondary-level diplomas and, in some nations, more can afford some level of higher education.
Globalization is increasing the pressure on African nations to build infrastructure of all kinds, including higher education systems that can help develop an educated populace with the scientific and technological skills to further civil and economic development. In Africa, demand for higher education is increasing rapidly as growing numbers of students earn secondary-level diplomas and, in some nations, more can afford some level of higher education.

Yet, sufficient resources are not being directed toward African colleges and universities, which face a number of challenges, among them faculty and curriculum development. The program that O’Sullivan is funding attempts to meet a pressing need by building international partnerships, providing curricular and instructional support, and experiential learning opportunities for both Rensselaer students and students in African universities.

“What I like about the program that Dr. Jackson has crafted is that it isn’t about handouts or Band-Aids,” O’Sullivan says. “It is a capacity-building program that puts responsibility squarely in the hands of the local population, while increasing cross-cultural communication and cooperation.”

This gift supports the $1.4 billion Renaissance at Rensselaer: The Campaign for Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and it is the latest investment by O’Sullivan, an entrepreneur who is currently chairman of SOSventures, a venture capital firm in Ireland. O’Sullivan earned a B.S. in electrical engineering from Rensselaer, and was a founder and the first president of MapInfo.

Earlier, his philanthropy created the Rensselaer Center for Open Source, which supports the development of open software solutions to promote civil societies across the globe. He also has funded the “Change the World Challenge,” a student competition to support entrepreneurship educations.

The new program dovetails the Rensselaer mission to educate technological leaders with O’Sullivan’s belief about the power of an individual to make a difference. “Through this program, Rensselaer will help create and inspire a new generation of engineering leaders in a few parts in Africa,” says O’Sullivan. “We’ve seen in our own country how some of the greatest and most inspiring leaders, of so many different fields and spheres, are of African descent. So we don’t as much need to export technology or talent to Africa, as to help in the development of their own talent.”

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Rensselaer (ISSN 0898-1442) is published in Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter by the Office of Strategic Communications and External Relations, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, NY 12180-3590. Opinions expressed in these pages do not necessarily reflect the views of the editors or the policies of the Institute. ©2008 Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.