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James Knowlton: Developing Successful Student-Athletes

You do not have to know Jim Knowlton well to understand he thrives when it comes to challenges. Throughout his life he has tackled them head-on and he promises to continue to do so as the new director of athletics at Rensselaer.

“I am thrilled to be a member of the Rensselaer family and very much look forward to assisting the athletics department and the Institute in reaching the goals set forth in The Rensselaer Plan,” says Knowlton.

An engineering major at the United States Military Academy, Knowlton was a member of the university’s hockey team and played under legendary head coach Jack Riley.

Among his accomplishments was serving as captain of the hockey team, where he tallied 172 assists and 262 career points, which rank second and fourth in school history, respectively.

“Meeting the challenges of being a student-athlete at West Point taught me how to multitask and helped solidify my core values,” says Knowlton, who reported as a plebe in the summer of 1978 and retired as a colonel 30 years later. “The things I learned as a cadet, in particular from Coach Riley, are immeasurable.”

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James Knowlton (Photo by Mark McCarty )
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Over the next 10 years Knowlton faced many challenges in countries around the world—including in Berlin the day the Wall fell—often deployed far away from his family, which includes his wife, Corey, and five sons.

He went on to earn a master’s in civil engineering from Cornell and later taught in the civil and mechanical engineering department at West Point. Inside and outside the classroom, Knowlton consistently exhibited attributes that earned him increasing responsibilities in a variety of organizational leadership positions.

In 2003, he found himself back in West Point’s athletic department, first as deputy and then interim director. He led a staff of 200 people, 25 intercollegiate programs, and more than 1,000 student-athletes before becoming the director of the Center for Enhanced Performance.

Those experiences and challenges helped prepare Knowlton for success in leading the athletics department at Rensselaer.

“Through my first three months I have tried to meet as many people as possible,” says Knowlton, who was most familiar with Rensselaer as chair of the NCAA Hockey Rules Committee. “I feel like I have a better understanding of the Institute, not just the athletics department, and I am very impressed. It is an exciting time to be at Rensselaer. We will work together to continue to make the student-athlete experience one that is positive and fulfilling.”

One of the most exciting projects under way is the construction of the $114 million East Campus Athletic Village. “Dr. Jackson and the Board of Trustees have made a wonderful commitment to athletics—one that will make a significant difference for our university in the years to come,” says Knowlton. “The East Campus Athletic Village is a critical component in helping develop our athletics department and the Institute into one of the best in the nation.

“We are off to a tremendous start with the project and are very thankful for the support we have received.”

While Knowlton acknowledges there is still a great deal to accomplish, he remains focused on the goal of providing Rensselaer’s student-athletes with the best resources possible to help them succeed athletically and academically.

“We in the athletics department are looking forward to continuing to raise the bar for student-athletes through improved athletic facilities and opportunities,” says Knowlton, who attributes the progress already made to the tremendous resources at Rensselaer, especially the people. “The success of the East Campus Athletic Village is—and will continue to be—driven by the hard work and dedication of countless individuals across campus. I am proud to be part of the Rensselaer team.”

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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.