Making a Difference
Addressing the Quiet Crisis
At first glance, the e-mail message sent to the Office of Corporate and Foundation Relations two days before Christmas 2004 did not seem out of the ordinary. Through its link on Rensselaer’s home Web page, the office staff often fields requests and answers questions. But this message was different. It began, “I was very impressed with the article “Fly Me To The Moon” by Thomas Friedman, in which Shirley Ann Jackson was quoted.”
Robert Weissman, a retired textile business executive living in Palm City, Fla., was intrigued with the opinion of the New York Times international affairs columnist and author of the best-seller The World Is Flat (who spoke at this year’s Commencement), and with President Jackson’s comments about the “quiet crisis” a term she coined to describe the graying of America’s science and technology workforce, the alarming gap in the number of young people being educated to replace them, and the resulting implications for America’s competitiveness.
“It just resonated with me,” recalls Weissman. “I read about the ‘quiet crisis’ in Tom Friedman’s column, and about the need for people in this country to learn science and engineering skills. The article said that if we don’t educate our students in science and technology, our nation would lose its competitive advantage.”
President Jackson’s views have earned wide coverage in the past several years, and she often receives e-mail messages such as Weissman’s. But the next lines stood out: “I have a foundation... and at the present time I am in the process of instructing the Trustees upon my death where I would like some of the funds to go... I was thinking about perhaps an endowment to some college for deserving students who plan to study in the field of math and science. I have an open mind and would like to learn more about Rensselaer, of which I know very little. I would welcome any thoughts you or one of your colleagues may have in regard to how best to deploy these potential funds.”
Weissman accepted an invitation to visit Rensselaer’s Troy campus. After the visit, he said, “I absolutely wanted to be part of the RPI program. I was very impressed with the people I met and all that I learned was happening there.”
Weissman decided to establish a $250,000 endowed scholarship for undergraduate students, and recently he added to that commitment by endowing a graduate fellowship for $1.2 million for students in science and engineering. He also has included Rensselaer in his estate plans.
“You reach a stage in life where you want to give back to society,” he says. While it is important for him to provide for his family, he has decided to allocate funds to support the areas important to him, including medical research, education, and the environment, so that he can “pay back for the good fortune I have had.”
It is particularly important to support Rensselaer, he says, because it doesn’t have a large endowment. “I hope I can help in a small way.”