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The Tenacioius President

Shirley Ann Jackson Sticks to the Plan

For Shirley Ann Jackson, the appeal of leaving behind a high-level federal-government job to become president of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute lay simply in the institution’s untapped potential.
As published in The Chronicle of Higher Education
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Accomplishments Under The Rensselaer Plan


Since approval of The Rensselaer Plan in May 2000, under the leadership of Dr. Jackson, Rensselaer has:

  • Secured a $360 million unrestricted gift to the university (2001), launched the $1 billion Renaissance at Rensselaer Campaign (2004), and expanded the goal of the campaign to $1.4 billion and extended the time frame to June 30, 2009 when the initial goal was met earlier than anticipated with the announcement of an in-kind contribution commercially valued at approximately $514 million from the Partners for the Advancement of Collaborative Engineering Education (PACE) (September 2006). The campaign exceeded the goal of $1.4 billion on October 1, 2008, exceeding all previous fund-raising.
  • Initiated and/or completed $650 million in new construction and renovation of facilities for research, teaching, and student life.
  • Hired 225 new faculty since 2000, 74 of them in entirely new positions.
  • Reduced student/faculty ratio from 18:1 to 14:1 (undergraduates only - 11:1).
  • Improved the quality metrics of entering students. Average combined SAT scores of the Class of 2012 is 1340, up 59 points since Fall 1999; metrics for entering graduate students also have improved.
  • Increased applications 114 percent; from 5,264 in 1999 to 11,249 in 2008.
  • Addressed and improved every key enabling process, through careful planning and disciplined financial management.
  • Improved the Institute’s ranking as one of the top 50 national universities (U.S.News #41).

Accomplishments: Research Leadership

The Rensselaer Plan Aim: Lead in key research domains, applying “science to the common purposes of life” (our historic mission)

Faculty Renewal

  • Hired 225 new faculty since 2000.
  • Created 74 net new faculty positions since 1999.
  • Began the Fall of 2008 with 11% more tenure/tenure-track faculty than Fall of 2000.
  • Reduced the student/faculty ratio from 18:1 in Fall 1999 to 14:1 in Fall 2008 (Undergraduates only - to 11:1).
  • Increased the number of women faculty from 48 to 77 — a 60% increase since 1999.
  • Increased the number of underrepresented minority faculty from 12 to 26 — a 116% increase since 1999.
  • Appointed ten constellation faculty.
  • Attracted 34 NSF Career Award recipients to the Rensselaer faculty.
  • Created Faculty Seed Fund for new research directions.
  • Created Faculty Revitalization Fund for research initiation for new faculty research.

Research Enterprise

  • Created Office of Vice President for Research and appointed Vice President of Research as University Officer.
  • Defined focal areas in Biotechnology and IT for strategic investment.
  • Hired first “world class constellations” of faculty in Biotechnology, IT, and Physics.
    • Filled Future Chips and Tetherless World constellations.
    • Partially filled constellations in Biocatalysis and Metabolic Engineering, Biocomputation and Bioinformatics, and Physics, Information Technology, and Entrepreneurship.
  • Increased overall research awards from $37 million in FY99 to $73 million in FY08.
  • Increased National Institutes of Health (NIH) research funding from $400,000 in 1999 to more than $31 million in 2008.
  • Secured NSF Engineering Research Center (ERC) with Rensselaer in lead.
  • Established the Baruch ’60 Center for Biochemical Solar Energy Research.
  • Established the NASA-funded New York Center for Astrobiology.
  • Launched Center for Architecture Science and Ecology (CASE).
  • Increased Ph.D. enrollment from 740 in Fall 2002 to 868 in Fall 2008.
  • Awarded 163 Ph.D. degrees in 2006-07, up from 91 in 1999-2000.
  • Grew the number of externally-supported research assistants from 218 in FY02 to 332 in FY08.

Accomplishments: New Domains

The Rensselaer Plan Aim: Move into new areas of fundamental significance in the 21st century (e.g., bioscience and biotechnology, arts and technological creativity), becoming a fully realized technological university.

Biosciences and Biotechnology

  • Established the Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies.
  • Established four constellations in biotechnology – at the intersections of important areas in the bio-domain and Rensselaer core strengths in engineering and information technology.
  • Expanded life sciences focus in Biology, Chemistry (now Chemistry and Chemical Biology), and Chemical Engineering (now the Howard P. Isermann ’42 Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering).
  • Constructed a 218,000 SF state-of-the-art research facility for the Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies building, opening it in September 2004.
  • Attracted $22.5 million in New York State funding for equipping the Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies.
  • Unveiled 800 Mhz NMR in the Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies in March 2006.
  • Obtained the State of New York approval of a new Ph.D. program and degree in Biochemistry and Biophysics.
  • Launched a Howard Hughes Minority Undergraduate Research Program at Rensselaer in the Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary studies in the summer of 2006.

Computational Center for Nanotechnology Innovations

  • Established the Computational Center for Nanotechnology Innovations (CCNI), a $100 million partnership involving Rensselaer, IBM, and New York state.
  • Established four constellations in computation and information technology — building upon existing core strengths in microelectronics and microsystems, advanced materials, nanotechnology, and advanced scientific computation, modeling, and simulation.
  • Designed and constructed the CCNI platform and facility, made up of massively parallel Blue Gene supercomputers, POWER-based Linux clusters, and AMD Opteron processor-based clusters, providing more than 100 teraflops of computing power, opening it in September 2007 as one of the most powerful university-based supercomputers in the world.

Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center

  • Conceived an Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center (EMPAC) as a bold platform at the intersections of art and science, culture and technology.
  • Designed and constructed a 220,000 SF Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center facility.
  • Hired first director for Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center.
  • Initiated a collaborative program of EMPAC events and research with faculty and students.
  • Awarded VPP Status by OSHA for the EMPAC construction project’s outstanding site safety program.

Accomplishments: Educational Innovation

The Rensselaer Plan Aim: Be an educational innovator where research and education potentiate each other, at both undergraduate and graduate levels.

Curricula and Majors

  • Established new Ph.D. programs in Cognitive Science, Biochemistry and Biophysics, and Architectural Science, and Electronic Arts.
  • Established new undergraduate programs in Electronic Arts and in Game and Simulation Arts and Sciences.
  • Redesigned the Engineering core curriculum.
  • Implemented a life sciences curriculum requirement for all undergraduates.
  • Implementing a required capstone project experience for all undergraduates.
  • Revamped the MBA curriculum.
  • Implemented program reviews of all graduate programs.

Education for Working Professionals

  • Reorganized Rensselaer Hartford Campus, sharpening academic focus and streamlining business operations.
  • Created new signature cohort programs.

Accomplishments: Student and Campus Experience

The Rensselaer Plan Aim: Provide a student and campus experience akin to that of top-tier universities.

First Year Experience

  • Created Office of the First Year Experience.
  • Hired first dean of the First Year Experience.
  • Implemented a new freshman orientation program, including wilderness, environmental, cultural, and community service options.
  • Received 8 national and 4 regional awards from the National Orientation Directors Association for publications, media, and theme in addition to having work featured in two national design publications.
  • Developed a complete set of academic, social, and psychological support mechanisms for first-year students — undergraduate and graduate.
  • Developed a new orientation program for new graduate TA’s.
  • Developed an orientation program for new faculty and staff hires.
  • Expanded student/young alumni programs to address “first year” as alums.
  • Implemented online Early Warning System for first-year students.
  • Created and implemented the Leadership Theme house, living and learning community
  • Provided teambuilding activities for all first year students during student orientation.
  • Received Gold Award of Excellence from the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators as best practice in the Nation for First-Year Experience Program.

Academic and Personal Success

  • Improved graduation rate from 73% in 1999 to 82% in 2008.
  • Improved advising system, including expanding Early Warning System to include upper-class students.
  • Established class deans for each class beginning with the Class of 2007.
  • Launched Culminating Year Experience initiative.
  • Expanded counseling center outreach.
  • Launched graduate student experience initiatives, including individual review of all student progress.
  • Launched annual Opening Doors faculty outreach to first year students in residence halls.
  • 2007 National award for innovative programming from the National Association of Colleges and Employers for the Career Development Center Sophomore Career Experience.
  • Launched Annual Student Leadership Conference with corporate partners.
  • Delivered customized leadership training workshops to the campus community.


  • Hired new Athletic Director.
  • Focused on academic as well as team success:
    • Student-athlete GPA averages exceed those of the student body as a whole:
      • Student-athletes have maintained a higher grade point average than that of the general student population for 12 semesters.
      • At least 19 of 21 teams have posted grade point averages in seven semesters since Spring 2004 with no fewer than 16 in any semester.
    • From 2000-01 to 2007-08, Rensselaer has produced 56 National Academic All-Americans, which ranks fourth in the entire nation at all Divisions.
    • Seven teams went to NCAA championship events in 2004-05; nine individuals in NCAA national competition.
    • Field Hockey team had the highest GPA in the nation in 2004-05 and 2005-06.
    • Men’s Cross Country team had the second highest GPA in the nation in 2006-07.
  • Elevated Women’s Ice Hockey to Division I (inaugural Division I season in 2005-06).
  • Hired new men’s ice hockey coach (2006).
  • Opened new fitness center (Mueller Center).
  • Installed new roof, skylight, and pool filtration system for Robison Pool.
  • Installed new roof, locker room, and dasher improvements at Houston Field House.
  • Completed locker room improvements at the AS&RC.
  • Built new bleachers and press facilities for the ’86 Field (football).
  • Installed new surface on the Harkness Field and Track.
  • Developed Master Plan, and designed Phase I for the East Campus Athletic Village.
  • Broke ground on the East Campus Athletic Village (August 2007)
    • Constructed brand new lighted turf field for soccer and lacrosse (Renwyck Field)
    • Constructed improvements to locker rooms, equipment room and athletic training facility at the Houston Field House.
  • Installed new lights on the Harkness Field (August 2007).

Student Life and Services

  • Opened new residence hall (Barton Hall).
  • Renovated the Student Union building.
  • Renovated Bray, Cary, Hall, Crockett, Nason, and Warren residence halls.
  • Completed landscape and site improvements to the Commons residence halls.
  • Constructed new entrance to the Commons Dining Hall. Installed new elevator, new restrooms and renovated the mail room.
  • Constructed (through privatization) new Sixth Avenue Residence Hall (to open Fall 2009).
  • Implemented Campus Transportation Service and Shuttle Bus Service.
  • Initiated rolling renovations of all upperclass undergraduate residence halls.
  • Created new graduate housing projects on Peoples Avenue.
  • Created Student Life Services Center, through renovation of Academy Hall.
  • Created new hospitality venues at Jazzman’s Café, Java++ Coffee House, new Library Café, Rensselaer Union Rathskellar, Father’s Marketplace renovation and the BARH Dining Room.
  • Completed renovations to Russell Sage Dining Hall, doubling its size.
  • Increased the quality of online customer services, including registration anywhere in the world, financial aid renewal, veteran’s benefits processes, class lists with individual student pictures, and degree audit, online transcript order process, implemented grade modifiers.
  • Improved the quality of the student health insurance program while reducing the annual cost of per student.
  • Created new pipeline summer programs to attract talented women and underrepresented ethnic groups.
  • Improved customer service in the Rensselaer Union Bookstore with the implementation of the Bookstore Pre-Pack program which now reaches more than 1600 students
  • Implemented Classical Concert Program with more than 35 concerts, including 10 on-campus concerts.
  • Increased in number of clubs from 125 to 169 clubs in the last 9 years.
  • Celebrated the 75th Anniversary of the RPI Players
  • Celebrated  the 50th Anniversary of WRPI-FM (2007).
  • Delivered teambuilding, goal setting, public speaking, and leadership development to students in pipeline programs.
  • Developed new administrative processes for graduating students including a seamless on-stage diploma distribution process, on-line degree status, and an early alert review.
  • Developed student and course enrollment data marts in Data Warehouse.
  • Created pilot living/learning community focused on the earth and its environment (the Vasudha Living & Learning Community at Rensselaer).
  • Created leadership themed-living area for first-year students.
  • Increased student staffing in upperclass student apartment areas.
  • Improved the residential environment by designating all residence halls and apartments entirely smoke free as of May 20, 2007.
  • Developed Opening Doors program with teams of faculty and staff visiting students in the residence halls to discuss adjustment issues, satisfaction levels and general experience at Rensselaer.
  • Initiated the CLASS initiative (Clustered Learning, Advocacy, and Support for Students), with residential clusters and live-in Cluster Deans, and with Class Deans (beginning Fall 2009).
  • Established new positions for class deans and residential cluster deans.

Renewal of Academic Facilities

  • Completed renovation of the main floor of the Folsom Library.
  • Installed new academic Wind Tunnel Facility in the Johnson Engineering Center.
  • Upgraded classrooms.
  • Created new laboratory for undergraduate life sciences requirement.
  • Upgraded all engineering undergraduate laboratories.
  • Upgrading all science undergraduate laboratories.

The Undergraduate Plan

Initiated in Fall 2005, and focused on the following elements:

  • International experience for all students.
    • Launched Rensselaer Engineering Education Across Cultural Horizons (REACH) program, offereing students the opportunity to participate in structured study abroad programs, as well as other international experiences such as internships, exchange programs, or other overseas opportunities.
  • Undergraduate participation in research.
  • Living and learning communities (honors college, biotechnology, media and the arts, earth and the environment).
  • A more diverse student body.
  • Focus on experimental learning and growth.
  • Athletics as an opportunity to develop fitness for leadership, community, and visibility.
  • Curricula, courses, experiences, and mentoring that prepare students to change the world.
  • Delivered leadership/professional development courses to all Engineering and Management students.
  • Developed a robust fitness opportunity with the Rensselaer Union’s Mueller Center program.
  • CLASS (Clustered Learning, Advocacy, and Support for Students) initiative.

Office of Graduate Education

  • Created the Office of Graduate Education (OGE), and position of the Vice Provost and Dean of Graduate Education.
  • Developed comprehensive integrated performance plan focused on growth in the number, quality, and diversity of the student body.
  • Increased the number of Ph.D. students from 740 (Fall, 2002) to 868 (Fall, 2008).
  • Created new doctoral degrees in Biochemistry/Biophysics, Electronic Arts, Architecture (Built Ecologies).
  • Established Institute-wide Graduate Planning Committee with Vice Provost as Chair.
  • Delivered Professional Leadership Series (a non-credit course for graduate students) covering topics such as ethical decision-making, personality differences, communication styles and leadership styles.
  • Delivered training on interactive teaching methods, diversity and culture for new TA’s.

Accomplishments: Resources and Enabling Activities

The Rensselaer Plan Aim: Expand the resource base and redesign enabling activities to assure that we accomplish the four aims above.

Created new senior leadership team for the university (* = new position):

  • Provost
  • Chief of Staff/Associate Vice President, Policy and Planning*
  • Vice President for Research*
  • Vice President for Student Life
  • Vice President for Institute Advancement
  • Vice President for Strategic Communications and External Relations*
  • Chief Information Officer*
  • Vice President for Administration
  • Vice President for Human Resources*
  • Secretary of the Institute and General Counsel*
  • Dean of Engineering
  • Dean of Science
  • Dean of Humanities and Social Sciences
  • Dean of Lally School of Management & Technology
  • Vice President and Dean, Rensselaer at Hartford
  • Vice Provost and Dean of Graduate Education*
  • Vice Provost and Dean of Undergraduate Education
  • Vice Provost for Entrepreneurship*
  • Vice President for Enrollment*
  • Treasurer and Chief Investment Officer
  • Dean of the First Year Experience*
  • Assistant Vice President for the Student Experience*
  • Athletic Director
  • Executive Director, Office of Intellectual Property, Technology Transfer and New Ventures*
  • Director, Public Safety and Emergency Management*
  • Director, Emergency Management*

Enrollment Management

  • Elevated Enrollment Management to vice presidential level division.
  • Elevated undergraduate admission standards.
  • Substantially increased number and quality of applications for undergraduate admissions.
  • Improved selectivity.
  • Increased geographic, intellectual, gender and ethnic/cultural diversity of incoming classes.
  • Increased number and quality of applications for graduate admission (especially Ph.D. students).
  • Increased national pipeline connections and recruitment of underrepresented students (ACE, Project Lead the Way, Sponsors for Educational Opportunity, College Bound, ABC, New Jersey Seeds).

Human Resources

  • Elevated Human Resources to vice presidential level division.
  • Hired vice president for human resources, as university officer.
  • Developed Total Compensation System based on:
    • Development of Performance Management Tools.
    • Redefinition of positions and rebaselining of salaries.
    • Development of career ladders for staff.
    • Comprehensive performance appraisal system.
  • Implemented new hiring protocol for faculty and staff.
  • Elevated standards for faculty promotion and tenure.
  • Created staff education and development program.
  • Increased employee and retirement benefits while decreasing or moderating costs to employee and to Rensselaer.

Administrative Processes

  • Re-engineered the Institute’s procurement process.
  • Implemented an on-line e-Procurement system.

Major Deferred Maintenance Projects (see also Student Life and Athletics Projects above)

  • Extension of campus gigabit backbone.
  • Renovation of West Hall auditorium.
  • Complete historical restoration of West Hall exterior.
  • Rolling upgrades of all undergraduate laboratories.
  • Replaced roofs on twelve (12) buildings.
  • Developed ROI based model to update priorities and needs for deferred maintenance and the upgrade of campus buildings.
  • Restored Greene building façade to historical status.
  • Installed new UPS and emergency generators throughout Troy campus.

Campus Safety

  • Installed sprinkler systems in all residence halls.
  • Developed a new Comprehensive Emergency Management Plan (implementation underway).
  • Established the RPIAlert emergency mass notification system.
  • Developed long range Master Plan for the installation of a comprehensive security management system.
  • Installed access control and cameras at various locations, improved campus exterior lighting, installed new emergency call boxes, etc.

Research Facilities

  • Renovated Materials Research Center (MRC) to provide new facilities for the NSF funded Rensselaer Nanotechnology Center.
  • Established Watervliet as an Institute research facility to facilitate future growth in research.
  • Renovated the Low Center to provide research facilities for the Future Chips constellation, expansion of the Terahertz research program, and to provide server capacity to support research computing.
  • Further renovation of the Low Center for the NSF-sponsored Smart Lighting Engineering Research Center (ERC).
  • Fabricated and installed new Earthquake Simulator.
  • Constructed experimental virtual classroom for the School of Architecture.
  • Completed renovation of the Science building to provide new Microbiology lab.

Scientific and Technological Entrepreneurship

  • Defined as a university core enterprise.
  • Created new Office of Intellectual Property, Technology Transfer, and New Ventures.
  • Developed new Intellectual Property policy.
  • Appointed a Vice Provost charged with infusing entrepreneurship across the curriculum with an emphasis on educational programs.
  • Initiated the “Change the World Challenge” Student Competition, with support from Sean O’Sullivan ‘85.
  • Selected to award the Lemelson Student Prize.

Troy Revitalization Initiatives

  • Established Communiversity programming.
  • Extended fiber optic backbone to downtown Troy.
  • Initiated $10 million in home ownership initiatives, neighborhood revitalization and rehab initiatives, streetscape and infrastructure improvements, etc.
  • Relocated certain academic and administrative activities to downtown Troy.

Fund Raising and Financial Resources

  • Secured $360 million unrestricted gift to university (2001).
  • Announced a $1 billion campaign, the boldest campaign in Rensselaer’s history.
  • With the announcement of an in-kind contribution commercially valued at approximately $514 million from the Partners for the Advancement of Collaborative Engineering Education (PACE), exceeded the Campaign goal earlier than expected (September 2006).
  • Increased the campaign goal to $1.4 billion and extended the time frame to June 30, 2009 (in September 2006).
  • Met the $1.4 billion campaign goal on October 1, 2008 (nine months early).
  • Initiated new graduate tuition and student support policy.
  • Developed and implemented new performance/activity-based budget process.
  • Financed The Rensselaer Plan and other initiatives through series of $500+ million actual and planned new borrowings.
  • Implemented more diversified endowment strategy, resulting in top quartile return for FY2007 (22%) and three-year return of 17%.
  • Outsourced internal audit function.
  • Centralized financial management structure.
  • Restructured research administration.
  • Increased research overhead recovery rate by 10%.

Updated December 2, 2008

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