Shirley Ann Jackson, Ph.D.
President, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
Undergraduate Accepted Student Celebration
Alumni Sports and Recreation Center (Armory)
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, New York
Saturday, April 3, 2004
As President of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, I am very pleased to welcome all of you to our campus, and to a day which is devoted especially to you and to your questions about Rensselaer.
Rensselaer has a long tradition of excellence, having been founded in 1824, at what was, then, the technological center of the industrial revolution. Rensselaer was founded on the enduring mission of ìinstructing persons, who may choose to apply themselves, in the application of science to the common purposes of life."
Or, in other words — for people who want to learn how to do all kinds of things, for people who are curious and interested, questioning and fascinated, risk taking and cutting-edge. Or, in still other words — for people who ask: why not change the world? And, said yet another way — people just like you!
The Rensselaer legacy lives today. And, as the world changes, and as technology changes, even hourly, Rensselaer is the place where those changes are tracked, where those changes are created, and where undergraduate students get to be a part of it all.
One of the best things that I can do is to tell you about all the wonderful people who have been here before you, and to tell you about all the incredible things that a Rensselaer education can lead to.
I want to tell you about the four young men who returned to campus last Monday — recent graduates involved in the Mars Exploration Rover Mission. One described his involvement with development and deployment of solar arrays on the rovers. Another worked on the rovers' landing and maneuvering mechanisms. Still a third works on the mechanics and the art that create the vivid panoramic images of Mars. And, a fourth focuses on the rovers' mobility system including the wheels, drivetrain, and steering. About 15 Rensselaer graduates are involved in the Mars mission.
I want to tell you about Claire Fraser, a pioneer in comparative genomics, who has been honored for contributions to genome analysis technology, who leads The Institute for Genomic Research Institute, and who was named one of Newsweek Magazine's "10 to watch in 2002."
I want to tell you about "Bobby" Farrelly, who majored in geology, and went on to become the director and producer of popular movies such as "There's Something About Mary," "Dumb and Dumber," and "Shallow Hal."
I want to tell you about Adam Oates who earned a management degree here, and is now an NHL hockey player currently skating for the Edmonton Oilers.
I want to tell you that the inventor of e-mail and the "at" sign, the father of the microprocessor, the head of the Apollo programóare all graduates of Rensselaer.
And, I would like to tell you about thousands of other Rensselaer graduates who are involved in exciting careers in research, entrepreneurship, invention and discovery, and business, government and academia.
But, what you are most interested in today — what you want to know — is what, exactly, it is like to attend school here.
As President of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, I want you, and your families, to know that Rensselaer is committed: we are committed to excellence in all that we do; we are committed to leadership in research and in teaching and we are committed to community, for this is what we are.
To realize this commitment, we are investing in Rensselaer.
- We are investing in our people: supporting students, creating a nurturing campus life, adding new, distinguished faculty.
- We are investing in our programs: creating new courses of study and lines of research at the interface of disciplines such as nanotechnology, terahertz imaging, and electronic art and design.
- And, we are investing in our facilities — enhancing classrooms and residence halls, wiring for connectivity, upgrading athletics facilities, including a new athletics support facility and locker rooms on the East Campus.
We call this the Renaissance at Rensselaer.
Two of the most visible projects are cases in point. Across the street in front of this building, you will see the Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies under construction and nearing completion. It will open in September. The facility will rank among the world's most advanced research facilities. In this building, faculty and students — both graduate students and undergraduate students — will conduct research with constellations of distinguished faculty who are world leaders in their fields.
On the far west side of campus, on a grassy slope overlooking the Hudson River, is rising another transformative building — eMPAC or the Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center. Here, information technology and the experimental (including digital and electronic) and the performing arts will unite and combine in new ways, opening our eyes and stretching our minds in new directions. This facility, too, will be like few others in the world, and this facility, too, will include opportunities for undergraduates. It will open in 2006 — during your time here at Rensselaer.
These new facilities are merely the outward signs of the full range of academic, athletic, and student-related programs here, and the Rensselaer commitment to expanding boundaries and stretching minds, enlarging the limits.
Rensselaer is a rigorous school. Our students study hard and work hard, and, as a result, they excel, they achieve, and they accomplish. The fact that you have been accepted to attend Rensselaer means that you are able to succeed here.
And, we are committed to doing everything in our power to support you in your life here. Because, in addition to a demanding academic regime, we have also built a nurturing environment, with a wide variety of support systems to ensure your success and your happiness here. Today, you will learn the various programs and structures we have put into place to assure that all students find what they need here and achieve their personal goals.
And, in addition to being both rigorous and nurturing, the Rensselaer community takes time for enjoyment. Come to a hockey game at the Houston Field House some Friday evening, if you want to see (or hear) school spirit in action, or attend one of our football games — we won the Lambert Trophy recognizing the best team in the East in NCAA Divisions — and the "Engineers" was named the Division III Team of the Year. Not bad for a school known more as a hockey powerhouse and as a school where we have scholar athletes — in that order!
All of the elements which I have discussed this morning will make it possible for you to go on and to equal, if not surpass, the achievements of our distinguished graduates. And, you will have a wonderful time, in the process.
There are two other less tangible fundamental guiding principles that govern many of the actions at Rensselaer
These fundamentals are leadership and diversity.
We urge all our students to engage in acquiring leadership skills and experience in a wide variety of other ways — whether on the playing field, in student government, or in more than 200 active clubs, or service activities. And, the ability to lead — and, to follow — in a project setting or lab effort will be critical skills to learn while you are in college — and not in graduate school or on your first job. We will help you to master these exquisite attributes.
The other fundamental, closely related to leadership, is our emphasis on diversity. We work to assure that students from a wide variety of backgrounds, intellectual and social interests, cultures, and nations feel comfortable here. We teach, in our leadership classes, and demonstrate in our daily lives, how essential diversity is in the 21st century. There are those who say that the United States is the worldís most successful, most creative and innovative nation because of the vast diversity of its peoples, their cultures, their backgrounds, their thought, their languages — all combining to give the United States a competitive advantage second to none. But we believe that to truly be a global player — one must have a global vision. Where best to start that but during the very important undergraduate years.
You will have a good time at Rensselaer. You will be stretched and challenged and, along the way, you will learn and change and grow. I hope you ask all your questions about Rensselaer while you are here today.
And, more than that, I hope you continue to ask questions throughout your life — because questions are the basis for inquiry, for discovery, for exploration, for innovation, for change.
Rensselaer will help you find the direction of that change. For as we like to say, "Why not change the world?" And so, I challenge you, change your world. Join the Rensselaer community.
Source citations are available from the division of Strategic Communications and External Relations, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Statistical data contained herein were factually accurate at the time it was delivered. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute assumes no duty to change it to reflect new developments.