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Rensselaer Accepted Students Reception

Remarks by
Shirley Ann Jackson, Ph.D.
President, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Wilshire Country Club
Los Angeles, California

Sunday, April 21, 2013


Good afternoon, students and families. It is my pleasure to join you on the West Coast, and to welcome you to this reception. 

We always look forward to meeting you, the remarkable young men and women whose talent and achievement stand out so strongly, as well as your families.

Congratulations to all of you!

As I begin, I would like to take a moment to tell you a bit about Ms. Denson-Low, a member of the Rensselaer class of 1978, and the parent of a graduate of the Rensselaer class of 2012. Ms. Denson-Low is a dedicated alumna of Rensselaer, not only providing counsel as a member of our Board of Trustees, but also generously supporting the Institute through her philanthropy. Because of her, this reception is becoming a tradition here in Southern California.

One can learn much about a university by looking at its graduates, and Ms. Denson-Low is one her alma mater is very proud of. With a Juris Doctor degree from The Brooklyn Law School added to her Rensselaer B.S. in chemistry, she has forged a distinguished career, and is currently senior vice president of the Office of Internal Governance at Boeing, and is a member of the Executive Council of the company. She can tell you, perhaps better than I, the importance of a degree from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

I also encourage you to take the opportunity to speak with other members of our Rensselaer community, who are here with us today. We are joined by: Dr. Laurie Leshin, Dean of the School of Science; Dr. Paul Marthers, Vice President of Enrollment; Ms. Kathy Durivage, Director of Principal Gifts with Institute Advancement; and Ms. Becky Bonenfant, Events Planner with Institute Advancement. All of us are looking forward to talking with you this afternoon.

On a personal note, I also am very pleased to have my sister, Dr. Barbara Avery, with us today. Dr. Avery is Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students at Occidental College, here in Los Angeles.

I now would like to take this opportunity to show you a brief video featuring one of our famous students, IBM’s Watson—the computer that won the Jeopardy championship. Through a partnership with IBM, we are working to make Watson even smarter. Pay close attention, as Watson may be looking for a roommate next year.

You—the students here today—have been accepted at Rensselaer for your academic and personal strengths. Rensselaer is recognized as one of the world’s top technological research universities, and the competition for admission has never been greater.

We had a record number of applications (16, 132) for 1,300 places in the Class of 2017. The interest in a Rensselaer education has never been stronger. We choose people with tremendous aptitude. For the third consecutive year, the average SAT scores of our admitted group in critical reading and mathematics is very high (over 1400—1408 this year).

This year, we also have accepted record numbers of women, underrepresented minority students, and international students.

To the family members: I have been in your shoes and I know that you are hopeful for what college will mean for your children. I know how deeply invested you are in your exceptional young people. I am here to tell and demonstrate to you how invested we are in all of our students, and what that will mean for your students. Without question, we provide an education at Rensselaer that will create new possibilities, raise questions that matter, and prepare each graduate to take on this generation’s challenges.

In recent studies, Rensselaer ranks within the top 20 universities in the nation in return on investment (ROI) for the cost of a college education (Payscale), and as one of the top ten brands in higher education (Forbes). Another external survey, by industry-focused website Business Insider, ranked Rensselaer fourth on its list of “World’s Best Engineering Schools.”

Major corporations seek out our students for internships and, for career employment—among them, Amazon.com, Apple Inc., Boeing, Corning, Disney, Intel, Rolls Royce, Sandia National Laboratories, the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and Skidmore Owings & Merrill—to name a few.

But all of this represents only a small part of what makes Rensselaer such a special place. If you have not had the chance to visit our Troy campus, let me try to paint the picture for you. 

Rensselaer is America’s oldest private technological university, but it always has been leading edge in its approach to education, even at its founding in 1824. While students in other universities would sit and listen passively to lectures, the Rensselaer philosophy was: “giving the pupil the place of the teacher.” Students did experiments and observational studies in university labs, and outside the university. They prepared lectures to demonstrate to fellow students what they had learned.

Our motto at Rensselaer is, “Why not change the world?” We believe that all of our undergraduates are capable of changing the world. And we do our best to set the stage for them.

Thirteen years ago, we developed The Rensselaer Plan, a roadmap to move us into the top tier of the country’s technological universities, while providing all of our students the kind of education that indeed positions them to make their marks on the world. The Plan was structured as the 21st century embodiment of the original Rensselaerean Plan, which articulated the engaged teaching and learning approach I described earlier.

The Plan’s most significant goals were to

  • transform the student experience,
  • strengthen community engagement,
  • foster entrepreneurial ideas and initiatives,
  • develop greater campus community,
  • develop a greater global outlook as an institution—and, in our students,
  • create a research portfolio of substantially greater size, quality, prominence, and impact—with our students, both undergraduate and graduate, as full partners in these endeavors.

We recently have refreshed that plan and renewed our commitment to our students. While the original Rensselaer Plan was primarily about transforming Rensselaer, The Rensselaer Plan: 2012-2024 is about establishing Rensselaer as a truly transformative force—transformative in our students’ lives, in our innovative teaching and learning, and in the global impact of our innovative research. We have included a special focus on meeting global challenges, including mitigating disease, developing new sources of renewable energy, providing clean water and food, applying new technologies to manage an explosion of data, creating advanced materials that impact energy and health, and establishing a sustainable and resilient infrastructure.

Rensselaer is especially well-positioned to take on these challenges because of our experience and capabilities in working across disciplines. We also have deliberately assembled the talent and tools needed to create these solutions.

You are at a key point in your lives. If you join us, you will join a community that has committed itself to changing the world, and making you partners in bringing about that change.

We work hard to give our students a sense of community and support as they embark on every possible intellectual adventure. Our award-winning First Year Experience, with a dedicated dean for the freshman class, ensures a solid transition into the life of the university. It provides the foundation for our Clustered Learning Advocacy and Support for Students (CLASS), which engages all of our students as they progress through the Institute. This model of college life, with residential clusters (or Commons), includes live-in support from assistant deans, graduate students, and upperclassmen—and faculty Deans of the Commons, who live nearby in university housing, who all work to weave together the intellectual, cultural, and social lives of our students.

CLASS also includes time-based clustering. As students are completing their freshman year, we assign individual class-year deans to the rising sophomores—with the responsibility for guiding and nurturing that class as it progresses through the balance of the undergraduate years. Within CLASS, we also have a dean for off-campus students, and a Greek Commons dean for students in fraternities and sororities. CLASS helps students to grow in all dimensions—academic/intellectual, social/personal, and cultural—broadening their experiences, while keeping them connected to each other, and to the larger Rensselaer community.

To encourage our students to further grow, to develop their bodies as well as their minds, and to learn teamwork and leadership, we built the East Campus Athletic Village. Some 70 percent of our student population participates in athletics.

Our ever more interconnected world requires that our graduates have greater multi-cultural sophistication, intellectual agility, and a global view. Therefore, we strongly encourage, and facilitate, every undergraduate to gain international experience during his or her college years. To that end, we have partnerships with over 25 universities in Europe, Asia, and Africa as part of our Rensselaer Education Across Cultural Horizons (REACH) program, which encompasses international academic exchanges of many kinds—including research opportunities, internships, social entrepreneurship, engineering or architectural design projects, language learning, and faculty-led study trips.

Before and after you travel abroad, you will be able to take advantage of our Troy campus, which has been transformed physically and intellectually. It is one of the most exciting places on the planet to pursue an education.

If you have had the opportunity to visit the Troy campus, in person or virtually, the tangible proof is all around, including our state-of-the-art Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies, whose next-generation infrastructure will enable you to study bioprocesses that include tissue engineering and regenerative medicine; biocatalysis and metabolic engineering; and cell biology and DNA sequencing.

With the Computational Center for Nanotechnology Innovations, or CCNI, we have one of the most powerful university-based supercomputing centers in the world—located in our 1,250-acre Rensselaer Technology Park.  The CCNI enables complex computations at blazing speeds, makes the design and manufacture of nanoscale materials more efficient, and supports sophisticated modeling and simulation in fields such as theoretical physics—including nanophysics, cellular dynamics, fluid flow, finance, biomedical engineering, space science, interacting proteins—and much more.

In January, as you saw in the video, we welcomed to Rensselaer IBM’s Watson. We are the first university to receive such a system. Watson affords faculty and students an opportunity to solve problems involving massive datasets—with new search tools and technology for (cognitive computing)—artificial intelligence, machine learning, and natural language processing taken to a whole new level.

We have built the magnificent 220,000-square-foot Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center, or EMPAC. With world-class acoustics, as well as visualization, animation, simulation, and haptics capabilities, EMPAC supports research, instruction and performance in the visual and performing arts. In fact, it will support a newly developing major in music engineering. It also allows the creation of human-scale emergent and augmented reality environments as uniquely immersive “classrooms” and research spaces. 

But facilities alone do not a great institution make. It takes brilliant minds—yours, for example, and outstanding faculty. Over the past 13 years, we have hired 300 world-class new faculty across all of our disciplines, and all of our schools. Our faculty are members of a collaborative community, working side by side with students in an interdisciplinary atmosphere, fostering some of the most vital research in the world today.

Our extensive undergraduate research program will allow you to join in research. This represents an extraordinary opportunity to work with many of the finest minds in science, engineering, architecture, business, and the arts—and perhaps to discover your rightful place among them.

Our students do amazing things, and are recognized for them. This year, outstanding undergraduates were awarded 8 NSF Fellowships, for graduate study, and one of our students just received the prestigious Goldwater Scholarship, which supports third and fourth year undergraduate study in science and mathematics.

To further prepare our students to work at the cutting edge of their chosen fields, we regularly offer new undergraduate degree programs in nascent disciplines, such as Games and Simulation Arts and Sciences; Sustainability Studies; Information Technology and Web Science; Biochemistry/Biophysics, and Electronic Arts. We have special B.S./M.D. medical programs with major medical centers; and co-terminal accelerated B.S./M.S. programs, which allow students to earn bachelor’s and master’s degrees within five years.

We have new concentrations in the undergraduate programs in our management school—the Lally School—in accounting, in business analytics, and in global supply chain management.

We also have embarked on two unique endeavors that will make full use of the capabilities of EMPAC—a new Center for Cognition, Communication, and Culture, and within it, the Mandarin Project—which will take a new approach to language and culture acquisition in immersive virtual environments. It will use art, cognitive science, linguistics, and computer science—including artificial intelligence and machine learning—to create digital sentient (thinking/reasoning) beings. It will use game engines for scenario development and interactivity. We have a new Emergent Reality Laboratory in our Rensselaer Technology Park, which will provide the front-end staging for this work. This is truly a breakthrough approach in teaching and learning.

There is a lot going on at Rensselaer. I just want to emphasize how much we hope that, come fall, you will make the trip across the country to join us on our beautiful Troy campus.

Rensselaer is a place of excitement, exploration, discovery, creativity, and intellectual stimulation across a broad front—with bold ideas, bold expression, entrepreneurship, action on the athletic field, leadership in every arena, and over 200 student clubs.

We have chosen you for admission because we believe that your joining us will help you to grow into the leaders you are meant to be, and that, in turn, you will contribute much to Rensselaer—our very special place—and carry its legacy into the future through your impact on the world.

I look forward to welcoming you as members of the Class of 2017 in August.

Thank you!


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.

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Page updated: 4/24/13, 4:17 PM
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