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Dean Laurie Leshin Reception

“Lunch, Leadership, and Luster”

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

Evelyn’s Cafe
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Tuesday, May 6, 2014


Welcome, everyone. I welcome especially Dean Leshin’s husband, Dr. Jon Morse.

When we hired Dr. Leshin as Dean of our School of Science in 2011, we had very high expectations. She was a distinguished cosmochemist, a superb educator, and an excellent administrator. She arrived from NASA, where she had been Director of Science and Exploration at the Goddard Space Flight Center, the largest science organization within NASA. In 2010, she became the Deputy Associate Administrator for Exploration Systems at NASA headquarters in Washington, DC, planning for future human spaceflight, including deeper into space—even to Mars.

She came to Rensselaer because of a profound faith in our mission and a belief that “universities are the engines of innovation that drive everything.”

She brought us more even than we expected, and has helped us to realize the greatest ambitions we set forth in The Rensselaer Plan and The Rensselaer Plan 2024. If I had to summarize her many contributions, I would say she gave us the three L’s: lunch, leadership, and luster.

Let us consider these contributions in order: Dean Leshin began her tenure here by inviting every single faculty member in the School of Science to lunch. Even though the sandwiches, if strung end to end, might reach almost to Mars—and although it took more than a year—Dean Leshin persisted through meal after meal, until she had reinvigorated our School of Science by expressing her own keen interest in, and support for, every faculty member’s research and teaching.

Of course, this was but one example of her highly focused leadership. Dean Leshin helped to bring many accomplished people to Rensselaer. Her faculty hires included two constellation professors: Dr. Catherine Royer, Constellation Professor of Biocomputation and Bioinformatics; and Dr. Richard Gross, Constellation Professor of Biocatalysis and Metabolic Engineering.

She put into place strong department heads:

  • Dr. Curt Breneman in the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology,
  • Dr. Angel Garcia in the Department of Physics, Applied Physics, and Astronomy,
  • Dr. Donald Schwendeman in the Department of Mathematical Sciences, and
  • Dr. Charles Stewart in the Department of Computer Science.

She helped to flesh out significant interdisciplinary research programs at Rensselaer, including The Rensselaer IDEA and The Jefferson Project at Lake George. She worked to strengthen important partnerships, such as the one we announced last year with the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. Especially through The Jefferson Project, she brought new vigor and purpose to the Darrin Fresh Water Institute. She helped to increase undergraduate enrollment in the School of Science, and to draw brilliant graduate students here.

Dean Leshin also added considerable luster to the reputation of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in the cosmos at large—thanks to her many wonderful personal qualities—and her accomplishments as a scientist. It has been an ongoing source of pride to have a colleague in our midst who has an asteroid named after her by the International Astronomical Union—4922 Leshin—in recognition of her contributions to planetary science.

Last year, we were very pleased that President Barack Obama appointed Dean Leshin to the Advisory Board for the Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum. Dean Leshin also drew a great deal of positive attention to Rensselaer as a member of the NASA Mars Curiosity Rover science team—and the lead author of a paper announcing that water had been found on Mars.

Is there life on other planets? Thanks to Dean Leshin, we can say, “possibly.”

Is there life at other technological research universities? Undoubtedly—if they will be led by Laurie Leshin.

Although we are very sorry to lose her to Worcester Polytechnic Institute, we are glad that her time at Rensselaer helped to prepare her for the role of university president.

Dean Leshin—or should I say, President-Elect—please join me here at the podium.

On behalf of the entire Rensselaer community, I thank you for all you have given us, and offer you our very best wishes for continued success. And now, I will ask you to say a few words…


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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