Embracing the Challenges of a New Age: The Rensselaer Transformation Continues
Shirley Ann Jackson, Ph.D.
President, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
State of the Institute 2008
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, New York
Saturday, June 7, 2008
Good morning. It is a great pleasure to welcome you back home to Rensselaer, and, especially, to welcome you back with this premiere showing of our latest video.
This is Rensselaer, today. Yes, your Rensselaer.
As you will see, in my State of the Institute message, I have much to tell you about the continuing transformation of this special place. If you have not been back for a few years, you may be feeling a bit disoriented. This is, indeed, the Rensselaer you knew and loved, but it also is a Rensselaer that is expanding, broadening, evolving, reaching out to engage and impact the world of the future. There will be time at the end for your questions.
Before we begin, I would like to take a moment to recognize Carrie Eckart, Class of 1985, for her dedicated service to Rensselaer, and the Alumni Association, as President of the RAA. Thank you, Carrie, for all you have done in the first year of your term. I look forward to another productive year working with you.
I ask that we take a moment, also, to remember members of the Rensselaer family who are not here today. First, let us be mindful of the Rensselaer men and women serving in our armed forces, particularly those in harm’s way, and those who have died or been injured serving our nation.
We, also, miss the shining face of Isador Warshaw, Class of 1923. As many of you know, Izzy was a reunion “institution” who, for years and years, led the Parade of Classes, as the oldest returning alumnus. Izzy passed away on August 9, 2007, at the age of 105. This would have been his 85th reunion.
Almost nine years ago, at my inauguration as the 18th president of Rensselaer, I spoke at some length about the legacy and the promise of this great university. I felt we needed to develop a bold, strategic plan to transform the Institute for the 21st century. But, although focused on the future, this plan needed to be true to the essential character of Rensselaer, and the unique vision of its founders. You may recall that the original plan developed by Amos Eaton and Stephen Van Rensselaer was called The Rensselaerean Plan. To link our work clearly to that historic vision, we call our blueprint The Rensselaer Plan.
When we developed the Plan, we envisioned it as one that would draw strength from the university’s two deep roots.
The first of these roots, written into the school’s founding documents, is “...the application of science to the common purposes of life.”
The particular challenges of the day have defined and re-defined the “common purposes” to which the Institute would, over time, apply the latest discoveries and technologies. Our first graduates changed the world by creating the infrastructure the highways and railroads, the canals and dams, the ships and skyscrapers which formed the backbone for the 20th century, not just in this country, but around the world. During the Memorial Day weekend just passed, New York City celebrated the 125th anniversary of one of the best-known Rensselaer legacies the Brooklyn Bridge, built by Rensselaer alumnus Washington A. Roebling, Class of 1857, who was assisted by his wife, Emily Roebling.
In fact, five of the great bridges in and around New York City the Williamsburg Bridge, Throgs Neck Bridge, George Washington Bridge, Verrazano Narrows Bridge and, of course, the Brooklyn Bridge, were designed and/or built by Rensselaer alumni, as was Yankee Stadium. Our alumni also were instrumental in the completion of the Panama Canal after the United States took possession of it from the French.
Today, the common purposes of life include the global challenges of energy security and environmental sustainability, infectious diseases, water purity, food scarcity, terrorism, and more. These are the challenges that contemporary Rensselaer men and women faculty and students are seeking to address directly in their laboratories and classrooms, and indirectly in their intellectual and ethical preparation.
The second root of a Rensselaer education, also integral to the school’s founding mission, was the employment of unique educational strategies for engaged learning what we, today, call interactive, self-directed learning.
Revolutionary learning methodologies at Rensselaer, now, include multidisciplinary design studios where undergraduate students work in teams to solve real engineering challenges in partnership with some of the world’s largest, most innovative companies. Our undergraduate program includes strong emphasis on undergraduate research, and highly interdisciplinary programs which engage students in the design of new products, services, and media while considering the social needs and environmental concerns of the 21st century. The undergraduate experience is deliberately global in outlook, intellectually sophisticated, and socially nuanced, leading to powerful, mind-opening new experiences at the intersection of science, the arts, technology, and society.
One hundred and eighty-four years after Stephen Van Rensselaer articulated the vision for the Rensselaer School, these two roots still nourish and sustain the distinct Rensselaer character and mission, and their lineage continues to blossom as we achieve and exceed the commitments of The Rensselaer Plan.
There is much to tell you this morning. And, because our students are our first priority, let me begin with the 202nd commencement on the Troy campus.
On Saturday, May 17, on Harkness Field, more than 2,000 graduates, along with their friends and families, heard commencement speaker David Gergen urge them “to develop a set of deeply held moral values, and an inner gyroscope to guide them” as they seek, now, to discover the passion which will ignite an authentic and rich inner life. Mr. Gergen, a best-selling author, editor, presidential advisor, political analyst, and Harvard professor, was awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws.
Also awarded honorary doctorates at commencement were:
- Dr. Shirley M. Tilghman, a molecular biologist and educator, who has made important scientific breakthroughs related to gene behavior and development, and who, since 2001, has been the 19th president of Princeton University; and
- Major General Charles Bolden Jr. USMC (Ret.), who became an astronaut in 1981 and participated in four space flights, after serving 13 years as a Marine Corps pilot, which included flying over 100 combat missions during the Vietnam conflict. Before retiring in 2003, he served as commanding general of the Third Marine Aircraft Wing in San Diego.
These three honorands joined me on the day before graduation for a lively discussion about major social, economic, geopolitical, and ethical challenges of the day at the annual President’s Commencement Colloquy.
At Commencement, Class President Sarah DiNovo, also, addressed the graduates, commending her classmates for pushing themselves to find innovative ways to make history. A dual major in mechanical engineering and design, innovation, and society, Ms. DiNovo personifies the innovative, entrepreneurial character of today’s Rensselaer student. She has co-developed a next-generation law enforcement badge, called the “Smart Badge,” a patent-pending device which combines a camera, a global positioning system, a Bluetooth chip, and an officer’s radio into a single, wearable unit.
Other Class of 2008 graduates are advancing the frontiers of research, like Megan Salt, who received a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry/biophysics. Ms. Salt spent five semesters researching cancer cell interactions within the micro environment, alongside associate professor of biology Lee Ligon. She has presented her research at poster sessions across the country, is credited as a contributor to an article published in a national research journal, and in the fall will enter the biomedical sciences program at the University of California, San Francisco, where she plans to pursue a Ph.D.
Reflecting the increasingly diverse culture of Rensselaer, the Class of 2008 hailed from 41 states outside of New York state, and from more than 40 other nations, including Brazil, Canada, China, Egypt, Hong Kong, Israel, India, Kenya, Kuwait, Nigeria, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Swaziland, and Turkey.
Many graduates plan to pursue advanced studies at outstanding institutions including Albany Medical College, Bryn Mawr, Cornell, Duke, Harvard, Johns Hopkins, M.I.T., New England School of Law, Purdue, Rochester Institute of Technology, Stanford, Vanderbilt, Virginia Tech, Yale, and, of course, Rensselaer. In addition, 42 students graduated from Rensselaer ROTC programs this year, and begin active military service as officers in the Army, Navy, Marines, and Air Force. This year, 125 graduates were Rensselaer “legacies,” that is, students with a relative who preceded them at the Institute.
Later today, we will hold commencement exercises for Rensselaer at Hartford, where 286 graduates will receive advanced degrees across a range of technological and business fields. Among the members of the outstanding Rensselaer at Hartford Class of 2008 are 28 students who will receive a second advanced degree from the Institute.
As our graduates move on, the Class of 2012 arrives, with approximately 1,320 new undergraduate students. We had a record number of applications this year nearly 11,250, which means that over the past three years, we have experienced a greater than 100 percent increase in applications to Rensselaer.
Over the same three-year period, we have seen applications from women increase more than 134 percent, to become 30 percent of the freshman class. And, applications from underrepresented minority students rose more than 203 percent. Additionally, there is far greater interest from international students and from students interested not only in engineering but a broad spectrum of the sciences. And, finally, applications from students interested in the arts, humanities, and the social sciences are up by more than 305 percent since 2005.
The incoming class is impressive. The average SAT score remains high, around 1340, up nearly 20 points from 2005, and up 59 points since 1999.
Our graduate applications have risen to more than 3,000 (up from 2,700 last year). Our focus on attracting Ph.D. students is achieving very positive results, as well. This year, there were 2,037 Ph.D. applications compared to 1,840 last year, with confirmations tracking 25 percent ahead of last year.
Understanding that many graduate students have families, or are in their childbearing years, beginning July 1st, Rensselaer will offer childbirth, parental, and family leave for graduate students under a new policy which reflects our understanding of the pressures that graduate students face, as they seek to balance their academic goals with family life.
And, as record numbers of high-achieving prospective students are being drawn to Rensselaer, institutional accolades are raising our profile on the national and international stage.
- U.S. News & World Report, once again, ranks Rensselaer among the top 50 universities in the country.
- According to the 2009 U.S. News guide to “America’s Best Graduate Schools,” Rensselaer graduate programs in engineering and the fine arts rank among the best in the nation.
- The Graduate School of Engineering is ranked 32nd, up from 36th last year; three engineering programs are ranked among the top 20 (nuclear engineering, aerospace engineering, and materials science and engineering), and nine of the 11 engineering programs are ranked among the top 30 in the nation.
- Our Master of Fine Arts program in multimedia/visual communications was ranked 6th in the nation, up from 8th where it has stood for the past several years.
- Also in the “America’s Best Graduate Schools” issue, the Lally School of Management and Technology graduate entrepreneurship program ranked 23rd, up from 26th last year.
- In recognizing Lally at Rensselaer as one of the nation’s best business schools, Fortune magazine cited the university for “entrepreneurial flair” and named it “best for double majors.”
- In March, BusinessWeek ranked the Lally School undergraduate program 26th in the nation up from 40th last year and also ranked Lally as number one in the area of corporate strategy.
- Another issue of BusinessWeek named Rensselaer among the “most forward-thinking design schools in the world,” recognizing our interdisciplinary courses such as Inventor’s Studio and Introduction to Engineering Design, our degree program in Design, Innovation, and Society, and facilities like the O.T. Swanson Multidisciplinary Design Laboratory.
Rensselaer students are smart, inquisitive, creative, entrepreneurial, and committed to using their talents to create a better world. They are drawn to our outstanding educational and student life programs many of which are unmatched anywhere in the nation.
Increasing numbers of our students are going beyond the established curricula to immerse themselves in research with faculty mentors. The number of students officially registered with our Undergraduate Research Program increased from approximately 280 in 2005-2006 to more than 400 in 2007-2008. In addition, many make their own arrangements, independently, to pursue research. All told, Rensselaer has roughly 750 to 800 undergraduate students doing research in one form or another each year. Almost 100 percent of students in the School of Science will graduate with faculty-guided research experience.
All that we are achieving is leading to an ever greater global presence for Rensselaer.
Because of my role as president of Rensselaer, and because of my background and my interest in domestic and global energy policy, often, I am asked to speak at important meetings and conferences. I take full advantage of these opportunities to represent Rensselaer at the national and international level, because I believe that ours is becoming an important voice in the ongoing dialogue about the future especially as it relates to the role of technological innovation.
In January, I attended the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, with leaders from around the world. In addition to participating in discussions on energy policy and the implications of technological change in the current geopolitical environment, I participated in a forum with global university leaders, which brought opportunities for Rensselaer to enhance our academic collaborations in the international arena.
We are seeing increased outreach to Rensselaer among leading international universities, government agencies, corporations, and organizations. During the past year, we had meetings with delegations from countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. We have hosted high-level visits from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the Singapore Ministry of Education, the Malaysian Ministry of Higher Education, the Economic Development Board of Singapore, and delegations of university presidents from Finland and Afghanistan.
The Lally School has conducted successful executive training programs for the China Three Gorges Project Corporation, and has long worked with the Tianjin Economic Development Authority on their entrepreneurial and business ventures.
These and other exchanges are leading to increased international Ph.D. applications to Rensselaer, additional faculty exchanges, and exciting new opportunities for undergraduate students.
For years, Rensselaer students in the School of Architecture have been availing themselves of opportunities to study abroad in Rome, Turkey, Shanghai, and, next year, in India. We, now, have set a new goal to give all Rensselaer undergraduates a variety of options to gain international experience before they graduate, by launching an ambitious, groundbreaking new program called Rensselaer Engineering Education Across Cultural Horizons (or REACH) scheduled to begin next year and build on initiatives begun more than a decade ago.
Initially, 25 percent of the junior class in engineering will study abroad at specific partner universities in 2009. An equal number of undergraduates from partner universities will come to Rensselaer. The plan calls for the percentage of Rensselaer participants to rise by another 25 percent every two years. In 2015, when REACH is fully implemented, all engineering juniors will be expected to participate in a semester-long international experience. Ultimately, the program will expand to include students across all schools, departments, and disciplines at Rensselaer as a requirement for graduation.
Our early partner universities in REACH such as the Technical University of Denmark and Nanyang Technological University in Singapore exhibit outstanding quality, offer diversified curricula, teach in English, and are located in places that already have a large body of international students.
Beyond these university-based programs, in true Rensselaer form, students will also be able to fulfill their REACH requirements through a variety of options including the Summer @ Rensselaer program, Semester at Sea, Engineers Without Borders International, the Peace Corps, and Engineers for a Sustainable World.
New degree programs reflect the changing demands of the 21st century. One innovative undergraduate degree in Games and Simulation Arts and Sciences began last fall. We added, also, a Bachelor of Science degree in Design, Innovation, and Society recently. For graduate students, we have initiated a new Ph.D. in Electronic Arts, and, under the umbrella of the M.S. in Management, a concentration in Technology Commercialization and Entrepreneurship, offered in cooperation with Albany Law School.
We also have new Ph.D. programs in Biochemistry/Biophysics, Cognitive Science, and Architectural Sciences, including a New York City-based element of this in Building Ecology at SOM.
Recently the Board of Trustees approved renaming our School of Humanities and Social Sciences to better reflect the mission and activity in the school. It, now, is officially, the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences. The change was announced at a gala event that included a combined celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Sage Laboratory Building, primary home to the school, and the 50th anniversary of the granting of degrees by the school. The name change does three things. It recognizes the growth of arts practices across the campus, it aligns our academic programs with EMPAC priorities, and it emphasizes arts as key to social, cultural, and economic development.
An increasing number of our undergraduates wish to, and choose to, pursue graduate study immediately after, or coincident upon, receiving their bachelor’s degrees. To facilitate the transition to graduate study, the Institute, now, will offer Rensselaer undergraduates the opportunity to extend their financial aid, and earn both a bachelor’s degree and master’s degree in five years. This new co-terminal degree program will allow students to pursue a master’s degree while completing their bachelor’s degree. Financial aid will be extended through the fifth year. Students will receive both bachelor’s and master’s degrees at the end of their 10th semester.
The undergraduate residential college model is about far more than classroom and laboratory work. It is about growth of the whole person through unique, rewarding, supportive, and important living/learning opportunities. For this reason, award-winning student life programs and support services add exceptional value to the undergraduate experience. From the beginning, our Navigating Rensselaer and Beyond program greets first-year students with a series of welcoming events, team-building adventures, and festivities. Now in its eighth year, the program is part of the First-Year Experience, commonly called FYE. Headed by a dean of the First-Year Experience, this program offers a comprehensive array of resources and initiatives for undergraduate and graduate students, and their families, that extend from academic support and an early warning system, to intervention for learning disabilities or psychological issues, to social and cultural activities which build esprit, and anchor students in what it means to be at Rensselaer in the 21st century.
The Student Life division is leveraging the success of the First-Year Experience, and new living and learning initiatives, to transform the overall undergraduate experience for students at Rensselaer.
A new residence life model called Clustered Learning Advocacy and Support for Students, or “CLASS,” provides for the growth and learning of all Rensselaer students, and promotes community regardless of whether students live on or off campus. New staff including Cluster Deans in residence halls, new associate Deans for Off-Campus Student Living & Greek Life, Undergraduate Class Deans (beginning in the sophomore year for each class), and a Dean for the Graduate Experience will ensure that programs and services for all Rensselaer students create sustained pathways for personal growth and academic progress. So the clustering is both residential and time-based.
Our freshman-to-sophomore retention rate reached an all-time high of 94 percent last year, which reflects, in part, a comprehensive set of academic and personal counseling and assistance services. And, for the first time, the Student Health Center will add a full-time psychiatrist to its staff who, also, will serve as the Director of Counseling Services.
The Archer Center for Student Leadership Development and the Office of the First Year Experience have launched a Residence Leadership Theme House with 31 first-year students living and learning in Hall Hall. Two other living-learning communities focusing on wellness and organic living have been organized and will welcome members of the Class of 2012.
Our students themselves have organized a campus-wide Sustainability Initiative, which is being joined with on-going faculty and administration activities with relation to sustainability and energy security.
An important boost to our efforts to attract more women and students from underrepresented groups to Rensselaer comes in the form of a five-year STEM grant from the National Science Foundation to enroll more diverse students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics programs. Rensselaer will receive $420,000 over the life of the grant toward developing a comprehensive array of academic, research, and support programs for undergraduate students.
Athletics participation is a cornerstone of the student Rensselaer experience, and helps our student athletes excel both athletically and academically, while building leadership and teamwork capabilities. This year, members of both the men’s and women’s Division I ice hockey teams were named to their respective ECAC All-Academic Team.
In March, Rensselaer welcomed Mr. James A. Knowlton as Athletic Director. Mr. Knowlton came here from the U.S. Military Academy where, as director of the Center for Enhanced Performance, he oversaw training for peak performance in athletics, academics, and military endeavors at the Academy. His passion for developing the whole student makes him an excellent choice to lead the athletics program at Rensselaer.
In other athletics news,
- Head Coach for Men’s Ice Hockey Seth Appert has been chosen to serve a three-year term as the President of the American Hockey Coaches Association.
- In baseball, the Red Hawks were ranked 13th in a national poll, and set the school record for wins in a season, finishing 36-12. The team went on to compete in the New York Regional of the NCAA Tournament to determine the 2008 Division III National Champion.
- Rensselaer head football coach Joe King was named one of five finalists for the Division III 2007 Liberty Mutual Coach of the Year Award. Coach King, who completed his 19th year at Rensselaer, and his assistants were selected as the Liberty League Coaching Staff of the Year for the fifth time in his career earlier this season.
I will have something to say about extensive work on new and existing athletic venues in a moment.
But I want to spend some time talking about our wonderful faculty.
Our world-class Rensselaer faculty continue to draw international attention and prestige to the university. Unprecedented faculty hiring, under The Rensselaer Plan, has allowed us to strengthen traditional disciplines and to branch into new arenas, while infusing the campus with new ideas, new academic offerings, and new research thrusts. In the last seven years, we have hired 197 new faculty across all schools and fields at Rensselaer 74 into entirely new positions. This has lowered the student-faculty ratio for undergraduate students to 12:1. Faculty renewal will continue, with plans to hire up to 50 additional tenured and tenure-track faculty.
Our faculty are garnering research awards and recognition as never before. For example, we have more than 40 winners of the National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development Award (CAREER) an impressive achievement for any university, and especially for an institution of our size. The award is given to faculty members at the beginning of their academic careers and is one of NSF’s most competitive awards. Dr. Daniel Gall, assistant professor of Materials Science and Engineering; Dr. Ana Milanova, assistant professor of computer science; and Dr. Wai-Kin (Victor) Chan, assistant professor of Decision Sciences and Engineering Systems, are the most recent to join this distinctive group. Dr. Chan, also, was named one of the “Nation’s Brightest Young Engineers” by the National Academy of Engineering.
A few of the many recent faculty achievements of note include the following:
- Dr. Fengyan Li, assistant professor of mathematical sciences, has been named a 2008 Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellow.
- Dr. E. Fred Schubert, Wellfleet Constellation Professor of the Future Chips Constellation, and doctoral student Brian Schulkin were named to the 2007 Scientific American 50 the magazine’s prestigious annual list recognizing outstanding acts of leadership in science and technology. Dr. Schubert was named a research leader in the light manipulation category. Mr. Schulkin, a doctoral student in physics and winner of last year’s Lemelson-Rensselaer Student Prize, was included for his pioneering work on terahertz imaging.
- Design optimization pioneer Dr. Achille Messac, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, has been elected a fellow of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics.
- Dr. Jacob Fish, the Rosalind and John J. Redfern Chaired Professor of Engineering, and director of the Multiscale Science and Engineering Center, has been elected a fellow of the American Academy of Mechanics.
- The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers bestowed high honors on a team of Rensselaer Civil Engineering faculty and staff for their critical contributions to the rebuilding of the New Orleans levees ravaged by Hurricane Katrina. The group, led by Dr. Tarek Abdoun, Dr. Thomas Zimmie, and Dr. Ricardo Dobry, of the Rensselaer Center for Earthquake Engineering Simulation, received several awards, including the coveted Commander’s Award for Public Service.
Faculty researchers across the university are at the forefront of fascinating initiatives to apply new technologies to the common purposes of life.
Much media attention was paid recently to the creation of the darkest material ever made by man. The substance, a thin coating comprised of low-density arrays of carbon nanotubes, absorbs 99.9 percent of the light that hits it, and one day could be used to boost the effectiveness and efficiency of solar energy conversion, infrared sensors, and other devices. This research, from a team led by Shawn-Yu Lin, professor of physics and Future Chips Constellation Professor, has been accepted by the Guinness Book of World Records.
The mysterious death of patients around the world following a routine dosage of the common blood thinner heparin sent researchers on a frantic search to uncover the reason. Dr. Robert J. Linhardt, the Ann and John H. Broadbent Jr. ’59 Constellation Professor of Biocatalysis and Metabolic Engineering at Rensselaer, is a member of the international team which uncovered the source of the deadly contamination. Dr. Linhardt is helping to lead the global race to develop a synthetic alternative to heparin that could eliminate the potential for contamination and adverse effects of biologic heparin.
A group of researchers led by Dr. Selmer Bringsjord, head of the Cognitive Science Department, is working to engineer virtual characters that go well beyond the capabilities of current digital avatars. At a recent conference on artificial intelligence, the team unveiled “Eddie,” a 4-year-old virtual child who can reason about his own beliefs and draw conclusions in a manner that matches human children his age. The goal of this work is to build more interesting and useful artificial agents that could be used in entertainment, gaming, education, and homeland defense.
Even as our faculty are pushing the boundaries of knowledge and technology in their work, they are animating classroom teaching, and as my earlier discussion of undergraduate research shows, they are ensuring that undergraduate students, as well as graduate students, are partners in their work.
World-class work requires world-class platforms. So, empowering these activities are our world-class facilities the platforms supporting the exploration, discovery, learning, and enrichment of our students and faculty. The phenomenal growth and improvement of our campus facilities gives dramatic physical and visual impact to the transformation taking place at Rensselaer. In the past eight years, we have initiated or completed $650 million in new construction and renovation of facilities for research, teaching, and student life.
Progress is happening so quickly that some of the most remarkable changes already are “old news” to those of us who live here.
If you have not been back to Rensselaer in the past five years, be sure to visit the new Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies, which opened in 2004. This 218,000-square-foot, $120 million facility contains laboratories for molecular biology, analytical biochemistry, microbiology, imaging, histology, tissue and cell culture, proteomics, and scientific computing and visualization. The Center contains an 800 MHz Nuclear Magnetic Resonance spectrometer, and the computing and visualization infrastructure needed to model molecular structure at the atomic level. Several alumni of the Rensselaer School of Architecture collaborated on the design and construction of the building, including Richard Rittelmann ’60, principal-in-charge, and Peter Bohlin ’58, design architect.
Last summer, we inaugurated the Computational Center for Nanotechnology Innovations (CCNI). This is the 12th most powerful supercomputer in the world, and the most powerful university-based supercomputer. It will advance semiconductor technology to the nanoscale, it will enable key nanotechnology innovations, and it will support research in the fields of energy, biotechnology and the life sciences, new materials, arts, medicine, cognitive science, computer science, engineering design, computational science and engineering, and more.
More than any other program or facility, the Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center, or “EMPAC,” exemplifies the transformation of Rensselaer into what I call “a fully realized technological university.” EMPAC is our bold step into the largely unexplored territory where art, science, and technology come together in ways that empower the creation of entirely new work which cannot be done anywhere else. Its intentional linkage to the Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies and to the Computational Center for Nanotechnology Innovations will propel Rensselaer to the scientific, engineering, and artistic frontiers of the 21st century.
EMPAC is both a place and a program. It is a performing arts center, a research location and agenda, a hub of campus interaction, a channel for academic programs, and more. It, also, is uniquely and appropriately situated at Rensselaer, the university where revolutionary educational methodologies and “the common purposes of life” include opportunities to approach the unknown in totally new ways. It will house unique visualization, animation, simulation, acoustics, haptics, optics, and other capabilities a powerful combination for art, science, and engineering.
We will mark the grand opening of EMPAC with a wonderful array of celebratory events on October 3 to 5, 2008, and for two weeks beyond that.
Construction has begun on the first phase of a $114 million East Campus Athletic Village, which, eventually, will include a new stadium, a natatorium, a new arena, a field house for indoor track and field, and new and upgraded outdoor fields. The project, also, includes new turf on the Lower Renwyck Fields (completed) and major upgrades to the Houston Field House. As the most extensive athletic construction project in Rensselaer’s history, the new athletic village is a significant step in the physical transformation of the Troy campus, and a significant part of supporting our students’ overall development, and improving the undergraduate experience.
Restoration of West Hall, our oldest and most historic campus structure, is in phase 4 of a five-year plan. Work on the interior continues this year; next year we will complete phase 5 with a focus on the Eighth Street façade and entrances, on stairways, and on the auditorium.
We are expanding and remodeling the Russell Sage Dining Hall with a 4,600-square-foot addition to increase seating capacity. When complete, the facility will have more natural lighting, new restrooms and entrances, and a new terrace or deck for dining and special events.
In the Rensselaer Union, renovations have been made to the Rathskeller and to Fathers’ Marketplace. And, rolling renovations of the residence halls continue, attending to Sharp Hall this summer. We, also, have launched a project to convert the former Best Western Rensselaer Inn property on Sixth Street at the foot of the Rensselaer Approach into a state-of-the-art residence hall for approximately 300 upperclass students. We have structured the project as a lease arrangement with developers, deliberately leaving the property on the tax rolls of the City of Troy and the Enlarged City School District of Troy.
We are in the early concept planning stage for a new Center for Science, which will replace, expand, and upgrade the existing Jonsson-Rowland Science Center with new laboratory and “wet lab” facilities for Biology, Chemistry, Physics, and Earth and Environmental Sciences. The existing Science Center will be renovated for offices, academic programs, classrooms, dry labs, technology space, and conference space. The observatory, also, will be renovated.
With all the investments we are making, I would like to offer a word about our financial strength, which is the critical basis for our programs and platforms. Rensselaer is strong financially. In the context of significant endowment growth over the past several years, we continue our strategy to physically transform the campus, as we lay a foundation for an even brighter strategic and financial future.
The endowment, which is slightly above $800 million, has held value during a very turbulent market period. In recognition of his investment prowess, our Treasurer and Chief Investment Officer, Walé Adeosun, was inducted into the National Association of Securities Professionals Wall Street Hall of Fame during the past year.
To undergird this foundation, in 2004 we launched the Renaissance at Rensselaer capital campaign. We have raised nearly $1.37 billion in pledges, cash, bequests, expectancies, and gifts-in-kind toward our campaign goal of $1.4 billion.
I opened my remarks by talking about our greatest privilege and responsibility educating our students. I would like to close by directing your attention to ways that some of these students, already, are changing the world.
Earlier, I told you that Senior Class President Sarah DiNovo had invented something called the “Smart Badge” for law enforcement. Ms. DiNovo and her co-inventor Louis Martinelli ’08, won the $10,000 silver prize for their device at the CTT Innovation Conference recently held in Boston. Presented by Competitive Technologies, a full-service technology transfer and licensing provider, the competition afforded students from participating universities the opportunity to showcase their technological breakthroughs to a panel of judges.
Rensselaer students won three of the four top prizes at the Innovation Conference. In addition to the Smart Badge, an environmentally friendly organic insulation made from waste agricultural materials, water, and mushrooms won the $15,000 gold prize for Rensselaer inventor Eben Bayer and his business partner Gavin McIntyre, both members of the Class of 2007. Junior mechanical engineering student Ben Robertson took home a $5,000 bronze prize for his GeoFridge project, a novel technique to remove the heat generated as a byproduct of refrigeration.
The ability to compete and win at such a high level does not happen automatically. Rensselaer nurtures students like these in many ways. For example, our Change the World Challenge was created in 2005 by alumnus and entrepreneur Sean O’Sullivan ’85 to support entrepreneurship education and stimulate ideas to improve the human condition. The contest is offered each semester, and awards $1,000 cash prizes to innovative ideas and inventions from our students. Additionally, substantial financial support and patent application assistance is given to the best winning student proposals.
Eben Bayer, co-winner of the gold prize at the Innovation Conference this year, was a Change the World Challenge winner during his senior year in the fall of 2006. He took full advantage of the patent support, and went on to found his own company Ecovative Design, located in the Rensselaer Incubator Center where he, now, is commercializing his organic insulation with his business partner, Gavin McIntyre.
In our community of innovators, the Lemelson-Renselaer Student Prize recognizes our most inspired and dedicated students for their ingenuity and deep understanding of the greater global implications of the innovations. This year, the $30,000 prize went to doctoral student Martin Schubert. Mr. Schubert has developed the first polarized light emitting diode (LED), a technology which could vastly improve liquid crystal display (LCD) screens, conserve energy, and usher in the next generation of ultra-efficient LEDs. The invention could advance the effort to combine the power and environmental soundness of LEDs with the beauty and clarity of LCDs on everything from televisions and computers, to cell phones and cameras. His remarkable engineering prowess, combined with his understanding of the technological, environmental, and energy-saving outcomes of his innovation, are a perfect example of this generation of Rensselaer students, who apply the latest technological advances to the common purposes of life.
Rensselaer students and alumni are the reason for, and the beneficiaries of, the transformation at Rensselaer. As I said earlier, this transformation and its impact upon our students is exemplified by the program and platform exhibited in the Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center.
If, at first, the idea of an avant-garde cultural milieu seems, to you, out of place at Rensselaer, I ask you to give it careful re-consideration. EMPAC will prepare our students for global leadership roles by exposing them to experiences which will foster innovative problem-solving, multicultural sophistication, intellectual agility, and the ability to see connections between and among disciplines across a broad intellectual front. EMPAC will support art our highest form of cultural expression for its own sake. EMPAC will create unprecedented opportunities for artists and scientists to encounter and influence each other.
And, EMPAC will support and lead to cutting-edge scientific discovery, engineering design, and technological innovation. With EMPAC, our aim is to create an intellectual community that did not before exist, and a cultural change at Rensselaer that will reverberate globally. Our students will participate in a collision of minds at the nexus of art, science, engineering, and technology animated by one of the world’s most powerful supercomputers, and deliberately positioned in the technologically and scientifically creative community that is Rensselaer.
I am confident that if Stephen Van Rensselaer and Amos Eaton were here with us today, their response to the transformation of Rensselaer would be an enthusiastic, “Yes! This is what we had in mind.” The Rensselaer they created to equip the men and women who built the infrastructure and made the breakthroughs in science and engineering for the 19th and 20th centuries is the same Rensselaer we see today, anchored and nourished by the roots planted by our founders, yet evolving and expanding to embrace the challenges of a new age. The magnificent transformation continues.
Thank you for coming this weekend. I, now, will be happy to entertain your questions.
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.