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The National Urban Technology Center 10th Annual Gala

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

The National Urban Technology Center 10th Annual Gala
The Willard Intercontinental Hotel
Washington, D.C.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006


It is indeed an honor to be recognized with the Urban Tech Leadership Award, along with the Honorable Alphonso Jackson and Dr. Carol Nacy. I join Urban Tech in applauding the work of Secretary Jackson and Dr. Nacy to better the lives of those most in need.

As a college president, I am, of course, a strong believer in the singular power of education — and, especially of teachers. Education expands minds and opportunities, enables achievements which can change the world, and raises the level of our society and civilization.

Ralph Waldo Emerson instructed each of us to "Be an opener of doors for such as come after thee, and do not try to make the universe a blind alley."

My greatest door openers were my parents, George and Beatrice Jackson. My mother taught me and my siblings to read before kindergarten. She gave us the courage to face any adversity — through her own example — given that she was orphaned by age 14, and was then reared by her older siblings in Virginia at a time when the overall environment was inhospitable to African-Americans, and sometimes violent. My father, whose own father had died by the time he was a teenager, worked two jobs — always, in order to see to it that his children could have opportunities that he did not. He was gifted mathematically and mechanically; he encouraged me in science and mathematics, and he helped me with my science projects.

Next to my own parents, a significant door opener for me was Mrs. Marie Moss Smith, who taught me mathematics at Theodore Roosevelt High School, here in D.C. In our small class of seven students, she fostered a community of learning, where we achieved, individually and together. She was a world-class teacher who taught us never to be afraid to plunge into a complex problem, to be unafraid to make a mistake, but, rather, to work through any difficult issues. She would not let anyone give up. Today, the seven people in that class are successes in professions ranging from business to medicine to education. Indeed, she launched me on my career trajectory.

Mrs. Smith, also, inspired her own children to achieve, and to give back. That legacy is evident in Urban Tech, founded and led today — by Mrs. Smith's daughter, Patricia Bransford. So, you can see the extraordinary impact of one teacher on the lives of young people for decades, and on the years yet to come.

Because of the impact on my life, of "door openers" like my own parents and Mrs. Smith, I have worked to open doors for others. One way is by bringing national attention to what I have termed the "Quiet Crisis" in the United States. Briefly, this is the threat to our national capacity to innovate and to our competitiveness, due to a looming shortage in the science and technology workforce. The shortfall results from a record number of retirements close at hand, an insufficient number of American students both prepared to study and choosing to study science, mathematics, and engineering to replace them, and a diminished flow of international talent.

Therefore, we must enhance and increase programs supporting the study of these disciplines, and ensure that they include young women and the ethnic and minority groups traditionally underrepresented in the sciences and engineering. Competitiveness necessitates innovation, and innovation rests upon human and intellectual capital, which we must cultivate.

It is essential that we make this investment in the future, now. The 21st century is young, yet, already, we have been confronted with myriad challenges which demand creative and, in many cases, technological solutions. As we go forward to support organizations with impact like Urban Tech, let us, also, think of the ways in which each of us can continue to open doors for our young people. Whether through advancing public policy, funding schools, developing scalable and replicable programs, or one-on-one mentoring, our talents and our commitment are essential to lifting up the next generation — and urging them on to greatness.

Thank you again for this honor.


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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