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Rensselaer Alumni Association Awards Ceremony

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

Russell Sage Dining Hall Banquet Room
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
Troy, New York

Thursday, October 4, 2012


Good evening, and thank you, Paul for inviting me to join you on this special occasion. I am very pleased to be a part of this evening to celebrate the accomplishments of those who serve, and set the standard for Rensselaer and its students.

This evening we also celebrate the continued transformation at Rensselaer. Tonight and throughout the weekend, as you spend time on the Troy campus with your Rensselaer family, I encourage you to take stock of where we are as an Institute today, and to reflect on your vision for the Rensselaer of the future. University-wide discussions already are underway in this regard around the development of The Refreshed Rensselaer Plan. The fundamental framework and the overarching guiding principles of The Plan remain sound. The refresh and updates will ensure that Rensselaer is in a position to have an even greater global impact, and are fully dedicated and prepared to answer the question, “Why Not Change the World?”

We are not starting from scratch. Much of the groundwork was laid more than a decade ago with the original development of The Plan. A solid foundation has been built, and the list of achievements, thus far, is long. Each achievement brings us that much closer to fully realizing our ultimate goal to secure rank as one of the world’s top technological universities. Each achievement allows us to expand our global reach and impact. Each achievement is made possible, in large part, as a direct result of individuals such as our awardees, and those of you in the room tonight – alumni, friends, family, faculty, and staff – who stand together in support of Rensselaer. 

Together we have accomplished much, but we cannot grow complacent, as our work is not yet finished. The time is now to collectively envision where Rensselaer should be at the time of the 200th anniversary of its founding in 2024. 

When I look ahead, the question, ‘Why Not Change the World?’, continues to resonate. The world today is struggling with a myriad of concerns surrounding resources, the environment, the global economy and security – Global Challenges. Rensselaer is uniquely positioned to address many of the Global Challenges through its educational and research prominence. Solving these Global Challenges is critical to those of us at Rensselaer, and will be paramount as we look toward our future. 

Moving this vision forward requires continued commitment and support from the entire Rensselaer community, including many of you in this room tonight. As part of the Rensselaer family, your involvement is critical to achieving success in our collective endeavors, as we all have learned the importance of working together to achieve great things. 

Before we look ahead, we must look back. Looking to the successes we, together, have achieved during the past decade, leaves no doubt in my mind that, collectively, we will have achieved even greater prominence for Rensselaer at 200. 

This evening, I have the pleasure to introduce the 2012 recipient of the Distinguished Service Award. Created by the Rensselaer Alumni Association Board of Trustees, this award recognizes service of the highest order to Rensselaer, to a profession, to the nation, and to humanity. Since the founding of this award, the Rensselaer Alumni Association has honored 43 exemplary alumni/ae.

I am very pleased to recognize those recipients of the Distinguished Service Award who are with us this evening:

  • Neal J. Barton, Class of 1958
  • Lee Bishop, Class of 1960
  • Howard N. Blitman, Class of 1950
  • Glenn O. Brown, Class of 1954
  • Gary T. DiCamillo, Class of 1973
  • David S. Haviland, Class of 1964
  • Paul J. Severino, Class of 1969
  • Sam Wait, Class of 1953

Now, please join me in welcoming our 2012 Distinguished Service Award honoree, Nicholas Donofrio, Class of 1967. 

Nick, if you would join us on the stage.

Rensselaer is proud to call Trustee Nicholas M. Donofrio, Class of 1967, one of its own. From the beginning, Nick has continuously supported of the extraordinary, transformational journey that Rensselaer embarked upon over a decade ago with The Rensselaer Plan. He has consistently provided steady leadership as a Trustee, and generously has given of his time to serve on committees whenever called upon. 

He is a loyal philanthropist, in general, and specifically to Rensselaer, as he continues to support scholarships, the Annual Fund, and a number of other programs. As a result of their generosity, Nick and Anita Donofrio are members of the Stephen Van Rensselaer Society of Patroons. Nick lives by example, as he is able to devote time to Rensselaer in addition to being a father, a husband, a successful businessman, and a strong advocate for innovation.

As an undergraduate completing his Bachelor of Science degree in electrical engineering, Nick was very active on campus serving as a member and vice president of Theta Chi, member of Campus Chest, Phalanx, Tau Beta Pi, Eta Kappa Nu, Sigma Xi, Student Faculty Committee, and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. In addition, he was recognized by Who’s Who of American College Students, and he was part of the Dean’s List, Honor Board, Newman Club, and Test Filing Committee. 

Prior to graduating with the Rensselaer Class of 1967, Nick had his first exposure to IBM in 1964 as a college intern, working on the development of the legendary System/360 mainframe computer. This experience led to a highly successful, lifelong career spanning more than 40 years with IBM, during which Nick led virtually all of IBM’s manufacturing and development teams over the years. From 1997 until his retirement in October 2008, Nick was Executive Vice President for Innovation and Technology. He continues to serve as an IBM Fellow Emeritus, the company’s highest technical honor. In recognition of his career achievements, Nick Donofrio has received many honors – among them, election to the U.S. National Academy of Engineering and the Royal Academy of Engineering of the U.K.

Retirement has not slowed Nick down. In addition to owning his own consulting firm, NMD Consulting, LLC, Nick serves on a number of boards, and is currently co-chair of the New York Hall of Sciences, as well as serving on the Secretary of Energy’s Advisory Board. 

Nick also is a tireless champion of the engineering and technical professions, and personally commits hundreds of hours each year to work with women and underrepresented minorities to enrich the technical professions around the world – with a diversity of culture and thought. Nick is a strong advocate of education, and vigorously promotes mathematics and science as the keys to economic competitiveness. In this regard, he has served as chairman of the National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering (NACME), as well as a member of the national board of directors for INROADS, a non-profit organization that trains and develops talented minority youth for professional careers in business and industry.

In 2005, Mr. Donofrio was appointed by the U.S. Secretary of Education to serve on the Commission on the Future of Higher Education – 20 business and university leaders charged with developing a new national strategy for post-secondary education in order to meet the needs of America’s diverse population, and address the economic and future workforce needs of the country. Time does not permit us to list all of the other board associations and volunteer work that Nick has been involved in, each of which exemplify his commitment to service.

A Rensselaer trustee since 1994, Mr. Donofrio also serves as the Trustee Annual Fund Chair. A longtime volunteer for the Rensselaer Annual Fund, Mr. Donofrio has been honored with numerous awards: the Albert Fox Demers Medal in 2006; the Alumni Key Award in 2003; and the Davies Medal for Engineering Achievement in 1991. The Rensselaer Alumni Association is honored to add the 2012 Distinguished Service Award to Nick’s long list of tributes from his grateful alma mater.

Once again, we congratulate Nick and all of the others who were honored as part of tonight’s celebration. This evening has been a great way to kick off what is sure to be an exceptional weekend, filled with a variety of events throughout the Troy campus and the community. To end our evening, and to properly kick off Reunion and Homecoming, it seems fitting to close with our alma mater. 

So, please join us in singing the alma mater.

Here's to old RPI,
Her fame may never die.
Here's to old Rensselaer,
She stands today without a peer.
Here's to those olden days,
Here's to those golden days.
Here’s to the friends we made at dear old RPI.


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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