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Rensselaer at 200: Refreshing The Rensselaer Plan

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

2012 State of the Institute
EMPAC Concert Hall
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
Troy, New York

Friday, October 5, 2012


Welcome all!  Welcome back to Rensselaer. Let me begin with a brief news video clip that speaks volumes about the national reputation Rensselaer has achieved. Just a few days ago, we were featured on the NBC Today Show as one of the nation's leading institutions for students seeking careers. 

I am sure you have had a great time catching up with friends, remembering your years here, and marking the changes our university has seen since your last visit.

I hope you are pleased with what we have built, and we thank you for your help, advice, dedication, and support.  The outstanding students and faculty, the vital research programs, the vibrantly intellectual campus, the new platforms—like the one we meet in today—promise a future of achievement and leadership that can come only from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

As we begin, I would like to take a moment to recognize Mr. Paul Cosgrave, Class of 1972, for his dedicated service to Rensselaer, and to the Alumni/ae Association, as President of the RAA. Thank you, Mr. Cosgrave, for all you have done in the first year of your term. I also congratulate the new President-Elect of the RAA, Mr. Roger Mike, Class of 1970.

Let us stand for moment of silence in remembrance of members of the Rensselaer family who are no longer with us. In particular, I acknowledge a long-serving Rensselaer faculty member who passed away this year. Professor Walter Eppenstein ’52G worked at Rensselaer for 44 years as an Assistant Professor of Physics In 1966, he became the Associate Chairman of the Physics Department, a position he held until his retirement in 1991.

The Music Director of our chorale group, the Rensselyrics, Mr. Ned Fleischer, also died in the past year. He was well known for his precision and dedication, and he was an inspiration to the many young people he brought together through song. Because of him, they have a deeper appreciation of music, lifelong friendships, and invaluable lessons in working together to achieve excellence.

We also note with sadness the passing of Pauline Urban Bruggeman, wife of the late Institute Board of Trustee Member, Warren H. Bruggeman '46. The contributions she and her husband made to our university were recognized through our creation of the Pauline Urban Bruggeman and Warren H. Bruggeman '46 Complex within the Rensselaer Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies (CBIS).

We miss them all.

As well, let us also be ever mindful of the Rensselaer men and women serving in our armed forces, particularly those in harm’s way, and those who have died, or have been injured, while serving our nation.

The university you love is a place where people are encouraged to develop their capabilities and strive toward excellence. The achievements of our faculty, students, staff, and alumni/alumnae, have built a reputation for Rensselaer that continues to grow.

We continue to attract administrators of great talent and ability, and I will take this opportunity to introduce a few who have joined us or who have assumed new roles.

Professor Prabhat Hajela has been appointed Provost. Professor of Aerospace Engineering and former Vice Provost, he served as Acting Provost from Jan. 1, 2012 to June 30, 2012.

Professor Jonathan Dordick, the Director of the Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies (CBIS) and Howard P. Isermann Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering, has been named Vice President for Research.

Mr. James Spencer has been hired to be our new Director, Real Estate & Business Development. In his new role, he will direct all activities related to the Rensselaer Technology Park and the Emerging Ventures Ecosystems (EVE) business incubation program.

For seven consecutive years, Rensselaer has set records for freshman applications. This year, the Office of Undergraduate Admissions received a record total of 15,223 freshman applications.

The members of the incoming Class of 2016 show great promise, with an increase in average SAT scores, and more than 100 receiving a perfect 800 SAT critical reading or math score. In addition, three students scored 1600, and two students received a perfect 2400 score. Sixty-six percent of the students are coming from the top 10 percent of their high school classes.

This high-achieving group of 1331 freshmen includes:

  • 371 women, representing 28 percent of the class,
  • a near-record number of underrepresented students, totaling 13 percent of the class,
  • and continued geographic and international diversity.

Our graduate applications have increased as well, to reach 4,355, the highest level in ten years, with those applying presenting ever more outstanding credentials.  We welcomed 531 new full-time graduate students to Rensselaer this fall.  Overall 2000 new students entered Rensselaer this fall.

Equally important as attracting new students is our ensuring their success once they arrive. Here again, Rensselaer excels. With a broad array of award-winning student life programs such as Navigating Rensselaer and Beyond, the First Year Experience, and CLASS (Clustered Learning Advocacy and Support for Students), Rensselaer has succeeded in achieving a nearly perfect first-to-second semester retention rate, and evokes very positive responses from students to surveys such as that conducted by The Princeton Review.

The Princeton Review highlighted the high quality of the Rensselaer academic programs, student life, and facilities, based on interviews with students.

With the opening of the City Station Graduate Housing project, we are able to extend the CLASS-based residential model to our graduate students.

We continue to stretch the boundaries of science and technology at Rensselaer. I will cite a few recent examples.

Associate Professor of Architecture Jonas Braasch has been appointed as Director of our Center for Cognition, Communication, and Culture. The Center is scheduled to open next month, but Professor Braasch already has been bringing together researchers from such seemingly diverse arenas as the arts, design, science, engineering, humanities, and social sciences to meet current social and technological challenges at the intersection of the cognitive, cyber, and physical worlds.  Work in this center, with a locus in the Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center, brings together investigators from across the Institute in research areas, such as:

  • cross-modal displays (which seek to employ all human senses in understanding and exploring data),
  • synthetic characters (such as work with interactive narrative and embodied conversational agents), and
  • augmented reality (data overlaid on the real world as related, for example, to computer vision and to the use of narrative and gaming theory in research and education).

To support this work, the CCC will host a new Emergent Reality Lab—a large-scale CAVE Virtual Reality System. The system will be located in the Rensselaer Technology Park and support immersive video and audio projection.

Engineering researchers, led by nanomaterials expert Dr. Nikhil Koratkar, the John A. Clark and Edward T. Crossan Professor of Engineering, made a sheet from the world’s thinnest material, graphene, and then treated that sheet with a laser to blemish it with cracks, pores, and other imperfections. The result was an easy-to-make, quick-charging lithium-ion battery with high-power density. Such an innovation could lead to simpler, better-performing automotive engines based solely on high-energy, high-power Li-ion batteries.

Rensselaer researchers demonstrated, to federal, state, and local government officials, a prototype Disaster Management Simulator. This breakthrough resulted from a collaboration involving Dr. William “Al” Wallace ’61, the Yamada Corporation Professor and a member of the Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering (ISE); Dr. Barbara Cutler, associate professor in the Department of Computer Science; and Dr. David Mendonça ’01, associate professor in ISE. They are working to develop powerful new decision-making and data visualization tools to help law enforcement, health officials, water and electric utilities, and others to respond to disasters.

A new study from the Lighting Research Center (LRC) could lead to new approaches to help Alzheimer’s patients sleep better. Results of the study, led by Dr. Mariana Figueiro, Associate Professor and Director of the Light and Health Program at the LRC, suggest tailored light exposures as a viable treatment option for sleep disturbances of Alzheimer’s patients.

What we have accomplished and all that we continue to do are garnering Rensselaer the attention and respect it warrants.

The annual ranking of Rensselaer by U.S. News & World Report—41st among national research universities—is one of a number of recent external surveys that recognize the high quality of a Rensselaer education. These surveys confirm that the Institute remains among the top national research universities in the world, and that our School of Engineering and the Lally School of Management and Technology remain among the leading schools in their categories.

U.S. News is not the only measure of our recognition, impact, and outcomes for our students and graduates.

Business Insider website ranked Rensselaer fourth on its list of the world’s best 50 engineering schools – based on surveys of engineers, professionals, and entrepreneurs at technology companies.

Wall Street and Technology – In their first national study of the top technology schools from which Wall Street firms hire the best IT specialists, Rensselaer was ranked in the top five, along with Carnegie Mellon, MIT, Stanford, and Georgia Tech.

Forbes ranked Rensselaer as one of the “Ten Colleges That Are Great Brands,” citing the successful rebranding that began under The Rensselaer Plan.

We do what we do, not for accolades, but for making a difference. 

Now let me tell you about something really exciting. Last month, when NASA’s Curiosity rover was lowered by cables onto the Martian surface, Rensselaer’s Dean of Science Laurie Leshin was at the Jet Propulsion Lab’s Spaceflight Operations Facility, sharing the moment with her colleagues. Dr. Leshin’s association with Curiosity dates back to its beginnings, eleven years ago, and she helped to define its scientific goals.

Tomorrow we will have a presentation that will include the participation of Dean Leshin and of three Rensselaer alumni -- Kobie Boykins ’96, Staff Mechanical Engineer, Jet Propulsion Laboratory; Michael Meyer ’74, Lead Scientist, NASA's Mars Exploration Program; and Frederick Serricchio ’94, Senior Staff Engineer, NASA—who also are part of the Curiosity team.

It has been my great pleasure and honor to lead this university through an era of transformation, initiated with The Rensselaer Plan. We have accomplished much, building on the legacy of generations of professors, alumni, and alumnae who truly have changed the world for the better.

Overall, The Rensselaer Plan has led to long list of accomplishments. These include:

  • Securing a historic $360 million unrestricted gift and completing the unprecedented $1.4 billion Renaissance at Rensselaer: The Campaign for Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
  • Investing nearly $1.25 billion in The Rensselaer Plan, including more than $725 million in new construction, renovations, equipment, technology, and infrastructure for research, teaching, and student life.
  • Designing and constructing the Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center, a bold platform at the intersections of art and science and technology.
  • Establishing the Computational Center for Nanotechnology Innovations, through a partnership among Rensselaer, IBM, and New York State. Today, with the latest generation Blue Gene – Q technology, providing more than 200 teraflops of computing power and visualization capability, the CCNI drives research, education, and economic development.
  • Constructing the Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies, which facilitates multidiscipli­nary research in the life sciences, applied sciences, and engineering.
  • Creating the Office of Vice President for Research and developing key research “Signature Thrusts.” in Media Arts, Science, and Technology; Biotechnology and Life Sciences; Nanotechnology and Advanced Materials; Energy, Environment, and Smart Systems; and Computational Science and Engineering to drive faculty recruitment and research leadership.
  • Creating Constellations in Biotechnology, IT, and Physics including: Future Chips and Tetherless World, Biocatalysis and Metabolic Engineering, Biocomputation and Bioinformatics, Physics, Information Technology, and Entrepreneurship.
  • Hiring 275 new faculty members since 2001.
  • Nearly tripling overall research awards, from $37 million in FY99 to $99 million in FY12.
  • Launching the award-winning Office of the First Year Experience, retooling freshmen orientation, and adding leadership training, and more—all to enhance the student experience.
  • Opening the East Campus Athletic Village, which provides athletics, recreation, and community space for the 75 percent of Rensselaer students who participate in intramural, club, or varsity athletics.

Many of you have played integral roles in bringing us to the position we now enjoy, as an intellectual community that is alive with ideas and recognized for its world-class accomplishments.  We thank you for all that you have done.     

We now sit halfway between the approval of the Rensselaer Plan in 2000 and the 200th anniversary (in 2024) of the founding of Rensselaer. Because of the progress we have made and the changes the world has seen since The Rensselaer Plan was created, we now have the opportunity to take stock and to decide what we will do in the coming years, especially as we anticipate Rensselaer's bicentennial.

So, we are refreshing The Rensselaer Plan, using humanity’s Global Challenges as reference points to help guide our resource allocation and research. This means we need you to participate in a university-wide conversation about the best ways to improve the world’s energy security, food security, and water security, so our systems can serve an estimated 9 billion people in 2050—and serve them sustainably.

We are out of time here, but I am sure our discussion will continue. Three more sessions are scheduled, but I hope everyone will feel free to share comments and ideas. I am sure that Dr. Hajela is looking forward to hearing from you.

Thank you all for your insights and perspectives. You already have helped us to understand in greater detail what we need to do as we refresh The Plan for the coming years.

And thank you all for attending today. Have an enjoyable Homecoming.


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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