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Institutional Transformation: The Renaissance at Rensselaer Continues

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

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
Troy, New York

Tuesday, October 9, 2007


Good morning.

Thank you for coming. And, greetings to our colleagues in Hartford, who are watching via simulcast, and to those who are watching the Web cast.

Members of the President’s Cabinet and the Dean’s Council are here this morning. As always, I will ask for their contributions, as appropriate, during the question and answer session, which follows this presentation.

I understand that members of the Alumni 50 Year Club Board of Directors are with us today. Would they please stand? Please join me in welcoming them.

The Rensselaer Plan, which the Rensselaer community built together in partnership over nine months, and which the Board of Trustees adopted in May 2000, set forth extremely ambitious goals. As a community, we challenged the Institute — and we challenged ourselves — to transform the Institute for 21st century relevance, and for global reach and global impact.

Our progress has been transformative and exceptional. We have new priorities, strategic investments, and vision. We are steadily building national and international stature, standing, and recognition.

Nor is this surprising — for as C. P. Snow said in the 1950 University of Cambridge “Rede Lecture,” later published in book form as The Two Cultures, “scientists have the future in their bones.” It makes sense that a university of scientists, engineers, mathematicians, and technologists — intellectually leavened by the contributions of the humanities and the arts — has chosen to create an Institute for the future.

I like, first, to highlight the “new news,” especially the extraordinary recognition of Rensselaer by outside entities. External recognition validates our results, builds our reputation further, and attracts more students and faculty. Here are a few examples:

  • Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute was named “Savviest Nonprofit of the Year” in the Nonprofit Awards for Excellence sponsored by Institutional Investor News and Information Management Network. This award recognizes our investment strategy and investment results, yielding a 22 percent return on our endowment, which, at the end of FY2007, stood at $813 million.

  • U.S. News and World Report ranks Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute tied for 44th place in its list of top schools.

  • Fortune magazine recognized Rensselaer as one of the nation's best business schools with “entrepreneurial flair” and “best for double majors.” Fortune called Rensselaer “a pioneer among tech schools in promoting women's entrepreneurship” and praised, especially, the Tech Valley Collegiate Business Plan Competition and the Severino Center for Technological Entrepreneurship. Fortune also noted the Rensselaer emphasis on engaging engineers with entrepreneurship.

And, it is worth noting, that there are already 62,000 inquiries for the Class of 2012. Compare this to last year when we had 54,000 inquiries at the end of the cycle! Inquiries for this class from diverse groups show a 120 percent increase, and inquiries from women show a 100 percent increase!

I speak frequently about the four “Ps” — the four elements required for the success of any endeavor. They are, of course, people, programs, platforms, and partnerships. Each of these four areas is essential to the whole. The focus enhances our progress, and continues to do so.

There is a very special individual I would like to recognize, this morning. He was not able to be present at the August 3rd Annual Service Recognition and Retirement Dinner, so I am taking this opportunity to recognize him now. He is the 2007 Pillar of Rensselaer.

A pillar, of course, is a symbol of strength, integrity, reliability. Every year Rensselaer celebrates a staff person whose persona and energy uniquely support the Rensselaer mission, whose concern for students and their welfare is a model for others, whose work contributes directly to the vitality and richness of life on the Rensselaer campuses, who gets the job done, and makes everyone smile in the process.

This year, we have selected the Operations Manager of the Rensselaer Facilities Customer Service Center, in the Division of Administration, the Department of Physical Plant: Paul Galbraith.

Paul provides the daily direction for “FIXX,” our facilities work and management program, which impacts the quality of life in residence halls and across the campus — with more than 20,000 work requests annually to the trade and repair shops. He oversees our internal payroll process, ensures consistent use of the Computerized Maintenance Management System (CMMS), and manages the large inventory of master keys, all of which contribute to the effectiveness of our facilities maintenance management program, and ensure the highest level of service for all, especially our students.

He is the Administration Division’s primary facilitator for campus events, and in that capacity provides his talents and extensive experience to ensure successful campus events from student orientation sessions to convocations, from GM week events to alumni reunions, from Board of Trustees meetings, to campus visits by potential donors.

Rensselaer without him would not be the same. Please join me in honoring Paul Galbraith, Pillar of Rensselaer.

I would like to recognize several new campus leaders, some of whom are with us this morning.

  • After having served as acting Provost for a year, Dr. Robert Palazzo was appointed Provost effective July 1, 2007, after a nationwide search. That same day, Dr. Palazzo assumed the presidency of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB). Dr. Palazzo has been director of the Rensselaer Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies, and professor of biology, and was a research scientist for the Wadsworth Center with the New York State Department of Health.

  • Mr. William Walker joined us in February as the Vice President for Strategic Communications and External Relations. Mr. Walker comes to us from Dartmouth College, where he served as vice president for public affairs. He is leading this new Institute portfolio, which was created to advance public understanding of, and advocacy for, Rensselaer and to ensure robust communication with all of our constituencies. Mr. Walker is a leader in his field, having served for six years on the Board of Trustees of the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE), and as chair of the Commission on Communications and Marketing for CASE — for four years.

  • In January, Dr. Wei Zhao joined us as Dean of the School of Science. He previously was senior associate vice president for research at Texas A&M, where he also was a professor of computer science. Dr. Zhao worked on the long-term strategic plan at Texas A&M, supervised the Office of Sponsored Research and the Office of Compliance, directed the Institute of Telecommunication and Information Technology, and led the campus-wide homeland security initiative, which was sponsored by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security for more than $17 million.

In the last seven years we have had unprecedented faculty hiring. We have hired 180 new faculty across all schools and fields — 73 into entirely new positions. This has lowered the student-faculty ratio from 17:1 to 14:1. For undergraduate students, it is even lower — down to nearly 11:1.3 This extraordinary record is strengthening traditional disciplines, allowing us to branch into new arenas, and seeding new ideas, new academic offerings, new research thrusts.

The contributions of our faculty animate our university, and the pace of hiring will continue. The FY2008 Performance Plan provides for hiring up to 44 tenure and tenure-track faculty, in addition to the 18 who have joined us since January. This would make a total of 172 tenured and tenure-track faculty hired since FY 2002.

Eleven of the new faculty will be appointed under our constellation program, through which we are adding multidisciplinary teams of senior faculty, junior faculty, graduate students, and undergraduates in three of our signature thrust areas — Biotechnology and the Life Sciences, Computation and Information Technology, and Nanotechnology. Our other signature thrusts are Energy and the Environment, and Media and the Arts. The constellation program builds on our traditional strengths in microelectronics and microsystems, advanced materials, advanced scientific computation, modeling, and simulation, to create critical mass groupings of faculty in exciting new areas. The other faculty hires are across a broad front in essentially all schools, and multiple departments to renew and enlarge our faculty.

Recent faculty achievements meriting special note include:

  • Jonathan Dordick, Howard P. Isermann Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering, received
    • the Marvin J. Johnson Award in Microbial and Biochemical Technology, of the American Chemical Society. (June 2007), and
    • the Elmer Gaden Award, Directing the Assembly of Multifunctional Biomolecular Architectures, honoring his 2006 publication in “Biotechnology & Bioengineering.” The award is sponsored by John Wiley & Sons, and is presented for a paper of exceptional originality and likely impact.

  • Georges Belfort, Russell Sage Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering received the E. V. Murphree Award in Industrial and Engineering Chemistry from Exxon Mobil Research and Engineering Company. (announced and to be presented at the American Chemical Society National Meeting in April 2008.)

  • Natacha DePaolo, Department Head and Professor of Biomedical Engineering, was named Fellow of the American Institute of Medical & Biological Engineering (July 2007)

  • Ana Milanova, Assistant Professor, Computer Science, received an NSF Career Award, for work entitled: “A Framework for Customizable Program Flow Analyses,” (August 2007).

  • Linnda Caporael has been recognized by the Association for Psychological Science as a Fellow for distinguished contributions to psychological science.

As noted, there have been 18 new faculty hires since January, including three new hires since January in the Tetherless World and the Biocomputation and BioInformatics constellations:

  • In the School of Engineering, there are four with specialties in cell biology and cell mechanics, GaN-based light emitting diodes, 3D Hyper Integration of Information Technology, Nano- and Bio- Systems, and Bioengineering, biophysics, biological protein aggregation, and biotechnology.

  • In the School of Humanities and Social Sciences we have hired four who have specialties in environmental, cultural, and economic implications of genetically engineered crops, theoretical neurobiology, value sensitive design, and the politics of science and technology.

  • In the Lally School of Management and Technology, we have hired two new faculty members with specialties in theoretical and empirical asset pricing, market micro-structure, information economics and international finance, and management and organization.

and finally,

  • In the School of Science, we have eight new faculty with specialties in biophysics and kinetics of AT-dependent molecular motors, protein thermodynamics and protein design, semantic web research, real-time systems, machine learning, design and synthesis of supramolecular coordination compounds, applied proteomics, the application of differential analysis and bioinformatics to the field of plant science, and string theory and lattice supersymmetry.

We welcome the Class of 2011, with 1,381 new students — 1290 freshman and 91 transfer students. We had record numbers of applications — more than 10,100, which is a nearly 50 percent increase over last year, and represents a growth of 82 percent over the past two years.

It is an impressive class, with outstanding SAT scores and 64 percent coming from the top 10 percent of their high school classes. This high-achieving group includes a significant increase in the number of women, who now make up one-third of the freshman class — an all-time high, up seven percent from last year — as well as a 27 percent increase in the number of underrepresented minorities, who make up 11 percent of the class.

Our freshmen-to-sophomore retention rate is at an all-time high of 94 percent.

There has been a 6 percent increase in the number of talented and promising graduate students we are attracting, which includes a 7 percent increase in the number of women graduate students. As of today, 339 graduate students are enrolled at Rensselaer. Of those, 168 are Ph.D. students.

Our exceptional students and faculty are engaged in outstanding and exciting endeavors through the broad array of Rensselaer programs.

With our emphasis on research, our faculty members are leading a research Renaissance in leading-edge arenas. Currently, more than 700 students — or nearly 60 percent — of our undergraduates participate directly in research activities. That is about double what it was last year. It is our goal — to involve 80 percent of undergraduates over the next five years directly in research activities related to their studies.

Checking the Rensselaer website, you sometimes will spot as many as two or three major discoveries each week, coming out of our research programs. To summarize only a very few:

  • Malaria Infection Link: Robert J. Linhardt, the Ann and John H. Broadbent Jr. ’59 Senior Constellation Professor of Biocatalysis and Metabolic Engineering and an interdisciplinary team of Rensselaer researchers has found a key link that causes malarial infection in both humans and mosquitoes. If this link in the chain of infection can be broken at its source — the mosquito — then the spread of malaria could be stopped without any man, woman, or child needing to a take a drug. The researchers’ discovery was published in the Aug. 31 edition of the Journal of Biological Chemistry.

  • Paper Battery: Dr. Linhardt, also, led another team that, together with a team from the Nanotechnology Center, has developed a new energy storage device that easily could be mistaken for a simple sheet of black paper. The nanoengineered battery/capacitor combined is lightweight, ultra thin, completely flexible, and geared toward meeting the trickiest design and energy requirements of tomorrow’s gadgets, implantable medical equipment, and transportation vehicles. The discovery made R&D Magazine’s list of 25 top nanotechnology innovations.

  • Nano Adhesive: Rensselaer materials science and engineering professor Dr. Ganapathiraman Ramanath led a team which has developed an adhesive based on self-assembling nanoscale chains, creating a new method to bond materials that do not normally stick together. The adhesive could impact everything from next-generation computer chip manufacturing to energy production. The nanoglue is inexpensive to make and strengthens when exposed to heat. The discovery is featured in the May 17 issue of the journal Nature.

At Rensselaer at Hartford, we have new degree programs focused on Innovation, Process Management, and Leadership. They also have launched the International Scholars Program, where students from this country are taken abroad.

To assure that our students remain healthy, safe, and well supported, the Student Health Center has initiated a search for a full-time psychiatrist who, also, will serve as the Director of Counseling Services.

We have reached an agreement with B2 Networks to carry live broadband webcasts of home athletic contests in football and in men’s and women’s ice hockey. And, we have reached an agreement with Time Warner Cable, Channel 3, to broadcast five home men’s ice hockey games. I expect that some of you now are able to have your parents and friends participate, virtually, in some of your athletic endeavors.

I will speak for a moment about campus safety and security. My background as Chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (which is charged with the protection of the public health and safety, the environment, and the common defense and security in the domestic civilian use and export of nuclear material and technology), has helped to guide my thinking in looking at safety in a university setting. I am risk averse, and campus safety has been a concern of mine for some time. While Rensselaer had many security elements in place already, there was a need to step back and to cast a broad net across the university in regard to campus safety and security.

Almost two years ago, I established a Comprehensive Emergency Management Planning Committee comprising faculty and staff to develop a comprehensive plan for emergency response, mitigation, and readiness. I, also, created a Cabinet-level sponsorship group to guide and to support the work of the committee.

In the intervening months, the Emergency Management Planning Committee has reviewed virtually all aspects of campus security preparedness and emergency readiness and — with the guidance of the sponsorship group — has put into place appropriate comprehensive measures to ensure campus safety and security readiness.

Last summer, as one example, campus leaders engaged in a “Tabletop Pandemic Exercise” to work through an imagined scenario involving a disease that affected the campus. The exercise helped to identify issues, and we were able to pick out important lessons.

We were well along in building a comprehensive campus security plan when the Virginia Tech Review Panel Report was released at the end of August. Rensselaer leaders reviewed the report’s recommendations, assessed each as it applies to our own campus, and determined the Rensselaer readiness levels.

Consequently, Rensselaer has a comprehensive plan to handle appropriately emergency preparedness, mental health issues, weapons, and emergency response.

The plan applies to the only to the Troy Campus, and is based on Troy as a residential campus. However, we are working with Rensselaer at Hartford to develop and implement a modified plan that meets will meet our needs at Hartford as well as the State of Connecticut requirements.

Currently for emergencies involving our students, we utilize several electronic communication mechanisms including e-mail, web, and emergency cable television systems as well as posted campus alerts. We also use social networks including resident assistants, the Greek system, and parents.

With outstanding Rensselaer people engaged in living and learning and in transformative programs, we are working to create the platforms to support their endeavors.

In August, we broke ground for our East Campus Athletic Village. Phase I includes improvements to, and expansion of, the Houston Field House, and other improvements. It is expected to be completed in September 2009. When complete, the East Campus Athletic Village will transform athletics on the Troy Campus by enhancing facilities for our varsity student-athletes, supporting club and intramural sports, expanding recreational sports opportunities, and providing space for other extra-curricular activities.

This oldest and most historic building on the Rensselaer campus is currently in Phase 4 of a five-year restoration plan. This year, windows continue to be restored or replaced, as needed, and bathrooms are being renovated and upgraded. Phase 5 will focus on the 8th Street entrance, the east face, the auditorium, and external entrances and stairways.

With growing populations of students and additional faculty, we must have expanded and enhanced dining facilities. The Russell Sage Dining Hall is getting a 4600 square foot addition to increase capacity from 130 to 300 in order to eliminate overcrowding, and long lines. There will be more natural lighting, new restrooms and entrances, and a second floor terrace/deck for dining and special events. We expect construction to begin later this fall.

The Administration is beginning very early planning for a new Center for Science by adding to and upgrading facilities for the study of science. An addition, built adjacent to and connected with the Jonsson-Rowland Science Center, would add 100,000 to 120,000 square feet of new research and “wet lab” facilities for departments in the School of Science, to support undergraduate and graduate research. The existing Jonsson-Rowland Science Center will be renovated for offices, academic programs, classrooms, dry labs, technology space, and conference space. And, the observatory will be renovated, as well. This will allow expansion and consolidation space for departments and activities in the School of Science, freeing up other space.

The New Center for Science will coordinate with EMPAC and the South Campus Master Plan. Stay tuned.

Our transformative Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center (EMPAC) is 73 percent complete,8 and we expect substantial completion of construction by next May. Installation of the Concert Hall’s wood hull and skylight are in progress, and site work and landscaping already are underway and should be completed this fall.

When this extraordinary facility opens, it will tender a research platform for some of the most innovative research at the nexus of science and engineering and the arts. It will allow exploration at the intersection of the virtual and physical worlds, will support visualization, animation, simulation, and acoustical studies across a broad intellectual front. Just as you have been amazed and intellectually challenged by EMPAC performance art programs over the last two years, so too will the creative activity and research which can now be undertaken in conjunction with EMPAC, especially when its unique spaces and technology are linked to the CCNI. Mark your calendars for three days of incomparable opening events scheduled for October 2008.

Financial strength is a key undergirding element of 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, laying a foundation for an even brighter strategic and financial future.

We have raised $1.26 billion in pledges, cash, bequests, expectancies, and gifts in kind, toward our campaign goal of $1.4 billion.

Rensselaer at Hartford finished the fiscal year strongly — doubling credit hour enrollment in the last two years, and increasing the number of students by more than a factor of two, with 1,200 to 1,300 students overall.

We have the finest people. They are engaged in exceptional programs. We are putting in to place the best of platforms to support them and their work — which puts us in position to connect with the global best in partnerships to enlarge and extend our transformation, our global reach, and our global impact.

There could be, perhaps, no better example of the value and significance of the power of partnership than the new Rensselaer Computational Center for Nanotechnology Innovations (CCNI). I could have placed this in almost any one of the four “P” categories — People, Programs, or Platforms. But I chose Partnerships because partnership advances synergy — the combined effort being greater than the sum of the individual parts.

The CCNI makes Rensselaer completely unique, and is a platform second to none. As you are probably already aware, it is currently 7th in the list of the top 500 supercomputers in the world, and 1st of those based at a university.

It is the result of a $100 million dollar partnership among Rensselaer, IBM, and New York State (each partner contributing equally through discounts, product, property, and/or funding).

CCNI is capable of 100 TeraFLOPS — 100 trillion floating point operations, or calculations-per-second. This sheer computational power — one of the most powerful computers on earth — will help to support a continuum of activity — from basic research to commercial application, including new device fabrication — via scientific investigation which otherwise would be impossible.

Cadence Design Systems, a leader in electronic design automation software, and Advanced Micro Devices (AMD), a global supplier of integrated circuits for personal and networked computing and communications, are collaborating with Rensselaer and IBM in advanced simulation and modeling of nanoelectronic devices and circuitry. The CCNI will support computationally intensive research in science and engineering, such as computational biology, computational chemistry, computational fluid flow, and related fields; and work in design and in the arts.

As we reach the limits of Moore’s Law, the development of nanoscale building blocks for the design and manufacture of new semiconductor devices is the only way to maintain the 30 percent productivity enhancements associated with that seminal technological benchmark. In other words, by advancing the commercial application of nanoscale devices, CCNI can aid our partners in the project — IBM and others — in bringing to market the next generation supercomputing technology on a broad enough scale to allow their use in such enormously beneficial ways as medical modeling.

As one example, consider that Dr. Kenneth Jansen of our Mechanical, Aerospace, and Nuclear Engineering Department, is working with surgeons from Stanford University on computational fluid flows. They have developed a methodology to model individual human cardiovascular systems. If a patient develops a cardiovascular problem — a blockage — they will be able to tell exactly what method of treatment — a bypass, angioplasty, stent, or other approach — will be best.

With conventional computer capability, the modeling could take two to three months. But the CCNI can perform the calculations in two to three minutes.

The possibilities are breathtaking. And the possibilities are here.

A university is a true partnership — a partnership of faculty — and of students — and of administrators — and of staff. Each component is essential to the whole. And each relies upon the other three. A university is a joint venture, an affiliation, an enterprise which mutually benefits each and every element. No component stands alone.

At the outset, I quoted C.P. Snow asserting that scientists have “the future in their bones.” Later, he appended the statement, writing that faced with progress, “traditional culture responds by wishing the future did not exist.” As a community, we have placed our bets on the future, and as a technological research university with a wonderful legacy, it is fitting that we have done so.

I would like to pause here for a moment. The creation and implementation of The Rensselaer Plan, and the pace and scale of change which has occurred here over the last eight years, has enabled the Institute to evolve rapidly as a national research university. Our steadily climbing stature has enabled us to attract brilliant faculty and smart students. We have wonderful staff. This same pace and scale of change places greater emphasis and leadership responsibility of tenured and tenure-track faculty who hold a privileged position in the academy. It therefore demands clarity with regard to the leadership and advisory roles of tenured and tenure-track faculty. It has been more than a decade since the Rensselaer faculty governance system was reexamined.

Just as we have reviewed and revised most university policies, assuring that they are clear and consistent between and among themselves, so, too, must we engage in healthy dialogue with regard to the role of the faculty and the role of the administration in universities, and at Rensselaer, in particular.

I have every confidence in the Faculty Governance Review Committee, chaired by Dr. Jacob Fish, the Rosalind and John J. Redfern Jr. Professor of Engineering. The committee’s review, and other efforts, will enable us to put into place a faculty governance structure to strengthen and to clarify the role of active tenured and tenure-track faculty in contributing to the further development of Rensselaer as a technological research university of rapidly growing stature and influence.

While our discussions are serious, and sometimes difficult, it is important to remember that we are engaged together in creating an Institute of the future and for the future.

There are wonderful people here — all of you. There are many wonderful things happening here. We are reaching the tipping point. We just have to stay focused on the good things, and to stay the course.


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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