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Rensselaer Sets the PACE for Excellence

Historic partnership invests in faculty and students

Photo by Kris Qua


The announcement in September of the unprecedented $514 million partnership between Partners for the Advancement of Collaborative Engineering Education (PACE) and Rensselaer represents another significant leap for the Institute toward the top tier of global research universities. (See Making a Difference)

A joint philanthropic initiative of General Motors, EDS, Sun Microsystems, and UGS Corp., PACE supports key academic institutions worldwide with computer-based design tools to prepare students to compete in the future. This partnership reflects our mutual goal to prepare the next generation of innovators. This major gift — the largest in-kind gift in Rensselaer history — advances our relationships with these leading global corporations, as they recognize the excellence of Rensselaer students and faculty. Indeed, this gift is the culmination of the great Rensselaer heritage of academic and industry partnerships — and it will only grow in size, in scope, and in commercial value in the coming years.

The comprehensive modeling and simulation tools from PACE will allow Rensselaer students to work with the latest software used by major corporations, enhancing their ability to design projects ranging from more efficient factories and hybrid vehicles, to the flow of blood through artificial heart valves. These tools offer exciting opportunities for Rensselaer students to collaborate on design projects at the intersection of technology-based fields. While Rensselaer graduates are much sought after by business and industry, the opportunities afforded by PACE will increase their value and appeal even more — as they are ready and able to make a solid contribution to their employers right away.

PACE builds upon existing models for hands-on learning and industry partnerships at Rensselaer. For example, in the School of Engineering, student projects in the O.T. Swanson Multidisciplinary Design Laboratory, in the Advanced Manufacturing Laboratory, and in the Inventors’ Studio bring engineering and science applications to life through team interaction and problem-solving. GM recently tapped into our students’ expertise in this area when it asked them to identify features of a version of the Saturn Ion coupe that would appeal to “Generation Y” customers. The students approached the project by conducting market research to understand target buyers and by engineering a number of concepts for the car’s features. After presenting their recommendations to GM executives, the students adapted their ideas into an existing Saturn car on the Troy campus. This project is but one example of the exciting opportunities under the PACE partnership.

At the PACE announcement event Sept. 8, John Farnsworth ’06, an engineering graduate student, spoke about how learning and using Unigraphics software from PACE partner UGS Corp. has opened doors for him — including one at the NASA Jet Propulsion Lab, where his knowledge helped him secure a coveted summer position. John said his background working with this new software “gave me something to bring to the table that not many other students had to offer.” He also became so proficient that he served as a teaching assistant in a pilot course using the software package, which has been integrated into the freshman curriculum this fall. It is interesting that John’s experience with this 21st century partnership also embodies the education principle of Amos Eaton, who believed that when the student became the teacher, the student was forced into an active role, thus reinforcing and expanding the student’s body of knowledge.

When today’s students leave Rensselaer, they enter a rapidly evolving global economy. It is our duty to prepare them for this complex and challenging world. Industry-driven partnerships have proved to be among the best ways we can offer students to tap into their creativity, imagination, and talent so that they may become the innovation leaders of tomorrow. This visionary partnership helps us to answer that call by combining our innovative curriculum, world-class faculty, and the tools and talents of our PACE partners. It is the beginning of a new era of teaching and learning at Rensselaer that will drive change and innovation to benefit humankind.


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