The endowment is not one pool of money, but rather a collection of accounts used for different purposes at different times. The endowment is also one way that alumni and supporters become civic stakeholders in campus affairs.
The Rensselaer endowment remained relatively modest for the rest of the 20th century. But the establishment of The Rensselaer Plan as the 21st century dawned made endowment growth imperative for the Institute’s success. With a new push for unprecedented faculty hiring, ambitious research goals, undergraduate renewal, and signature facilities such as EMPAC and the Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies, as well as the planned East Campus Athletic Village, the need for a surge in financial resources was clear.
The Institute’s historic capital campaign to fund the plan, Renaissance at Rensselaer: The Campaign for Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, is by far the largest fundraising drive ever undertaken in Rensselaer history. So far, $1.23 billion has been raised toward the $1.4 billion goal, which will help the endowment eventually cross the $1 billion mark.
Endowing a Campus Renaissance
Consider a donation creating an endowed professorship. The donor will not see a personal financial return on that contribution, but Rensselaer will, because successful scientists and research programs attract significant levels of funding from the government or corporate-backed educational partnerships. Those kinds of funding alleviate Rensselaer’s own expenses. The original donation is an investment, like seed money that allows more funds to flow once basic research shows its promise.
“A donor is going to see a return to us, in addition to the satisfaction of giving back to the institution, and that really has a multiplier effect,” says Fry. “That’s what endowment dollars do. They generate funding that otherwise would have to come from other sources. In turn, that allows the endowment to continue to grow.” The same is true, if less directly, of graduate fellowships and undergraduate scholarships, which attract strong pools of students who can be an integral part of successful research, and help attract top faculty.
In this sense, the endowment is not one big pool of money, but rather a collection of accounts used for different purposes at different times. The endowment is also one way that Rensselaer alumni and supporters become civic stakeholders in campus affairs. Rensselaer’s list of campuswide projects and plans is, in effect, formed with input from those connected to the university.
“When we talk to people about giving,” says Fry, “we keep in mind that it’s their money. We listen to their interests, and connect them with something that benefits how the gift they make will allow Rensselaer to impact the world.”
Paul Totta ’52, for example, recently gave $50,000 to the endowment to create an undergraduate scholarship. The idea is to aid a young scientist or engineer who might be, like Totta in his own student days, long on enterprise and ambition, but not necessarily flush with cash.
In a long and accomplished career as a materials scientist at IBM, Paul A. Totta ’52 helped develop state-of-the-art semiconductors and managed cutting-edge research projects. There is a simple explanation, Totta says, for his ability to have a hand in many complicated innovations: his education at Rensselaer. “Rensselaer was responsible for my career,” says Totta, who was eventually elected to the prestigious post of IBM Fellow while spending four decades at the company.
“This is just a little gift back,” says Totta. “If money is an obstacle to an otherwise interested student, it will help.”