We want our students to acquire a multicultural sophistication, an intellectual agility, and enough knowledge of science and technology to enable them to take what they know and to apply it in diverse arenas. This cross-pollination is necessary to innovation and discovery. Clearly, a global experience is becoming an essential part of a robust undergraduate educational experience.
Rensselaer currently offers a number of international exchange opportunities for both undergraduate and graduate students throughout Europe as well as in Asia, Australia, South Africa, and India. The deans of our five academic schools, under the leadership of Prabhat Hajela, vice provost and dean of undergraduate education, are working to expand international programs in more locations around the world. For example, the School of Engineering is launching a new international program with the goal to eventually provide every Rensselaer undergraduate engineering student the opportunity to study abroad during the junior year.
The Institute also enhanced international opportunities for students when I led a delegation to Europe in March. A key objective of this trip was to foster partnerships and collaborations with some of Europe’s leading academic, research, and policy institutions.
For example, we signed a letter of agreement with the University of London-Birkbeck College to promote educational and research cooperation, including student and faculty exchanges. We also received commitments for student and faculty exchange programs with Ecole Polytechnique, which is the leading technological university in France, CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research), and Imperial College of the University of London.
Students also gain global leadership experience and skills right on the Troy campus, through the annual “Change the World Challenge,” created by Sean O’Sullivan ’85, a student competition that offers a $1,000 prize for ideas that will make the world a better place. This year’s winning ideas included an interconnecting design for the bottles used to transport water to people in developing nations that would allow empty bottles to be used to construct furniture or shelters. Another idea was a mechanically or solar-powered device to split cocoa pods in Ghana, thus helping to prevent injuries to agricultural workers, who often are between ages 5 and 9.
A new bachelor of science degree in Design, Innovation, and Society challenges students to design new products, services, and media while considering the social needs and environmental concerns of the 21st century. The program will position graduates to work as leaders of design and innovation in myriad environments from multinational businesses and organizations to local communities. Indeed, the program encourages students to think both globally and locally, which is crucial to a well-rounded educational experience.
Education enables the individual to focus and to work with the mind, to encompass complexities, to expand life possibilities. In every discipline at Rensselaer, we are striving to develop students who have strong analytical skills and the ability to understand and solve complex problems, who possess multicultural understanding and are able to operate in a global context with intellectual agility, and who can see connections between disciplines and between sectors across a broad intellectual milieu. We are educating our students within a fundamental discipline but with the ability to work between disciplines, to find innovative new approaches to problems, and to value the perspectives of diversity in reaching solutions.
Preparing students to be global citizens and global leaders is, perhaps, our most important educational mission for the 21st century. I will continue to keep you updated on our efforts and initiatives to increase the global reach, and global impact, of Rensselaer students.