The Honorable Shirley Ann Jackson is the 18th President of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, N.Y., and Hartford, Conn., the oldest technological research university in the United States.
Describing her as “a national treasure,” the National Science Board selected Dr. Jackson as its 2007 recipient of the prestigious Vannevar Bush Award for “a lifetime of achievements in scientific research, education, and senior statesman-like contributions to public policy.”
Described by Time Magazine (2005) as “perhaps the ultimate role model for women in science,” President Jackson has held senior leadership positions in government, industry, research, and academe.
Since 1999, Rensselaer President Shirley Ann Jackson has led an extraordinary transformation of the Institute with an ambitious strategic effort known as The Rensselaer Plan. Guided by her vision, Rensselaer is now home to the Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies, the Computational Center for Nanotechnology Innovations, the Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center, and the East Campus Athletic Village. Under her leadership, more than 275 new faculty members have been hired, research awards have nearly tripled, and scholarships have increased. Her tenure also has been marked by innovations in curriculum, expansion of undergraduate research, and new award-winning student life initiatives.
Nearly $1.25 billion has been invested in The Rensselaer Plan, including more than $725 million in new construction, new equipment, technology, infrastructure, and renovations. In 2001, President Jackson secured a $360 million unrestricted gift to the Institute. In 2004, she launched a $1 billion Renaissance at Rensselaer capital campaign. In 2006, the goal was expanded to $1.4 billion. The campaign closed in 2009, having surpassed the ambitious goal of $1.4 billion in gifts and gift commitments, nine months ahead of schedule, exceeding all previous fund-raising at Rensselaer.
See also: Accomplishments under the Rensselaer Plan.
Dr. Jackson holds a Ph.D. in theoretical elementary particle physics from M.I.T. and a S.B. in physics from M.I.T. Her research specialty is in theoretical condensed matter physics, especially layered systems, and the physics of opto-electronic materials.
In April, 2009, U.S. President Barack Obama appointed Dr. Jackson to serve on the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. PCAST is an advisory group of the nation’s leading scientists and engineers who advise the President and Vice President and formulate policy in the many areas where understanding of science, technology, and innovation is key to strengthening the economy and forming policy that works for the American people.
Dr. Jackson is co-chair of the President’s Innovation and Technology Advisory Committee (PITAC), part of the PCAST. Through PCAST, PITAC advises the President on matters involving science, technology, and innovation policy. As PITAC co-chair, in 2011 she co-authored the Report to the President on Ensuring American Leadership in Advanced Manufacturing, which provided an overarching strategy as well as specific recommendations for revitalizing the Nation’s leadership in advanced manufacturing.
Prior to her leadership of Rensselaer, President Jackson was Chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission; a theoretical physicist conducting basic research at the former AT&T Bell Laboratories; and a professor of theoretical physics at Rutgers University.
In 1995 President William Clinton appointed Dr. Jackson to serve as Chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). She was Chairman of the NRC from 1995-1999. As Chairman, she was the principal executive officer of and the official spokesman for the NRC. She had ultimate authority for all NRC functions pertaining to an emergency involving an NRC licensee. The NRC is charged with the protection of the public health and safety, the environment, and the common defense and security by licensing, regulating, and safeguarding the use of reactor byproduct material in the U.S. This includes power reactors; research, test, and training reactors; fuel cycle facilities; reactor byproduct use in medicine, industry and research; the transportation, storage, and disposal of high-level and low-level radioactive waste; and the licensing of nuclear exports for peaceful uses.
While at the NRC, Dr. Jackson initiated a strategic assessment and rebaselining of the agency, leading to a new planning, budgeting, and performance management system that put the NRC on a more businesslike footing. She conceptualized and introduced risk-informed, performance-based regulation to the NRC (utilizing probabilistic risk assessment on a consistent basis), which has been infused throughout its regulatory programs. As a result, NRC Standard Review Plans and associated Regulatory Guides were changed to a risk informed approach. This also led to the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) implementing a risk-informed revision to its codes and standards for nuclear power plants and key nuclear components. Elements of risk-informed regulation also have been incorporated into the nuclear regulatory programs of other nations. She led the development of a new reactor oversight program, and created, with the Commission, a license renewal process resulting in the first renewal (in March 2000) of the license of an operating reactor in the United States.
While Chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Dr. Jackson spearheaded the formation of the International Nuclear Regulators Association (INRA) in May 1997, and was elected as the group’s first chairman, a position she held from 1997 to 1999. As the first INRA chairman, Dr. Jackson guided its development as a high-level forum to examine issues, and to offer assistance to other nations, on matters of nuclear safety. The association is made up of the most senior nuclear regulatory officials from Canada, France, Germany, Japan, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States (and now South Korea, with China as an observer).
While at the NRC, Dr. Jackson represented the United States four times (1995, 1996, 1997, 1998) as a delegate to the General Conference of the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna, Austria.
From 1991 to 1995, Dr. Jackson was professor of physics at Rutgers University, where she taught undergraduate and graduate students, conducted research on the electronic and optical properties of two-dimensional systems, and supervised Ph.D. candidates. She concurrently served as a consultant in semiconductor theory to AT&T Bell Laboratories.
From 1976 to 1991, Dr. Jackson conducted research in theoretical physics, solid state and quantum physics, and optical physics at AT&T Bell Laboratories in Murray Hill, New Jersey. Her primary research foci were the optical and electronic properties of layered materials including transition metal dichalcogenides, electrons on the surface of liquid helium films, and strained-layer semiconductor superlattices. She is best known for her work on polaronic aspects of electrons in two-dimensional systems.
Dr. Jackson was elected as an International Fellow of the British Royal Academy of Engineering in 2012. She is a member of the U.S. National Academy of Engineering (2001), and the American Philosophical Society (2007). She also is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (1991), the American Physical Society (1986), and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS 0(2007). She is a member of a number of other professional organizations. Dr. Jackson holds 52 honorary doctoral degrees.
Dr. Jackson is past President (2004) of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), and former Chairman (2005) of the AAAS Board of Directors. The AAAS is the world’s largest general scientific society. In 2003, she delivered the William Carey Lecture of the AAAS.
Dr. Jackson serves as a director of IBM Corporation, FedEx Corporation, Marathon Oil Corporation, Medtronic Inc., and Public Service Enterprise Group Incorporated.
She serves on the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian Institution, is a Member of the Board of the Council on Foreign Relations, and is a Trustee of the Brookings Institution. She also serves as the University Vice Chairman of the U.S. Council on Competitiveness, and co-chaired the Council’s Energy Security, Sustainability, and Innovation (ESIS) initiative.
Dr. Jackson is a Life Member of the M.I.T. Corporation (the M.I.T. Board of Trustees).
Dr. Jackson serves on the U.S. Comptroller-General’s Advisory Committee for the Government Accountability Office (GAO). She has been a member of the National Advisory Council for Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the Advisory Committee for the U.S. Department of Energy National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA).
Prior to her appointment to the NRC, Dr. Jackson served on the Advisory Council of the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations (INPO), and served on several corporate boards of directors. She served on several high-level commissions in the State of New Jersey, including the New Jersey Commission on Science and Technology. She was a member of the U.S. Department of Energy Task Force on the future of its multipurpose National Laboratories (the 1994 “Galvin” Commission). She also has served on a number of committees of the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences.
She is both the first woman and the first African-American to serve as the chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission; the first African-American woman elected to the U.S. National Academy of Engineering; and the first to receive the Vannevar Bush award. She is the first African-American woman to lead a top-50 national research university, and she has led Rensselaer to a steady rise in its rankings on the U.S. News and World Report list of national universities.
Dr. Jackson was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1998 for her significant and profound contributions as a distinguished scientist and advocate for education, science, and public policy. She was inducted into the Women in Technology International Foundation Hall of Fame (WITI) in June 2000. WITI recognizes women technologists and scientists whose achievements are exceptional.
President Jackson received the prestigious AAAS 2011 Philip Hauge Abelson Award. She was honored by AAAS for her “extraordinary leadership of and contributions to the scientific community, government, universities, industries, and future generations of science and engineering professionals.” The award, given annually to either a public servant, in recognition of sustained exceptional contributions to advancing science, or to a scientist whose career has been distinguished both for scientific achievement and for other notable services to the scientific community, was presented on February 17, 2012 at the AAAS Annual Meeting in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.
President Jackson received the inaugural America Competes Award for Public Service, awarded by the U.S. Council on Competitiveness to “a leader who has worked tirelessly to improve the quality of life in America and abroad through public service and private sector outreach, and to those who show an extraordinary commitment to excellence and the American spirit.” The award was presented on March 6, 2012 in New York City.
In 2010, Dr. Jackson was honored by Black Enterprise magazine with its Women of Power Legacy Award.
In 2009 she received the Bouchet Leadership Award Medal, from the Yale Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, Yale University.
She also received the 2009 Dr. John Hope Franklin Award, from Diverse Issues Magazine.
In 2008, Dr. Jackson received the American Society of Mechanical Engineers’ Ralph Coats Roe Medal. She was recognized “for significant contributions to science and technology education, and professional practice; and through her leadership and creativity has inspired others to pursue careers in engineering and science; and for notable public service and contributions to the nation and humankind.”
In 2008, President Jackson was honored with the L'Oreal USA For Women in Science Role Model Award, for raising awareness of the critical role that women play in the sciences.
Dr. Jackson was honored by AARP The Magazine as one of its ten 2007 Impact Award winners “extraordinary” people who “have made the world a better place through their innovative thinking, passion, and perseverance.”
In 2006, President Jackson received the American Society of Mechanical Engineers’ President’s Award, for her “outstanding contributions to the engineering profession and for her dedication to the promotion of diversity and inclusion in engineering education.
Dr. Jackson was named as one of seven 2004 fellows of the Association for Women in Science (AWIS). AWIS is dedicated to achieving equity and full participation of women in all fields of science and technology.
In 2002, Dr. Jackson was named one of the Top 50 Women in Science by Discover magazine, and recognized in a published book by ESSENCE titled 50 of The Most Inspiring African-Americans. She also was named one of “50 R&D Stars to Watch” by Industry Week Magazine.
In January 2001, Dr. Jackson received the “Richtmyer Memorial Lecture Award” from the American Association of Physics Teachers. In 1993 she was awarded the New Jersey Governor’s Award in Science (the “Thomas Alva Edison Award”).
Dr. Jackson received the 2001 “Immortal Award” for the 15th Annual Black History Makers Award sponsored by Associated Black Charities. Also, in February 2001, Dr. Jackson became the first woman to win the Black Engineer of the Year Award by US Black Engineer & Information Technology magazine. In March 2000, Dr. Jackson was awarded the Golden Torch Award for Lifetime Achievement in Academia from the National Society of Black Engineers.
In 2000, Dr. Jackson received the “100 Women of Excellence” award from the Albany-Colonie (NY) Regional Chamber of Commerce & Women’s Business Council recognizing women who pioneered change in the community over the past century. In 2006, the Troy Rehabilitation and Improvement Program (TRIP) presented its Community Citizenship Award to Dr. Jackson for the Institute’s contributions to the revitalization of the greater Troy area.Dr. Jackson is married to Dr. Morris A. Washington, also a physicist. They have one son. (As of February, 2013)