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Elements For The Future

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

Skadden Arps Women's Retreat 2005
The Breakers
Palm Beach, Florida

Saturday, February 5, 2005


It is a great pleasure to address a stellar group of smart, accomplished women. Some of you are internationally based, and most of you are globally experienced. Most of you have advanced degrees in a great variety of disciplines and, clearly, all of you excel. Virtually all of you, also, serve, as do I, in a variety of leadership positions . . .

. . . but, addressing this group is also a very special challenge, when these very same accomplished women leaders have just spent a day and a half sequestered in a beautiful location, unwinding, relaxing, resting, playing — and sharpening those skills!

Nevertheless, I was informed that you appreciate learning about things about which you are not familiar, and I hope to be up to that task. Because your fields, disciplines, skills, and experiences are extensive and varied, it was a challenge to select a topic with which at least some of you are not familiar. Nevertheless, because of my background as former Chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), and because of my interest, as a physicist, in nuclear power and its promise, I will try to meet these rigorous criteria by addressing some aspects of nuclear power production within the current energy environment to which we can look forward in the near and long term.

However, it is not possible for me — as a woman and as a physicist — to begin speaking to this audience — without first referencing the recent storm over statements attributed to another leader in higher education. Those statements, as reported in the media, suggested that inherent differences between women and men may play a role in the relatively low number of women in science and mathematics, and in tenured and tenure track faculty positions in these fields.

There are a variety of ways to regard this. Some may welcome the comments because they broach, for public discourse, the topic of the real — and the assumed — differences between the genders. Others feel that the comments set back the trajectory of women toward accomplishment in any field, to a time when gender roles were, supposedly, fixed. Now, with women approaching 30 percent in law and medicine — once the staunchest of male bastions, when in 1960, they represented only 7 percent of doctors and 2 percent of attorneys — it is controversial that more are not seeking careers in science, engineering, mathematics, and technology.

Of course, I am curious about how you have responded to, or reflected upon, this issue, in your own environments and among yourselves, and perhaps this is something we can discuss later.

For me, it raises thoughts about my own career path as a woman and as a physicist, and, also, about a topic I address publicly on a regular basis.

Regarding my own career: I am the beneficiary of the convergence of two historic events. One was the 1954 Brown vs. the Board of Education U.S. Supreme Court decision, which outlawed the prevailing practice of racial segregation in public schools. We celebrated its 50th anniversary last year. My own life reflects its impact, and the movement toward social justice and civil rights which followed.

The other was the launch of the Sputnik satellite by the former Soviet Union, and the subsequent race between the U.S. and the Soviets for dominance in arms and in space technology.

Public schools, in the District of Columbia, where I grew up, were segregated, when I was in the early elementary school grades. After Brown and desegregation, I was able to attend the local public school, instead of one miles away. There, I was tested, along with others, and placed in advanced classes, and my education began to unfold accordingly.

The launch of Sputnik by the Soviet Union in October of 1957 caused a national furor, because a competitor nation had beaten the United States into space. The result was a new national commitment to, and emphasis on, science and mathematics. The nation invested heavily in science and engineering education, and in research. Young people were actively encouraged to study these subjects, and grants and scholarships for study of science and mathematics became more readily available.

I graduated valedictorian of my high school class and attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T.), where I studied physics and eventually received my doctorate. That background and my own interests have led me along an interesting career trajectory which has included a variety of leadership positions in higher education, in government, and in the corporate and financial sectors.

So the one thing, which the recent controversy over women's capacity to achieve in science and mathematics has raised for me, personally, is the fact that as a woman and as an African American, I — and others like me — was able to achieve, to succeed, and to lead in a variety of capacities, given encouragement, preparation, support, and opportunity.

So I make three key points.

1. There are differences between men and women. They are not — and should not be — determinative in a career sense. Talent to do many things — including science — resides in all genders and races.

2. Numerous studies and interventions have shown that when talented women are identified, nurtured, and given a chance, amazing things happen. You prove that. Perhaps I prove that. Women need nurturing, mentoring and an equal shot, not a questioning of their inherent abilities or motivations.

3. It takes leadership — of major institutions — of the nation — to effect change — to lead change. That is why it can be demoralizing and distracting — especially to young women — to have these implications floating around. The real conversation we should be having concerns how we will, as a nation, maintain our pre-eminence as a global power: economically, morally, and, of course, militarily. That pre-eminence is rooted in our national capacity for innovation, especially deriving from science and technology.

Let me begin with a story which delineates the framework for a discussion of these issues. It is a story familiar to many, because it was a popular book and, later, became a movie. It also was a real event, affecting real people.

Just before Halloween in 1991, the convergence of unprecedented meteorological circumstances gave rise to an epic storm, in the northeast Atlantic Ocean.

On October 27, 1991, strong disturbances associated with a cold front moved along the U.S.-Canadian border. Satellite images revealed that the front's leading edge, situated over Indiana, contained a "bend" — a pocket of low barometric pressure called a "short-wave trough" — embedded at about 20,000 feet. A short-wave trough is the embryo of a storm.

The front, carrying the trough, moved northeast at 40 mph, cutting due east at Montreal to cross northern Maine, the Bay of Fundy, Nova Scotia, and on out to sea. As the upper-level trough strengthened, it gave way to a surface low-pressure system, with warm air rising rapidly. Barometric pressure fell rapidly, at more than a millibar per hour, which led to rapid intensification.

At the same time, a huge high-pressure system was building over southeast Canada. As the low-pressure system moved into the Maritimes and encountered the cold, dry air introduced from the north, it grew rapidly.

This alone would have created a huge storm. But, the remnants of hurricane Grace, moving into the region from the south and carrying warm tropical air, fed its considerable energy into the two Canadian systems.

The result was like throwing gasoline on a fire. The explosive convergence of systems created a storm unlike any seen in 50 to 100 years. Over six days, the storm tracked, first northeast and then retrograded in a figure eight, from Newfoundland's Grand Banks south and west, to the U.S. coastline, and then north and east again to re-cross Nova Scotia.

It packed winds of 150 miles per hour and seas bearing 70-foot waves. It caused billions of dollars in coastal damage from Florida to New England. It wreaked havoc with the U.S. fishing fleet, prompting daring rescues by the Air National Guard. One vessel, the Andrea Gail, headed home to Gloucester, Massachusetts, with a hold full of swordfish, was lost, including its entire crew of six men. Meteorologists later dubbed this the "Perfect Storm".

This epic storm was caused by an unprecedented set of meteorological circumstances — a high-pressure system, a cold front, a storm embryo, and a dying hurricane, crossing and re-crossing the warm Gulf Stream — converging at the same time and same place. And, its force and destructiveness was unparalleled.

Now, I retell the story of the "Perfect Storm" because another unique, though different, set of circumstances is building in the United States with potentially also devastating results. Unless we do something about it.

This building situation comes not from meteorological patterns, but by the convergence of societal forces — demographic, educational, cultural, economic, and global. They, too, are unprecedented, and, they, too, are potentially, explosive.

Let me explain.

The engine of our national economy, upon which our safety and security, our wellbeing, our quality of life, and our global competitiveness, indeed, our global preeminence depends, is powered by the technological and scientific discoveries and innovations made by scientists and engineers.

These important people form a very small segment of our national workforce — only about 5 percent. When the nation has sufficient numbers of them to keep our national capacity at peek performance, we might describe the outlook, in meteorological terms, as optimal — "sunny and clear."

To maintain optimal "weather" conditions, we must assure that the current cohort of scientists and engineers are not only being replaced in sufficient numbers, but are increasing, since we increasingly must rely upon our own talent to power our science and technology engine.

This is not happening, however. And, this is a storm embryo forming on the horizon. Let us take a quick look.

As it happens, the U.S. scientific and engineering workforce is aging. The number reaching retirement age is likely to triple in the next decade. This is compounded by another fact. For years, government and corporate requirements for specialized science and engineering skills have been filled, when needed, by foreign nationals. But, forces at work in the global economy are creating opportunities which encourage foreign-born students and scientists to find education and employment in their home countries, or elsewhere. This is exacerbated by new VISA requirements. This year, there was an actual decline in enrollment of international graduate students in U.S. universities of 2.5 to 6 percent.

Fewer American students are studying science. Undergraduate student enrollments in engineering and the physical sciences are static or declining, and have been for a number of years. Computer science degrees decreased steadily between 1985 to1995. The only fields showing an increase have been psychology and the biological sciences.

We begin to see a cold front moving in to feed the low-pressure system.

Where should we turn for the science and engineering workforce of the future? What about our own talent supply?

We have talent.

But national demographics are shifting. In the last decade, as the U.S. population grew from 249 million to 281.4 million, the minority population increased 35 percent overall. While the non-Hispanic white population grew only 3.4 percent, the Hispanic population grew by 58 percent, Asian Americans by 50 percent, and African-Americans by 16 percent. Since our traditional science, mathematics, engineering, and technology (SMET) workforce is nearly 82 percent white and more than 75 percent male, it appears unlikely that we can replace it with a similar population.

And so, when we look to the available talent pool, it looks very different from the cohort that they will replace. Minority youth and young women, groups traditionally underrepresented in the sciences and engineering professions, now form the majority — what I call "the underrepresented majority."

International comparisons show that our eighth graders are at, or below, international averages, and that our high school seniors are near the bottom, despite the fact that we spend more than all developed countries, except Denmark and Switzerland, on education.

So, you can see powerful forces converging, and their collision, could cause unforeseen consequences.

This confluence leads us to some critical questions: Who will do the science? Who will be the next generation of scientists and engineers? How will the nation maintain its capacity, its national competitiveness, its global economy, and its international preeminence? And, how will the United States safeguard its homeland, without those who create the evolving technologies to detect and to protect against terroristsí threats?

How will we solve the technical, economic, and infrastructure barriers standing in the way of hydrogen as a viable fuel source or other energy sources, which could improve the U.S. energy economy, reduce air emissions, and expand domestic energy resources?

What about the urgency to develop vaccines to combat HIV/AIDS? Or, the virulent new strain of avian influenza virus, suddenly, making an unusual leap to humans? Or, mad-cow disease and its human variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease? And the biodefense need for advances in the basic biology of little-studied pathogens for diseases including plague, anthrax, tularemia, botulism, and hemorrhagic fevers.

And, many other similar questions.

This "Perfect Storm" is not one which will build over a mere six days. Unchecked, it will unfold over many years. It could be called the "Quiet Storm" or the "Quiet Crisis". It already is unfolding. It takes several decades to create or to build a scientist. So, the convergence of forces could create a lasting storm, with lasting impact on our national security, national competitiveness, our health and wellbeing, our way of life, even our democracy.

In the meantime, other nations have national plans in place to build their own capacity. Our national success, based on discovery, innovation, commercialization of intellectual property, and access to capital markets, etc., is not lost on other countries which are now regularly out-producing the United States in the production of degreed engineers and scientists. Approximately 2.8 million first university degrees in science and engineering were granted worldwide last year. Of these, 1.2 million were earned by students in Asian universities, 830,000 were granted in Europe, and 400,000 in the U.S. In engineering, specifically, universities in Asian nations now produce eight times as many bachelor's degrees as the United States.

The risk of a "Perfect Storm" can be mitigated by a full-fledged, national commitment to develop the talent inherent in all our young people. Young women and minority youth are now the demographic majority in our country, but they represent only a small fraction of the scientists and engineers. We must tap this group if we are going to guarantee our continued national capacity for innovation — for a robust economy — for national security.

It will require a national commitment to coordinate federal and state policy and resources, and the active involvement of the corporate community and higher education to make a difference.

History tells us that this can be done. The national commitment inspired by the Soviet launch of Sputnik swept me and many of my generation into breathtaking careers in science and engineering. The nation, of course, was the ultimate beneficiary.

Since my own career trajectory led me to the Chairmanship of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, I thought I would share with you a few perspectives on the outlook for nuclear energy, and an interesting merger which was announced in December, which has interesting implications for the future of energy generation and distribution.

Those of you in energy-related industries will have heard that Chicago-based Exelon and Public Service Enterprise Group (PSEG), an energy holding company in New Jersey, with a regulated utility, announced a planned merger. The $12 billion deal would create the nation's largest utility — Exelon Electric & Gas — with approximately $79 billion in assets and 52,000 MW of domestic electrical generation capacity. It will serve 7 million electric customers and 2 million gas customers in Illinois, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should say that I am a member of the Board of Directors of PSEG. However, I speak not as a director, but as one who is interested in the process of development and change in the power industry.

Of the 52,000 MW of power generation which Exelon Electric & Gas will control, approximately 40 percent is nuclear, 46 percent fueled by gas or oil, 11 percent fueled by coal, and about 4 percent from hydro and other sources.

Exelon has been the largest operator of nuclear power plants in the country, and is considered one of the premier nuclear operators in the world, with 17 reactors at 10 sites. Its plants are among the best performers in the industry. PSEG is considered a pioneer in making wholesale prices available to retail customers, and in energy trading, and has a strong record of delivery and transmission services. PSEG operates three Salem and Hope Creek nuclear power plants in southern New Jersey, which send the electricity they generate to a regional pool — the PJM inter-connection. The Salem (NJ) and Peach Bottom (PA) plants are jointly or partially owned by PSEG and Exelon. One plant, Hope Creek, wholly owned by PSEG, is undergoing review by the NRC, and has been closed since October when a pipe burst. The Oyster Creek reactor, owned by a subsidiary of Exelon, faces license expiration in 2009. Environmentalists are opposed to its license renewal. Regulators raised safety concerns last spring about three of the PSEG nuclear reactors. The situation is complex, but the future is bright because of the relative complementary strengths of the two companies.

The companies have assets, geographies, and strategies which are complementary, and have an already established partnership history. Their utilities, and most of their plants are located within the PJM Interconnection, the nationís largest and highest functioning regional transmission organization and wholesale power market, which stretches from the mid-Atlantic to the Midwest. The new portfolio will be more balanced in terms of geography, fuel mix, dispatch, and load-serving capability.

The merger tells us something about the changes which have taken place in the power industry and, perhaps, what the future may hold. The merger is the latest, and the largest, of some 88 mergers and acquisitions which have taken place since the electricity deregulation process began in earnest in 1992. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission lists 67 mergers which fall under its regulatory purview filed since 1995, of which 62 have been approved.

The point is that nuclear plants, in this country, increasingly, are coming under the control of a few large operating companies. The consolidation generally has led to improved operations and lower costs.

The greater nuclear capacity, and resultant efficiencies, may enable the new Exelon company to address some of the issues raised by the bipartisan National Commission on Energy Policy (NCEP) in August of 2003. Their recommendations came just two weeks after that summerës massive blackout which threw most of the northeast into darkness for as long as 24 hours. The report cited the urgent need for investment in all categories of electricity infrastructure. Competitive markets have not fostered adequate capital investment by businesses, which have been down significantly, lowering the systemís security and reliability, and with increased use, increasing congestion. The report also pointed out that the competitive markets have not been delivering lower prices for retail consumers, as was hoped.

Mergers within the electricity industry may help to resolve some complex issues through consolidation, management and safety improvements, economies of scale, and, ultimately, shape a stronger, more efficient U.S. electric system.

The merger also has implications for the viability of nuclear power generation.

Many observers attribute the decline of nuclear energy generation in the U.S. to the 1979 accident at Three Mile Island, in Pennsylvania. And certainly the safety and environmental concerns were very real. But, a large factor was economics. In the aftermath of the Arab Oil Embargo of 1973 and 1974, annual growth in electricity use in the U.S. slowed to 1 percent to 2 percent per year, from roughly 7 percent pre-embargo. Electric utilities had huge backlogs of unneeded generating capacity either on order or under construction. Nuclear plants were highest in cost, and thus most easily cancelled. More than 120 nuclear plant orders were withdrawn. Construction schedules of those that remained, stretched out over years, and the double-digit inflation of the 1970s caused construction costs to soar. The resulting cost overruns could not be fully recovered through rate increases.

The result, by the late 1980s, was a spate of retirements of nuclear plants before the ends of their 40-year licenses because their costs and mediocre performances rendered them economically noncompetitive.

By July 1995, when President Clinton appointed me as the Chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the safety performance and production efficiency of the U.S. nuclear industry was showing some improvement, driven largely by economics and industry self-regulation.

My approach was to shift the NRC to a "risk-informed, performance-based" regulation.

Essentially, we based policies upon the understanding that one cannot protect against every eventuality, and it is, therefore, vital to direct efforts toward those which present the greatest risk. Rather than devote equal regulatory oversight to all plants, resources were concentrated on plants most at risk, allowing those which had a proven commitment to safety to continue to improve their performance with less regulatory interference. All plants are subjected, however, to a baseline inspection program. Probabilistic risk assessment of nuclear designs and operations was (and is) more widely employed.

This approach paid immediate dividends, and they have continued. In 1980, the average nuclear plant in the U.S. produced electricity at 62.7 percent of potential capacity. In 1990, the figure was 71.7 percent. Since 2000, unit capability has run consistently in the 90 percent range. Total electricity production for the nation's 103 nuclear plants reached approximately 780 million megawatt-hours of electricity in 2002, compared with about approximately 560 million megawatt-hours in 1990. That is the effective equivalent of commissioning approximately 25 new 1000-megawatt plants at zero cost.

That production efficiency is greater than for other fuels: coal-burning electricity generating plants, for example, operated at about 70 percent of potential capacity in 2003. As a result of its efficiency, nuclear energy has become the most economical widely available energy source. The average electricity production cost in 2003 for nuclear plants was 1.72 cents per kilowatt-hour. Coal-fired plants were next at 1.80 cents, oil 5.53 cents and natural gas 5.77 cents.

This improved economic performance has made the country's existing nuclear plants much more desirable assets. The deregulation of the generation segment of the electric utility industry has provided increased opportunity for the sale of electricity on the open market, and a number of nuclear plants have been acquired by merchant companies to provide electricity for sale on the open market.

Their economic value, coupled with a streamlined regulatory process, also has led nuclear owners to renew licenses. More than two-thirds of operating plants have renewed their licenses, filed license renewal applications, or informed the NRC that they expect to apply within the next few years.

In addition to license renewal, nuclear plant owners are expanding the capacity of their plants. The NRC either has approved, or has under consideration, about 7,000 megawatts of applications to expand capacity.

Aside from economics, another key factor is environmental quality. Nuclear power plants are emission-free. Between 1973 and 2003, nuclear generation avoided the emission of approximately 78 million tons of sulfur dioxide and approximately 39 million tons of nitrogen oxides, compared to the amount that would have been emitted by fossil-fueled power plants. This environmental advantage has grown more significant with the growth of concern over global warming. Nuclear power produces none of the carbon dioxide which is, by far, the most prevalent of the gases believed to be responsible for global warming, and of which fossil-fired electricity generation plants are a leading cause.

Of course, nuclear plants do produce waste in the form of highly radioactive spent fuel rods. The problem of storing this waste has challenged the industry since inception. The government is making progress toward licensing and building a nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain in Nevada, but its future is still in doubt, and it may not be adequate to store the volume of waste needed.

Most other nations, with nuclear power generation programs, minimize the volume of waste, and extend the fuel supply, by reprocessing spent fuel. The U.S. declined the reprocessing option in the 1970s, over concern that the reprocessed fuel, which contains plutonium, could be used in nuclear weapons.

The improving performance of the nuclear industry and the environmental advantages may be restoring nuclear power, nonetheless, as an option for future electricity generation in the U.S. The storage and disposition of spent fuel and other high level nuclear waste remains an Achilles' Heel.

The current Administration strongly supports the technology, and the Department of Energy has a program called Nuclear Power 2010 aimed at facilitating additional order and construction of nuclear plants by the end of the decade. The Nuclear Energy Institute, the industry's policy and lobbying organization, has set a goal of adding 50,000 megawatts of nuclear generating capacity — nearly a 50 percent increase — to the national grid by 2020, plus 10,000 megawatts of additional capacity from existing units.

Whether or not these goals are met, the outlook for new nuclear plant orders is brighter than it has been for some time. The industry has learned from its experiences in the areas of both safety and design. Three advanced new nuclear plant designs — with advanced safety features and standardized designs — have been approved for use by the NRC.

Three companies are seeking site permits for nuclear plants from the NRC, to use if they eventually decide to build plants. Additionally, three consortia have formally responded to a Department of Energy initiative to test the streamlined NRC combined construction and operating license process for new nuclear plants. None has committed to building a new plant, yet.

Nuclear owners are cautious because they recognize that the first few orders using new, advanced nuclear technologies likely will be more costly, take longer to build, and may experience unforeseen technical problems. Moreover, Wall Street firms and other investors are being cautious, too. Nuclear industry proponents in the U.S. Congress are proposing financial incentives for the construction of the first new nuclear plants. The incentives are included in the massive energy bill which failed last session, and is being introduced again this session.

Elsewhere around the world, there is less reluctance to utilize nuclear energy. There are 441 nuclear plants in operation globally, providing about 16 percent of the worldís power. Orders for nuclear plants elsewhere have continued during the U.S. hiatus — 25 plants are now under construction and 12 commenced operation during the last three years. More than half of those under construction are in Asia. Foreign orders over the past two decades have kept U.S. nuclear vendors in business, and have helped to develop the new technologies for the next generation of nuclear plants.

The nuclear industry already is planning for succeeding generations of technology. The U.S.-led Generation IV International Nuclear Forum — a collegial effort by 10 countries — has published a roadmap for research and development on six innovative reactor concepts, such as the "Molten Salt Reactor" and the "Supercritical Water Cooled Reactor."

Stay tuned.

I entitled my talk this evening, "Elements for the Future." Almost any subject might fall under such a heading. And yet, we have touched on two which I believe are key — the role of women in science and, by extension, the role of women in society, and an interesting new energy industry merger, and, by extension, its implications for the future of nuclear energy generation.

Unless, and until we, as a society, fully embrace and accept women of talent — and, by extension, unless we fully embrace and accept the talent extant in the multiplicity of groups which have been marginalized, for one reason or another — we are not achieving the future.

And until, and unless we, as a society, find the technologies which make nuclear power generation efficient, safe, and secure, we are not achieving the future.

These challenges involve aspects of leadership — a topic which we have NOT addressed explicitly, but which we share, to one degree or another, by virtue of the fact that we are in this room, together.

Implicitly, therefore, each of us is offered a unique opportunity — each according to where she leads — to make a significant difference. That difference may be in almost any arena, but, because of who you are, your leadership, your career trajectories, your discipline, your industry sector, your influence, you make a difference.

And, you and I, by virtue of our own uniqueness, are given the opportunity to make apparent what society loses out on when it dismisses (supply your own example) — a gender, a group of people, a technology.

Imagine the richness of a future which embraces all that is unique?

To close, allow me tell you a little about my "day job," as President of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

Rensselaer was founded in 1824, and is the nation's oldest degree-granting, private, technological research university. We offer bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees in engineering; the sciences; information technology; architecture; management; and the humanities, arts, and social sciences. Our students come from 49 states and 72 nations around the globe. We have approximately 5,000 resident undergraduates, 1300 resident graduate students, and more than a thousand working professional graduate students. We have a distinguished faculty of 500 who are known for teaching and for pre-eminence in research conducted in a wide range of research centers which are characterized by strong corporate partnerships.

We have a particular new focus in biotechnology, and have just completed construction of a high-end research platform — the Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies — for research at the nexus of the life sciences with engineering, the physical and computational sciences. We also are forming critical mass groupings of world-class senior and junior faculty in important focal areas in the life sciences, in information technology, and related areas. We call these research groupings "constellations."

Our Biocatalysis and Metabolic Engineering Constellation, for example, under the guidance of Senior Constellation Professor Robert Linhardt, is working at the nexus of the disciplines of chemistry, biology, and engineering to better understand and engineer bioactive carbohydrates, which have great therapeutic potential for treating health problems, such as heart attack, cancer, inflammation, disease, and the like.

A significant emphasis is on the extension of research into entrepreneurship — translating discovery into innovation, and innovation to the marketplace. The Institute is especially well known for its success in the transfer of technology from the laboratory to the marketplace so that new discoveries and inventions benefit human life, protect the environment, and strengthen economic development. We have three business incubators. We founded one of the first university-sponsored business incubators in 1980, and now maintain three. We have an endowed Center for Technological Entrepreneurship within our Lally School of Management and Technology, and teach entrepreneurship principles across the undergraduate curriculum.

Rensselaer has long had a focus on Electronic Media, Arts, and Communication, and is now positioning itself to lead in the development and presentation of experimental media and performing arts. Our Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center — or EMPAC — currently under construction, is a 203,000 square foot complex (to open in 2007) which will serve as a world-class platform for both performance and research in experimental and more traditional media, arts, and performance. EMPAC will support research and program development in acoustics, visualization, simulation and animation, and other areas at the intersection of technology and the arts.

Our students are brilliant and industrious. Undergraduates and graduate students, alike, have the opportunity to work with corporate and industry partners on real world challenges, and with our own top tier researchers on cutting edge discovery. Our students have outstanding records of service to the university, to the surrounding community, and to our country. Rensselaer has long had a substantial contingent of students go into the U.S. military services, especially the U.S. Navy.

We are very focused, as well, on the education of women. Although this varies among our five schools women, generally, make up 25 percent of the undergraduates on our campus, and 29 percent of the graduate students.

These percentages are not as high as we would like, and we are intent in our efforts to improve them. We have a variety of "pipeline" programs which foster and encourage potential students from underrepresented groups to enter the sciences and engineering.

We do pride ourselves, however, on our ability to nurture, mentor, and retain women, once they select Rensselaer. Our retention rates consistently are higher for women, than for men. And, our graduation rates for female students reflect the same phenomenon, ranging well above the graduation rates of male students. It is not enough just to attract young women, but to give them an excellent experience, and to graduate them and launch them into great careersóespecially in science and engineering.

Our experience at Rensselaer only underscores what I have been saying. We are in urgent need of a national will, a national plan, a national commitment to create the next generation of scientists and engineers who will do the discovery upon which 21st century innovations will be founded. Those innovations, wherever they occur, will fuel the next generation of industries. We have no people to waste, if we are to maintain our global pre-eminence.


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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