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Accepted Student Celebration

“Poised to Change the World”

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

EMPAC Theater
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, NY

Saturday, April 5, 2014


Good morning. Welcome to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute!

And welcome to the Houston Field House, home of the Engineers—our Division I Men’s and Women’s Ice Hockey Teams.

This always is one of the happiest events on the academic calendar. We, at Rensselaer, all look forward to meeting you—the remarkable young men and women who have shone through brilliantly in our application process, to arrive at this day.

Congratulations to all of you.

To our accepted students—you should know that you have been selected for your academic and personal strengths at the most competitive time in our history. As Dr. Marthers mentioned, we had yet another record number of applicants for our freshman class—more than triple the number just nine short years ago.

We expect the Class of 2018 to be one of the most accomplished classes we have ever brought together, as well as one of the most diverse.

In your application, each of you made a strong case for yourself. Now, I want to take a few minutes tell you why Rensselaer is one of the most exciting places in the world to receive an education—and grows more exciting every year.

Fifteen years ago, we built on what was then an impressive 175-year history, to transform Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute into the world-class technological research university with global reach and global impact it has become. We wrote a plan, The Rensselaer Plan, to guide us, and then, in a highly focused manner, put in place the people, programs, platforms and partnerships that, indeed, have had a transformative effect on the Institute.

Rensselaer is the oldest private technological university in America—with a rich legacy of achievements by its graduates. In 2024, we will celebrate the bicentennial of our founding. Two years ago, we revised and refreshed The Rensselaer Plan, in anticipation this 200th anniversary.

With The Rensselaer Plan 2024, we are moving beyond transforming Rensselaer, to becoming even more transformative…

  • In the global impact of our research,
  • In our innovative teaching and learning,
  • And, most significantly, in the lives of our students.

How will we change your lives?

Here is one concrete gauge: A little over a week ago, Payscale released a report that says, in terms of compensation, Rensselaer offers one of the highest returns on investment in the nation among American private universities.

We are pleased and proud that Rensselaer graduates are in great demand in the marketplace. Yet, the financial measure of ROI fails to capture fully what makes a Rensselaer education so valuable in preparing you for interesting and meaningful lives.

At Rensselaer, we always have educated our students for intellectual agility. From its very founding, Rensselaer sent its students out into the field to gather data; into the laboratory to perform experiments; and to the front of the classroom, to offer demonstrations to their professors and fellow students.

At a moment when students at other universities were expected to sit passively on hard chairs to listen to lectures, this was a radically active form of learning. Today, the instruction here remains radically active.

You will be learning from professors whose scholarship focuses on the great global challenges regarding food, water, and energy security; national and global security; human health and the mitigation of disease; climate change, and the allocation of scarce natural resources.

Since we always have seen teaching and research as a single, linked learning endeavor—you will have the opportunity to partner with your professors in that research, or in independent study—in a continuum from the classroom, to the laboratory, to the world.

Let me offer you just a few examples of the exciting work you may engage in: As I am certain you are aware—the smartphone and the tablet are now nearly as fundamental to the human experience as food, water, and air. The social media that inform and spice up our days—and the increasing number of sensored and networked products we use—as well as massive research platforms such as the Hubble Space Telescope—together are generating a torrent of data that may help us answer great global questions—if only we can extract, from this flood, meaningful insights.

Last June, we created a Rensselaer-wide initiative—The Rensselaer Institute for Data Exploration and Applications, or The Rensselaer IDEA—to enable data-driven discovery and innovation in every field, and to prepare our students, in every major, to lead in a data-driven world.

The computational ecosystem underpinning The Rensselaer IDEA includes AMOS, the most powerful supercomputer at an American private university. The processing power of AMOS is 1.1 petaflops. In other words, it can do more than a quadrillion calculations per second—nearly 150,000 calculations per second for every person on earth. Our computational ecosystem also includes Watson, the remarkable IBM cognitive computing system that in 2011 beat the best human champions at Jeopardy!

At other universities, the computer scientists among you might never have the chance, as undergraduates, to use a supercomputer such as AMOS, or a cognitive computing system such as Watson. At Rensselaer, we encourage our undergraduates to learn and discover on our supercomputer; and to help us explore the possibilities of artificial intelligence by working on Watson. That is just how we do things here: minds on, hands on, all the way.

Health care is a particularly fruitful field for data explorations, and The Rensselaer IDEA is drawing distinguished new partners to us, including the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. Together, we are driving innovation in medicine by coupling Rensselaer’s strengths in bioengineering, the basic sciences, and all computational fields with Mount Sinai’s treasure trove of patient data, treatment modalities, and clinical experience.

This partnership is opening up exciting new educational opportunities for our students—including the FlexMed program at Mount Sinai, which allows Rensselaer sophomores to apply to medical school without taking the MCAT exam. Those admitted finish their Rensselaer undergraduate degrees, and then move directly into the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

This expands on the opportunities we already offer our students who intend to make careers in medicine. These include an accelerated seven-year Physician-Scientist Program and a Physician-Engineer Program, both offered in conjunction with Albany Medical College.

Another exciting partnership under the auspices of The Rensselaer IDEA is The Jefferson Project at Lake George. Joining forces with IBM and The Fund for Lake George, we are turning Lake George into the world’s “smartest” lake—in part, by putting in place sensors and flow-cams that monitor the lake in real time—so that we can understand and mitigate its stressors. At the same time, we are establishing a new data-driven model for environmental protection that will be applicable to ecosystems worldwide. If you intend not merely to change the world, but also to save the planet, you have come to the right place!

Our state-of-the art Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center, or EMPAC, offers another key platform to help you make new digitally-enabled discoveries. EMPAC is not only a beautiful space for concerts, movies, plays, and performance art at the cutting edge. It also is a working laboratory for data visualization, animation, simulation, acoustics, and haptics—or technologies that use the sense of touch—as well as for cognitive science, immersive technologies, and a more complete learning and cultural experience for our students. It may well be the coolest building on earth—we think so.

At Rensselaer, you can expect your education to be technology-enabled in dazzling ways, in courses such as The Mandarin Project, which uses a multi-player game, an immersive reality experience, and interaction with artificially intelligent characters to teach the Chinese language and culture.

Since we keenly are aware of the ways that the arts inform and inspire science and engineering—you can expect the arts to be infused throughout the curriculum. You also can expect—in courses such as our School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences Inquiry Courses—to consider the ethical and social implications of your field of study, whether it is architecture, business management, or aerospace engineering.

You will find exciting new academic offerings in our other schools as well, including...

  • In the School of Science, a new neuroscience concentration in our Department of Biological Sciences;
  • In the Lally School of Management, new concentrations in such cutting-edge fields as business analytics and supply chain management;
  • In the School of Engineering, for those students interested in electrical engineering applications—we have an amazing space in which to tinker, in our new Douglas Mercer ’77 Laboratory for Student Exploration and Innovation. And for those students who want to explore advanced manufacturing technologies—including robotics, 3-D printing, and virtual prototyping—we have The MILL, or our new Manufacturing Innovation Learning Laboratory.
  • Within the School of Architecture, our Center for Architecture Science & Ecology offers you the opportunity to explore radically new, more sustainable built environments. In addition to our iconic and highly ranked Bachelor of Architecture degree, we now also are offering a new B.S. in Building Sciences for those less interested in design—and more interested in the science, engineering, and management aspects of architecture.

As I mentioned earlier, Rensselaer intends to be transformative in your lives. Through what we call CLASS, or Clustered Learning Advocacy and Support for Students, we will nurture and encourage you, as you embark on every intellectual adventure. This model of college life includes both residence- and time-based clustering. Within your residences, you will receive live-in support from Assistant Deans, graduate students, and upperclassmen—as well as support from the Faculty Dean of the Residential Commons. They all work to weave together the intellectual, cultural, and social lives of our students. We also have a Dean for off-campus students, and a Greek Commons Dean for students in fraternities and sororities.

For the time-based clustering, a Class-Year Dean will be assigned to you as sophomores—with the responsibility for guiding and nurturing all of you until graduation.

With CLASS, we will help you to grow as a person and help you to become more civic-minded. We will offer you opportunities for international experiences, and ensure that you develop the multi-cultural sophistication and global view to have the kind of impact in your chosen professions we expect you to have.

CLASS begins with our award-winning First-Year Experience, which will allow you to make a smooth transition to campus life, offering you numerous opportunities to meet each other, to make friends and allies, to find the like-minded and the refreshingly un-like-minded. Rensselaer currently boasts 195 separate student-run clubs and organizations, and an entrepreneurial culture that says, “If it does not yet exist, make it.”

We have an expansive athletics program that includes 23 varsity sports, as well as 27 intramural sports, and a full 54 club sports. We truly believe in developing body, mind, and spirit at Rensselaer, which is why we built beautiful new athletic and recreational facilities at the East Campus Athletic Village, which surrounds us.

So I can assure you, you will be able to dream big at Rensselaer, and to make your dreams come true.

As you know, our motto here is, “Why not change the world?” So, if you really want to grow and have fun, if you want to be poised to change the world, come here. Come to Rensselaer.

I look very much forward to getting to know all of you better! And to the families of these remarkable young people—please, congratulate yourselves for a job well done.

Thank you.


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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Page updated: 4/7/14, 3:49 PM
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