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Accepted Student Celebration Welcome Remarks

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

Accepted Student Celebration
Alumni Sports and Recreation Center (Armory)
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, New York

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Good morning.

As President, I am very pleased to welcome all of you to the Troy campus of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. This is a day which is devoted especially to you — a celebration of your acceptance to Rensselaer, and a day when you begin to discover what makes this a special place.

There is much to discover, here — too much to explore fully in a single day. But, we will show you some highlights of this truly 21st century university.

But, before I delve into the highlights, I want to set Rensselaer into an historical context for you.

Rensselaer is the oldest technological university in the nation, created 184 years ago. The school is anchored by two vibrant roots:

  • One root, written into the school’s founding documents, is “...the application of science to the common purposes of life.” This kept the focus on engineering solutions to national, and even international, needs and challenges. Rensselaer graduates constructed the canals, roads, bridges, sky scrapers, and basic infrastructure, among many things, which formed the basis for 20th century society. They did this not only in this country, but around the world, and especially in Latin America — including saving the Panama Canal when the French enterprise faltered. As a result, they changed the world.

  • The second root, also built into the school’s origin, was the employment of unique educational strategies. In the earliest days, after initial instruction, students taught what they knew to each other — since teaching reinforces learning. Likewise, students performed scientific experiments — rather than watch faculty conduct them, as had been the common practice.

At the time, these concepts were considered revolutionary — unique and distinguished from all others.

One hundred and eighty four years later, these ideas still form the foundation of Rensselaer education, and their lineage continues to unfold.

The engaged approach to discovery and problem-solving continues to be our signature. The Rensselaer challenge — “Why not change the world?” — acknowledges that the “common purposes of life” now include challenges that transcend geographic boundaries. Today’s challenges encompass environmental sustainability, infectious disease, terrorism and other security concerns, energy security, water purity, and more. Today’s iteration of the Rensselaer learning tradition reaches deeper, now, with intentional multidisciplinarity and interdisciplinary research. It extends to powerful new experiences at the intersection of science and the arts, and the creation of human-scale immersive environments as tools for research and learning. It is reaches farther, evolving deliberately to take on global perspectives.

Today’s revolutionary educational methods include multidisciplinary design studios where undergraduates solve real engineering challenges in partnership with some of the world’s largest, most innovative companies. It includes a strong emphasis on undergraduate research opportunities, with top faculty program investigators. It includes highly interdisciplinary Design, Innovation, and Society programs which engage students in the design of new products, services, and media — while considering the social needs and environmental concerns of the 21st century. Rensselaer education strategies emphasize discovery, invention, innovation, and venture. It incorporates one of the nation’s first business incubators, where fledgling enterprises are nurtured to successful businesses. Our expanded opportunities to study abroad offer you more opportunities for unique learning.

Rensselaer undergraduates routinely develop new technologies which can make a difference in the lives of peoples around the world. Examples include:

  • the Sun-Sac, an inexpensive device which uses solar energy to purify water for a family of six;

  • an organic, biodegradable insulation made of water, flour, minerals, and mushroom spores;

  • a Haitian medical-clinic created from a shipping-container.

Rensselaer undergraduates have had their research published in top scientific journals, and vie for a spectrum of awards and prizes, including the Change the World Challenge and the prestigious $30,000 Lemelson-Rensselaer Student Prize.

Rensselaer students are learning how to change the world, one invention at a time.

What kind of people come to Rensselaer?

  • J. Erik Jonsson, Class of ’22, founded Texas Instruments, which produces analog technologies, digital signal processing, and microcontroller semiconductors, and a host of familiar applications and products;

  • Ray Tomlinson, Class of ’63, invented the “@” sign — for e-mail, now a universal Internet protocol;

  • Ed Zander, Class of ’68, is retired Chairman and CEO of Motorola, and, also, a Rensselaer Trustee;

  • Myles Brand, Class of ’64, is President of the NCAA, and is, also, a Rensselaer Trustee;

  • Sean O’Sullivan, Class of ’85, started a global software company, a rock band, and a recording studio. To broaden his reach, he got an MFA in Film Production, and began producing documentaries. While covering the Iraq war, he founded JumpStart International to help rebuild Iraq and the Gaza Strip. He, now, has formed a company that uses mapping technologies to seek new sources of fresh water for the global population.

  • Tyler Hinman, Class of ’06, who graduated two years ago, won his fourth American Crossword Puzzle Tournament title in a row just last month.

I could go on and on.

What do others say about us?

  • Rensselaer was named one of the nation’s “New Ivies” by Kaplan/Newsweek — with first rate academic programs that rival the Ivy League.

  • BusinessWeek named our undergraduate business school — the Lally School for Management and Technology — the best in the nation in the area of corporate strategy, and among the top 10 in quantitative skills. The Lally School ranked 26th overall in the nation among the magazine’s 2008 list of top 50 undergraduate business programs.

  • BusinessWeek, also, named Rensselaer among the 60 “most forward-thinking design schools” in the world.

  • While you, of course, are about to begin your post secondary academic program, it does not hurt for you to know that U.S.News & World Report ranks our graduate programs in engineering and the fine arts among the best in the nation.

Those are just a few of our plaudits.

More importantly, we have created a very specific undergraduate plan tailored to the needs of smart young people. What does the Undergraduate Plan really mean for you?

It calls for challenging, engaging, and highly relevant academic programs, combining theory and experiential learning. This means that you will acquire grounding in the fundamentals of your chosen field, and, in addition, you will have the opportunity to participate in meaningful research, under the leadership of some of the finest faculty researchers.

In the past seven years, we have engaged in unprecedented faculty hiring, which has lowered the undergraduate student-faculty ratio. This extraordinary record is strengthening traditional disciplines, allowing us to branch into new arenas, and seeding new ideas, new academic offerings, and new research thrusts. You will study with, and work alongside, world-class and award-winning faculty. And, I am sure that they will learn from you, as well.

Our talented faculty members are driving a research renaissance in leading-edge areas such as biotechnology and the life sciences, nanotechnology, computational science and engineering, the very crucial area of sustainable energy security, the environment, and media and the arts, while maintaining excellence in our historic strengths.

To give our talented faculty members and our talented students the best research tools in the world, we have invested in three new, world-class facilities.

Three years ago we completed the Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies (CBIS). Its core research facilities contain laboratories for molecular biology, analytical biochemistry, microbiology, imaging, histology, tissue and cell culture, proteomics, and scientific computing and visualization. The Center, also, contains an 800 MHz Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) spectrometer, and the computing and visualization infrastructure needed to model molecular structure at the atomic level.

Last summer, we inaugurated the Computational Center for Nanotechnology Innovations (CCNI). This is the 12th largest in the world, and the most powerful university-based supercomputer. This incredible facility recently made comparisons between carbon nanotubes and copper nanowires, bringing academia and the semiconductor industry closer to realizing carbon nanotube interconnects, and to alleviating the current information flow bottleneck, which limits the potential of computer chips in everything from personal computers to portable music players.

The same supercomputer is enabling Artificial Intelligence researchers, here, to create a ‘virtual’ four-year-old boy capable of reasoning about his own beliefs and to draw conclusions, possess memories, believe or want things, and to remember. These developments could enable artificial agents to be genuine stand-ins for human beings or autonomous intellects in their own right.

Now, add to these two stellar research facilities — the Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies and the Computational Center for Nanotechnology Innovations — yet a third: next fall, we will open the Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center, or EMPAC. This totally unique structure will house a concert hall, a theater, two black-box studios, rehearsal and dance studios, artists-in-residence studios, and several post-production studio spaces — and even this description does not do it justice.

With this facility, Rensselaer takes a bold step toward harnessing the power inherent between art and science — which largely has remained unexplored. It creates a powerful, technology-rich environment for you and for our faculty, which offers unique, experimental, experiential, and research opportunities to create the entirely new.

EMPAC will open next October, with three opening weekend celebrations highlighting, first, ARTS, then SCIENCE and TECHNOLOGY, and finally CAMPUS COMMUNITY — with elements of each interwoven throughout. The final week will be fall family weekend — so, parents, you will have the opportunity to participate in the EMPAC opening, as well. I promise it will be interesting.

With these sterling facilities, as well as others, what kind of research goes on here? A few resent examples include the following:

  • Researchers, here, have developed a new way render harmless dangerous proteins such as anthrax toxin, using nothing but light;

  • Others have developed the darkest manmade material — an array of carbon nanotubes that absorbs more than 99.9 percent of light and could boost solar energy conversion;

  • Another team has created a computer algorithm that can trace the genetic ancestry of thousands of individuals in minutes, without prior knowledge of their background;

  • An interdisciplinary group has made a nanoengineered battery — a lightweight, flexible energy storage device that can function as both a high-energy battery and a high-power supercapacitor, yet could be mistaken for a simple sheet of black paper;

  • Others have made a carbon nanotube block which could create effective and powerful pressure sensors able to detect very slight weight changes.

Because your undergraduate years are about growth and about becoming confident, mature global leaders, you will have expanded opportunities to study abroad.

Starting next year, Rensselaer is beginning the bold and unique step — again derivative of our origins — which eventually will see all engineering students participate in an international experience. Yesterday, we launched REACH — the Rensselaer Engineering Education Across Cultural Horizons program. REACH is an ambitious, forward-thinking endeavor which, eventually, will provide every Rensselaer undergraduate engineering student with an international experience. These may be formal study abroad programs — such as those facilitated through our partnership with Technical University of Denmark, Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, and future partners. Other enterprising students may seek out their own experiences, such as international internships, overseas research fellowships, or through programs such as Semester at Sea.

REACH will kick off in the next academic year with 25 percent of engineering juniors participating. That percentage will increase gradually through 2015, when REACH will be fully implemented — and, ultimately, it is expected to encompass all undergraduates in all other disciplines and departments.

This builds upon our long-standing Architecture semester abroad in Italy, Turkey, China, and next year — India.

An international experience is important to prepare tomorrow’s leaders with the global perspective, multicultural sophistication, and nimble creativity needed to tackle the grand challenges facing humanity in the 21st century.

At Rensselaer, we have a special focus on student life, including enhanced residence life, academic, and social support. We have initiated a new residence life model — Clustered Learning, Advocacy, and Support for Students or “CLASS” — and which provides for the guidance and academic progress of all Rensselaer students, and for the support and development of community, regardless of whether students live on or off campus.

Residence Cluster Deans will live in the residence halls, and facilitate living and learning communities, providing outreach, and counseling, as well as experiential and community development programs.

Associate Deans for Off-Campus Student Living, and Fraternity and Sorority Affairs, will ensure that residence life programs and services are readily available to all Rensselaer students.

Undergraduate Class Deans will create sustained pathways for personal growth and academic progression. They will facilitate affinity group development and class identity. Each class will be assigned a Class Dean beginning with the sophomore year.

Your first experience will be this summer, with our national award-winning First-Year Experience — a series of experiential endeavors which create a welcoming atmosphere and help to make every new student feel part of the Rensselaer community — from the moment you first step onto the Troy campus.

Your first days at Rensselaer are spent in Navigating Rensselaer and Beyond, which offers you a host of options, from outdoor adventures, to cultural, artistic, recreational, entrepreneurial, and mind-expanding experiences that are fun and challenging — that help you become more familiar with your new university, your classmates, and the Greater Capital Region. This programming continues throughout the year, with comprehensive academic and personal support and counseling programs right in your residence halls.

While your academic work will keep you very, very busy, you, also, will have the opportunity to choose from among more than 160 clubs, sports, and organizations, to explore your interests — and to start new ones through the Rensselaer Union.

More than 5,000 students participate in intramurals, club, and recreational sports — from swimming to tennis to sailing to skiing — and beyond. We have 23 varsity teams for men and women — including two Division I programs in men’s and women’s ice hockey.

To accommodate the needs of all of our athletes and scholars, we are building the East Campus Athletic Village, which will include a football field with a 5,000 to 7,500-seat stadium, a gymnasium seating 2,000, a natatorium with an Olympic-sized pool, and a field house for indoor track and field, and other indoor sports. We are expanding the Houston Field House to accommodate offices for women’s and men’s ice hockey, and will finish construction of Phase 1 by September.

We, also, offer a strong Greek Life program, community service opportunities, social and cultural events, and a growing number of spaces on campus in which to gather with friends, or to plug in your laptop and get some work done while sipping a latte. For example, you can connect to the campus network at the Java ++ café — just down the street, at the Union, or at other cafes located around campus. And, you should know that Rensselaer is ranked among the Top 25 “Most Connected Campuses” in the country in The Princeton Review’s 2006 survey. The Princeton Review merely reflected what we here know already — mobile computing and connectedness is a way of life at Rensselaer.

This is a culturally rich and intellectually diverse campus and region, with music, drama, dance, and art abounding. It is multi-ethnic and multi-cultural.

We have extended invitations to you to become part of the Rensselaer tradition — and its future — because we believe you are the best of the best. As talented, smart, and interesting young people, you can find your heart’s desire — and your inspiration — right here at Rensselaer.

Indeed, the future is created here — you create the future here. And so the real question you will want to answer, as you explore Rensselaer, today, is —

  • — what will you build?
  • What will you innovate?
  • What will you discover?
  • What entrepreneurial venture will you initiate?
  • What future will you make here?
  • And, how can we help you?

I look forward to welcoming you to Rensselaer this fall — at the beginning of your remarkable journey with us.

Enjoy your day.

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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