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20th Anniversary Gala and Lifetime Achievement Award

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

100 Black Men of Albany
The Desmond, Albany, New York

Friday, April 26, 2013

Good evening. I am deeply honored to receive the Lifetime Achievement Award from the 100 Black Men of Albany. You are men who have made important and lasting contributions in service to our community. Because of you, the people of the Capital Region are empowered to make their lives better. You have donated your talents, skills, and resources to improve the living conditions of our neighbors through enhancements to housing, employment, public safety, education and health. And, as needed, you have provided a voice for those who otherwise would not be heard.

In particular, you have provided guidance to some of our most “at risk” young men—those who are inmates and those involved in the Family Drug Court. You have established several programs designed to build capability with computers. And I am delighted to hear that, this fall, you will be organizing college students to tutor young people in the STEM disciplines.

Equally importantly, you model what success means—for our young men, for our communities, and for the greater Capital Region—indeed, for the world.

As I look around, I see men who have significant professional accomplishments. As businessmen, scientists and engineers, public servants, ministers, teachers, and community leaders, you have demonstrated how hard work, perseverance, and ingenuity can make a difference. So, in addition to the many ways you “give back,” you serve as examples for rising generations to look up to and emulate.

I also note that your visible contributions represent a small fraction of what you do on a day-to-day basis—in mentoring, creating opportunities, networking; and in sharing time, energy and resources—with no expectation of recognition. You do all these things because you are men of character, working to make a difference.

I am proud to be associated with you. This award is special for me because of who you are, and what you do—as individuals and working together.

But, even after two decades of work—and far more by some who heard the call for service before this organization was founded, the need for people of dedication and action continues.

As you know, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute is within the city of Troy.

Some think of Troy as a classical “post-Industrial” city that has lost its economic base.  What I see, and what we, at Rensselaer, see is a city with a storied history and legacy, beautiful architecture, interesting and creative people—a city that is home to major educational institutions, from Emma Willard and Russell Sage College, to, of course, Rensselaer.  We see a city of rising entrepreneurs, artists, small business owners and educators—a city on the move.

We are committed deeply to our neighbors. For over a decade, we have worked to revitalize the area through hiring and buying locally, encouraging our faculty and staff to live nearby, and situating university offices downtown. We have taken a direct hand in refurbishing houses, and building houses.  We have partnered with regional developers to renovate and repurpose historic buildings, such as the Chasan Building—home to our Institute Advancement organization—and to build new housing for our graduate students in Troy. 

This is all part of what we call Communiversity.” It extends to the encouragement we provide for students to both enjoy and serve the local community, and for those founding start-ups based on innovation at Rensselaer to locate nearby. 

And, of course, our 1250-acre Rensselaer Technology Park is home to over 60 primarily technology-based enterprises, including some that have come out of our incubation program.

In addition, every year we host our Annual Black Family Technology Awareness Day, a special outreach to our young people in the Capital Region. We just celebrated the 15th anniversary of this event, which always is well attended.

Many of the children who visit us have not considered the possibility of careers in science and technology. Their eyes are opened to the excitement and potential. And, since family members also attend, we help to ensure that they get the encouragement and support they need at home.

This event holds a special place in my heart, both because of the thrill I see as the students are introduced to fields that are a big part of my own life, and because I am aware of how vital it is that black students of talent and ability are invited to participate.

We also have Lego Robotics programs in the local middle schools targeted to excite young people about technology in a hands-on way.  We also have members of our community who devote countless hours to tutoring and mentoring local school children.

Three, who play direct roles in all of these initiatives, are with me this evening—my husband, Dr. Morris Washington, Professor of Practice in Physics at Rensselaer and Associate Director of the Center for Materials, Devices and Integrated Systems, who works with his fraternity, Alpha Phi Alpha, on many worthy endeavors, and supports all of our work at Rensselaer; Dr. Tim Sams, our Vice President for Student Life; and Mr. James Spencer, Director of Real Estate and Director of the Rensselaer Emerging Ventures Ecosystem.

For many years, I have worked to help government officials, educators, and community leaders appreciate how acute our need is to develop the next generation of scientists and engineers. We face what I call a “Quiet Crisis” as an older generation—many drawn to their professions by a vibrant space program and targeted government investment—retires. We need American children to fill these jobs.

In fact, as technology more and more dominates our economy and security, our future depends upon having the human capital to drive it. The traditional sources of scientists and engineers—are shrinking. We do attract talent from abroad, but we cannot depend upon that alone. We need to invite, excite, and prepare our young people to become scientists and engineers—and that includes everyone—women and minorities, what I call the “underrepresented majority.”

Each of us has a role to play to make this happen. Some of us, as parents and educators, have direct influence on the next generation. Those of us in science and technology, obviously, can act as mentors and advisors. But we all can have effect.  We can redouble our efforts to improve K-12 education, especially in critical reading skills and mathematics.  Everyone can encourage investment in research and higher education so that those who begin on the path can continue on to have vital careers. Together, I believe we have the ability to solve the “Quiet Crisis,” and I welcome your participation.

Once again, thank you for the recognition you have accorded me. I am extremely proud to be so honored.

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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