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50th Annual Faculty Recognition Dinner

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

Heffner Alumni House Great Room
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, New York

Tuesday, May 7, 2013


Thank you, Dr.Hajela.

And I thank, as well, our faculty. This has been a wonderful evening, and I am delighted to have shared it with you. What is abundantly obvious to me is that Rensselaer would not be the top-tier, world-class technological university that it is without your talents, dedication, generosity, and support. So it is, indeed, a great privilege to recognize and to honor you this evening.

Because of you, Rensselaer continues to grow and to thrive. In three short months, we will welcome the Class of 2017. We received a record-setting number of freshmen applications for this class—16,132 to be exact, which is six percent ahead of last year. Indeed, this is the eighth consecutive year that we have set records for freshmen applications. Based on deposits so far, our yield is up, and we will have a bumper Class of 2017—in numbers and in academic achievements—including further elevated SAT scores.

Likewise, I am happy to report that in fiscal year 2014, we will recruit up to 60 tenured and tenure-track faculty, including nine Constellation hires, spread across all five academic schools.

And, as you know, earlier this year we recruited a new “colleague” to our ranks—one that goes by the name of Watson. I am speaking, of course, of the IBM Watson computer. Rensselaer was the first university to receive such a system. The addition of this powerful cognitive computing capability, together with much more high performance computing power,  and massive data storage capability, combined with our research strengths, will enable you and our students to address more fully the global challenges facing humanity. It would not be an exaggeration to say that its arrival heralds a new age of vast, promising research opportunities.

In fact, this is a particularly appropriate time to talk about the dawning of a “new age” at Rensselaer. There are always pivotal moments in history, which we all recognize, when our nation, or the world, has embraced new endeavors and bold new directions. I think, for example, of the Civil Rights movement, and the Space Race, and the dawn of the Information Age. Likewise, each of us has key defining events in our own lives, when something happens that propels us forward, and we must adjust our direction, or chart a new course.

And so it is for our university. In 2024—a mere 11 years from now—we will celebrate our bicentennial, a landmark if there ever was one. It seems fitting then that this year, which happens to mark another landmark—the 50th anniversary of our Faculty Recognition Dinner—also marks a pivotal time in the history of our Institute, and the beginning of a new era, if you will. I am referring to the unveiling of our refreshed and updated Rensselaer Plan: 2012-2024.

Our updated Plan prepares us to shift gears as we approach our 200th anniversary. While the Plan ensures that we will continue to evolve and to grow, it is no longer about just transforming Rensselaer. It is about building upon what has already been accomplished, and establishing Rensselaer as a truly transformative force—in the lives of our students, in our pedagogy, and in the global impact of our research.

You were a key part of the process of creating our updated Plan, and I would like to take this opportunity to thank you, again, for your input. Academic excellence lies at the heart of our university, and an integral element of this—as the updated Plan emphasizes—is our innovative pedagogy. Rensselaer always has been known for pioneering groundbreaking approaches to teaching. The refreshed Rensselaer Plan will take us further, creating the next revolution in learning.

New immersive environments—such as the multiplayer and mixed reality classroom—are becoming the new reality here. EMPAC and our new Emergent Reality Laboratory in the Rensselaer Technology Park will enable more students to engage in interactive, digitally enhanced learning environments more ambitious than anything to date, with implications across our entire curriculum.

Likewise, cyber-enabled discovery, which makes use of our mobile computing platforms and new web-based collaborative and search tools, will engage our digitally sophisticated students in new ways. This, in turn, allows our faculty to create new paradigms for learning—modalities that blend the critical inquiry of the Socratic method with the self-learning and research enabled by  Semantic Web search capabilities. Some of you might have attended our 13th Annual Colloquium on Teaching and Learning, entitled “Innovations in eLearning: MOOCs and Beyond,” held last month in our Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies, which explored some of these new online modalities in greater depth.

I am excited that Rensselaer is on the cusp of an ambitious new academic era, one that builds upon the momentum we have generated since we launched the original Rensselaer Plan. You are a huge force in that upward trajectory.

It is hard to predict what Rensselaer, and the world around us, will look like 11 years from now, at our bicentennial. I think it is safe to say that it will be different—bigger, with greater global impact. Your involvement is critical to making Rensselaer a transformative force on a global scale. Indeed, our faculty always has been a key force in charting our path into the future. We are grateful for your role in this transformation, and I thank you deeply for being part of this exciting journey.

Allow me, once again, to congratulate all of you for your dedication to teaching, your passion for discovery, and your commitment to Rensselaer, and to our students.

Thank you, and please enjoy the rest of the evening.


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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