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Reception for Parents of First-Year Students

“A Moment of Great Anticipation”

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

Great Room, Heffner Alumni House
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, NY

Tuesday, August 20, 2013


Good afternoon. As President of Rensselaer, it is my pleasure, and my honor, to welcome you, and your students, into the Rensselaer family.

We are filled with great anticipation as we set off on a new academic year with this new class filled with intelligent, engaged, and talented men and women.

We have an extraordinary entering class. Besides having young people of great intellectual aptitude, we have accomplished athletes, established entrepreneurs, outstanding musicians, Eagle Scouts, and Girl Scout Gold Award Winners among our incoming freshmen.

I congratulate the parents, guardians, friends, and family members who have done so well in encouraging, guiding, and caring for the talented young men and women who make up the Class of 2017. I appreciate the trust you have placed in us, as we assume our roles in preparing them to be productive citizens, scholars, innovators, and 21st century leaders.

Over a dozen years ago, we created the Rensselaer Plan, a document that has guided the transformation of this university, and has allowed the Institute to realize its full potential as a world-class technological research university.

As you have toured the campus, I hope you have gotten a chance to visit or revisit the remarkable platforms created under this plan:

  • the Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center (EMPAC), which is building unique bridges between the world of art and the world of science and technology;
  • the Computational Center for Nanotechnology Innovations (CCNI), where we have created one of the world’s most powerful university-based supercomputers to undergird cutting-edge research, support academic endeavors, and allow industries to benefit from advances in computation and data-driven innovation; and
  • our Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies (CBIS), a crossroads for research that is unlocking the processes of life, radically transforming the tools at our disposal in medicine, agriculture, and sustainable energy.

Of course, the Rensselaer Plan has provided for more than the construction of new facilities. We have hired over 300 outstanding new faculty members, and we have enhanced our support of students in ways that develop the whole person.

But we only have just begun. In the last academic year, we refreshed our plan in advance of the 200th anniversary of Rensselaer in 2024. The Rensselaer Plan 2024 recognizes opportunities and strengths that have emerged since the original plan was created, and it builds upon that plan in ways that provide a foundation and direction for the coming years.

The refreshed plan renews the university’s commitment to the strategic focus of the original plan, and underscores the Institute’s distinguishing strengths in interdisciplinary inquiry and research, interactive learning, and entrepreneurship.

While the Rensselaer Plan was primarily about transforming Rensselaer, the Rensselaer Plan 2024 is about establishing Rensselaer as a truly transformative force as we continue to reach beyond our campuses. We are a university that is transformative…

  • in the lives of our students,
  • in our pedagogy,
  • and in the global impact of our research.

The original plan had a primary focus on our students. With our Clustered Learning, Advocacy, and Support for Students—or CLASS, we are going even further in combining academic and student life, and fostering a strong sense of community that supports the whole student. The Rensselaer Plan 2024 aims to provide even more opportunity for unique student experiences, with co-curricular programs that bring together our rigorous intellectual challenges within a nurturing environment.

Rensselaer student clubs and organizations have activities that support CLASS in its six target areas—personal, professional, leadership, and cultural development, as well as good citizenship within both the campus community and neighboring communities.

Our goal is to develop well-rounded, engaged, mature thinkers and innovators who are intellectually agile, and who possess the multicultural sophistication to become transformative forces across the globe.

We can provide the rigorous preparation a new generation requires only if we continue to push the boundaries of pedagogy, and expand our curricular offerings and opportunities—including new majors, and new partnerships such as with Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, with new B.S./M.D. programs, and summer internships.

Rensselaer pioneered the studio classroom early in its history, and, in the 1990s, brought team-based learning to our students. These were groundbreaking approaches, and the Rensselaer Plan 2024 commits us to creating the next revolutions in teaching.

These include the gamification of courses, the mixed reality classroom, and interaction with artificially intelligent synthetic characters.  All three of these approaches are coming together, initially, in a course called the Mandarin Project, which uses a sustained multiplayer narrative to teach the Mandarin language and Chinese culture.  The Mandarin Project will move into our new Emergent Reality Lab, a massive mixed reality space, and it ultimately will include synthetic characters arising out of Rensselaer advances in artificial intelligence and cognitive modeling. The Mandarin Project is only the first step in the use of gamification, immersion, and artificial intelligence in teaching and learning.  We also are incorporating data-driven online strategies into the residential living/learning environment—in ways that will deepen cognitive abilities and accelerate learning.

As your students build their knowledge and skills, they will become involved in research. The Rensselaer Plan 2024 identifies a broad matrix of interconnected global challenges that Rensselaer research will address, including mitigating disease, developing new sources of renewable energy, providing clean water and food, applying new technologies to manage the explosion of data, creating advanced materials that impact energy and health, and establishing a sustainable and resilient infrastructure. 

The research, pedagogy, student support, and formal structures outlined in the Rensselaer Plan 2024 undergird and encourage work across disciplines. Please familiarize yourselves with the new Plan.

Ever since the original Rensselaer Plan was created, we have, through investment, recruiting, and organizational changes, sought to support deeper collaborations across our campuses, and with partners worldwide. Given the complexity of the challenges our world is facing, new answers only can be discovered and enacted with the participation of people in many fields. The intellectual framework within academia in general, with its emphasis on separate departments and discipline-specific languages, will be examined with fresh eyes as we work toward unprecedented collaboration.

I will note one more way we will prepare the Class of 2017 to be 21st century leaders. We have a number of programs for Rensselaer students at the Archer Center for Student Leadership Development.

The Center plays an important role in helping Rensselaer students make the critical transition from the classroom to the next phases of their lives. It enhances civic skills through a variety of cutting-edge, interactive learning experiences and programs that include:

  • Adventure-based initiatives
  • Corporate training techniques
  • Team development
  • Visioning
  • Effective communication
  • Ethical decision-making
  • Diversity and working in a global workforce
  • Emotional Intelligence (EQ)

Among their offerings is Emerging Leaders, a program specifically created for freshmen. The program is co-facilitated by the Office of the First-Year Experience and provides first-year students with an opportunity to develop foundational leadership skills and knowledge.

Your students already are familiar with the Office of the First-Year Experience from their orientation programs.

The adventure will continue this week with Navigating Rensselaer and Beyond. After a floor meeting this afternoon in their residence halls, our freshmen will enjoy a barbeque tonight, before setting out tomorrow morning for an array of outdoor adventures and team-building activities, cultural and historical experiences, science investigations, musical and artistic ventures, community service opportunities, and just plain fun. Our goal is to help entering students establish satisfying and long-lasting connections with one another, the Institute, and the surrounding communities. We also intend that they learn more of the history, geography, and culture of the greater Hudson-Mohawk region, the Rensselaer role in it, and the great university lineage of which they now are a part.

My favorite activity will occur on Friday afternoon, when I will shake the hand of each new student, and extend my personal welcome to the Rensselaer family in an event we call WelcomeFest.

Although you will be home by the time we have WelcomeFest, I am going to remain here today after my remarks—to welcome you, in part to emphasize that you are an important part of our community, with a critical role in supporting your student’s success here at Rensselaer.

As part of that responsibility, I invite you to be active in our Parents of Rensselaer organization. The group will help you guide your student in his or her adjustment to college life. At the same time, you will find support as you adjust to changing family dynamics. I encourage you to take full advantage of all that this organization has to offer. Use it to keep yourselves informed of what is happening on campus and to learn about ways that you can stay connected to your son or daughter. And allow the professionals in the Office of the First-Year Experience to serve as your advisors and advocates.

I look forward to meeting you this afternoon and during the coming years. And, I hope to see you back in Troy for Family Weekend on October 18th to 20th.

We thank you for sharing your precious children with us.  We take very seriously our responsibilities to nurture them and help them to grow into the fulfilled, accomplished professionals you wish them to become.  We are committed to doing our very best to take good care of them.

Once again, welcome to the Rensselaer family. Please enjoy the remainder of your afternoon.


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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