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2012 Annual Retiree Day Luncheon

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

Russell Sage Dining Hall
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
Troy, New York

Tuesday, October 2, 2012


Good afternoon. It is always my pleasure to welcome our retirees back to Rensselaer. This luncheon is an important tradition—important, because it offers you, our retirees, an opportunity to remain connected to the university that benefited so much from your efforts, and, because it gives those of us still here on a day-to-day basis an opportunity to benefit from your support for, and your loyalty to, the Institute.

We are fortunate to live in a time when retirement can mean new beginnings, fresh starts, even daring new adventures. This enriches your post-retirement years, but it also makes the time we share even more engaging and valuable. I am gratified to see so many of you here today.

In her sixties, the venerable American actress Helen Hayes wrote, “If you rest, you rust.” She herself devoted nearly 70 years to her stage career and, then, in retirement, became a speaker and activist on behalf of the elderly. In the last of her memoirs, she wrote, “People who refuse to rest honorably on their laurels when they reach ‘retirement’ age seem very admirable to me.”

I concur with that sentiment and applaud your continuing, forward-looking involvement in the life of this great university, and its role in the world.

And, especially, I want to thank you for your service to Rensselaer. You represent the solid platform from which Rensselaer continues its upward trajectory. Many of you are acquainted intimately with our achievements over the past decade; many of you made essential contributions to those achievements. So, let me tell you a bit about the progress your work has enabled.

Because discovery and innovation are the forces that power education, I will begin with just a few examples of how work at Rensselaer is being noticed on the world stage.

In January, at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos, Switzerland, I was honored to lead Rensselaer’s first IdeasLab there. Representing one of only 11 universities in the world invited to present at the forum, I was joined by three of our distinguished professors:

  • Dr. Jonathan Dordick – Director of the Rensselaer Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies, and the Howard P. Isermann ’42 Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering. In September, Dr. Dordick was appointed Vice President for Research.
  • Dr. Richard W. Siegel – Director of the Rensselaer Nanotechnology Center, and the Robert W. Hunt Professor of Materials Science and Engineering, and
  • Dr. Boleslaw Szymanski – Director of the Social Cognitive Networks Academic Research Center, and the Claire and Roland Schmitt Distinguished Professor of Computer Science.

Our topic was entitled “Concept to Commerce With Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.” Each of our professors provided vivid presentations of our achievements in their fields. Their work is the fruit of what we have put into place to enable truly world-changing research. The World Economic Forum recognizes that we are doing something special here. In fact, they specifically asked me to discuss how the transformation of Rensselaer has fueled the development of ideas that move from the laboratory into commercial applications, leading to technological and other advances that improve our lives.

I spoke about the decade-long transformation of Rensselaer, under The Rensselaer Plan, into a fully realized, national research university, of international reach, that has enabled path-breaking research in emerging areas.

Vital work in one of these emerging areas— the application of stem cells to address critical injuries and diseases—is taking place at Rensselaer in the new Center for Stem Cell Research funded by New York State, and officially launched in June. This new center complements stem cell research sponsored by New York and the National Institutes of Health that was already in progress at Rensselaer. Due to our commitment to biotechnology -- which began over ten years ago -- Rensselaer researchers are able to link engineering with the life, physical, and computational sciences in ways that allow us to explore exciting new possibilities in understanding fundamental processes in living systems, and in developing new diagnostic technologies and therapies to mitigate disease and human suffering.

In another example of groundbreaking research that flourishes in a cross- and multi-disciplinary environment, Rensselaer will launch the new Center for Cognition, Communication, and Culture (CCC) on November 13.

Work in this center, with a locus in the Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center, brings together investigators from across the Institute in research areas, such as:

  • cross-modal displays (which seek to employ all human senses in understanding and exploring data),
  • synthetic characters (such as work with interactive narrative and embodied conversational agents), and
  • augmented reality (data overlaid on the real world as related, for example, to computer vision and to the use of narrative and gaming theory in research and education).

To support this third area, the CCC will host a new Emergent Reality Lab—a large-scale CAVE Virtual Reality System. The system will be located in the Rensselaer Technology Park and support immersive video and audio projection.

Associate Professor of Architecture Jonas Braasch chaired the Center for Cognition, Communication, and Culture Planning Group that is responsible for bringing together researchers from such seemingly diverse arenas as the arts, design, science, engineering, humanities, and the social sciences to meet current social and technological challenges at the intersection of the cognitive, cyber, and physical worlds.  Professor Braasch has been named as the first director of the Center for Cognition, Communication, and Culture.

These and many other enterprises have had, and will continue to have, a dramatic impact on how Rensselaer is perceived.

For example, The Princeton Review, an educational services company, featured Rensselaer in the 2013 edition of its annual college guide, The Best 377 Colleges.

The detailed profile of the university included student comments such as:

  • professors at Rensselaer are “passionate about teaching,”
  • “my professors in my direct major are extremely hands-on and discussion-based,”
  • “you can be anyone you want – the kid who sword fights with his friends in the Quad, or an avid musician who has a 4.0 GPA,”
  • “even the humanities at RPI are laced with the sweet smell of science,” and
  • “extracurricular activities are balanced alongside the classes, labs, homework, and studying.”

In a “Survey Says” sidebar in the book's profile on Rensselaer, The Princeton Review lists topics that Rensselaer students were in most agreement with. The list includes: “lab facilities are great,” “great computer facilities,” and “students are happy.”  These comments give a real sense of the Rensselaer experience for our students today.

The industry-focused web site Business Insider ranked Rensselaer fourth on its list of the “World’s Best Engineering Schools,” based on surveys of engineers, professionals, and entrepreneurs working at leading technology companies.

For the sixth consecutive year, undergraduate programs in the Lally School of Management and Technology placed Lally among the top 50 business schools by Business Week, with the Rensselaer programs in Corporate Strategy and Quantitative Methods ranked second in the nation, and Entrepreneurship ranked at number 6.

And, at the end of August, a special report released by the editors of Wall Street & Technology—Wall Street’s Top Technology Schools of 2012— named Rensselaer one of the industry’s five favorite schools for hiring computer professionals and engineering graduates.

I could go on and on. Suffice it to say, the world-class research conducted at Rensselaer, and the wide-reaching acclaim for its educational programs, its faculty and students, and its alumni and alumnae, tell the story of the strong Rensselaer presence across multiple sectors – nationally and globally and, have attracted yet another stellar incoming class.

For seven consecutive years, Rensselaer has set records for freshman applications. This year, the Office of Undergraduate Admissions received a record total of 15,223 freshman applications.

The members of the incoming Class of 2016 show great promise, with an increase in average SAT scores, and more than 100 receiving a perfect 800 SAT critical reading or math score. In addition, three students scored 1600, and two students received a perfect 2400 score. Sixty-six percent of the students are coming from the top 10 percent of their high school classes.

This high-achieving group of 1331 freshmen includes:

  • 371 women, representing 28 percent of the class,
  • a near-record number of underrepresented students, totalling 13 percent of the class,
  • and continued geographic and international diversity.

Our graduate applications have increased as well, to reach 4,355, the highest level in ten years, with those applying presenting ever more outstanding credentials.  We welcomed 531 new full-time graduate students to Rensselaer this fall.  Overall 2000 new students entered Rensselaer this fall.

Equally important as attracting new students is our ensuring their success once they arrive. Here again, Rensselaer excels. With a broad array of award-winning student life programs such as Navigating Rensselaer and Beyond, the First Year Experience, and CLASS (Clustered Learning Advocacy and Support for Students), Rensselaer has succeeded in achieving a nearly perfect first-to-second semester retention rate, and, as noted, evokes very positive responses from students to surveys such as that conducted by The Princeton Review.

I am sure you can see your own fingerprints on many of the initiatives I have mentioned today—or see how your efforts have undergirded them, or other, equally impressive accomplishments.

And so, once again, I thank you for your contributions to what Rensselaer is today, and what it will become in the decades ahead. And, I thank you for your interest and attention. Please enjoy the rest of the 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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