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Envisioning 2020

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

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
Troy, New York

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Good afternoon. And, special greetings to Hartford. Thank you for coming.

This meeting provides us with a chance to talk about the achievements of the past six months, the direction of our university, and our options for the future. It is both an opportunity to recognize some of our successes and an essential reality check.

This past weekend, we celebrated Reunion and Homecoming here in Troy. Our alumni and alumnae were delighted with the changes we have made — with what they saw, heard, and experienced.

Last week, we had the chance to celebrate our legacy in civil engineering, but that celebration did not focus exclusively on the past. In fact, most of our discussion, thought, and dialogue looked toward the future and the essential role of Rensselaer in providing leadership as we take on the issues of today and the emerging challenges our society will face for years to come.

Envisioning 2020 is both necessary — so we can properly position and prepare ourselves — and difficult. When speaking about the future, there is no such thing as 20/20 vision; but some oracles have gotten enough right to improve their abilities to have positive influence. But those who are most successful at predicting the future usually work within communities that share ideas freely and respect divergent opinions.

You are a community that has what it takes to avoid dead-ends and to create new, promising pathways. The people of Rensselaer continue to come together, building off of a proud legacy and willing to evolve to stay true to the vision of our founders — even as we enter a transformed future.

I will begin by introducing our leadership team. Please stand when I call your name:

  • Robert Palazzo - Provost
  • Laban Coblentz - Chief of Staff and Associate Vice President for Policy and Planning
  • Virginia Gregg - Vice President, Finance and Chief Financial Officer
  • Eddie Ade Knowles - Vice President, Student Life
  • John Minasian - Vice President and Dean, Rensselaer Hartford Campus
  • Curtis Powell - Vice President, Human Resources
  • Claude Rounds - Vice President, Administration
  • Francine Berman - Vice President, Research
  • William Walker - Vice President, Strategic Communications and External Relations
  • Paul Marthers  - Vice President, Enrollment, and Dean, Undergraduate and Graduate Admissions
  • John Kolb ’79 - Vice President for Information Services and Technology and Chief Information Officer

A few of the Cabinet members are not able to be with us today. They are:

  • Charles Carletta - Secretary of the Institute and General Counsel
  • Brenda Wilson-Hale - Vice President for Institute Advancement

Ms. Wilson-Hale was Chief Executive Officer of the Washington State University Foundation. She has over two decades of experience in higher education fundraising and alumni relations.

Academic Deans:

  • Professor David Rosowsky - Engineering
  • Professor Evan Douglis - Architecture
  • Professor Wayne Gray - Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences (Acting)
  • Professor Iftekhar Hasan - Lally School of Management & Technology (Acting)
  • Professor David Spooner - Science (Acting)
  • Prabhat Hajela - Professor of Aerospace Engineering

Vice-Provost and Dean of Undergraduate Education

  • Stan Dunn - Vice Provost and Dean of Graduate Education

I will also take this opportunity to introduce a number of new staff hires, who are pivotal to our success:

  • Larry Chambers – Director/Financial Aid
  • Todd Schill – Dean, Residence Life
  • Kelli Hudson – Asst. VP Finance & Controller
  • Matt Hunt – Associate Dean, Greek Life

We have a new Director of Public Safety, Mr. Roger Johnson.

The only way Rensselaer can provide the leadership that our vision promises is through the actions of effective, dedicated, and talented people.

Each year, Rensselaer recognizes a member of our university’s staff who understands our mission and history; has been a role model for other employees; has shown concern for students and their welfare; has added to the human dimension of the University; and, who has played an active role in his or her own home community.

Last month, we celebrated Ed Staats, manager of design and construction in campus planning and facilities design with The Pillar of Rensselaer Award, the highest honor Rensselaer gives to a staff member. Ed has been on the staff of Rensselaer for 30 years. Ed’s words are an inspiration, and they demonstrate why he deserved this honor.

He said, “I strive to do everything I can to care for Rensselaer and the community through the wide range of projects that come my way. I really enjoy being of service to others. Being part of the RPI community has given me a chance to make a difference in the lives of others, and, hopefully in the long run, to have made a small change in the world through the students who have graduated over all these years.”

Ed is with us this afternoon. I would like him to stand so we can show him our appreciation.

So, if you want to see the future, look around. The people who will create the world of 2020 are here.

Now, 2020 is a long way out, so you cannot look only at the obvious. You need to stretch your antennae up and find those weak signals. You need to take things that do not seem to fit together and see how they connect.

As we look and plan toward 2020, there are a few things we know. There are a few at which we can only guess.

As computer scientist Alan Kay has said, "The best way to predict the future is to invent it."

That is what we are doing here at Rensselaer.

We have programs that are aimed squarely at the future, and we are addressing the greatest global challenges, and seizing the biggest opportunities — all energized by the terrific minds gathered here at this special place.

Our growing reputation, along with the resources that now are available, has attracted world-class faculty who are daring and able to reach into new areas of knowledge, and to take on the toughest challenges our society faces. As a consequence, the students we are attracting are the most accomplished and select in the history of the Institute.

The challenges of our time — energy, the environment, creating an innovation economy, and more — require that we join diverse talents and disciplines to create or discover the entirely new, (usually) the unexpected, and sometimes the profound.

This, I believe, will be the basis for Rensselaer leadership in the world as we go forward.

This is what I shared with our alumni and alumnae in my State of the Institute message last weekend during Reunion and Homecoming.

The reputation of a great university depends upon its faculty, its students, and, in particular, its graduates. And as a technological research university, our pursuits, our choices, and our interests always have addressed the challenges and opportunities of our times. So we measure ourselves against our effectiveness in responding to the issues of our day — our effectiveness in opening up new vistas of knowledge, and contributing to solutions and progress — through scientific discovery and technological innovation — and today, through their marriage with the arts.

This approach is building an enviable reputation and global presence for Rensselaer, that brings people with skill, talent, and influence to our university: students, faculty, staff administrators, and alumni/ae. People recognize that when something is done here, it is done with intelligence and innovation, and that this is where the action is.

We continue to stretch our students, to encourage them to reach beyond supposed limits. Our selection process for admission is finely tuned toward identifying students who can and do meet the challenges that our educational approach puts before them. It is not accidental, then, that our retention rates are among the highest at top-tier research universities.

For the Class of 2014, the average SAT is 1360, up 40 points from 2005, and up nearly 80 points from 2000. The 25th to 75th percentile range is 1280–1450, up from 1220–1420 in 2005, and up from 1180–1370 in 2000. A total of 65 percent of this incoming freshman class were in the top 10 percent of their respective high school classes.

We have experienced an explosion of interest and applications. In 2005, we had 24,211 freshman inquiries. For the Class of 2014, this number more than quadrupled to 107,693.

In 2005, we had 5,570 applications for freshman admissions. For this fall’s class, the number more than doubled to 13,465 — and we continue on that rising trajectory.

So, we are more selective than ever, but we also have learned how to assist our students in ways that deliberately develop and create successful individuals, and global leaders.

As you may know, we have launched Clustered Learning, Advocacy, and Support for Students (or CLASS). CLASS represents a transformational change in the undergraduate experience. It provides students with a sense of belonging and develops them as leaders throughout their years at Rensselaer.

With CLASS, there is both residential clustering and time-based clustering, as students progress with their entering class through Rensselaer.

The residential clusters (or Commons) have live-in Commons Assistant Deans (who are student life professionals), as well as upper-class undergraduate and graduate student assistants, living in the residence hall clusters. We, also, have begun to put into place Faculty Deans who are tenured professors living in university-owned houses near the residential commons.

The Faculty Deans of the Commons are responsible for the overall leadership in stimulating the intellectual, cultural, and social life of students in the residential commons.

Similarly, we have extended our award-winning First-Year Experience, to phase in a Sophomore Year Experience, in which all sophomores will live on the Troy campus, or in fraternities or sororities that meet stringent university standards, and that have signed a Greek Commons Agreement with the Institute.

As part of CLASS, with respect to time-based clustering, we have created Class Deans, who will take over each rising sophomore class from the Dean of the First Year Experience. The Class Dean will work with a given class until it graduates. The focus will be on leadership experiences, mentoring, counseling, learning assistance, career planning, and social and cultural activities. In short, the Class Deans are class advocates, and are the connectors and facilitators for that class with all aspects of the Institute, and beyond. They will partner with the Dean of Undergraduate Education, the Faculty Deans of the Commons, the live-in commons Deans, the Dean of Students, and others, to transform the student experience.

Two new residence halls offer expanded living options under the CLASS initiative. Blitman Commons, located at the foot of The Approach, offers juniors and seniors the opportunity to live in downtown Troy. The new Polytech Commons, at Congress and 15th Streets, provides another new, close-to-campus option for upper-class students.

Both Blitman and Polytech Commons have live-in Commons Deans. As well, we have made additions to Crockett Hall and Hall Hall to create apartments for two live-in Commons Deans in our main undergraduate residential area.

We recently appointed Dr. Jeff Trinkle, Professor of Computer Science and Director of the Computer Science Robotics Lab at Rensselaer, to the newly created position of Faculty Dean of the residential commons. In his new role, Dr. Trinkle serves as an academic resource for living and learning communities and theme houses. He also works to create new opportunities for faculty involvement and student learning outside of the classroom. He is the father of a Rensselaer alumnus. And he is passionate about student learning and development.

The residential program elevates the quality of support for undergraduates, providing them with a greater sense of community and belonging, and ensuring that every student receives the best counseling, mentoring, and personal attention possible.

By definition, we have powerful electronic social networks, but, critically, we also have in-person encounters that include shared meals, common programs, guest speakers (including soon-to-be-appointed Faculty Fellows), special trips, counseling experiences, and more. Face-to-face experiences, inevitably, create relationships that lead to friendships — that last a lifetime.

Athletics are part of our taking on challenges, too. Mind and body and spirit make the person. Therefore, we take very seriously our scholar-athlete model. We seek excellence in all that we do, and athletics is no exception. For 16 consecutive semesters, Rensselaer student athletes have had higher Grade Point Averages than the student body in general.

There is evidence that our athletic program is coming into its own. In 2008, two Rensselaer student-athletes won rookie-of-the-year honors. In 2009, that number increased to three. Last year, we captured a lion’s share: Rensselaer student-athletes won 10 rookie-of-the-year awards. Across these same years, we have seen our share of National All-Americans go from one to five to six. NCAA tournament berths have gone from two to three to four.

Our community is stimulated by sharing a campus, sharing academic goals, and sharing experiences, and participating in or attending hard-fought games. We join together both peer-to-peer (students building relationships with students, and faculty with faculty), and “inter-“ in a variety of forms: inter-disciplinary, inter-generational, inter-cultural, and, as I will share with you later, inter-national.

In addition to the achievements of our alumni/ae, our reputation rests in large part on our faculty, and their achievements in teaching, research, and public service.


We are attracting and appointing superlative research-oriented faculty and a new generation of leaders. I will introduce those who have joined us most recently, as well as several of our own who have accepted new positions.

I would asked that those new faculty who are here with us today to please stand.

Both the quality of its members, and the endeavors of our faculty, gives us much to celebrate, and I would note a few faculty achievements from the past year.

In work that was described as “breakthrough,” a team of Rensselaer researchers, led by Dr. Xi-Cheng Zhang — director of our Center for Terahertz Research and Head of the Department of Physics, Applied Physics, and Astronomy — opened the way for detecting hidden explosives, chemical or biological agents, and illegal drugs from a distance of 20 meters. The new  system — using terahertz (THz) wave technology — has great potential for homeland security and military uses because it can “see through” clothing and packaging materials, and can identify the unique THz “fingerprints” of hidden materials.

THz “fingerprints” show exactly which compound or compounds are being hidden, a capability that is expected to have multiple important and still-to-be-discovered uses. In the event of a chemical spill, for instance, remote terahertz sensing could identify the composition of the toxic mix. Since the sensing is remote, no individuals would be needlessly endangered.

In another arena, Dr. Jonathan Dordick, Dr. Ravi Kane, and their research groups developed a coating that safely kills the bacteria — methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) — on contact. These bacteria can cause life-threatening infections. Building on an enzyme found in nature, the researchers created a nanoscale coating for surgical equipment, hospital walls, and other surfaces — that safely eradicates MRSA. In tests, 100 percent of MRSA in solution were killed within 20 minutes of contact with a surface covered with latex paint laced with the new coating.

The Tetherless World Research Constellation received particular notice last spring when the open government Website, “data.gov,” celebrated its first anniversary. U.S. Chief Information Officer Vivek Kundra called the creation of data.gov “the birth of a community of innovators” and praised Professor James Hendler, specifically, who, with his fellow professors and students, has been using “Semantic Web” technology as a powerful new approach to analytical research, exploiting the vast amounts of information available from data.gov.

These achievements both are sources of pride, and pointers toward the future of Rensselaer. If we want to know what shape our intellectual landscape will take, we need only look at the interests and actions of the people who are on our campuses. But these achievements also beckon others to Rensselaer — people of promise, people with lively imaginations, and people who choose to lead. We are fusing the elements of something new, something of great power.

The Terahertz Center is one of many new centers that have been created at Rensselaer in critical areas — making our university the nexus of important collaborations among government, industry, and leading academic institutions. Another center, now in development, is the Center for Cognition, Communication, and Culture.

As we experience every day, we live in a time of social networks, online identities, and mobile technology that keep us immersed in data and information. These place before us critical opportunities and challenges, which include:

  • Interactivity with/through virtual and augmented reality environments — for individuals and groups.
  • Cognition and learning in blended environments — in fields such as language acquisition and linguistics.
  • Virtual teaming and deep collaboration.
  • Etiquette, cues, nuance, and context for trust and understanding, especially within social media.
  • Best practices for remote learning — linked to augmented reality/ virtual environments.
  • Connecting the dots for security — drawing important clues form massive amounts of online information.
  • Authentication and validation of information.
  • Engaging the forgotten with new technologies.
  • Information hygiene.

Failure to understand and confront the challenges inherent in this list has consequences in potential antisocial behaviors within Web-based communities, vulnerability to cyberwarfare, and the propagation of rumors that shape (and even distort) policy, politics, and social dynamics.

But what we may learn here also brings great opportunities for new kinds of education, for understanding complex group behavior, for synthesizing complex information through human/computer complementary systems, for using augmented reality for better real-time decision-making, and for modeling, simulating, and testing both technological and social solutions to problems and challenges, with fewer costs and side effects.

I will add that we explored the possibilities of Cognition, Communications, and Culture by bringing together a diverse group of individuals from across the Institute — from different disciplines and schools — for a structured brainstorming session called a charrette.

We expect that our work in this new Center and its use of EMPAC studios will give us new ways to teach language in culturally augmented contexts, while studying cognition and learning

The Cognition, Communications, and Culture Center will complement our Social and Cognitive Networks Academic Research Center (SCNARC), which is supported by the U.S. Army, and which has been created to take advantage of opportunities emerging from the growth and adoption of Web-based social networks. These networks provide rich traces of data about participants’ activities without requiring personal, direct contact.

Exploring these kinds of social networks, and the technologies and behaviors that govern their dynamics and evolution, are the subject of SCNARC’s research. The Center’s current work focuses on the fundamental science of networks and its applications — ranging from military to industrial to personal. The Center is led by Professor Bolek Szymanski, Claire & Roland Schmitt Distinguished Professor of Computer Science.

As I am sure you know, the building in which you sit, EMPAC, provides a powerful symbol for the promise of working at the nexus of science, technology, and the arts — as well as being a platform for realizing that promise. We have been building our programs at this nexus in recent years, and it is paying off.

One example is our Games and Simulation Arts and Sciences (GSAS) program. Now, when we talk about “gaming,” we mean everything you might expect with regard to video games, but we also mean “serious games” that relate to disaster modeling and mitigation. We mean tools for homeland protection and national security. We mean explorations into how people learn and how the brain operates.

In March, the Princeton Review saluted the 50 best undergraduate institutions in the U.S. and Canada that have studies in game design. The publication named eight programs for top honors as the “best of the best.”  They ranked our program number five nationally.

More recently, Pauline Oliveros, Research Professor of Music, was presented with the Columbia University School of the Arts William Schuman Award. The Schuman Award honors the lifetime achievement and lasting significance of a contemporary American composer. Oliveros is the first woman to win this Award, and a special concert paid tribute to her pioneering work in electronic experimental music, and celebrated her varied influences.

This is particularly exciting in the light of what we are seeing from the students who are interested in Rensselaer. EMPAC and the achievements of our faculty have attracted them with the possibility that they can come here and blend their artistic and scientific selves. They understand that we are interested in educating the whole person. Toward bringing this forward, we now are investigating the expansion of the music minor at Rensselaer.

Partnerships are key to this concept of building upon our legacy and our present to create a community that can change the world. Engagement with those who are beyond the limits of our physical campuses has much to offer our students and faculty.

For one thing, partnerships help us to develop the social consciousness of our students. This occurs through activities that give back. One that has been part of the agenda for all members of our family — students, faculty, alumni/ae, and staff — has been science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, or STEM, education. I am sure all of you know about the crisis we face in the United States as we lose a generation of scientists and engineers to retirement, and we do not see their numbers being replaced by future generations. STEM outreach to younger students continues to be important at Rensselaer.

One of the highlights of our STEM initiative came earlier this year when Dr. Ron Eglash in Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences (HASS) was awarded a $2.9 Million NSF grant to support STEM Research. This money will support the development of his project, named “The Triple Helix,” which is dedicated to producing “civic scientists.” The grant will fund up to eight graduate fellows from Rensselaer who will focus on STEM research projects related to community-based issues including health, the environment, poverty, crime, and information access within the Capital Region.

While I am on the subject of research grants, I will mention that Rensselaer faculty were awarded 256 grants, and have increased research awards to nearly $90 million in the past year — a record level, an 18% increase over the previous year, and more than double that of ten years ago ($37 million). We are on the way to $100 million — a key research funding threshold in the Rensselaer Plan, and we will not stop there.

Another aspect of looking outward is our REACH program.

It stands for “Rensselaer Education Across Cultural Horizons.” The program already has sent cohorts of engineering students to study for a semester in Denmark and Singapore.

Rensselaer is a global enterprise. Those of you who were able to attend the Colloquy celebrating the 175th Anniversary of our Civil Engineering program know this.

Our alumni/ae have, since our earliest days, built roads, bridges, and tunnels in South America and Asia, not just the United States. These achievements, which include involvement in the surveying for, and completion of, the Panama Canal, have given us a foundation and the perspective that continues today. REACH is all about making sure that our students are ready to think and work globally by giving them experiences in some of the most exciting international venues. This cross-cultural fusion, if you will, has led to our having sophisticated graduates who are sought after by businesses and governments worldwide, and who are ready to take their places on the global stage.

We continue to look outward. Recently, we have been building connections with universities in Africa. We have signed Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs) with Stellenbosch University in South Africa, and Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in Ghana. In all, we have MOUs with 22 universities in 12 countries.

By the way, Troy, frankly, already has a global stage, quite literally, here at Rensselaer. Earlier this year, Douglas Trumbull, who did the special effects for 2001: A Space Odyssey, spoke here at EMPAC. A world master of the viola, Garth Knox, entertained us last November. Michael Ondaatje [on-DAHT-chee], Booker Prize-winning author of The English Patient, also spoke here. We also have heard the Steve Lehman Octet, and, next month, the Argento Chamber Ensemble will present a composition for chamber orchestra performed in, and between, complete darkness.

Last May, we also had four outstanding Commencement Honorees participate in the President’s Commencement Colloquy. They were:

  • Neil deGrasse Tyson, who directs the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, and is host of the PBS program, “Nova ScienceNOW.”
  • Robert S. Langer, Institute Professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a prolific inventor and a leader in biomedical engineering, and a member of the Institute of Medicine, the National Academy of Sciences, and the National Academy of Engineering.
  • Harold E. Varmus, the former President of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, who, until recently, served as co-chair of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, and this past summer was named by President Obama to head the National Cancer Institute. He, too, is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the Institute of Medicine, as well as recipient of the 1989 Nobel Prize for his research on the genetic basis of cancer.
  • And economist Peter R. Orszag, past director of the Office of Management and Budget, and former member of President Obama’s cabinet.

All of these individuals are “world class.”

What we have accomplished and all that we continue to do are garnering Rensselaer the attention and respect it warrants.

In May, BusinessWeek ranked the Lally School of Management and Technology number one in Corporate Strategy and number six in Quantitative Methods, as part of its annual report on “Best Business Programs by Specialty.”

Rensselaer also was named one of the most environmentally responsible colleges in the nation, in The Princeton Review’s Guide to 286 Green Colleges. Sustainability continues to flourish at Rensselaer, whether in research on “Built Ecologies,” in Environmental Engineering, in a new academic minor in “Sustainability Studies,” or in multiple efforts to reduce energy consumption, improve recycling efforts, and raise awareness of sustainable “best practices.”

Next week, we will launch a new sustainability initiative — an “Energy Conservation and Awareness” pilot project. This initiative will be led by a combination of students, staff, and faculty. At the pilot stage, it will focus on six buildings: the Walker Laboratory, the Mueller Center, the Rensselaer Union, the Jonsson Engineering Center, Blitman Commons, and EMPAC.

You will notice that a variety of buildings have been selected for this pilot stage, with different occupancy rates, different types of uses, and different “biorhythms,” so to speak. Each of these buildings is fitted with meters that can give specific feedback to residents on day-to-day energy use. Each building will have one or more “sustainability advocates” — individuals who live or work in these buildings, and who can remind other occupants of practices that can help them to live or work more sustainably.

Overall guidance and oversight will be provided by the Administration Division, selected faculty, and the Student Sustainability Task Force. Student teams will undergo training to perform “sustainability audits” of each of these buildings, to augment understanding of what might be done better.

Of course, this does not mean that, if you live or work somewhere else on campus, you are “off the hook” in terms of practicing sustainable living. What we hope is that we will learn best practices from this initiative, which we then will expand to develop an Institute-wide effort.

Rensselaer is once again one of the top 50 national universities in the United States, according to U.S. News & World Report’s August ranking of the “Best Colleges” in the country. The latest ranking continues our more than decade-long ranking in the top 50 national universities, and extends a steady rise in position from 49th in 2000. Rensselaer came in 41st overall in the category of “Best National Universities,” up from 42nd last year — matching our highest ranking ever.

As part of a new area of rankings, U.S. News surveyed high school counselors across the U.S. for the first time, seeking their opinions on best colleges. In that new ranking, Rensselaer placed 35th nationally, an important indicator of the value these counselors place on a Rensselaer education. In other areas, Rensselaer also was ranked among the top 50 national universities for “A Great School at a Great Price.” Finally, Rensselaer placed among the top National Universities category for “Highest Retention Rates.”

The reputation we have built led, this past summer, to our participation at many levels at the meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in China.

The influence of the World Economic Forum on global policy and business and government strategic planning is well known. Rensselaer had a prominent place in the so-called “Summer Davos” (Meeting of New Champions), which was held in Tianjin (China) in September (2010). Professor Jonathan S. Dordick led a session titled “Rensselaer IdeasLab: Bio-Inspired Approaches to Sustainability.” Dr. Dordick discussed “Biocatalysis for Our Sustainable Future.”  He was joined by Professor Angel Garcia, who spoke about “Deciphering Biological Functions Through Computation,” Professor Ravi Kane, who took on the topic of “Bio-Inspired Therapeutics,” and Professor K.V. Lakshmi, who addressed the subject of “Bio-Inspired Solar Energy.”

I might add that Ecovative Design, a company founded a few years ago by two Rensselaer students (now graduates), was also there to present an IdeasLab — invited as one of 31 young companies identified by the World Economic Forum as emerging global leaders. The company uses mushroom-based technology (with special enzymes) to grow new materials.

I, as well, had a number of roles in Tianjin, including moderating a session on “Next Generation Infrastructure.” In addition, I participated in a ministerial level meeting on innovation, and served on two panels — one on “Business-University Partnerships,” and another session entitled “What If the U.S. Remains in a Jobless Recovery?” For the past three years, I have participated in the WEF meeting in Davos, Switzerland, and have been invited to do so again in January, 2011.

While in Asia, I also signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Korean Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST), a leading Asian university, which will lead to greater collaboration in the areas of chemical and biological engineering, and biotechnology. One of the most thrilling experiences was meeting with Rensselaer alumni/ae in Beijing. Sixty of our graduates attended a special presentation I made. They had produced a special video about what their Rensselaer education has enabled them to do, and their passion and commitment to our university was truly astounding.

What I have been describing is the kind of university that we are meant to be, the kind we all can be proud of. We build on the greatness of our past to create our future. Excitement is part of daily lives because the people, the resources, the programs, and the venues are in place to support breathtaking new enterprises and astute new inquiries. This is the Rensselaer all of you love — that we love, re-imagined for the 21st century: vibrant, engaged, relevant, and leading the way.

But, in a sense, none of this is unexpected. Our history always has been about engaging with and leading the world. In the 1900s, Benjamin Franklin Greene fused scientific study with engineering at Rensselaer — which led to innovations that shaped nations and reinvented approaches to education. It is why we are called a polytechnic institute. Palmer Ricketts saw the need to expand into new disciplines as well, including architecture. The issues, challenges, and opportunities before us continue to influence our development because we continue to be drawn to addressing “the common purposes of life.” It is what pulls us, inexorably, into the rich endeavors that will change the world.

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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