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Renaissance at Rensselaer: The Campaign for Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

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

Fall 2004 Town Meeting
Darrin Communications Center
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, New York

Thursday, October 28, 2004


View the Video


Good afternoon. Thank you for coming. Greetings to our colleagues at Hartford, who are watching via simulcast, and to those who are watching the Web cast.

This is an extremely exciting time at Rensselaer. Within the two months, we welcomed to the campus the members of the Class of 2008, and new faculty and staff for the fall semester. We cut the ribbon to open the Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies. And, we announced a historic $1 billion capital campaign and celebrated a major gift — $40 million — from Curtis Priem, Class of 1982, one of our outstanding alumni. In fact, there have been so many positive developments, that it is difficult to know where to start.

So, let us begin by talking about the Renaissance at Rensselaer: The Campaign for Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, because it is one of the most important endeavors that we are undertaking today, and, ultimately, because it will have the most far-reaching impact on this university, its students, faculty, and staff, and the future of this proud institution.

We launched the public phase of the capital campaign with a gala at the Alumni Sports and Recreation Center, on September 10th. And we pledged at the end of that remarkable evening that we would carry our campaign to our alumni throughout the United States and to Asia, and beyond. So far we have traveled to New York City and Hartford, Connecticut, to inform and enlighten our alumni about the Renaissance at Rensselaer and its impact on education and leadership on our campus, and its importance to discovery, invention, and innovation, and their impact on the national and global community. We will be in Boston next week, where trustee Claire Fraser ’77, President of The Institute for Genomic Research, will join me on the platform.

To illustrate to our alumni the energy and inspiration that undergird our campaign, we have been showing them a video that captures the events and excitement of early September, when we hosted a Council on Competitiveness regional innovation summit on our campus, held a thought-provoking biotechnology symposium and a presidential colloquy featuring world-renowned scientists, and launched our ambitious, $1 billion campaign.

The campaign, which runs until the end of 2008, will support the Rensselaer endowment, faculty, students, and campus infrastructure — i.e., the people, programs, and platforms that are propelling Rensselaer to the top tier of research universities in the country. This campaign is unprecedented in Institute history, and it places Rensselaer with 22 other elite U.S. universities involved in $1 billion campaigns. Another 17 universities have completed $1 billion campaigns. To date, our effort has raised more than $615 million for Rensselaer.

But before I speak further about developments at Rensselaer and the campaign — and your important roles in it — I want to introduce the campus leaders who are helping to drive our transformation.

Allow me to introduce, first, the members of the President’s Cabinet who are present this afternoon:

Dr. G.P. “Bud” Peterson, Provost

Mr. Charles Carletta, Secretary of the Institute and General Counsel

Mr. David Haviland, Class of 1964, Vice President of Institute Advancement

Mr. John Kolb, Class of 1979, Chief Information Officer

Mr. Curtis Powell, Vice President for Human Resources

Mr. Claude Rounds, Vice President for Administration

Ms. Virginia Gregg, Vice President for Finance

Dr. Eddie Ade Knowles, Vice President for Student Life

Dr. Cynthia McIntyre, Chief of Staff, Assistant Secretary for the Institute, and Associate Vice President for Policy and Planning  

Dr. Wolf Von Maltzahn, Acting Vice President for Research (represented by Ken Gertz, Assistant Vice President for Research)

Mr. Larry Snavley, Vice President for Government and Community Relations

Our academic deans include:

Dean John P. Harrington, School of Humanities and Social Sciences

Dean Joseph Flaherty, School of Science (represented by Associate Deans Sam Wait `53 and David Spooner)

Dr. Lester Gerhardt, Acting Dean, School of Engineering

Dr. Iftekhar Hasan, Acting Dean, Lally School of Management & Technology

Dean Alan Balfour, School of Architecture (represented by Professor Frances Brunet)

Others leaders include:

Mr. Mark Smith, Dean of Students

Dr. Tom Apple, Vice Provost and Dean of Graduate Education

Mr. Ken Durgans, Vice Provost, Institute Diversity

Mr. Ken Ralph, Director of Athletics

Ms. Karen Long, Acting Dean of Enrollment Management           

We also have some new department chairs.

For the School of Humanities and Social Sciences, Dr. Sharon Anderson-Gold, professor of science and technology studies (STS), is now chair of the STS department. She has been a Rensselaer faculty member for nearly 25 years, specializing in applied ethics and social and political philosophy.

Ms. Kathy High, associate professor of video and new media, has been named chair of the Arts Department. For more than 20 years, she has specialized in documentary and experimental video, focusing on medical ethics and women’s health issues, and she has taught at several universities, including Princeton and Cooper Union.

The Chemistry Department also has a new chair, Dr. Linda McGown. She comes to Rensselaer from Duke University. Her research spans the areas of analytic chemistry, bioanalytical chemistry, environmental analysis, and biotechnology.

We also have added people and positions that are helping Rensselaer to manage and advance our remarkable growth. Mr. Walé Adeosun has joined Rensselaer as treasurer and chief investment officer, a newly created position. Mr. Adeosun is facilitating the management of Institute assets and liabilities, including the endowment and pension plan investments, and other financial capital assets. He previously was with the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, where he was responsible for $1.5 billion in U.S. equities investments and the marketable alternatives program.

Ms. Denise Clark joined us in August as the director of the Office of Research Administration and Finance. In this role, she is responsible for the oversight of all the administrative functions associated with sponsored research. She comes to Rensselaer from Cornell University, where she was director of the Office of Sponsored Programs.           

I also want to recognize the newest Pillar of Rensselaer, the highest honor bestowed on a staff member. This year we honor Ms. Katrin Wesner, administrative manager of the Student Health Center, for her untiring commitment to the health and well-being of Rensselaer’s students.           

While I am on the topic of people, I would like to remind you of two exciting upcoming events:

Next Wednesday, November 3, Dr. Mae Jemison, the founder of two technology companies, and the first African-American female astronaut to travel in space, will give the keynote address at the “Women of Diversity Entrepreneurship” Conference. This event is sponsored by the Severino Center for Technological Entrepreneurship at the Lally School. The conference begins at 9 a.m., here in Darrin Communications Center, room 308.

Then, on Thursday, November 11, Mr. Frederick W. Smith, founder, chairman, president, and chief executive officer of FedEx Corporation, will deliver a Presidential Lecture, at 3:30 p.m., in the Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies. Mr. Smith is the recipient of the 2004 William F. Glaser `53 Rensselaer Entrepreneur of the Year award. His lecture is titled “Challenges of Businesses Competing in the Global Marketplace.”

I encourage you to attend both events — they are sure to be fascinating and thought-provoking.

Now, I would like to give you a brief overview of campaign priority needs.

For the people of Rensselaer we have determined the following needs:

  • Constellations  in biotechnology;  information technology;  arts and media; and innovation and entrepreneurship
  • Faculty chairs, and
  • Scholarships and Fellowships.

For our programs:

  • Academic programs and curricula,
    li>Research centers and programs,
  • EMPAC, arts, and media programs, and
  • Student life, including the First-Year Experience (FYE), athletics, leadership, and pipeline programs. 

And, for Rensselaer’s platforms:

  • Capital facilities, including the
    • East campus athletic facilities,
    • Student residences, as well as other student life facilities,
    • Information infrastructure
    • Campus renovations, and
    • Gifts-in-kind of priority equipment, hardware, and software.

Our needs are many, and varied, and they extend throughout the Institute, here in Troy, and on our campus in Hartford. However, students remain at the center of the campaign for Rensselaer. We must keep uppermost in our minds that what we do at Rensselaer touches and changes lives. We must do all we can to provide the best possible programs, facilities, and living experience for our students. We must offer an education that addresses the mind, body, and spirit, and that includes the scientific, the technological, the entrepreneurial, and the artistic.  This is how we will attract, retain, and educate the most talented students: Rensselaer can and should be a first-choice school for the very best students.

The Class of 2008, for example, has an average SAT score of 1320. Sixty-three percent were in the top 10 percent of their class. These achievements reflect the overall profile of our students, who are talented, multi-faceted, and very smart. In the past six years, SAT scores for incoming students at Rensselaer have jumped more than 60 points.

The Class of 2008 also has the largest number ever of Rensselaer Medal winners. These new students also set a record in the number of Rensselaer legacies — students who have family connections to other Rensselaer graduates. In addition, this class has helped to make the undergraduate student body more diverse geographically, culturally, and ethnically.

Meanwhile, Rensselaer continues to attract highly talented graduate students who are arriving with higher and higher GRE and GMAT scores. And they are winners of prestigious awards, including three Fulbright Scholars who have entered this fall. We have seen a 44 percent jump in the number of those studying at the Ph.D. level, and our full-time residential graduate program at the Troy campus has reached slightly more than 1,150 students.

When students arrive at Rensselaer, they benefit from the First-Year Experience (FYE) program, including Navigating Rensselaer and Beyond. FYE is in its fourth year, and it continues to expand its mission and outreach. The goal for FYE programs and activities throughout the first year is to ensure the smoothest possible transition for new students into all aspects of the Rensselaer experience. These programs include counseling, academic advising, and various experientially-based learning opportunities. And FYE now includes graduate students.

Rensselaer continues to enhance its academic support programs. A computer-based “early warning” system now is in place to identify, and to get help for, students whose performance is faltering. This system goes hand in hand with an increase in counseling resources available to students. And, to provide yet more support and advisement, some graduate students and upperclass students reside in undergraduate residence halls, where they serve as learning assistants.

I have spoken in past town meetings of residence hall renewal. Let me give you an update. We have invested substantially in these projects over the last several years. As a result, renovation and upgrade of all of the freshman residence halls is complete, and work now is underway to renovate the upperclass residence halls. On-campus apartments are being upgraded (work to upgrade apartments at Stackwyck and RAHP A is completed), and a major renovation to Warren Hall is complete. We have landscaped the freshman quad, and made major upgrades to the Commons Dining facility. We also are developing off-campus graduate residences beginning with a building we purchased on Peoples Avenue, which borders the north part of the campus.

Also enhancing student life is the new comprehensive student services center, which is located in the extensively renovated Academy Hall. The building is home to the student health center, the Dean of Students Office, and the Office of the First-Year Experience. By next semester, it also will house Financial Aid, the Bursar, Registrar, and the Archer Center for Student Leadership. And right across from Academy Hall, on 15th Street and College Avenue, is the site of a coffee house/café that is scheduled to open in January. This is part of the effort to provide a place where students (and non-students) can gather, relax, and socialize.

While I am speaking of the facilities and infrastructure to support student life and achievement, I want to mention that Rensselaer has been named “America’s Most Connected Campus” by the Princeton Review, which described the campus as a “technological nirvana.” This distinction reflects the Rensselaer commitment to providing students with access to sophisticated tools in a highly networked environment. Of course, we must be vigilant about keeping current with rapidly changing communications technology, and to protect privacy, and to provide appropriate security, at the same time.

We also continually examine our academic offerings to ensure they are world-class, and that they meet the needs of a changing student body — and a changing world.

For example, we are offering new Ph.D. programs in:

  • Cognitive Science;

  • Architectural Sciences; and

  • Electronic Arts (pending submission to, and approval by, New York state).

We also have instituted a new minor in game studies, which is an emerging and fast-growing field.

This fall, we introduced an innovative, first-of-its kind master’s in business administration (MBA) program, which has been developed to meet the needs of the 21st century business world. The new MBA curriculum in the Lally School of Management and Technology is built around five year-long courses called “streams of knowledge.” These courses give students critical expertise in the key areas of running and growing a successful business, including:

  • creating and managing an enterprise;
  • networks, innovation, and value creation;
  • developing innovative new products and services;
  • formulating and implementing a competitive business strategy; and
  • managing the business implications of emerging technologies.

These are the kind of innovative programs Rensselaer will continue to develop, and will be seeking support for them, and other innovative programs, in the capital campaign.           

The Education for Working Professionals program based at Rensselaer at Hartford is undergoing a transformation and has refocused its approach to build on core strengths and to develop new high-end programs for working professionals. Graduate programs are offered in the key fields of business administration, management, computer science, information technology, computer and systems engineering, electrical engineering, engineering science, and mechanical engineering. Offerings continue to grow, with a new one-year professional master’s program in computer science, and a 30-month master of business administration program.

We are continuing the facility renovations and new building initiatives for our athletics programs. Our 5,000 students playing varsity, club, and intramural sports each year deserve to have updated facilities that can accommodate these activities.

They play with pride, and for the love of their sports. But they also win championships as they excel in the classroom. I think this high level of participation and accomplishment speaks well for the type of talented, motivated, and well-rounded students Rensselaer attracts. In fact, for the past five semesters, the average G.P.A. earned by our student-athletes has been higher than for the rest of the student population. In the 2003-2004 academic year, eight were named Academic All-Americans, a total which ranked Rensselaer first among all Division III institutions, and second among all divisions nationwide.

The focus of the athletics facilities initiative is on the east part of the campus. The upgrades and renovations commenced this year, with the returfing of Harkness Field. As soon as we receive approval from the Troy Planning Board, Lower Renwyck Field will be upgraded and turfed and outfitted with new lights and bleachers. A new athletic support facility with sports training and locker rooms and a sports medicine room is planned to be built next year, as well.

Longer range, with campaign support, we hope and plan to build a true field house, which will be sited to the east of the Houston Field House. This will serve as an indoor track and field facility, and as a large gathering space for the Rensselaer community. A new gymnasium and natatorium also would be built on this part of campus.

We cannot offer a premier technological education to our students without a faculty that leads with excellence in teaching and research. Therefore, our commitment to an ambitious faculty hiring program continues. We pledged in The Rensselaer Plan to increase the faculty by 100 new positions — many of them in new fields and in targeted traditional fields. By the end of this fiscal year, we will have hired 140 new tenured and tenure-track faculty over four years — 73 of these in entirely new positions. This brings us to a total of 374 tenured and tenure-track faculty at Rensselaer (when clinical faculty are added, the total number is 460). This is significant growth, which must continue if we are to take our place among the country’s finest universities.

The constellation hiring process continues, and we anticipate their completion by the end of Fiscal Year 2005.

Our fine faculty members are bringing research support and distinction to Rensselaer as never before.

The growth in research funding is remarkable. In fiscal year 1998, we received $37 million in research awards; in fiscal year 2004, that number more than doubled and grew to almost $90 million. These awards are supporting dramatically expanded research in areas such as nanotechnology, biotechnology and biosciences, including tissue engineering and regenerative medicine; accelerated drug discovery; future energy systems, terahertz research, integrated cognitive systems, and multi-scale modeling.  

One significant measure of this growth is the increase in total research awards from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the primary sponsor of research in the life sciences. Just three years ago, Rensselaer received $400,000 in total awards from NIH. This has grown to $24 million today. Stay tuned for more growth in this area when the biotechnology center is up and running. Already, there are 47 proposals into NIH, worth $54 million.

Pioneering research by young faculty at Rensselaer continues to be recognized — and rewarded — by the National Science Foundation.

Since 2000, 27 Rensselaer faculty members have won the NSF Faculty Early CAREER Development Award, the most prestigious award given to young faculty. Our most recent winner is Biplab Sikdar, assistant professor of electrical, computer, and systems engineering, who is developing "immunization" techniques to safeguard against the spread of computer viruses.

Another prestigious accolade has been bestowed on Ravi Kane, the Merck Assistant Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering, who has been selected as one of the top 100 young innovators in technology from around the world by Technology Review, MIT’s magazine of innovation. Dr. Kane’s primary research focus is on investigating and solving problems in medicine and biology by the molecular engineering of materials and surfaces. He works in the areas of biotechnology, advanced materials, nanotechnology, and polymers.

There is also exciting growth in our research centers. For example, we are forming a new Center for Fuel Cell and Hydrogen Research. This center will focus on basic research essential to the commercial viability of fuel cells and hydrogen-related technologies. It will be under the leadership of Glenn Eisman, former chief technology officer at Plug Power Inc.  

Leading-edge research requires world-class facilities. At the heart of the Rensselaer research Renaissance is the new Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies. This building, and the research it will support, marks a new era at Rensselaer. It also stands as tangible evidence of the Rensselaer Renaissance at its best. Its “open” design will become a hub for interdisciplinary collaboration and innovation in basic research. The center’s core research facilities will house laboratories for molecular biology, biochemistry, analytical biochemistry, microbiology, histology, tissue and cell culture, material characterization, scientific computing and visualization, and the Gen*NY*sis Center for Biotechnology and Medicine. A new Center for Quantitative and Computational Bioscience also will be housed here.

Move-in started this week, and will continue over the coming months, as laboratories are fitted up with people, equipment, and furniture. When the building is fully occupied, approximately 400 faculty, staff, and students will conduct research, discover, learn, and advance our scientific understanding there.    

At this time, I would like to recognize the center’s acting director, Dr. Robert Palazzo, professor and chair of the Department of Biology, who has worked so hard and so tirelessly to help make the building’s opening a success.

While the opening of the biotechnology center has generated great excitement, we also are looking toward our next signature building for a 21st century campus. Construction on the Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center (EMPAC) is under way, and you can see the building rising and taking shape as you look up the hill from Eighth Street.

When it opens in 2007, EMPAC will enable the creative process, and support and extend the interdisciplinary manner in which Rensselaer already conducts learning and innovation. EMPAC will feature a concert hall with world-class acoustics, black-box studios equipped for video and audio production, artist-in-residence studios, and research spaces. This platform will host projects that allow faculty, students, artists-in-residence, and researchers to use the latest tools to create, to perform, to present, and to engage in scientific, artistic, and cultural discovery and technological innovation.

As the EMPAC construction continues, a black box theater is being constructed in West Hall to support emerging EMPAC programs and programs in the Arts Department. This is part of the extensive renovations to West Hall that are under way. 

There has been a tremendous amount of change at Rensselaer in the last five years — and there is much more to come. And change, as we all know, can be difficult. We are, after all, only human, and we can tend to fall back into — and cling to — comfortable habits and ways of thinking and doing. But we also possess a tremendous capacity to change ourselves and our institutions for the better. And when change breeds success, we are urged forward to greater heights of achievement.        

Consider the storied history of the new baseball world champions, the Boston Red Sox. While many believe that the famous “curse of the Bambino” (when Babe Ruth was traded to the Yankees) has prevented the team from winning a World Series title since 1918, other less superstitious baseball experts and fans attribute this lack of success to a decades-long resistance to institutional change. With a parochial owner and management in the mid-20th century, the Red Sox fell behind through a series of misjudgments, as the team did not take advantage of, among other things, the expanding talent pool brought about by integration in baseball and changes in the wider society. The Red Sox focused on recruiting players whose skills were narrowly well-suited only for Fenway Park. The team passed on the opportunity to sign Jackie Robinson and Willie Mays. It was the last team in Major League Baseball to integrate in 1959. And because of this unsettling history, no African-American free agent signed with the Red Sox until 1992 — 15 years after the beginning of the free-agency system.

But, today, we can see a different team — diverse racially, ethnically, and athletically — and winning the 2004 World Series.

This kind of dramatic change does not happen overnight, as any long-suffering Red Sox fan will tell you, nor is it easy. But it does begin with a simple decision: the commitment to be the best. We made this decision with the creation of The Rensselaer Plan, and we are taking that commitment a step further with this campaign. The success of the campaign will accelerate the full implementation of The Rensselaer Plan, expand the resource base, and help to secure the financial foundation of the Institute for years to come.

You play key roles in making this campaign a success. While the Rensselaer community will benefit directly from the campaign, you, the members of that community, also are the ambassadors for our vision — and the embodiment of our common purpose: to change the world for the better. You are enabling this remarkable success, and making possible the great leaps forward taken by this 180-year-old institution.        

Let me quote here from Trustee Curtis Priem. He said at the kickoff gala, where he announced his $40 million extraordinary gift: “The power to change Rensselaer — and through the university’s work, to change the world — is in your hands, in my hands, in our hands. And the time is now to make the investment.”  

Of course, a campaign is about dollars and cents, and I encourage you strongly to make your own financial investment. I also urge you to continue to invest your time, your energy, your talents, and, yes, your genius, to this institution. This campaign cannot go forward — and succeed — without the excellence you bring to all that you do everyday.

Rensselaer is a force of hope in this uncertain and tumultuous time. In an increasingly complex world that demands new solutions and new ways of thinking, Rensselaer has been at the leading edge of pedagogy, and is strengthening its pedagogy, as it is emerges as a leader at the forefront of discovery and innovation — the twin engines of our global economy and the basis for progress and advances to benefit people around the world. We must seize this opportunity — this moment — to claim a pre-eminent place for Rensselaer in a new world. I am glad we all are together on this remarkable journey.


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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