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Rensselaer Town Meeting Address

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

Rensselaer Town Meeting
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, New York

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

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

The word, renaissance, as I expect you know, means — literally — a “re-birth,” a revival. In history’s recitation, the Renaissance refers to the three centuries between the 14th century and the 17th which led civilization out of the Middle Ages [when the church was the sole authority] to the Modern era. During those transitional centuries, thinkers and intellectuals rediscovered their roots in the classics-especially the Greek heritage which held that there was something noble about man that must lead him to rise above irrationality and chance. They reaffirmed the classic notion that mankind need not live in passive dependence upon the unknown and unknowable, but, rather, that human intellect enables the construction of a civilization that can counteract the dark forces of nature, giving mankind control over his destiny.

The Renaissance was a vibrant time, characterized by new interest and vigorous activity in science, technology, art, literature, and learning. It was an extraordinary era, during which the very foundation for the rise of Western civilization was laid.

I contend that Rensselaer is at just such a juncture in its history. The transitions so evident in all facets of life, learning, research, scholarship, all across our campuses, are signs of an intellectual vigor and vibrant activity. As we renew our commitment to our roots-the very premises upon which Rensselaer was founded-we are marking a transition from a storied past to a breathtaking future.

We began this Renaissance less than four years ago, after the Rensselaer community created The Rensselaer Plan. In that plan we had made many promises to ourselves about what we would do. As we began to implement those promises, I believe we may have surprised ourselves with the progress that the Plan has engendered.

It is time to recognize that progress — and it truly is extraordinary. We are realizing a compound progress — that is achieving a full blown transformative era at Rensselaer — a true Renaissance. And, as I have said before, one has to do no more than “look out any window” to observe physical evidence of it.

But, the Renaissance at Rensselaer reaches more deeply and more broadly than construction. The Rensselaer Renaissance fundamentally is altering what Rensselaer does and how it is done, how we perceive the Institute, and how we conceive of ourselves. This is the true Renaissance at Rensselaer.

Here are a few highlights:
The Institute’s finances are sound. Total assets have grown by a third, while net assets have remained roughly the same. Investments have grown slightly, despite a 14 percent absolute decline in financial indices, and the Institute’s overall budget has increased by 50 percent over the last five years.

Gifts to Rensselaer more than doubled. In this last four years, we have raised more money than in the previous 20 years, combined.

Research awards have risen to $64 million, an increase of 73 percent from 1998. We expect to surpass $70-million this year.

We pledged to increase our faculty by 100 new positions. By the end of this year, according to the hiring plan, we will have hired 127 new tenured and tenure-track faculty over 3 years-71 in new positions.

The new Ph.D. program in Cognitive Science has received approval from New York State. Two additional Ph.D. programs are under review for submission to New York State, and the number of Ph.D. students has increased 56 percent over last year.

Major construction is underway for two transformational facilities — the Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies, on track to open next fall, and the Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center (EMPAC) about which I will have more to say shortly.

This past summer there were more than 76 construction projects are underway to improve our Troy campus. Others have since begun.

Rensselaer opened an office in the nation’s capital in September, giving the Institute a platform for participating more directly in the decisions that affect research universities, specifically, and higher education, broadly.

Before I go further, however, please let me introduce the Rensselaer leadership team, which has helped to shape our Renaissance.

  • 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
  • And, at Rensselaer at Hartford, Dr. Alan Eckbreth, vice president and dean of the Hartford campus.

I also would like to recognize two new leaders at Rensselaer. Dr. Kenneth B. Durgans began his appointment this fall as the vice provost for institute diversity. Dr. Durgans is responsible for the strategic planning and implementation of diversity initiatives across all schools and programs at Rensselaer.

Another important individual on our team is Dr. Ronald Kudla, the Executive Director of Intellectual Property, Technology Transfer, and New Ventures at Rensselaer. Dr. Kudla oversees strategic development, protection, marketing, and licensing of promising innovations arising from the Institute’s research activities. Dr. Kudla oversees our reconstituted Office of Technology Commercialization (OTC), with its new name, and the Incubator Program. Dr. Kudla brings to Rensselaer a wealth of experience in corporate product licensing and global product development.

Let me also recognize the deans with us today:

  • Dr. William “Bud” Baeslack, Class of 1979, School of Engineering
  • Dr. Joseph Flaherty, School of Science
  • Dr. John Harrington, School of Humanities and Social Sciences
  • Mr. Alan Balfour, School of Architecture
  • Dr. Denis Simon, Lally School of Management and Technology
  • Dr. Gary Gabriele, Vice Provost and Dean of Undergraduate Education
  • Dr. Mark Smith, Dean of Students
  • Dr. Tom Apple, Dean of Graduate Education

Our students are the center of our Renaissance, and ultimately, the ones who deserve, and will inherit, the rewards. We are attracting, and retaining, the best students with SAT scores averaging 1310, with higher-than-ever percentages in Medalists, legacies, top 10 percent, women, and minorities.

Our graduate students, too, are coming to us with quality metrics. The GRE-Verbal is up 13 points. The Quantative score is up 17 points. The Analytical score is up a significant 28 points, and the GMAT is up 32 points in just one year.

We have enrolled 414 new graduate students, and the number studying at the Ph.D. level rose by 44 percent.

Rensselaer is known for its academic rigor and demanding coursework. We have talented students who can be challenged at the highest level. Therefore, to offer the best possible educational experience, Rensselaer continually reviews its academic requirements and offerings, to strengthen its curricula.

This year, a series of core curriculum outcomes have been developed, including:

  • the fundamental understanding of both the physical and biological world;
  • a basic understanding of how organizations turn ideas, services, and technology into value;
  • and the ability to frame and to resolve open-ended questions.

A freshman biological science requirement has been instituted to realize the first outcome. The newly designed course will be piloted in the spring.

We will ensure that all students meet these outcomes by making a requirement for graduation the completion of a culminating experience, such as a senior research-based thesis, a major design project, or a major case-study-based project.

Because students are our transformational center, our schools are undergoing change, as well.

Lally School
In the Lally School of Management and Technology, we have developed a new course on Biotechnology and New Ventures, designed to link students in the Lally School with their counterparts in the Schools of Engineering and Science. We have introduced a new undergraduate student mentoring system, an eNewsletter and Web site, and we are working on a new MBA integrated, cross-disciplinary curriculum, led by “Business Implications of Emerging Technologies” which will enhance ties with the rest of the Institute. The Severino Center is being revitalized, and the Lally School is seeking a Vice-Provost for Entrepreneurship. The school hosted two very successful conferences this fall-an Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (or I-Triple-E) conference on managing people in technology-based organizations, and a stimulating China Science and Technology Conference.

School of Architecture
In Architecture, a new Ph.D. in Architectural Sciences is in preparation for approval from New York State. This will support advanced students in areas such as Lighting, Computation in Design and in Architectural and Communication Acoustics. This new program in acoustics, unique in North America, brings to Rensselaer a group faculty with international reputations, under the leadership of Dr. Mendal Kleiiner, who joins us from Sweden.

School of Science
The School of Science appointed nine new faculty in Biology, Chemistry, Earth and Environmental Science, and Mathematical Sciences, recruited two new Associate Deans, and launched an accelerated B.S./Ph.D. program. Two new research centers are underway: Center for Pervasive Computing and Networking, a joint center of the schools of the Schools of Engineering and Science, and Center for Inverse Problems, a School of Science center.

Humanities and Social Sciences
The School of Humanities and Social Sciences has received approval for a new Ph.D. in Cognitive Science and another research Ph.D. in Electronic Arts is in proposal. The school opened a new, interdepartmental, and multiuse facility, the Social and Behavioral Research Lab, in the landmark Gurley building in downtown Troy, a major step forward both for "Communiversity" and for community-based research in information technology. A new endowed chair, the Thomas Phelan Chair in Humanities and Social Sciences, named after the former Dean, is currently in a search for a senior faculty member. The First Year Studies program has expanded to provide small, interdisciplinatry courses, taught and team-taught, by senior faculty for nearly all the entering students.

The School of Engineering has hired some outstanding junior faculty and research awards are up by 35 percent. The School is implementing the Core Engineering Renaissance Program, pending the award of a National Science Foundation grant proposal. Two interdisciplinary research centers are planned, in collaboration with the School of Science to promote faculty collaboration and key research activities. A center in fuel cell technologies is currently in development.

As I mentioned earlier, Rensselaer’s research funding has reached an all-time high. This includes some recent major grant awards for exciting work being done by Rensselaer faculty that is advancing our health, safety, and security.

George Plopper, assistant professor of biology, has been awarded a four-year, $2.6 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to continue research into the development of what Dr. Plopper calls “bone spackle,” which is an engineered tissue that may one day be used to help bone injuries heal faster and stronger. Dr. Plopper’s work may lead to breakthroughs in the treatment of bone injuries and breaks, hip and knee replacements, and arthritis.

A team led by Gwo-Ching Wang, professor and chair of Physics, was awarded a $3.86 million National Science Foundation grant for fellowships to enhance interdisciplinary graduate study in terahertz (THz) science and technology as it relates to imaging, data transfer and networking systems, and electronics.

Julie Stenken, associate professor of analytical chemistry, has received a four-year, $750,000 grant from the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering to develop a new technique that can be used to study the body’s reaction to medical implants at the cellular level.

The National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases awarded Ravi Kane, assistant professor of chemical and biological engineering, $500,000 to develop experimental compounds that may someday extend the period during which a person exposed to anthrax can be treated successfully.

At Rensselaer at Hartford, Dr. Alan Eckbreth has been leading the initiative to re-center our Education for Working Professionals programs, which are offered primarily through that campus. In addition, we are transitioning these offerings to high-end “signature,” cohort-based programs, and refocusing core programs for rising corporate executives. Dr. Eckbreth is undertaking a more holistic approach to developing curriculum, and to evaluating Hartford-area customer needs in order to match them to Rensselaer’s academic and research strengths and strategic directions.

Employer Initiatives
Because of our fiscal discipline and careful planning and the resulting financial soundness, we were able to provide for merit increases for faculty and staff, this year, and to continue the “employer of choice” total compensation initiatives. So, in a time of economic uncertainty — and retrenchment by some major universities, Rensselaer has been able to provide stable merit pay growth, competitive benefits, a safe workplace, and professional development and education.

These initiatives are gaining recognition for Rensselaer as an employer. Rensselaer was rated the number two private-sector employer in the Capital Region, according to the Capital District Business Review’s recent annual ranking. Employers were ranked based, in part, on benefits including health coverage, education benefits, vacation and leave policies, retirement plans, and company fitness programs — all of which Rensselaer offers.

I hardly need remind you of the dramatic changes happening on the physical campus. Your patience and forbearance amid all the current construction are to be commended. I thank you for your continued understanding, for using the parking shuttles, and for adapting to our changing parking rules, as we contend with these temporary dislocations and inconveniences.

When the 218,000-square-foot Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies opens for the fall 2004 semester, it will be unique among facilities at research universities. It will exemplify a new research paradigm, as no department offices will reside in the building. Constellation faculty will have suites and other research faculty will have offices and laboratories, as well. The center will house graduate student researchers’ offices, and graduate (and undergraduate students working on theses) will have laboratory space.

The core facilities will support different functional areas and include:

  • a spectroscopy suite, with an 800 megahertz nuclear magnetic resonance facility;
  • a tissue and cell culture lab;
  • a functional tissue engineering lab;
  • a computer modeling and visualization lab.

The New York State Gen*NY*sis grant of $22.5 million is helping to pay for the fit-up of these labs.

Meanwhile, a new 510-car parking garage on College Avenue is slated to open next spring. Infrastructure, streetscape, and landscape projects include a new chiller plant, an electric substation, improvements to College Avenue, new walkways, and lighting.

Academy Hall has been renovated into the Student Services Center, housing the Dean of Students, Student Health Services, and the Office of the First-Year Experience. They soon will be joined by the Office of Financial Aid, the Registrar, the Bursar, and all of the Archer Center for Student Leadership.

Freshman residence halls are becoming places of living and learning — including spaces where students can gather to work in teams, study in groups, and to take classes. In Nason Hall, for instance, students now can attend a class in economics or in humanities. Or they can take advantage of supplemental instruction in the evening, offered through the Advising and Learning Assistance Center, or programs offered by the Office of the First-Year Experience.

And, we have renovated more than 30 classrooms.

I know the upgrade of our athletics facilities is important to our students. Therefore, we have undertaken a series of renovations and upgrades to our athletics facilities and fields, including returfing Harkness and lower Renwyck fields, and watch for new high-intensity lights and new bleachers.

We also are planning development on the east campus of a new sports training, locker room, and classroom facility, which now is in the design stages, with construction to begin by the end of this academic year.

While we are speaking of sports programs, I want to mention how the Institute is responding to the proposed NCAA action to ban Division III schools, such as Rensselaer, from giving scholarship aid to its Division I athletes. Our only Division I program is the men’s hockey team, and we will fight vigorously to preserve it. It is an important part of the Rensselaer tradition, and has been so for a century. On January 12, the 424 Division III institutions will vote on this measure, which is included in a package of wide-ranging reforms. We remain optimistic that we — and the other schools that are similarly affected — will prevail at this vote.

Continuing the transformation of the South Campus, we broke ground in September for the Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center (EMPAC). We expect this leading-edge facility to take about three and a half years to complete. The roughly 200,000-square-foot facility will house a spectrum of performance spaces including a concert hall with world-class acoustics, a theater, two “black box” studios equipped for video and audio production, and four artist-in-residence studios. There will be rehearsal studios, a cafe, and the facility will become the digital home of WRPI.

One might ask why a technological research university would build a performing arts center? But, far from introducing a component that is out of sync with our mission and history, EMPAC will, in fact, support and extend the multidisciplinary manner in which we already conduct learning and research, and enable the creative process. And, it also will give students a place to “be” on the campus, something of which I believe we need more.

Following our pattern, no department will be housed within EMPAC. By definition, EMPAC will inspire experimentation, cross-disciplinary inquiry, and advanced research. The facility will host projects that enable faculty and students to use the leading-edge tools embedded in it to engage creatively in science and technology discovery. This includes simulation, animation, visualization, and acoustical experimentation. Perhaps more than any other endeavor, I believe that EMPAC gives concrete form to the Rensselaer Renaissance.

As Rensselaer changes, the City of Troy is undergoing its own quiet Renaissance. You may be aware, from recent news reports, that more people — especially those with resources to move the city forward — are taking an interest in its future. The city is becoming a center for arts, culture, and entrepreneurship. The lively antiques district on River Street is gaining popularity. Visual and performing artists and groups are being drawn to the city.

Rensselaer is playing a major role in this rebirth of Troy. In an economic impact report released last summer found that Rensselaer is a major and growing regional enterprise that is pumping nearly a half-billion dollars annually into the state economy.

Two recent articles speak to Troy’s transformation. One appeared in September in the Capital Region Business Review, headlined “Building Boom Marks Troy’s Resurgence.” The other appeared in Berkshire HomeStyle and is headlined “The Rebirth of a City.” Both credit Rensselaer with major contributions to the revival — the Renaissance — of the City of Troy, so it is apparent that our investments in the Institute, in the neighborhoods, in the community, and in the city are having a major impact.

I would like to conclude with a quote from one of the great artist/scientists of the Renaissance-Michelangelo-who advised:

“The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark.”

Imbued with our vision and spirit of renewal, and the Renaissance at Rensselaer, I believe we are in no danger.

Thank you.

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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