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Renaissance at Rensselaer: 10-Year Retrospective

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

East Campus Athletic Village Practice Gymnasium
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Good morning.

Education, by definition, is change. Education changes lives, and changes societies. It is challenge and hard work for great rewards. It is compelling because, ultimately, education is the choice for freedom. The intent of this weekend is to showcase change—the Renaissance at Rensselaer.

Ten years ago I stood at the inaugural podium of this esteemed university as the Chairman of the Rensselaer Board of Trustees—Samuel Heffner, Jr. ’56—placed the Presidential Medallion—the symbol of the office—around my neck, and I accepted the charge of President of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

Addressing the gathering that inaugural day, I talked of promise and of challenge, of choices and of priorities, of legacy, and of the future.

I spoke of the inseparability of the clasped hands of education—teaching and research.  

I charged the university to select new areas in which to invest, and proffered one—biotechnology—as a promising future direction into which to extend extant Rensselaer strengths.

I called upon the entire Rensselaer community to create a fully realized technological university. I said change would be holistic—that we would leave no aspect of the Institute untouched.

I said that we would steer by three guiding principles—excellence, leadership, and community.

I pledged that I would give my utmost to realize this vision. I said it would require greatness from each of us.

I, also, said it would not be easy—but I said that, together, we could realize the Rensselaer dream.

In the months that followed, working across all university sectors, we devised a comprehensive strategic plan—The Rensselaer Plan—whose essence and strength is drawn from the two essential roots of Amos Eaton’s original Rensselaerian Plan. Those roots, of course, are “…the application of science to the common purposes of life,” and the employment of unique educational strategies for engaged, interactive, self-directed learning.

The plan laid out six broad goals. We said we would:

1. Provide an outstanding and distinctive education;

2.  Expand, dramatically, the research enterprise by creating new initiatives in areas closely aligned with societal and global priorities;

3. Increase scientific and technological entrepreneurship;

4. Achieve true intellectual, geographic, gender, and ethnic diversity—garnering the best talent and preparing our students to lead in a global economy;

5. Draw vitality from, and add vitality to, our multiple and diverse communities; and

6. Redesign and invigorate enabling activities.

Our intent was to have Rensselaer emerge re-energized, re-awakened, refocused. It meant that we had to imagine a different, bolder future for the Institute. We needed to recognize that, while building on its legacy and existing strengths, Rensselaer had to change. This required us to rethink and reinvent practices and policies across the university, while also adding important new dimensions that did not exist before.  In the end, we would emerge as an intergenerational community of learners even more strongly engaged—deeply and seriously—in the highest level pedagogy and research, approaching and solving the most important questions and challenges of our time.

So, during the past decade, we have focused on the six Rensselaer Plan goals—assuring the academic scope, strength, and relevance of the Institute; enhancing the robustness of its research; elevating the student experience; guaranteeing administrative consistency and financial viability; expanding, managing, and upgrading the physical plant; enlarging Rensselaer partnerships; and bolstering an ever-greater prominence and recognition for the university.


If you toured the campus yesterday, and perused the large exhibit displayed in the Arena at breakfast, you have seen something of the physical transformation of the Rensselaer Troy campus over the past decade.

We have set in place four transformative platforms to anchor and to animate Rensselaer education, research, and the student living/learning environment. Three platforms specifically invigorate research and scholarship—the Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies (CBIS), the Computational Center for Nanotechnology Innovations (CCNI), and the Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center (EMPAC).

We meet this morning in the fourth—the East Campus Athletic Village (ECAV), a LEED-certified complex that expands and enhances the Rensselaer experience for our scholar athletes, for all of our students, and for the greater Rensselaer community.

As important as these are—and they are very important—there was more to do.

We renewed essential academic facilities—upgrading classrooms and undergraduate laboratories, refurbishing the Folsom Library, building a new JEC Wind Tunnel Facility, upgrading studios and equipment, and enhancing gathering spaces, such as the Rathskeller in the Student Union.

We expanded research facilities—from the central server room for computational research, to renovating the Winslow building, to the creation of the materials characterization core facility in the Materials Research Center.

We improved safety—installing residence hall sprinklers and security access technology, replacing the ammonia-based ice system in the Houston Field House, upgrading exterior lighting and emergency call boxes, and installing an emergency mass notification system we call RPIAlert.

We added and upgraded campus hospitality venues—from Java++ to the expanded Russell Sage Dining Hall.

We tackled deferred maintenance—increasing electrical capacity, extending the Troy Campus fiber optic backbone, restoring the exterior of West Hall, and replacing campus water mains and steam lines, and the roofs of 22 buildings.

We have upgraded, increased, and/or expanded residence halls, dining facilities, meeting spaces, lounge spaces, office spaces and locations, performance venues, athletic facilities, and the Rensselaer Union.

Institutional gateways now give definition to the campus perimeter; surrounding streetscapes have been improved; and everywhere, we have landscaped—so that the campus looks beautiful.

In all, we have invested (so far) nearly $700 million to provide, enhance, enable, animate, and secure the platforms, facilities, and Institute physical infrastructure for student, faculty, and staff benefit.


We attended to other aspects of Institute infrastructure, as well—reviewing and reengineering enabling activities—Institute policies—to assure consistent and equitable Institute business transactions and personnel practices.

We began with a performance-based budgeting strategy and centralizing financial management. We instituted annual Performance Planning to rationalize and focus the budget process. We standardized Institute position and performance appraisal policies and practices, linking them to a package of compensation and benefits that conform to standard career practice and competitive workforce market data.

We put in place equitable Graduate Tuition and Student Support policies and practices that allow for effective tracking, data collection, and integration with the Performance Planning process. We created a comprehensive Institute Intellectual Property policy.

A data warehouse, now, enables forecasting and decision-making—providing a comprehensive Institute overview, and facilitating the flexible, analytical processing of high volumes of business data. We reengineered our purchasing system—eProcurement—which supports the transactional systems for day-to-day operations, to provide fair and reasonable pricing, quality assurance, Federal regulatory compliance, and mitigation of liability and financial risk. Both of these new systems, by the way, are award-winning.


While many transformative platforms support a variety of campus enterprises, from academics to research to campus life, one set in particular—connectivity— enables them all.

It began with mobile computing, which put high-end laptops, balancing portability and performance, into the hands of every undergraduate. The specialized software, combined with powerful hardware, provides students with a tool for solving complex theoretical and real-world problems, as they do in their Design, Innovation, and Society classes.

This was followed by building on our wired network by implementing a wireless network permeating the campus with 357 access points in 119 buildings, and led Rensselaer to become known as one of the “most wired” campuses in the U.S.

Next, we connected Rensselaer to the City of Troy, the Rensselaer Technology Park, and Albany, with a Dense Wave Division Multi-Plexing (DWDM) fiber ring deployment, enabling optical speeds for the computation center, access to the commodity Internet as well as Internet-2, and connecting the Public Broadcasting station, WMHT, to the main campus.

The opening of the Computational Center for Nanotechnology Innovations (CCNI) brought us more than 100 teraflops of computational power (made up of massively parallel Blue Gene supercomputers, POWER-based Linux clusters, and AMD Opteron processor-based clusters). CCNI debuted at the 7th position on the Top Supercomputer list of June 2007.

The extraordinary supercomputing capacity Rensselaer now possesses is enabling us to explore a “virtual (fiber optic) bridge to Africa,” acquiring fiber speeds of a gigabit per second or better—making our pledge of global reach a reality.

All of the physical and enabling infrastructure undergirds our fundamental mission—the robust pedagogy, research, and scholarship of a top-tier, technologically rooted research university—in an environment that attracts, supports, and nurtures students and faculty of the highest caliber, and allows each and all to grow and to contribute in unique ways to the challenges of our time.


 We elevated undergraduate admission standards, and increased the geographic, intellectual, gender, and ethnic/cultural diversity of incoming classes. Our applications are escalating—12,352 last year, a 135 percent increase over ten years ago (nearly 2 1/2 times the number in 1999). The increased numbers improved selectivity, and student quality metrics rose. We saw average SAT scores rise—year upon year—with the 25th to 75th percentile scores reaching 1270 to 1450 (on the main two parts of the exam). Ten years ago, the range was 1180 to 1370. As a result, our students are better prepared than ever.

In the process, we increased student diversity. In 1999, underrepresented minorities comprised 8 percent of the freshman class. Today, it is 12 percent. Ten years ago, women made up 22 percent of the freshman class. Today, that number has risen to 31 percent.  More Rensselaer students now come from outside the northeast, bringing a broader geographic diversity to campus.

We, also, have seen an increase in women graduate students. To attract and retain them, we developed policies designed to help them pursue academic goals and accommodate changing family circumstances.


Continuing the Rensselaer legacy of educational innovation, we examined our intellectual core and restructured our undergraduate and graduate offerings.

We renewed focus on undergraduate education with The Undergraduate Plan. We redesigned the Engineering core curriculum. We implemented a life-sciences curriculum requirement for all undergraduates. We emphasized enhanced and increased student participation in research, an international experience for all engineering students, and a required capstone project experience as an undergraduate graduation requirement. We, now, are working toward an international experience for all undergraduates.

We established new degrees—a new BS/PhD accelerated program in Science, a new BS in Biomedical Engineering/MD program, an accelerated BS in Engineering/MBA program, new PhDs in Cognitive Science, Biochemistry and Biophysics, Architectural Science, and Electronic Arts, as well as new undergraduate degree programs in Electronic Arts, in Games and Simulation Arts and Sciences, and in Design, Innovation, and Society.

We revamped the MBA curriculum, and established a new MBA/MS in Law—in collaboration with Albany Law School.

We make our course work and experiences deliberately global in outlook, intellectually rigorous and sophisticated, and socially nuanced, creating an environment that promotes powerful, mind-opening new experiences, which foster intellectual agility.

An example is our emphasis on entrepreneurship education. Rensselaer was among the first in the nation to commit to entrepreneurship education and research across all our schools and programs—and the Rensselaer entrepreneurship definition spans the spectrum from commercial to social entrepreneurship.

We believe all students benefit from an entrepreneurial outlook. We begin entrepreneurship education as early as freshman orientation, and it continues into advanced study with a new Master’s Degree in Technological Entrepreneurship and Commercialization. We created or enhanced more than 70 courses across all five schools, developed curriculum tools, created competitions and active undergraduate entrepreneurship research. Today, we sponsor faculty seminars and workshops across the university. Over the last four years, five Rensselaer student teams, winners  of campus innovation competitions, have gone on to win national and international competitions.

In concert with our motto, “why not change the world™,” students and faculty have created more socially oriented entrepreneurial projects—with Native Americans, and in Peru and Haiti. Overall, we involve more than 1,500 students in these activities—a figure that continues to expand.


We set out to transform the student experience at Rensselaer—in all regards. This has meant elevating the overall quality of student life through the creation of robust programs and student services, establishment of affinity and connection, strengthening community and leadership education, and development of mind, body and spirit.

We focused on orientation and the First-Year Experience, living/learning communities, food services, extra-curricular activities, the value of the arts and their connection to the academic enterprise, sense of community within residence life and off-campus, support services, and on-line administrative processes.

We increased counseling and medical staff, the number of full-time coaches, the number of Residence Assistants (RAs) and Residence Directors (RDs). We created the award-winning First-Year Experience, Navigating Rensselaer & Beyond (NRB), and Parents’ programs. We established five residence life theme houses and launched the Vasudha living/learning community (2007).

We increased the number of Union-recognized clubs from 120 to 180. We created new pipeline and summer programs. We increased classical music concerts from 30 to 45, and launched signature events. We developed the Opening Doors program, strengthened the Residence Hall Association and programs, implemented the Electronic Warning System, established an Intervention Team, implemented a robust suicide prevention program, and increased health education programs.


The intersection of top-tier students with a stimulating world-class professoriate creates conditions for optimal scholarship, personal growth, intellectual development, and leadership experience. To further embed this within the total Rensselaer undergraduate experience, we created a new, transformational living/learning paradigm—a residential college and class dean model for undergraduates, within a great technologically rooted research university. Through the “CLASS” initiative—Clustered Learning, Advocacy, and Support for Students—we provide undergraduate students with intentional faculty and upper-class undergraduate and graduate student leadership and guidance—both within their residence hall groupings, and as a part of their undergraduate class. CLASS extends our award-winning First-Year Experience through a Sophomore Year Experience, in which sophomores will live on the Troy campus, or in Greek communities that meet stringent university standards. The CLASS system of Faculty, Class, and Residence Hall (Commons) Deans creates a seamless whole—a unique living/learning campus environment which elevates the quality of the student experience.

As indicated earlier, we have developed theme houses on topics from Vasudha (an Indian word meaning Earth, its environment, and natural and energy resources) to Leadership, thereby expanding living/learning community choices. A set of academic, social, and psychological support mechanisms for first-year, undergraduate and graduate students, greatly improved dining and food choices, health services, and a soon-to-be smoke-free campus further invigorate the campus.

Here is one parent’s reaction to the transformed Rensselaer student experience:

...my shy, quiet flower is blooming, finally. She was like this at home, but not at [high] school because the people were so different and judgmental... She tells me she is totally in her element! She feels alive. I really don’t think there’s much that could make parents happier than that—except good grades!


Because balance is essential for human well-being—and because more than 70 percent of Rensselaer students participate in varsity, intramural, club, or recreational athletics—we have improved our athletic facilities. Early on, we opened the Mueller Center—a state-of-the-art fitness facility providing a variety of recreational, fitness, and wellness opportunities. And this fall, we opened the East Campus Athletic Village, the most extensive athletic construction project in Institute history. The new athletic and recreation complex is transforming the student experience dramatically.

While we were building this, because of our involvement, National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) propositions were defeated allowing Rensselaer to maintain its Division I men’s hockey program, while enabling women’s hockey to be elevated to Division I.


We deliberately strengthened campus intellectual discourse bringing in a diversity of speakers, and creating fora in which ideas are expressed and debated, where contemporary events are examined, where the mind is enlarged. Within the transformed university experience, we have expanded cultural offerings by enlarging the program of music and the arts on the campus, taking it into the residence halls. And, we are only beginning to explore the capacity of the bold cultural and research platform that is the Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center which sits at the intersection of the arts, media, science, and technology.


International educational and research exchange is burgeoning, and is becoming a defining aspect of the undergraduate experience. As we extend our global reach and global impact, we have built partnerships that expand international study, research collaboration, and faculty and student exchange.

Our International Scholars Program (ISP), centered at the Rensselaer Hartford Campus, offers Master’s Degree students in Management or Engineering Science a 10-week global learning experience in Europe and Asia. A central focus is a summer term abroad involving a week of intensive academic study, four weeks of study in Rome, four weeks in Shanghai, China, and a culminating week at the Hartford campus. Classes are taught by distinguished faculty, complemented by meetings with leaders in global industry, and visits to multinational corporations.

We launched REACH (Rensselaer Education Across Cultural Horizons), which sends undergraduate engineering students abroad, and builds on several long-standing School of Architecture programs in Italy, China, and India. We, now, have exchange agreements in 12 countries with 22 institutions.

Currently, there are 71 exchange students on the Troy campus, and 32 Rensselaer students abroad on various semester exchanges.

Delegations from Rensselaer have reached out to universities and research facilities, and have met with government ministers on every continent. Most recently, we signed Memoranda of Understanding with Stellenbosch University in South Africa, the University of the 7th November at Carthage, Tunisia, and Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in Ghana.

Ultimately, our goal is to foster and enhance our students’ intellectual agility, multicultural sophistication, global view, and ability to see connections between disciplines and among sectors, across a broad intellectual and social milieu—in short, to develop them into the global leaders they are destined to be.


An exceptionally gifted professoriate—the very heart of educational excellence, and academic and scientific rigor—is drawn to Rensselaer by our exceptionally bright and motivated students, enhanced facilities, and sound Institute policies. Over the ten years, we have hired, or are recruiting, 271 faculty members (including 40 this year). We have appointed 29 named chairs, which include ten Constellation faculty, and we have re-vitalized our faculty by hiring outstanding junior people. Over the decade, 43 of them have been honored with the National Science Foundation (NSF) Career Awards.

Today, we have 356 tenured and tenure/track faculty. A key result has been a decline in the student-to-faculty ratio.

We have amplified faculty diversity. The percentage of women faculty has risen from 15 percent to 21 percent, and underrepresented minority faculty from 4 percent to 7 percent.

We developed systemic, university-wide approaches to advance women and diverse faculty in academic engineering and science careers, improving social and support networks, mentoring, and peer review. We are reducing attrition, and increasing the representation of women among the senior faculty and administrative ranks, and are making advancement processes transparent and fair.


Fulfilling their professorial mission, our faculty are deeply engaged in discovery, knowledge creation, technological and business innovation, and world-class design. They involve students in their research. If you attend one or more of the interactive sessions scheduled for this afternoon, you will observe the many breakthroughs in Rensselaer research and scholarship.

Time permits me to give only a hint of the breadth, depth, and scope of our research and scholarship—extending from the immense to the infinitesimal—from the vastness of the universe, to the nano-scale level.

To invigorate Rensselaer research, we challenged ourselves to extend our focus, and to take risks for impact, moving into new domains of significance at the intersections of important disciplines, combined with Rensselaer core strengths in engineering and information technology. We have invested in five signature thrusts—biotechnology and the life sciences; computational science and engineering; experimental media and the arts; energy and the environment; and nanotechnology and advanced materials—areas which intersect decisively with existing Rensselaer research excellence.

A result has been the growth of sponsored research. Research expenditures and awards have more than doubled to $90 million, growing at an average of 9.6 percent annually.Research funding from the National Institutes of Health has risen from $400,000 in 1999 to more than $40 million, today. And, we have increased the research overhead recovery rate by 10 percent.

We sought and engaged scientific and engineering superstars to lead research “Constellations”— multidisciplinary teams of senior and junior faculty, graduate students, and undergraduates—creating a nexus of intellectual and scientific capacity in important arenas. Constellation faculty provide outstanding capability and achievement in a particular research focal area, while building upon existing core strengths in microelectronics and microsystems, advanced materials, nanotechnology, and advanced scientific computation, modeling, and simulation.

Our Biotechnology constellations encompass biocatalysis and metabolic engineering, computational biology and biocomputation, systems biology, and tissue engineering and regenerative medicine. Others cover computational science and engineering; pervasive computing and distributed intelligent systems, Web Science (Tetherless World); physics, information technology, and entrepreneurship; and advanced materials and devices (Future Chips).

From our constellations and other faculty have come some of the most exciting discoveries and developments. For example:

  • Constellation faculty are developing Semantic Web technology where the central idea is to extend the current “human-readable” Web, by encoding the semantics of data and other resources in a machine-processable form, opening the door to more advanced functionality, and enabling computers to better search, process, integrate, and present content in a meaningful, intelligent manner. It will make possible online end-user applications that integrate, combine, and deduce information needed to assist users in performing tasks;
  • One research group has developed a new way to seek out specific proteins, including dangerous toxins such as anthrax, and render them harmless using nothing but light. The technique involves wrapping proteins around carbon nanotubes, and controlling the conjugated nanotubes remotely. The discovery lends itself to the creation of new antibacterial and antimicrobial films to help curb the spread of germs, and holds promise for new methods of seeking out and killing tumors in the human body;
  • Rensselaer researchers have developed the darkest material created by humankind; they have synthesized a unique, flexible paper battery; they have made great steps forward in green LEDs; they are able to control the nature of graphene for future graphene-based nanoelectronics; they have modeled the causes of the New Orleans levee failures after Hurricane Katrina; they are modeling Generation IV nuclear reactors to boost the safety and reliability of nuclear power plants; and are creating a new laboratory to develop and test next-generation radar systems.
  • Research at Rensselaer has created nanosculpture that could enhance new heat pumps and energy converters. It has uncovered small deletions in the genomes of children with autism that strongly correlate to brain function. And, experimental flow measurement techniques, developed here, at Rensselaer, boosted the performance of the U.S. Olympic Swim Team at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing.

Our faculty’s research is launching a new generation of acclaimed leaders in science and technology.

  • Consider the traditional biologic drug heparin which is primarily harvested from the intestines of livestock. A complex carbohydrate contaminant—(“oversulfated chondroitin sulfate”) so structurally similar to heparin that it is nearly undetectable—caused the deaths of patients around the world in early 2008. Rensselaer Constellation Professor Robert J. Linhardt and his team uncovered this contaminant and saved lives. They, also, bioengineered a fully synthetic alternative to animal-derived heparin. This sophisticated detection work and the bioengineering of a man-made alternative won Robert J. Linhardt, the Ann and John H. Broadbent Jr. ’59 Senior Constellation Professor of Biocatalysis and Metabolic Engineering at Rensselaer, a place as one of the Scientific American 10 in its June 2009 edition for his world-changing, life-saving work.

In addition, to further bolster our research capabilities, focus, and impact, we established research centers capitalizing on our core strengths and focal areas. Our unprecedented Baruch ’60 Center for Biochemical Solar Energy Research looks to unleash the energy-converting power of living plants, putting Rensselaer on the leading edge of energy research. Our National Science Foundation-funded Smart Lighting Engineering Research Center is developing light emitting technologies for revolutionary new systems in rapid diagnostic bio-imaging, new optical display systems, safer transportation systems, and novel modes of communication.

Collaboration between the Rensselaer School of Architecture and the venerable architectural firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP (SOM) launched the Center for Architecture Science and Ecology (CASE) on Wall Street in New York City. It bridges leading-edge architectural design and technological experimentation, bringing together architects, engineers, and scientists to innovate systems and materials which will shift building performance toward sustainable and energy self-sufficient models. One development of particular interest is a new prototype that would work with a building’s existing HVAC system to reduce energy loads and improve indoor air quality. The Active Phytoremediation Wall System consists of pods housing hydroponic plants. Because the plants’ roots are exposed, instead of being buried in soil, the plants’ air-cleaning capacity increases by 200 to 300 percent. Air moves through a perforated air intake duct and directly over the exposed roots, allowing root rhizomes to essentially digest airborne toxins. For this, Rensselaer Professor Anna Dyson, the principal investigator, received the 2009 Research and Design Award sponsored by Architecture Magazine.

The NASA-funded New York Center for Astrobiology is analyzing the wealth of data on the structure and chemical composition of the cosmos, collected over many NASA missions.

Rensselaer is leading a four-center, multiyear, multimillion-dollar effort, funded by the U.S. Army Research Laboratory (ARL), on varying aspects of the emerging field of network science. Called the Center for Social and Cognitive Networks, it will link top social scientists, neuroscientists, and cognitive scientists with leading physicists, computer scientists, mathematicians, and engineers to uncover, model, understand, and foresee the complex social interactions that take place in today’s society.

It has become abundantly clear that research endeavors at Rensselaer are raising the stature of the Institute, and generating discoveries and innovations that will change how coming generations across the globe will live, work, and play.


The Renaissance at Rensselaer has bolstered the economy of the city of Troy, the Capital Region, and New York state. Rensselaer, today, is a major regional enterprise, and one of its largest private employers. Directly and indirectly, Rensselaer has accounted for well more than a billion dollars in economic activity, and 5,794 full-time jobs throughout New York state. In terms of human capital development, nearly 20,000 Rensselaer graduates reside in the state, and about 9,000 live in the Capital Region, contributing to the strength of the region and the state’s workforce in engineering, information technology, entrepreneurship, and other scientific and technological arenas, and making the Institute a key asset.

Rensselaer continues as a major catalyst in the creation of new businesses. More than 70, nurtured in their infancy in the Rensselaer Incubator, are still doing business in the Capital Region, and employing more than 2,500 individuals. The Rensselaer Technology Park is home to 60 companies that employ about 2,400 people.

Rensselaer partnerships have flourished across a broad spectrum—from federal and state government agencies, to multinational corporations such as IBM, and prominent private foundations such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The partnerships extend our reach.

There is social impact, as well. Reaching out to our immediate community, as one example, more than 1,000 members of the Rensselaer family contributed some 16,000 hours of community service in a single year.


Overall, we have boosted the stature of the Institute, improving our ranking as one of the top 50 universities in the United States. I already have reported on faculty research results, and on our research grants. Our ranking with U.S. News and World Report moved up from 50/51 in 1999-2000 to 41 in 2008-2009. Our engineering undergraduate program now ranks 21st in the nation; graduate engineering ranks 31st; and six engineering departments rank in the top 25 nationally. Our MFA in Media Arts and Communication ranks 6th, and the Rensselaer Mathematics Department ranks 20th in Applied Mathematics.

Our student applications have skyrocketed. Our student retention, graduation rates, and placement have all gone way up. Our faculty and their research are being recognized—through prizes, fellowships, and broader media, public, and professional recognition. The Institute, its faculty, students, and staff are being invited into the highest circles. Our alumni/ae are proud.


A transformation of this speed and magnitude requires the steadfast focus and resolute commitment of our stakeholders. Our supporters have demonstrated this in numerous ways—not the least of which has been helping us to achieve and surpass our ambitious capital campaign goal of $1.4 billion—nine months ahead of schedule. The capital campaign has been essential in enabling us to achieve our goals.

Here I must give credit where it is due. Were it not for the sustaining commitment of the Board of Trustees, for their determination and their resolve, and for their unwavering support, we could not have achieved the unprecedented transformation of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute which we celebrate this weekend. Please join me in saluting our Trustees with a round of applause.

As our graduates move beyond our threshold, they enter a world of tremendous societal shifts—in a global economy, in the known and unknown implications of shifting national re-alignments. The challenges without borders—global climate change, international financial system re-structuring, energy security, disease prevention and mitigation, water and food safety, terrorism, and unrest—all have broad impact, reaching into virtually every aspect of the global human social order. 

As our graduates leave us for this multifaceted global environment, they are grounded in the fundamentals of their chosen disciplines. They are prepared to lead with cultural aplomb, to understand and to solve complex challenges, and to do so with comprehension and understanding of the global and social context. They have attained a level of sophistication, a multicultural appreciation, and an intellectual agility to see connections between disciplines and among sectors. They have acquired invaluable research experience, and communication and leadership expertise. They have embraced an entrepreneurial outlook. Many have acquired substantial international experience. They are prepared to seek out and to optimize the opportunities inherent in challenges.

They leave with a Rensselaer Education—an education to last a lifetime.

In the past ten years, guided by The Rensselaer Plan, we have transported Rensselaer, and its storied legacy, into the 21st century, and we have positioned the Institute for an even more stellar future.

And, we are not yet done...


We have come a long way together. This celebration of a decade of transformation is an opportunity to showcase our extraordinary people, to highlight the new programs, to tour our spectacular platforms. Most importantly, it is an opportunity to thank all of those in the Rensselaer community—donors, trustees, faculty, students, staff, administration, alumni and alumnae, and special friends—for their tireless efforts to elevate Rensselaer as a top-tier, world-class technological research university, with global reach and global impact.

I began this morning with a reference to education as the choice for freedom. As we come to know and to understand the full measure of this decade of transformation, we are challenged to seize our accomplishments, to optimize them, to summon their full potential in new ways and in new directions. In short—we have the freedom to engage, employ, and exploit the exceptional Institute of which we are a part—to maximal advantage.

This, then, is our challenge now. We are, indeed, better positioned than ever to change the world...

...and so I conclude, as I began my inaugural address—with a salute:

  • I salute Rensselaer students—our raison d’être and our future;
  • I salute Rensselaer faculty—the intellectual core of our academic enterprise;
  • I salute Rensselaer staff—the great enablers of all that we do;
  • I salute Rensselaer alumni/ae—our heritage and our presence in the larger society.
  • I salute the Rensselaer Board of Trustees—the ultimate stewards of the Institute.

And, on a personal note:

  • I salute my friends—many of whom have been with me much of my life (some of them are here).
  • And, I especially salute my family—my mother (who could not be with us today), my father and my brother (who are both deceased), my sisters (one of whom—Gloria—is here today), my husband (Morris Washington), and my son (Alan Washington). Because of them, I am here today.

Thank you. 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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