Town meeting discusses stories of Rensselaer community

Last Wednesday, the RPI community gathered in the Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center for the semi-annual town meeting. President Shirley Ann Jackson spoke to attendees on “Signs of Progress: Rensselaer Vignettes,” rather than the typical retrospective talk that accompanies the meeting.

Jackson started off the afternoon by introducing the Institute’s leadership team, including members new to the Institute: Vice President for Enrollment and Dean of Admissions Paul Marthers; Vice President for Research Francine Berman; Dean of the School of Engineering David Rosowsky; Dean of the School of Architecture Evan Douglis; and Acting Dean of the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences Wayne Gray.

Instead of the typical approach to the meeting, Jackson took a “glimpse at a few snapshots [of] Rensselaer in action.” The four short stories, Jackson said, had “something important to say about the university we have become, and about our future.”

The first vignette was regarding research at Rensselaer, focusing initially on the Tetherless World Constellation. The Tetherless World Constellation—headed by Professors Jim Hendler, Peter Fox, and Deborah McGuinness—is focused on a semantic web platform meant to compile and share data. Jackson also discussed other research efforts being led in the various new cooperative facilities that have been developed at RPI, such as the Lighting Research Center and the Center for Architecture Science and Ecology. To date, Rensselaer has also received 19 grants from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, been granted over $1 million from the Gates Foundation to lead the New York State Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Initiative progressive dialogue, and had five researchers invited to participate in the Summer Davos meeting in Switzerland, among other notable achievements.

The second story detailed life from the students’ side, focusing on the student group Engineers for a Sustainable World. Focusing on a group of students who assisted a village in Haiti with teaching younger children basic writing and mathematic skills, this vignette tied into the idea of student study abroad, like the Rensselaer Education Across Cultural Horizons initiative.

Third, Jackson detailed graduate student Brenda Ann Kenneally’s work at Rensselaer. An independent journalist and photographer who works on assignments for New York Times Magazine, Kenneally is tracing the lives of seven Troy women for five years to learn about how their escape from poverty has only led to further entrapment. This story eventually tied into the interdisciplinary studies that Rensselaer has come to offer.

The final vignette was in the form of a letter that the Institute received from a parent, detailing what a strong atmosphere the Institute has allowed their child to thrive in. The letter focused particularly on the intercollegiate athletics portion of the student life. With the recent opening of the East Campus Athletic Village and the coming implementation of the Clustered Learning Advocacy and Support for Students, including the Sophomore-Year Experience, Jackson detailed how student life has begun to really thrive on the Rensselaer campus.

Following the conclusion of Jackson’s presentation, there was a time for questions from the audience. A set of students inquired as to the future of the foreign language program at the Institute, to which Jackson replied that the program will not revert back to the traditional method of having clinical professors teaching these courses; however, there are plans in the works that will replace this and provide an experience in which students can immerse themselves in the language. The details were not fully disclosed at the meeting.

Also discussed was the relationship between the greek community on campus and the administration, specifically focusing on the Greek Commons Agreement that was released on Tuesday, as well as the tuition exchange program at the Institute.

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