Jackson gives address to Institute alumni

PRESIDENT SHIRLEY ANN JACKSON GIVES her State of the Institute address at EMPAC during Alumni Weekend.

This past Friday, President Shirley Ann Jackson delivered her state of the Institute address to faculty, alumni, and students. But before Jackson gave her address, a video was shown that highlighted the goals and achievements of the Rensselaer Plan, students, and faculty.

The Rensselaer Plan was initially introduced to RPI when Jackson was hired on as president in 1999. It set strict goals for where RPI would be headed within the coming years, and is responsible for buildings on campus such as Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center, the Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies, and the East Campus Athletic Village. According to the video, Jackson and the Plan have “transformed the whole Institute.”

Using bright aerial images of RPI’s campus, the movie served to show off RPI to all in attendance. EMPAC, Biotech, and ECAV were showcased, as well as positive research such as the production of synthetic heparin and the creation of the darkest material created yet. A few students were also represented to speak about their positive experiences at RPI.

After the movie, Jackson went onto further explain the goals and achievements of RPI and the Rensselaer Plan.

The theme of Jackson’s presentation was “frontiers.” She explainined that Rensselaer graduates not only assisted in expanding the United States’ borders through work on the Panama canal and the transcontinental railroad, but they also continue to expand the frontiers of knowledge today by building on a “foundation of knowledge and experience.”

Jackson went on to honor members of the Rensselaer community who recently passed away. Honoring John T. Horton ’52, a board of trustees member, who served on the board for 13 years; Barbara Curtis Landgraf, the wife of the 16th president of Rensselaer, Stanley Landgraf; and Mary R. Low, the “First Lady of Rensselaer,” who was the wife of the 14th president of RPI, George Low.

Following the honors, Jackson went on to describe the Clustered Learning, Advocacy, and Support for Students Initiative. She stated that CLASS is “dedicated to supporting students” and helps them achieve a “sense of belonging and transforms them into learners.” Jackson described the structure of having deans follow a class of students from their freshman year to when they graduate as seniors four years later. Jackson stated that “CLASS deans are class advocates.”

According to Jackson, the RPI athletic teams are doing well in their respective sports as well as within their classes. Jackson recognized the accomplishments of a variety of coaches, such as Seth Appert, the men’s hockey coach who led the team to the NCAA Midwest Regional last year and who has signed on as coach till the 2017–2018 season.

The RPI relief efforts and community service projects for areas affected by Hurricane Irene were also noted. Jackson emphasized the impact the student volunteers had during their weekly Sunday cleanup efforts, by reading a quote from Dominic Jacangelo, the supervisor of Poestenkill, an area which had been greatly affected by the disaster. Jacangelo remarked on how RPI students “worked tirelessly to clean up the Poestenkill Creek bank” along with a few homes that would need to be rebuilt. In his quote, he stated, “One of the residents actually cried; she was so appreciative.”

After a few notices regarding positive and notable research accomplishments made on campus, Jackson went on to share some of the new goals for RPI campus. These goals include increasing the number of tenure and tenure track faculty to 425 and rebuilding the Jonsson Rowland Science Center, which is over half a century old. All of these ventures will take a “significant amount of funding,” according to Jackson. The cost for hiring a new professor and setting up his or her lab equipment can run from $0.5 million to $2 million.

To wrap up her presentation, Jackson mentioned some of the more famous visitors to campus in the recent months. Steven Sasson ’73, the inventor of the digital camera, was recently inducted to the Rensselaer Alumni Hall of fame; and IBM’s supercomputer WATSON, who is best known for beating Jeopardy champions Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter at their own game last year, was at EMPAC for Alumni Weekend.

After Jackson had finished her speech, the floor was opened for questioning. Questions ranged from clarifications on the current financial state at RPI to the recent drop in national rankings according to the US news and World report. Jackson fully utilized the presence of her cabinet, who sat in the front row during the speech. Directing a question referencing RPI’s investment in unstable derivates to CFO Ginny Gregg, Jackson allowed Gregg to reassure the audience that RPI does not invest in such risky financial systems.

Overall, Jackson did her best to highlight RPI’s accomplishments through the Rensselaer Plan and the changes that have recently been made to RPI. Utilizing positive research results and hefty new goals for the future, Jackson summarized many of the positive aspects of the Institute.