On Wednesday, April 4, President Shirley Ann Jackson hosted the Spring 2012 Town Hall Meeting, entitled “Dream Big: Taking on the Grand Challenges,” in the Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center. The semesterly meeting involves a presentation on the state of RPI and its future, as well as a question and answer session during which all attendees may ask Jackson questions on issues that concern them.
Vice President for Strategic Communications and External Relations William Walker began the meeting by describing the basic premise of Jackson’s presentation. He then listed two awards Jackson has recently received: the Phillip Hauge Abelson Award from the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the America Competes Award for Public Service from the U.S. Council on Competitiveness.
Jackson began by saying that there is a “growing need for answers” to what she described as the “grand challenges.” These include resources, the environment, the economy, and security. She emphasized that the time and talent the Institute can bring to these challenges is “indispensable” and that the specific contributions that RPI researchers have made and will make are “critically important.” Jackson also quoted Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering Jose Holguin-Veras, who wrote that, in regard to combating these issues, Rensselaer’s participation “may need to go beyond our technological expertise.”
By speaking with various deans and department heads, Jackson said she has been presented with fundamental questions to ask about research and how research at RPI may be altered to better address the “grand challenges.” Specifically, Jackson and the deans have discussed which research fields to focus on, how exactly they will encourage more students to participate in this research, and how to restructure courses to more adequately prepare these students for new research projects. By answering these questions, Jackson stated that the Institute will be “moving into the next phase of realizing the Rensselaer Plan.”
Following her talk on research, Jackson mentioned several developments at RPI, many of which she had already informed students about. She spoke briefly about the IdeasLab presentation “From Concept to Commerce” at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Other topics included the reinstatement of the Faculty Senate, the approval of the budget for Fiscal Year 2013, and the this year’s record-setting number of applications to RPI.
A number of faculty and staff members were appointed to new positions. Angel Garcia was named head of the Department of Physics, Applied Physics, and Astronomy; Xie George Xu was named head of Nuclear Engineering; Linda Schadler was given the title Russell Sage Professor; Joseph Medina was appointed to be assistant vice president for advancement strategies, services, and infrastructure; and Argeo Ascani was appointed as music curator for EMPAC.
Several members of RPI’s faculty were also named fellows of various scientific societies. Head of the Department of Biology Susan Gilbert and Professor James Hendler became fellows of the AAAS; Professor of Physics James Napolitano and Professor of Physics, Information Technology, and Entrepreneurship Vincent Meunier were named fellows of the American Physical Society; Head of the Department of Biomedical Engineering Deepak Vashishth became a fellow of the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering; and Assistant Professor of Science and Technology Studies Michael Mascarenhas was named a fellow of “Framing the World” working group.
A few members of the faculty also received awards for their work. Assistant Professor of Physics, Applied Physics, and Astronomy Kim Lewis and Assistant Professor of Biomedical Engineering Ryan Gilbert both received the Faculty Early Career Development from the National Science Foundation. Associate Professor of Strategic Management Jonathan O’Brien was granted the Karen Legge Prize from the Journal of Management Studies.
Jackson also highlighted the work of certain students. She mentioned that graduate students Zepu Wang and Christopher Rivet had qualified as finalists for the Lemelson-MIT Prize and that graduate student Fazel Yavari had won the prize. Additionally, Jake Schonberger ‘12, Kyle Brody ‘13, and Suni Wei ‘12 won Troy’s first ever StartUp Weekend. Jackson added that a few architecture students visited the Hyde Art Collection and were tasked with incorporating the style into their own work, effectively “marrying the aesthetics of art and the aesthetics of architecture.”
Efforts are being made to continue “hearing all of the voices of our community,” said Jackson. The Office of Student Life has begun a program titled “Pathways,” which involves having members of Student Life stationed around campus to answer students’ questions. Vice President of Student Life Timothy Sams is also beginning communications with his recently appointed Student Life Advisory Groups.
Jackson briefly spoke on the topic of athletics. She mentioned that the varsity field hockey and women’s basketball teams both reached the Liberty League playoffs. Additionally, the average GPA for athletes has been higher than that of non-athletes for the 21st straight month, with 36 athletes having a 4.0 GPA last semester. Jackson gave special recognition to Jason Rock ’12, who competed in the NCAA Division III diving championship.
Campus updates in terms of facilities include the opening of College Suites at City Station to married students and their families. Jackson also announced that the Center for Cognition, Communication, and Culture will open this fall.
Jackson then informed the audience about the 2012 Commencement. Of note were the Commencement Honorands who included Associate Justice of the Supreme Court Antonin Scalia, inventor of the digital camera Stephen Sasson, and the “father of expert systems” Edward Feigenbaum. The speaker will be Former U.S. House Representative Bart Gordon.
The presentation concluded with Jackson returning to the research occurring on campus and that the Institute “can take confidence in the steps that [it] has already taken.” The question and answer period began with a question from Daniel Hakimi ‘12 regarding Jackson’s supposed comment that members of the RPI community have focused too much on the negatives and problems at the Institute. Jackson replied by mentioning that speaking about the issues is not the problem, it is the way in which individuals have gone about it. She mentioned that those who wish to discuss problems should speak in a “solution oriented” manner.
A second question came from another RPI student, who asked about the increase in cost of attendance. Jackson began her response by stating that, in her announcement of the increases, the mentioning of similar occurrences at other schools was simply for the purpose of providing context. She added that the Institute is stretching resources as much as possible, and that the issue of financial aid is “something that we’re obsessively focused on.”