President discusses “New Polytechnic”

Spring Town Hall Meeting covers Refresh, budget, directors, Science Center

PRESIDENT SHIRLEY ANN JACKSON UPDATES the Rensselaer community about the Rensselaer Plan Refresh, the budget, and the concept of the “New Polytechnic.”

Last Wednesday, President Shirley Ann Jackson held her annual Spring Town Hall Meeting in the Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center. During the meeting, Jackson explained the state of the Insitute to members of the Rensselaer community and the surrounding areas. Among the topics she discussed was the idea of the “New Polytechnic,” which she described in the ERA Foundation International Lecture at the Royal Academy of Engineering in London on January 22.

Jackson began her talk by reminding attendees about the Rensselaer Plan Refresh: 2012–2024, which “recognizes opportunities and strengths that have emerged since the original plan was created, and builds upon the original Rensselaer Plan in ways that provide a foundation and direction to take the Institute to its bicentennial in 2024.” She added that the Refresh was approved by the Board of Trustees. She went on to describe several aspects of the Refresh.

She described how the Refresh affects the Clustered Learning, Advocacy, and Support for Students initiative, and how it has grown since its inception. Jackson said that CLASS no longer only applies to undergraduate students, but that the programs under the initiative provide support for graduate student life and academic needs. “Our goal is to develop engaged thinkers and innovators who are intellectually agile, and who possess the multicultural sophistication to become transformative forces across the globe,” Jackson added.

On the topic of “innovative pedagogy,” Jackson explained that RPI has been a leader in its approaches to teaching. She mentioned that RPI pioneered the studio classroom and introduced team-based learning to students in the 1990s. Jackson went on to describe the Mandarin Chinese language course, “Mandarin Language & Culture: The Lost Manuscript,” and the Emergent Reality Lab, “an advanced virtual reality system currently under construction in the Rensselaer Technology Park.”

Jackson then spoke about the Institute’s “five signature thrusts”: Nanotechnology and Advanced Materials; Energy, Environment, and Smart Systems; Computational Science and Engineering; Biotechnology and the Life Sciences; and Media, Arts, Science, and Technology. She added that RPI’s research in the next two decades will primarily fall under one of two categories. “‘Beyond the Internet: Digital Meets Reality’ will explore data and information in the context of big data approaches to fundamental science, engineering natural and man-made networks, cyber-infrastructure and cyber-security, and data analytics and innovation,” she said. On the other hand, “‘Infrastructural Resilience, Sustainability, and Stewardship’ will look at building a sustainable future by developing affordable healthcare technologies, transformative materials, and smart logistics and infrastructure.”

The meeting then turned to the topic of the “New Polytechnic.” Jackson explained that the need for the New Polytechnic has arisen as a result of the many global concerns of the 21st century. “I define the New Polytechnic as an entirely fresh collaborative endeavor merging across a multiplicity of disciplines, sectors, and global regions,” she said. “It is animated by new technologies and tools—high performance computing, is an example—applied in new ways, with input from Big Data, amplified by new platforms such as the Semantic Web, probed by advanced analytics, and guided by societal concerns and ethics. Engaged in by a broad spectrum of participants, the New Polytechnic ultimately will facilitate novel and effective approaches to global challenges.”

Jackson also explained her outreach attempts on the global stage via the World Economic Forum. In January, she and Head of the Computer Science Department Jim Hendler participated in the forum, moderating and speaking on topics such as “Global Supply Chain Resilience” and “Science: The Next Revolution.”

Watson’s arrival at RPI was also discussed. Jackson reiterated the fact that this is the first institution of higher education to receive such technology. This has been added to the Institute’s computing resources, which include several racks of IBM’s Blue Gene/Q system. However, RPI’s Blue Gene/L system will soon be retired.

Jackson expanded on the information she e-mailed to the Rensselaer community on March 18. She stated that there were 16,132 applications this year, a 6 percent increase from last year and a 189 percent increase from 2005. The Board of Trustees approved a budget of $394.4 million. Tuition will increase by 4 percent for the 2013–2014 academic year, rising to $45,100; room and board will increase by a similar amount. The financial aid budget was increased by 9 percent to $97 million. Graduate student stipends will now amount to $18,500. Jackson added that the Institute plans to hire 60 tenure and tenure-track faculty members.

A number of faculty and staff members at RPI were named for their accomplishments. Professor of Biomedical Engineering Deepak Vashishth was appointed as Director of the Center of Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies. Professor of Computer Science Christopher Carothers was appointed as Director of the Rensselaer Computational Center for Nanotechnology Innovations. Ralph Isernia was named as RPI’s new football coach. Farhan Gandhi was hired as the latest Rosalind and John J. Redfern Jr. ’33 Professor of Engineering; Yuri Gorby is the newest Howard N. Blitman ’50 P.E. Career Development Professor in Engineering. Brigitte Arduini was appointed as Director of the Stem Cell Research Core Facility. Professor Peter Fox was named the Director of the Information Technology and Web Science program. Donald Schwendeman was also named the head of the Department of Mathematical Sciences.

Professors Ganpati Ramanath, Shawn-Yu Lin, Hendler, and Ron Sun were also named for their achievements. Assistant Professors Sandipan Mishra, Peter Dinolfo, Qun Wan, and Thomas Sharkey were each given the National Science Foundation CAREER Award. Dean of the School of Science Laurie Leshin was appointed to the Advisory Board of the National Air & Space Museum. Hendler was awarded with the Strata Data Innovation Award.

Jackson announced that Congressman John Lewis, Admiral Mike Mullen, founding President of the Bill & Miranda Gates Foundation Patty Stonesifer, and Chairman and CEO of Xerox Corporation Ursula Burns will be this year’s Commencement honorands.

The meeting then turned to questions from the audience. Graduate student Charles Martin ’13 asked about the plans for the future of the Jonsson-Rowland Science Center. He expressed his concerns that the plans may affect the Hirsch Observatory. Jackson directed Martin’s question to Vice President for Administration Claude Rounds. Rounds explained that the plans Martin referred to were “very very early concept graphics of how the center might be placed on campus.” He added that, at this time, “no decisions have been made.”

Jackson ended the meeting by saying, “This community has taken a thoughtful approach to tackling the challenges our world faces, and our commitment to a renewed strategy and working together to create solutions promises much in terms of future achievement and success.”

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