Earlier this month, a man named Carl Westerdahl passed away. Younger RPI students may not know who he is, but Westerdahl left behind a legacy that all of us should remember. While I may not have known him personally, the stories that I’ve read and heard from people have shown me the powerful impression he left on RPI. I feel compelled to share a small glimpse of the rich history of this man and what he has given to this school.
Westerdahl served many roles on this campus, but what he is most known for were his positions as the Dean of Students and the Director of Alumni and Community Relations. As the Dean of Students, he increased the number of women, minority, and international students enrolled at RPI through programs that he created. In his tenure as the Director of Alumni and Community Relations, he helped the Rensselaer Alumni Association by organizing and building a strong board of trustees, strengthened the alumni awards program, and contributed his time and effort with the construction of the Heffner Alumni House.
When he retired from RPI in 1993, Westerdahl did not end his commitment to the school. In the same year he retired, he provided funding for the establishment of the Pillars of Rensselaer Award, which honors long-term staff members that serve as outstanding representatives of Rensselaer.
One part of Westerdahl’s life that intrigued me was his fascination with Rensselaer’s history and traditions. He was enamored with the history of our school, especially our founder Stephen Van Rensselaer III. With this passion for Rensselaer and research, Westerdahl wrote many pieces on RPI’s history including the book he co-authored, Rensselaer: Where Imagination Achieves the Impossible. Westerdahl’s hobby of researching also led him to construct incredibly detailed and informative biographies on candidates for the RPI Hall of Fame. This was very useful as it made the process of selecting the award recipient much easier and because copies of these biographies were donated to the Institute Archives. While Westerdahl may not be with us now, the legacy he built still remains, and the relationships he formed with the students, alumni, and staff will not be forgotten.
The full version of Westerdahl’s book I mentioned earlier can be viewed online in the Institute Archives. If you have any free time, I encourage you to read this book, as it is a fascinating look at the history of our school. If you have any questions or would like a link to the book I mentioned, please feel free to e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.