October 9–12 was Reunion & Homecoming. Among other events, President Shirley Ann Jackson gave her twice-yearly State of the Institute Address on Saturday, October 11. Most of those in attendance were alumni and their families. Jackson discussed the many programs and initiatives Rensselaer has in place to shape the Institute over the coming decade. Also among the events on Saturday were the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering Centennial Celebration and the induction of the Class of 1964 into the 50 Year club.
RPI Alumni Association President Roger Mike ’70 welcomed the alumni. He gave special congratulations to the Classes of 1954 and 1964, which were celebrating their 60th and 50th anniversaries, respectively. Mike noted that several other milestones are occurring this year, including the 150th anniversaries of Delta Phi and Theta Xi. Mike also discussed the Rensselaer Alumni Association Board, saying that it supports alumni and their reengagement with RPI. Additionally, he noted that there are nearly 100,000 alumni of Rensselaer.
After Mike finished his speech, a video demonstrating the Rensselaer Plan 2024 was shown. It was concluded by introducing Jackson, who spokabout the “Bridge to the Bicentennial.” Important milestones of various departments and achievements of graduates and Rensselaer affiliates are being celebrated. The Lally School of Management turned 50 in 2013, while the Chemical Engineering Department is 100 years old this year. The Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies is a decade old this year, and according to Jackson, 2,000 peer-reviewed articles have come out of Biotech.
Jackson then led a moment of silence for Rensselaer members who have passed away in the past year, including Major-General Harold Greene ’80, who was killed in Afghanistan earlier this year; Robert Resnick ’92, a physics professor who taught at Rensselaer and whose textbook with David Halliday is still widely used today; and Harvey Zeve ’52, who was chairman of H. L. Zeve Associates, Inc. and a member of RPI’s Board of Trustees.
After the moment of silence, Jackson recognized several of the alumni in attendance, including Samuel F. Heffner, Jr. ’56. She then introduced her cabinet, RPI’s academic deans, and other directors and vice presidents in attendance. She proclaimed that RPI was ranked 11th for entrepreneurship by the Forbes 2014 “Most Entrepreneurial Universities” list. Jackson noted that applications have tripled during the last decade. The Class of 2018 is very strong academically, Jackson also said. Next, Jackson moved to the use of data and technology to solve global issues, such as a changing environment. She explained the concept of New Polytechnic as a way of “understanding and impacting the world.” Programs such as the Rensselaer Institution for Data Exploration and Applications, Advanced Multiprocessing Optimized System, Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center, Watson, the Jefferson Project, and Mount Sinai are part of the New Polytechnic. Jackson explained that the Jefferson
Project will give Lake George the most sensors of any lake in the world. A new data lab is being built for the Darrin Fresh Water Institute as part of the project. Mount Sinai Hospital is a medical facility that RPI is partnering with. This past summer, three students earned Summer Undergraduate Research Program awards at Mount Sinai, making them the first three to do so. The first RPI student has been admitted to Mount Sinai’s FlexMed program; students in the program are chosen as sophomores and are not on the typical pre-med track most students aspiring to be medical doctors would be on.
Also important to the New Polytechnic, Jackson said, was students gaining more multidisciplinary knowledge. A program called “Art Across the Curriculum” helps teach creative thinking regardless of their discipline. The School of Humanities and Social Sciences Inquiry Curriculum gives first-year students a chance to critically think about the world and their field of study. A video game called Geoexplorer allows civil engineering students to observe and find solutions to civil engineering problems, such as levees in a hurricane.
Jackson also said that Clustered Learning, Advocacy, and Support for Students has been expanding. Not only are there residential and faculty deans at RPI, but there is also an off-campus dean. Class deans stay with the students from each class year starting their sophomore year. Programs such as Emerging Leaders for first-year students and Sophomore Career Experience also provide students with valuable skills. Jackson noted that CLASS is being extended to graduate students. She then went on to talk about RPI’s 200 clubs and many sports teams. Seven student-athletes received national All-American recognition last year. Jackson mentioned John “Doc” Hudson ’56, who was an assistant track and field coach as well as professor emeritus in the Materials Engineering Department.
Jackson then called for questions. James Wernicke ’74 asked whether RPI could run completely on green energy by 2024, noting that RPI is a technological institute and ought to be at the forefront of renewable energy. Jackson gave the question to Vice President of Administration Claude Rounds, who explained that new buildings are being designed to be more energy efficient and that old buildings are being renovated to be more efficient. New technologies to lower costs and improve green energy technologies are being researched at Rensselaer. Jackson also noted that RPI’s physical plant is over 100 years old.
An alumnus from the Class of 1984 asked about the rising cost of colleges, including RPI. He noted that he had a son in the Class of 2016. Jackson explained that the cost of a technological education such as what Rensselaer offers is quite high. She also noted that many students receive financial aid and that RPI operates more efficiently than many other colleges. A 1964 alumnus asked about virtual education. Jackson explained that RPI believes the residential model is best for students. An alumnus from the Class of 1953 asked about athletes’ safety, particularly in relation to concussions. Director of Athletics Jim Knowlton explained that RPI has very conservative concussion-related rules, such as how long an athlete must sit out.
One of the Patroon Society Chairs stated that RPI alumni give back less than alumni of other institutions. Jackson said that it is important to reach out to current students and make sure they understand that they must “protect the bridge that helped [them] get across.” Another alumnus explained that he had gone to a Chemistry I lecture and noticed that many students were on their laptops or cell phones. Jackson said that RPI is “not a prison so we don’t control what our students do” and noted that college students need to learn time management and maturity, as well as academics. Jackson further emphasized that this was why RPI believes in the residential model.
Additionally, an alumnus from the Class of 1954 asked about the current graduation rate. Jackson claimed it being 85 percent, while stating the freshman-to-sophomore year retention rate as 98 percent. Lastly, former Grand Marshal Kara Chesal ’09 asked about the ratio of women, noting that it was 22 percent when she was at RPI. Jackson said that the current ratio is around one-third women, with the goal of 35 percent women. She noted that the graduation rate of women across all cultural groups is 90 percent. A transcript of the speech will soon be available at http://rpi.edu/president/speeches.
The centennial celebration for the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering featured accomplishments of Rensselaer faculty and alumni. Attendees could go on lab tours. At halftime during the football game against St. Lawrence, held at East Campus Athletic Village, members of the Class of 1964 were inducted into the 50 Year Club. Jackson, Knowlton, and 50 Year Club President Ken Mortenson ’47 took turns congratulating the members of the Class of 1964.
These three events were just some of the many celebrations held over the weekend. The President’s State of the Institute Address showed alumni what RPI has been and will be working on over the next few years. Rensselaer’s bicentennial is in ten years.