President reviews state of Institute in semiannual Town Hall Meeting

PRESIDENT SHIRLEY ANN JACKSON SPEAKS at the annual spring Town Hall Meeting on Thursday, March 12.

A large crowd was in attendance this past Thursday afternoon to hear Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s President Shirley Ann Jackson speak as part of the annual President’s Spring Town Hall Meeting, held in the Experimental Media Performing and Arts Center Theater. Provost Prabhat Hajela introduced Jackson to the stage, where she began the meeting discussing how she recently attended the 2015 World Economic Forum in Switzerland with nearly 1,500 other people as a way to learn more about public-private cooperation. She went on to introduce her cabinet, then discussed several numerical figures regarding the upcoming 2015–2016 academic year, as well as the 2016 fiscal year.

There were 17,713 undergraduate applications, with a 5.8 percent increase in woman applicants. Recently, the RPI engineering school was ranked number 39 in nation by U.S. News & World Reports. Additionally, the tuition for next year will be $48,100, an increase of 3 percent; however, 9.3% more financial aid will be given to assist students. The search for more faculty members to fill certain positions will continue as the faculty renewal hire plan for fiscal year 2016 has been proposed. Jackson encourages all to follow the Rensselaer Alumni Association on all social media to stay updated with upcoming events happening here at RPI.

The meeting then shifted to discussing the goals and progress made with The New Polytechnic. The main goal of this set of initiatives is to develop a transformative learning experience that will directly the impact lives of many. One segment of The New Polytechnic is the recently launched Rensselaer Institute for Data Exploration and Applications, which advances data-driven research across campus. The IDEA couples with newly-formed cooperative agreements with corporations and other universities. The Advanced Multiprocessing Optimized System, the largest supercomputer at an American private institute, is here at RPI as a way of promoting “engineering design made by real stuff and real people,” according to Jackson. IBM’s Watson system is here at Rensselaer to promote students to develop new hypothesizes, too. Recently, the United States Air Force provided a grant for two Rensselaer IDEA professors to perform neuromorphic computing research. The Cognitive and Immersive Systems Laboratory will soon open at EMPAC with the help of IBM. This new implementation will consist of situation rooms that will respond automatically to its occupants.

In addition to research and new ideas, the Knowledge and Innovation Program has begun, in which the “Rensselaer Office of Research has awarded four grants to spur multidisciplinary research in the areas of the built environment, environmental resilience, advanced cyber-infrastructure, and bio-innovation.” Jackson stated that students at RPI need to be well-disciplined in art and science and mentioned how the curriculum has shifted to capture this notion, as well as focusing on enabling students to be more data analytic. Many new ways of learning and teaching have been sprouting over the last few years, as cyber enabled learning is becoming more popular. The Virtual Calculus Bridge is an example of this type of learning, as it was offered this past summer and will be offered again, in addition to the new Virtual Physics Bridge. These virtual learning programs are to help students through experimentation and problem solving.

Recently, a $1.2 million grant was provided for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics research at RPI by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. As a way of leading incoming freshman to success in STEM, the mentor program will be extended from Calculus I to Physics I and Chemistry I. Jackson also explained that student engagement with faculty is necessary for success.

The meeting concluded with the presentation of four honorary degree recipients, one of which is Admiral Michelle J. Howard from the United States Navy, who will be a speaker for the upcoming 2015 Commencement. A question and answer time was provided at the end, but no questions were asked.