As the curtain drew back on Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s annual homecoming weekend, President Shirley Ann Jackson excitedly stood before a crowd of a crowd of alumni ready to share the progress of the Institute and the future plans for RPI. Jackson proved herself to be ambitious and optimistic about the future and took great care to explain the recently announced changes to campus structure that are anticipated in the coming years.
As she took the stage, Jackson began by addressing her aggressive goal of “reimagining what a modern technological education should be.” When Jackson assumed the role of President in 1999, the Institute had fallen “flat;” the campus had not encountered new construction since the 1970s, and revenue streams through research grants had remained unchanged throughout the 1990s. In the decade and a half since, RPI has encountered what Jackson has described as “a renaissance at Rensselaer.” The construction of buildings, such as the East Campus Athletic Village and the Rensselaer Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies, has generated resources and space that have proven immeasurably valuable to the student community, and the introduction of 330 new tenured faculty has vastly improved the state of academics at the Institute. Consequently, Rensselaer has encountered a threefold increase in the number of applications, in addition to reaching the greatest matriculation rate to date with the class of 2019.
Jackson continued her speech with discussion of the new curriculum being implemented, simply titled “The New Polytechnic.” The curriculum was boiled down to three simple goals: “a multiplicity of perspective, a multicultural sophistication, and a global view.” In the president’s eyes, the future of polytechnic education doesn’t lie in the depth of math or sciences, but in the practical application of skills to address problems on a global scale. By providing students with the resources and knowledge necessary to address worldwide problems, Jackson hopes that RPI will be able to maintain the reputation and impact that it has been able to achieve in our nearly two centuries of existence.
One of the primary tools used to achieve these goals is the controversial Summer Arch—a program that will mandate rising juniors to attend a summer semester on campus followed by a semester spent off campus either interning or traveling. This program will begin as a pilot for the classes of 2019 and 2020, with full implementation following with the class of 2021. During the State of the Institute address, Jackson stated that Rensselaer would encourage students to take the opportunity to go abroad, which will promote the development of worldly and experienced students. She believes that the aim of the Summer Arch is to provide students with the perspective and understanding necessary to create a worldwide Rensselaer influence.
Jackson’s address stood as a reminder of the changes that the president has made to the Institute, in addition to her ambitious plans for the future of the institution. If nothing else, the president has made one thing clear: for RPI to continue the legacy it has developed, it is essential that the institution find novel ways to integrate cutting edge technology with modern approaches to learning.