Planned improvements to School of Science

Dean Curt Breneman of the Rensselaer School of Science announced several key strategic initiatives during the spring town meeting that will be culminated over the coming years while celebrating recent successes in scientific research and expansions within the School of Science.

According to Breneman, several faculty members have recently received national and international recognition for their work. These faculty members include Dr. Chulsung Bae who received a $2.2 million grant as a part of an ARPA-E effort to overcome current battery and fuel cell limitations. In addition, Dr. Heng Ji was invited to join the World Economic Forum’s Global Future Council and Dr. Fran Berman was confirmed by the U.S. Senate to serve on the National Council of the Humanities. Six new faculty members have also recently joined the Rensselaer School of Science in the fields of Computer Science, Chemistry and Chemical Biology, and Mathematical Sciences.

In future expansions, Breneman plans to focus on diversity and inclusion in recruiting both faculty members and prospective students. The School of Science also hopes to attract diverse groups to science and focus on expanding student retention and graduation rates by 2020 through expanding the Calculus Virtual Bridge Program.

At the moment, the computer science and physics programs, both within the School of Science, are only 16% and 11% female, respectively. Breneman states that current averages are already a sizeable increase, as the computer science program was only 14% female in 2015, and the physics program was only 8% female in 2014. Breneman hopes to further increase female enrollment in the School of Science and continue to attract ever more diverse graduating classes.

Breneman also envisions an increase in total enrollment in the School of Science in order to expand Rensselaer’s global impact and vision, looking to enroll 1,800 undergraduate students in the School of Science by 2020, as well as 375 graduate students. For the 2017-2018 academic year, Breneman expects the current undergraduate enrollment in the School of Science to rise to 1,700 undergraduates and 335 graduates—an increase of less than 1 percent.

In order to accommodate increased class sizes, Rensselaer will aggressively hire new faculty members, with the intent of expanding the number of faculty members in the School of Science from 101 in the current academic year to 105 by 2020. This increase would allow for the number of undergraduate students in the School of Science per tenured or tenure-track faculty member to fall from 16.7 to 16.2.

Under current retention and graduation rate goals for 2020, the Institute also wishes to increase the number of Bachelor’s degrees awarded per tenured and tenure-track faculty from 3.0 to 3.8—an increase of nearly 27%, representative of an expansive increase in the number of students graduating. The same expectations also apply for graduate and doctoral students, where the expected number of degrees awarded per tenure or tenure-track faculty is expected to increase from 1.0 to 1.1, and from 0.43 to 0.57, respectively.

In conjunction with increases in enrollment and faculty hiring, Rensselaer’s School of Science aims to increase total research expenditures to reflect the number of tenure and tenure-track facult and to expand total research activity within the School of Science from $25 million in 2017 to $30 million by 2020. At the moment, Rensselaer’s School of Science does comparatively less research than its peer institutions, with the ratio of total research volume in millions to tenure and tenure-track faculty currently at 0.22, in comparison with 0.71 at MIT, 0.72 at CMU, 0.37 at Rice University, and 0.34 at Georgia Tech. By 2020, aimed increases in research expenditures could potentially increase this ratio to 0.29, an increase of nearly 32%.

Breneman stated that, “We will accomplish our mission by maximizing existing synergies with the other four Schools while simultaneously focusing on only the most impactful areas of research in basic and applied science.” This will be accomplished through leading developments in IDEA, the Jefferson Project, CISL, TERM, cMDIS, and other Global Challenge-Linked Research, as well as Next Generation Teaching (TLC), Cognition and Learning, the Innovation Ecosystem, CLASS, and Resource Generation.

The Institute also hopes, through increased research expenditures and expanded faculty, that Rensselaer can move both undergraduate and graduate science rankings from top 50 to “top-25 status” amongst national research universities in the US News & World Report. “In order for Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute to fully realize our vision as a world-class technological research university (“The New Polytechnic”) with global reach and impact, Science at Rensselaer must grow in capacity and reputation to a level that meets or exceeds that of our traditional strength in Engineering. Meeting this fundamental goal on behalf of the University is at the heart of the School of Science Performance Plan.”

In addition to expanding enrollment and research, the administration also aims to construct a new Center for Science, which was named in 2013 as one of the five Institute-wide priorities. It is unclear whether construct will occur, however, since its completion relies on funding from the upcoming capital campaign. Until the capital campaign is funded, there will be a new planning focus to accommodate expansions in the School of Science in the physical capacity through renewal projects. The administration expects to develop a statement on the future of the Center for Science and related science facilities on campus as early as 2018.