Science & The New Polytechnic

First of all, the title of my column isn’t meant to suggest that we need a new version of “The Poly” – in fact, I feel honored to share some of my thoughts with you here. The title actually reflects on how the School of Science is committed to realizing President Jackson’s vision of “The New Polytechnic” as articulated in the Rensselaer Plan 2024—as an intellectual construct that embodies new ways of thinking and new ways of tackling some of the most important global challenges of our time. More on that later… first, here’s a little background about me. When I arrived at Rensselaer during the summer of 1989 as an Assistant Professor of Chemistry—the Department didn’t have “Chemical Biology” as part of its name then—I felt a deep sense of responsibility and excitement about becoming a part of this great institution, and I wanted to make sure that I did my best in both teaching and research in order to live up to its reputation. I had heard a great many things about how highly regarded the student body was, and that the faculty were known for inventing new ways of teaching, such as “studio” courses. They were also national and international leaders in their respective fields of research. Wow! Well, it’s 2017, and I’m even more excited about the success of Rensselaer, and amazed at how much progress we have already made together. When President Jackson appointed me Dean of the School of Science in January of 2015, I was honored and excited to have the responsibility of making sure that the School of Science continued to grow and thrive, provide the best instruction and a great student experience, and grow our international research reputation to new levels.

This brings me back to the “New Polytechnic,” and what the School of Science has been doing in collaboration with the other four Schools to provide you with a broad education with a Rensselaer distinction. This means that we intend to equip you with a collaborative mindset, a willingness to take on problems that require a multiplicity of perspectives, and a set of creative “out of box” thinking skills that will prepare you to be leaders in the digital economy.

Most of you have already heard about three aspects of “The New Polytechnic” that are currently in place or are being implemented, and others are planned. These include the Summer Arch, Art_x@Rensselaer and Clustered Learning, Advocacy, and Support for Students. Details of Summer Arch can be found on the Provost’s webpage at The School of Science is gearing up for the summer of 2018, when rising junior science majors will join rising juniors from other Schools in the first campus-wide voluntary Summer Arch experience. Engineers and Management junior volunteers will begin their Summer Arch in 2017. The Summer Arch is designed to provide a transformational summer experience when your focus will begin to pivot from an “internal” perspective—learning the basics of your field—to an “external” one during your semester away from Rensselaer, where you will apply your skills and knowledge to address real-world global challenge problems. It will be an amazing experience!

Art_x@Rensselaer has already begun on campus in many forms, and is being infused across the curriculum in all of our Schools. The core concept of Art_x is that it allows students to experience the creative freedom associated with learning to see “the Science in, and of, Art, and the Art in, and of, Science.” I can certainly appreciate that! My perspective is that, by increasing your opportunities to think creatively—like an artist—when confronted with technical or design challenges where your creative process is rewarded as much as product, you will learn how to find solutions to the most challenging problems not by incremental optimization, but by defining new pathways to success that others will most likely never consider (think Steve Jobs). These creativity-intensive courses and course modules have already appeared in the form of capstone experiences in several schools, but you’ll see more of them in the near future—especially in the School of Science.

You are all involved in CLASS already! The School of Science is working with Student Life to create and support meaningful new modes of mutual student support, and meaningful, developmentally appropriate opportunities for interactions with science faculty outside of the classroom. You’ll soon hear about a program of “Faculty Fellows,” who will be coming to the residence halls and Commons to talk with you about their backgrounds, experiences, and things not necessarily related to their teaching or research areas. I’ll be one of the faculty members who will be taking part in that–I look forward to having lunch with you at Commons one day soon. I’ve also introduced a new “Science Dean’s Office Hour” program, where I’ll be holding informal discussions with students about whatever they’d like to discuss. We’ll be setting up times for that soon. See you then!