Rensselaer was founded upon the principle of the application of science to the common purposes of life, and the prominence of modern scientific prospectus in education. In 1824, this was a radical, if not momentous,development. Prior to this, education had been largely concentrated to a few small, old, and rich liberal arts colleges in the Northeast, such as Harvard and Yale. The conventional departure from liberal arts to the creation of the first established science program, and later one of the first centers of experiential learning in engineering education, is what led to Rensselaer’s rise to prominence in the 19th century; it continues to lead our university through a momentous transformation as we continuously reevaluate our role as a source of research and ingenuity in industry, education, and the future of our species.
This foundation is at the center of the Rensselaer Plan 2024, but in the opinion of a science lover, this goal will not continue to be achieved without taking bold steps. The resurrection of the Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies was a revolutionary change—it brought about a swift set of innovations and changes that have helped bring Rensselaer to higher prominence while expanding our global impact. The Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center was also greatly important but, in my opinion, is underutilized in that the number of Humanities, Arts, and Social Science students at Rensselaer continues to remain amongst the lowest at any university, even given the technical edge of many of our humanities and arts programs. The creation of a music program is a great step in helping solve this problem.
Right now, however, we look to the past. The transformation of Rensselaer, the old capital campaign, and the physical infrastructure noted are all nearly a decade old. The 2000s came to a close very swiftly, and the 2010s are nearing conclusion. Rensselaer must not look back, but forward into the next decade. Rensselaer must achieve further prominence for its School of Science. This is essential to the further growth of applications and the prominence of our university. We cannot just be good at engineering. MIT is not just good at engineering. Harvard is not just good at law.
This is 2017. We are Rensselaer, and we must do more to make this a reality. This can only be accomplished through research and further expansion of faculty. I am aware of the strides that have been made, and that research expenditures will continue to grow, but even more needs to be done.
The Dean of the School of Science Dr. Curt Breneman is correct in stating that Rensselaer must outpace its current strengths in engineering in order to accomplish its goals. The Institute, however, has not yet released a clear timeline on the development of the new Center for Science. Regardless of whether the administration sees this as an an idea or actually wants to pursue new physical infrastructure, I stand by my belief that a physical center for science, as a new place for experiential learning and research, is essential. I also believe the alumni would be greatly satisfied to see that Rensselaer is contributing so much to research, as most Rensselaer graduates studied either science or engineering.
If I were to imagine the center, I would picture a place where data visualization and computer science intersect to help solve the world’s most pressing problems, where studio classrooms fuel in-class projects and development, and research accompanies learning in laboratories. This reminds me very much of CBIS and what it stood to accomplish, and has accomplished, over the past decade.
This needs to be done again at Rensselaer. I call on all alumni, graduates, faculty, and administrators to wholeheartedly support the revitalization and bolstering of our School of Science. The capital campaign poses many challenges, but could also potentially serve to change our school yet again. Looking back in a decade, I dream that I can reread this article and see a school which has attained top-25 status amongst all national universities, is within the top 20 programs in the country for all sciences, and is unparalleled in research across all disciplines. This is the true embodiment of the “New Polytechnic,” which has been envisioned by Dr. Jackson, and I am both excited and cautiously optimistic about what this serves to contribute to Rensselaer today, as well as over the coming decades.