Capital campaign: financial aid, faculty, facilities

PRESIDENT SHIRLEY ANN JACKSON DISCUSSES the opening of the Off-Campus Commons and the inspirations of the Summer Arch program.

Vice President for Information Services and Technology and Chief Information Officer John Kolb ’79 kicked off the president’s bi-annual Town Meeting by referencing President Shirley Ann Jackson’s recent public appearances, such as her participation in the World Economic Forum and her shout out on Saturday Night Live.

A new initiative, the Center for Health Empowerment by Analytics, Learning, and Semantics, is a five-year, $20 million collaboration with IBM to apply machine learning techniques across large data sets in order to better understand diseases such as hypertension and diabetes. A goal of the Center for HEALS is to provide individualized health recommendations based on one’s lifestyle.

On Summer Arch, Jackson said that all participating students will be housed in Quad this year. Students will be provided opportunities to explore and engage in activities beyond the Troy campus. She also brought up a bit of history, remarking that this is not the first time Rensselaer has done these student excursions: Amos Eaton, a co-founder of RPI, used to take students on field trips that left campus at 4 am. “That is not our plan,” Jackson quipped.

Jackson also discussed RPI’s financial situation. She noted that RPI has “borrowed, in a total amount, less than [its] endowment,” for accomplishing the goals of the Rensselaer Plan. RPI plans to accelerate the paydown of its debt, and projects that its endowment will exceed its debt within the next three years.

Jackson noted that the financial aid budget will increase by 5.5 percent in the future. In an email sent to the community on Tuesday, April 4, Jackson announced the appointment of Martin Daniels as Director of Financial Aid, effective May 15.

The Off-Campus Commons opens in May and is expected to provide a space for new programming focused on students living off campus or in Greek housing.

Former Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz will speak at Commencement, along with Dow Chemical Company Chairman and CEO Andrew Liveris and TIAA President and CEO Roger Ferguson.

On the issue of communication between students and administrators, Jackson said that Pizza with the President and, later, Pizza with the Cabinet were ended because they “devolved” to little issues that are beneath the president’s attention. The events were a chance for students to interact and have conversations with administrators.

Last spring, issues of communication catalyzed nearly 1,000 students to protest proposed changes in the Division of Student Life outside of the president’s 2016 Spring Town Meeting, and pack the EMPAC Concert Hall to capacity. This “brouhaha,” as Jackson referred to it in this Town Meeting, was a culmination of the breakdown in communication between students and the administration last year, something she has been working to improve since.

A recording of the first portion of the event is available from RPI at The question and answer portion has not been posted as of publication.