The Passing of Roland Schmitt, Ph.D.

From the President's Desk

April 3, 2017

To: The Rensselaer Community
Re: The Passing of Roland Schmitt, Ph.D.

It is with great sadness that I write to inform you of the recent passing of Dr. Roland Schmitt, a renowned scientist and leader, who played a significant role in helping to shape Rensselaer into a global institution. Through a distinguished career in research and education, Roland Schmitt, Rensselaer’s 16th president, emerged as a respected national leader on legislative and policy issues related to research and development, technology, competitiveness, and higher education. He was 93.

Dr. Schmitt was President Emeritus of Rensselaer, serving as university president from 1988 to 1993. He spent 37 years at General Electric, retiring in 1988 as senior vice president for science and technology, and as a member of GE’s Corporate Executive Council. From 1978 to 1986 he directed the GE Research and Development Center in Schenectady.

Dr. Schmitt served on the Rensselaer Board of Trustees from 1981 to 1988. As president of Rensselaer, Dr. Schmitt oversaw completion of the New Century Campaign for $207 million, and the establishment of a variety of new initiatives, including new research centers and degree programs. A respected technological leader, he brought national attention to Rensselaer. Dr. Schmitt received an honorary doctor of engineering degree from Rensselaer in 1997, and in 1999 he was named to the Rensselaer Alumni Hall of Fame. He also received the Rensselaer Community Service Award.

Dr. Schmitt earned bachelor’s degrees in mathematics and physics, and a master’s degree in physics, from the University of Texas; he received a Ph.D. in physics from Rice University, in 1951.

Among his myriad scientific and government affiliations, Dr. Schmitt was chairman of the Board of Governors of the American Institute of Physics, and chairman of the Motorola Science Advisors and the Mobil Corporation’s Technology Advisory Council. He also was a member of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory Advisory Board. During the 1980s, he served as the chair of the National Science Board, which sets policy for the National Science Foundation.

Dr. Schmitt served as a vice chairman for technology of the Center for Economic Growth in Albany. He served on the board of Logical Net Inc., an Albany internet service provider. Dr. Schmitt was an advisor of High Peaks Venture Partners. Dr. Schmitt was a former chairman of the board of the New York State Office of Science, Technology and Academic Research.

Dr. Schmitt was a member of the National Academy of Engineering, and a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Physical Society, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

He received honorary doctoral degrees from the University of Pennsylvania (1985), Worcester Polytechnic Institute (1985), Union College (1985), Lehigh University (1986), the University of South Carolina (1988), the Universite de Technologie de Compiegne (1991), the College of St. Rose (1992), Russell Sage College (1993), Hartford Graduate Center (1995), and Illinois Institute of Technology (1996). He received Rice University’s Distinguished Alumni Award in 1985, the Stony Brook Foundation’s Award for Distinguished Contributions to Higher Education in 1985, and the University at Albany Foundation’s Academic Laureate Award in 1997.

Among the many other awards he received during his distinguished career were:

  • Corning Award for Excellence from the Business Council of New York State, 2001
  • Arthur M. Bueche Award from the NAE, 1995
  • Hoover Award, from a consortium of five major engineering societies, 1993
  • Pake Award from the American Physical Society, 1993
  • IEEE Founders Medal, 1992
  • IEEE Engineering Leadership Recognition Award, 1989
  • Maurice Holland Award (1988) and IRI Medal (1989), both from the Industrial Research Institute

Dr. Schmitt was generous in his support of Rensselaer. He was a member of the Stephen Van Rensselaer Society of Patroons. Over the years, Dr. and Mrs. Schmitt made contributions reflecting a wide range of interests at Rensselaer, and established endowments for a professorship, student scholarships, and an endowed fund for flowers on the campus.

Dr. Schmitt is survived by his wife, Claire Schmitt, an environmentalist and author, and four children, Larry, Brian, Alice and Henry.

Our thoughts and prayers go out to Dr. Roland Schmitt’s family and friends. Please join me in taking a moment to reflect on the contributions he made to our university and to our world. He will never be far from our thoughts.