When a report of a crisis, a new fashion, or a faux pas ripples across the surface of social media, it sets off comments, actions, and conversations. Global connectivity has become something that is lived more than it is reflected upon. On an intuitive level, we understand the peculiar ways society, technology, and the natural environment link up. We may notice these connections on the surface, but miss what can become profound, especially when they strike the stress points associated with global challenges.
Conflict and cooperation, poverty and wealth, scarcity and abundance, hoaxes and wisdom—these can create upheavals or opportunities, depending upon our ability to question, analyze, and trust each other.
Within Rensselaer, our students continue to prepare for the challenges of a connected world in the ways they always have—through instruction, practice, and engagement. Respect and clear communications are cherished underpinnings of the culture we have built and nurtured.
In recent years we have extended our commitment to our students through The New Polytechnic—collaborating across disciplines and sectors and regions to harness the power of emerging tools and technologies to address the key intersecting challenges and opportunities of our time.
This approach features a comprehensive living/learning approach to the student experience—most notably with CLASS (Clustered Learning, Advocacy, and Support for Students). It includes innovative pedagogy, using, for example, the Multiplayer and Mixed Reality Classroom and Cyber-Enabled Discovery and Learning. A vital element of the student experience is participation in research aimed at meeting key global challenges, such as access to clean, affordable, and sustainable energy and water, human health and well-being for all, and action to combat climate change and its effects.
Ultimately, this means a Rensselaer education provides capabilities and direction that sifts through trends, dismissing distractions, identifying what really matters, and addressing challenges in the most effective ways.
Last fall, 1,682 new students joined Rensselaer to start the next stage of their academic careers. The first-year students hail from 42 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. As a reflection of the Rensselaer global reach, almost 300 students come from countries around the world.
Rensselaer received a record number of applications—19,505—for the Class of 2021. The numbers represent a record number of applications from women (6,030), a record number of applications from underrepresented minority students (3,671), and a record number of applications from international students (3,279).
The high-achieving group includes 89 valedictorians or salutatorians of their high school graduating class, and 107 students with a score of 800 on the SAT critical reading or math exams. The SAT class average was 1400 based on the 1600 scale.
“We are thrilled to be welcoming the Class of 2021 to campus,” said Jonathan Wexler, vice president for enrollment management. “The incoming freshman class is one of the strongest academically, and most diverse ethnically and geographically in the history of Rensselaer. They are a great representation of The New Polytechnic.”
Two projects designed and built by students in the School of Architecture have been recognized among “The Best Student Design-Build Projects Worldwide 2017” by the architectural news website ArchDaily. The winning projects were the sustainably designed “Upcycling Agrowaste Pavilion” and “Chale Wote Pavilion.”
From hundreds of submissions, ArchDaily selected the 34 best projects created by architecture students from around the world. Rensselaer was the only university represented among the 34 projects to field two award-winning structures.
Two doctoral students in biomedical engineering, Anthony D'Amato and Christopher Johnson, have been awarded New York State Department of Health Spinal Cord Injury Research Board Predoctoral Fellowships.
The Spinal Cord Injury Research Board (SCIRB) awards predoctoral and postdoctoral fellowships to stimulate spinal cord injury research, to accelerate the pace with which basic findings are translated into clinical benefits for spinal cord-injured persons, and to fill fundamental gaps in knowledge that are barriers to scientific advances in spinal cord injury research.
Both D'Amato and Johnson are graduate researchers in the lab of Ryan Gilbert, associate professor of biomedical engineering at Rensselaer. The Gilbert Lab focuses on the development of biomaterials for use in spinal cord injury repair. These materials are designed to serve as growth conduits, drug delivery vehicles, support scaffolds for regeneration, and culture models for preliminary in vitro testing.
“These fellowships will allow Anthony and Christopher to pursue high-impact research over a three-year span, and will provide funds to further their research and education activities,” said Gilbert. “We are very thankful that the state has these opportunities, and that our students are competitive for such awards.”
Each year, approximately 1,000 New York residents suffer traumatic spinal cord injuries, joining the nearly 282,000 people living in the United States with paralysis. The New York State Spinal Cord Injury Research Board was created in 1998 to support neurological spinal cord injury scientific research projects from leading researchers within New York state to find a cure for spinal cord injuries.
Four Rensselaer students were selected to attend the 10th annual Clinton Global Initiative University last fall. The prestigious three-day global conference brings together more than 1,100 innovative student leaders, from more than 75 countries, who aspire to make a significant impact on the world. The conference makes available more than $750,000 in funding to help college students turn their ideas for social good into real actionable steps toward solutions, and often leads to possibilities from other outside funding partners who also want to help make these ideas a reality.
The selected Rensselaer students include Priyanka Kalmane '17, M.S. in business analytics, who designed a program to monitor and strengthen poverty alleviation programs in India. Her plan harnesses effective data collection tools and mobile apps, and plans long-term for an interactive dashboard that would be available to help municipal governments combat severe data collection and quality reporting issues.
Additionally, three Rensselaer students—Luke Bateman '19, mechanical engineering and design, innovation, and society; Zaire Johnson '18, computer and systems engineering; and Vincent Arena '17, mechanical engineering and design, innovation, and society—were part of an interdisciplinary team that created a program called Technology, Innovation, Entrepreneurship, and Sustainability (TIES) to engage students with experiences that inspire and enable them to create sustainable change on and off campus, while financing these experiences with savings from energy efficiency through a reduced carbon footprint.
“Sometimes the complexity and interconnectedness of the modern world can make the challenge of sustainable development seem an impossible goal,” said Luke Bateman '19. “However, thanks to Rensselaer and its amazing faculty, we are learning how to identify, understand, and design solutions to problems in ways that are transformative for those they impact.”
Emily Kosmaczewski '16, M.S.'17, has been awarded a Fulbright U.S. Student Program grant for the 2017-2018 academic year from the U.S. Department of State and the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board. Kosmaczewski will spend her Fulbright tenure conducting research on radio galaxies at Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland.
Kosmaczewski is one of over 1,900 U.S. citizens who will teach, conduct research, and provide expertise abroad through the Fulbright U.S. Student Program.
Kosmaczewski earned her bachelor's degree in applied physics and aerospace science and her master's in astronomy at Rensselaer. At Jagiellonian University, she will be researching infrared features of young radio galaxies with Lukasz Stawarz in the Department of High Energy Astrophysics, within the school's Astronomical Observatory.
“The research group under Professor Stawarz is working to determine an evolutionary model for how radio galaxies form and 'live,' ” said Kosmaczewski.
In recent papers published by the Stawarz group, it has been suggested that radio galaxies may be formed within radio lobes. It was previously thought that they formed within accretion disks—large disks of dust and gas from which the galaxy's jets of ionized matter originate. If this hypothesis proves correct, there will be infrared absorption present in the galaxy's spectrum.
The Fulbright program emphasizes cultural exchange, and Kosmaczewski, in addition to her scientific research, will explore the differences in art and dance in Poland. At Rensselaer she spent two years working to improve theater on campus and served as director of the theater honor society.
“I will share my love of theater by planning group outings to the local theaters in Krakow, such as the District Cultural Institution and the Stary Theater, as well as participate in the all-girls choir group, Zenski Chor Akademicki,” said Kosmaczewski. “I think it is important for scientists to have an artistic outlet.”
Four years ago, Rensselaer and the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai entered into a relationship to promote personalized medicine and medical care through collaborations in education, research, and development of new diagnostic tools and treatments. Several innovative projects on Alzheimer's disease, cancer, diabetes, and osteoporosis have already emerged from this partnership.
As part of the relationship, the Icahn School recently hosted a health hackathon, supported in part by the Rensselaer Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies, to explore transformative ideas in several areas of health-care delivery. The event included Rensselaer students, as well as students from Mount Sinai Medical Center, Columbia University, and CUNY, and hospital staff. Rensselaer students were part of all three finalist teams.
Computer science doctoral candidate Angela Su was one of a dozen undergraduate and graduate students who entered the Mount Sinai Health Hackathon. Her team, which also included biomedical engineering student Alagu Chidambaram, is one of three finalists. Finalists were awarded $2,500, and will participate in an innovation “Shark Tank-type” showcase in February 2018, during which the finalists will present a five-minute pitch to a panel of entrepreneurs.
Su and her six-member team designed "On track," a web-based school and socializing tool for pediatric cancer patients. The tool makes it possible for parents and teachers to keep kids connected with their classroom and peers as they undergo treatment.
“My team ended up being super diverse, everyone came from different backgrounds—biomedical, education, computer science. Everyone had a different role, and we worked really well together. We did a lot of background research to see what kinds of problems pediatric students might be going through, what resources are available, and how our potential solution would be helpful. During the event, they had mentors circulating among the teams and they gave us great advice on how to shape our idea.”
Two Rensselaer students were on each of the two remaining finalist teams. Lydia Krauss, a biomedical engineering undergraduate, is working on “Helping Stand,” a portable device to help fatigued patients get out of a car. And Michael Bramson, a graduate student in biomedical engineering, is working on “StreamLine,” an AI-based tool for streamlining the clinical trial protocol development process.
A team of Rensselaer students presented an analysis and incident response approach to a simulated cyber attack to claim third place at the third annual Deloitte Foundation Cyber Threat Competition. Team members Larry Li, Yuting Guo, and Zachary Minster each received $1,500 in scholarship money.
The Deloitte Foundation Cyber Threat Competition is designed and facilitated by Deloitte Advisory cyber risk services in order to help college students develop the skills needed to address increasingly sophisticated cyber risks in the marketplace.
“Organizations are facing significant challenges keeping pace with the rapidly evolving threat landscape and securing the talent needed to properly resource cybersecurity functions,” said Anthony Russo, principal with Deloitte Advisory, cyber risk services practice. “Beyond security table-stakes, today’s cybersecurity professional needs to understand both the technology risks and the business risks organizations face from cyber attacks in order to effectively protect the most vital business assets from insider and outsider threats.”
“The cybersecurity competition was an amazing learning opportunity, challenging us to think not just about the technical details of cyber threats, but their implications and effects within a large-scale organization,” said Li, a senior majoring in computer science and mathematics. “Our team had minimal communication preceding the event; despite this, we can cite our success as a product of quickly allocating responsibilities to best utilize our respective skillsets and making collective decisions on tasks outside our domain of knowledge.”
While simulation platforms have been used to train surgeons before they enter an actual operating room (OR), few studies have evaluated how well trainees transfer those skills from the simulator to the OR. Now, a study led by Rensselaer that used noninvasive brain imaging to evaluate brain activity has found that simulator-trained medical students successfully transferred those skills to operating on cadavers and were faster than peers who had no simulator training.
Arun Nemani, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Biomedical Engineering, is the first author on the study, along with Suvranu De, the J. Erik Jonsson ’22 Distinguished Professor of Engineering and head of the Department of Mechanical, Aerospace, and Nuclear Engineering; and Xavier Intes, professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering. They evaluated the surgical proficiency of 19 medical students, six of whom practiced cutting tasks on a physical simulator, eight of whom practiced on a virtual simulator, and five of whom had no practice. Study results were presented at the American College of Surgeons Clinical Congress 2017.
“We plan on using these study findings to create robust machine learning-based models that can accurately classify trainees into successfully and unsuccessfully trained candidates using functional brain activation,” said Nemani. The medical students who practiced on the physical simulator completed the task in an average of 7.9 minutes with a deviation of 3.3 minutes. Those who used the virtual simulator did the task in 13.05 minutes vs. an average of 15.5 minutes for the group that had no practice.
“This is a significant leap in the use of noninvasive brain imaging technology to quantify human motor skills and represents a paradigm shift in which surgeons and other medical professionals may be certified and credentialed one day,” said Suvranu De, who also serves as Nemani’s faculty adviser. The researchers believe this study is the first one to show clear functional changes that transfer into surgical skill in individuals who had simulator training. “This work addresses underlying neurological responses to increased motor skill training that is often missing in current surgical simulator literature,” Nemani said.