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Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)

Remark at Steinway Reception and Performance

Category: Regional
November, 2017
Steinway Hall

Steinway Reception and Performance

Shirley Ann Jackson, Ph.D., President, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

I thank all of you for coming. 

We are so delighted, this evening, to be here in Steinway Hall, which allows us to showcase the uniqueness of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in incorporating the arts into every aspect of our curriculum and our campus life—a key part of our overall vision for Rensselaer as “The New Polytechnic.”

The word “polytechnic” comes from the Greek for “skilled in many arts.” At the time of our founding, the focus was on the “practical arts.” We have enhanced that focus today.

Within The New Polytechnic, we educate our students—as part of an intergenerational community of learners—for depth in their chosen fields—but also for the breadth that allows them to employ concepts from other fields—and to lead the multidisciplinary collaborations essential to addressing complex and interconnected global challenges, such as climate change; our food, water, and energy supplies; human health and the mitigation of disease; and national and global security. These collaborations not only are local to our campus, but reach across geographies; and include multiple perspectives, as well.

We make sure, as well, that our multidisciplinary collaborations in research and education include the most advanced tools, technologies, and instruments—which means, of course, that all of the pianos in our music program are Steinways, or Steinway-designed. In 2016, Rensselaer joined more than 180 institutions on five continents designated as All-Steinway Schools, dedicated to providing the best instruments possible for the study of music.

Before we enjoy the concert this evening, please allow me to tell you a bit about where Rensselaer stands today. With a strong framework for success in The New Polytechnic, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute is thriving—and more essential in the world than it ever has been before, in its nearly 200-year history.

Demand for a Rensselaer education has never been higher. Applications for admission to our freshman class keep growing, as each year’s applications exceed the prior year—and are nearly quadruple where they were ten years ago. We have a record number of early decision applications this year.

Many of our programs are top-ranked, including our Information Technology and Web Sciences program, the very best of its kind in the nation. Our School of Architecture is ranked 13th in the nation. Our undergraduate Physics program is ranked in the top 10 nationwide—as is our Games and Simulation Arts and Sciences program, which draws strength not only from computer science, but from our pioneering Department of the Arts, the first such department to focus on the integrated electronic arts in the United States.

Our campus is defined now by world-class platforms for research, education, and student life, including the Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies, the East Campus Athletic Village, and the Center for Computational Innovations, which houses the most powerful supercomputer at an American private university.

Most importantly, we have the Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center—the most advanced performing arts center in the world, which also is a laboratory for research into human-digital interactions of all kinds, at human scale.

Our faculty, too, is world-class, and includes members of the National Academy of Engineering, the National Academy of Sciences, and the National Academy of Inventors; hundreds of fellows of technical and professional societies; and numerous recipients of national and international awards.

Among these award winners is Dean Mary Simoni of our School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences, who is being honored tonight as a Steinway Artist. She also is the recipient of the Prize in Composition by the ArtNET Virtual Museum, and was a semi-finalist for the American Prize in Composition in Chamber Music. She is a specialist in interactive electronics, and we will have the privilege of hearing her this evening, both as a pianist and as a composer.

Dean Simoni is the author of several books on electronic music composition, including Algorithmic Composition: A Guide to Composing Music with Nyquist, co-authored with Roger Dannenberg and Analytical Methods of Electroacoustic Music. She is a 2002 Medal Laureate of the Computer World Honors Award for her research in digital music information retrieval.

Dr. Simoni’s music and multimedia works have been performed in Asia, Europe, and throughout the United States and have been recorded by Centaur Records, the music journal Leonardo, published by MIT Press, and the International Computer Music Association.

Together, our faculty have helped Rensselaer to vastly expand its research enterprise to $100 million in expenditures, even in a difficult funding climate. We focus support for new research around five “signature thrusts”—crucial areas of multidisciplinary research, in ….

  • Biotechnology and the Life Sciences:
  • Computational Science and Engineering;
  • Energy, the Environment, and Smart Systems;
  • Nanotechnology and Advanced Materials; and
  • Media, the Arts, Science, and Technology;

Within these signature thrusts, Rensselaer faculty have done extraordinary work addressing the great global challenges, and attracted distinguished partners to amplify their efforts.  We have affiliated with the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in both research and education, and work alongside IBM in a number of groundbreaking efforts.

       These include the Jefferson Project at Lake George, which is developing a new model for the conservation of fresh water resources driven in part by enormous amounts of streaming data; and the Cognitive and Immersive Systems Laboratory, which is linking cognitive computing with human-scale immersive environments to create a smart boardroom or classroom, with the goal of radically enhancing group learning and decision-making, through interaction with societies and hierarchies of cognitive digital agents.

It is due to the world-class work and leadership of our faculty such as Dean Mary Simoni that we are able to stay on the leading edge in education as well as research. In fact, we have added 21 new academic degree programs in emerging fields, including a new technology-inflected Bachelor of Science program in Music that will ready Rensselaer students for 21st century careers in fields such as composition and sound design for virtual environments and interactive music over networks.

For decades, our student-run Rensselaer Music Association, part of our Rensselaer Union, has done a magnificent job of supporting non-credit music-making on campus. However, given that so many of the students we admit to Rensselaer are engaged in music-making—nearly 30 percent of our current freshman class—we felt it was time to put in place a full degree program.[1] We have begun admitting our first students for the inaugural year of the program next fall. And a number of our current students will be adding Music as a dual major.

Within an initiative we call Art_X @ Rensselaer, we will be offering more opportunities to study artistic disciplines, like music, while expanding pedagogy and research with arts-inspired approaches to conceptual thinking. With Art_X@Rensselaer, we introduce all of our students to concepts common to the arts, architecture, mathematics, science, and engineering—such as symmetry and the Fibonacci sequence—to help them to see the art in and of science, and the science in and of art. By incorporating these concepts throughout the curriculum and in co-curricular activities, we intend to spur their creativity, and create an awareness that aesthetic considerations are important to success in engineering, mathematics, physics, and many other fields.

We also engage our students with a revolutionary pedagogy that includes the gamification of courses, immersive experiences, and interaction with artificially intelligent characters, much of which has emanated from our School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences, which Dr. Mary Simoni leads.

Our boldest educational innovation is reorganizing the academic calendar with the launch in the summer of 2019 of The Arch.  Under The Arch, all Rensselaer undergraduates will remain on campus for the summer after their sophomore year, engaged in junior-level classes, and then leave campus for a full semester (and beyond) of their junior year, for an intellectual adventure uniquely suited to their own passions and interests, and still graduate within the same time span. This will include, for many students, going abroad.

Undergirding all of student life at Rensselaer is CLASS, our Clustered Learning, Advocacy, and Support for Students, which offers one of the best student experiences in the nation. With CLASS, we nurture Rensselaer students in tight-knit residential groups, and offer, as well, time-based clustering that gives them increasing opportunities appropriate to their stage of academic and personal development.

As a result of all these efforts, our retention and graduation rates have increased significantly, and the outcomes for our graduates are excellent, in terms of the graduate schools where they are accepted, the salaries they command, the leadership roles they assume, the service they provide to our country, the enterprises they launch, and—most importantly—the meaningful and fulfilling lives they lead.

Rensselaer has been transformed. But our mission, from our very founding, is to be transformative in the world at large—to enable the application of science to the common purposes of life. The world needs Rensselaer people to find new solutions, to discover new possibilities, and to transform the business of living for a global population projected to reach 8.6 billion just a dozen years from now.

To ready Rensselaer for global leadership in the 21st century, we recently launched a one billion dollar capital campaign titled, “Transformative: The Campaign for Global Change.” This campaign has three supporting pillars.

The first is increasing student financial aid (and enhancing the student experience). The cost of the education we offer at Rensselaer—world-class, immersive, and experiential—has outstripped the financial means of many of our students. Our ability to offer financial aid must bridge this gap.

Because we intend to accept the very best students regardless of their socioeconomic background—and because we intend to honor the intensely democratic vision of Stephen Van Rensselaer, who founded his school to place knowledge “equally within the reach of all”—we must add to our endowment to better meet student financial need.

Our second pillar focuses on our faculty. We will use the resources unleashed by the campaign to create new endowed professorships to attract and retain the very best academic talent from around the world. These endowed chairs will allow us to expand our tenured and tenure-track faculty to 500, so that Rensselaer can achieve intellectual critical mass in all crucial areas of research and education. Some of these new faculty positions will draw distinguished musicians, composers, and theorists to Rensselaer, and shape our degree program in Music.

In addition to the pillars that focus on enhancing financial aid, and garnering support to attract and retain the very best faculty, the third pillar of our Capital Campaign focuses on our beautiful Troy campus, which we must grow, modernize, and equip for continued leadership in pedagogy, research, and student life. One of our key goals is renovating West Hall, the home of our Department of the Arts. This Victorian structure was designed as a hospital, not as a cauldron of creativity.  Within its walls, we must create office space for the Music faculty we are adding— rehearsal spaces, practice spaces, and teaching studios—as well as social spaces, to foster the fruitful collaborations that The New Polytechnic intends to promote.

And now it is my great pleasure to call to the stage Sally Covaleskie, National Director of Institutional Sales for Steinway & Sons; Paul Jennings, General Manager of Artist Pianos, and Dean Mary Simoni of the Rensselaer School of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences…

Thank you to our musicians!  That was delightful.

Thank you, Dean Simoni, for leading this group.

Our wonderful soprano tonight, Ms. Kimberley Dolanski Osburn, has performed with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and other distinguished orchestras and ensembles.  She also is Manager of Operations and Administrative Services for the Rensselaer School of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences—and demonstrates that the talent on campus does not belong merely to our faculty and students, but to our staff as well.  Thank you, Ms. Osburn!

 I must thank, as well, our student performers,

  • On the saxophones, Aidan Gorby of the Class of 2019, a Biology major preparing for a career in medicine;  
  • On the upright bass, Alexander Shane Jones of the Class of 2018, who is majoring in Applied Mathematics, and minoring in Finance; and
  • On the drums, Matthew Lamport of the Class of 2019, a Mechanical Engineering major.

Now, I thank our entire audience for joining us. Please enjoy the rest of your evening, and I wish you all a very happy Thanksgiving!