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Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)

Remarks at Accepted Students Celebration

Category: University Events
April, 2018
Houston Field House

Accepted Students Celebration

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

Welcome to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute!

We are so delighted to meet you—our accepted students. As Mr. Wexler said, this was the most competitive admissions process we have seen, in the nearly 200-year history of Rensselaer. The Class of 2022 promises to be extremely strong, extremely diverse, and extremely accomplished—both in and out of the classroom.

We know that you, our accepted students, are extraordinary, and we are eager to learn from you, as well as to teach you. We also are delighted to welcome the parents and guardians who have nurtured these remarkable young men and women. Congratulations to all of you.

Before you attend the academic presentations today for the particular school you are interested in, and explore other interests here on campus, I have the great pleasure of conveying some of the excitement that is Rensselaer.

You may have noticed our informal motto “Why not change the world?” on banners and signs around campus. That is a challenge—but also an entirely reasonable expectation. Rensselaer graduates have been responsible for innovations as significant as the transcontinental railroad, the microprocessor, the digital camera, networked email and the @ sign, and the sequencing of the first genomes of human pathogens.

The education we offer here always has been uniquely well suited to the development of inventors, explorers, discoverers, entrepreneurs, and visionaries of all kinds. We are entirely committed to helping you, too, to succeed, to lead, and to change the world.

Here, you will be taught by a world-class faculty that includes members of the National Academy of Engineering, the National Academy of Sciences, and the National Academy of Inventors, several professors who serve on key national panels and committees, hundreds of fellows of technical and professional societies, dozens of early CAREER award recipients, and numerous winners of national and international awards.

Unsurprisingly, the programs they lead also are world class—and focused on emerging disciplines.

Over the past several years, we have created new degree programs and new academic concentrations in all five of our schools.

In the School of Science, these programs include a concentration in Neuroscience and an Information Technology and Web Science undergraduate degree program that is ranked first in the nation by College Factual. As a theoretical physicist, I am proud to say that our undergraduate Physics program is ranked 6th in the nation by College Factual. And we are developing a new course of study in Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning.

In the Lally School of Management, we are developing a new Bachelor of Science program in Quantitative Finance and Analytics. We already have created a new Master of Science degree program in this field, as well as in Technology Commercialization & Entrepreneurship, Supply Chain Management, and Business Analytics. These programs also provide the basis for degree concentrations for our undergraduates. In fact, we have a five-year co-terminal degree program, which offers students the opportunity of getting a bachelor’s degree in a range of majors, and a master’s degree in one of these concentrations, or an MBA, within five years, from beginning to end.

In the School of Architecture, ranked 13th in the country by DesignIntelligence, we have a renewed focus on Building Science, and an approach to design—based on the use of multi-modal immersive environments.

In the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences (HASS), we have developed a new Bachelor of Science program in Music that will begin this fall. With a strong technological focus, it will ready Rensselaer students for 21st-century careers in music, which may include composition, performance, or sound design for film, video games, or social music networks. In fact, Rensselaer was a true pioneer in educating students in the electronic arts, and remains one of the best places in the nation to study them, with a Games and Simulation Arts and Sciences program that is ranked 6th by TheBestSchools.org, 7th by GameDesigning.org, and 12th by The Art Career Project.

In the School of Engineering, we are increasingly focused on advanced manufacturing—a subject our students are embracing. At our Manufacturing Innovation Learning Laboratory, or the MILL, our students are able to learn about, and to use, exciting new manufacturing technologies that include 3-D printing, advanced robotics, and advanced composites.

Within all of our programs, we will educate you for deep knowledge in your chosen field. However, true creativity often requires the merging of disparate domains, and the recognition that the tools of one field can be applied to another.

The “polytechnic” in Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute comes from the Greek for “skilled in many arts.” And within a paradigm we term “The New Polytechnic,” we will make sure that you have the grounding in the fundamentals of your discipline, coupled with the breadth to help humanity to address the greatest of challenges, including a changing climate; our need to secure adequate supplies of food, water, and energy for a growing global population; national and global security; the mitigation of disease and improvement of human health; the need for a sustainable infrastructure; and the intelligent allocation of valuable natural resources.

Because these challenges are networked in complex ways, addressing them requires a pooling of talents across backgrounds, disciplines, sectors, geographies, and generations. Undergirding such collaborations are new technologies, particularly in genomics, artificial intelligence, high-performance computation, and data science, that are transforming almost every field of endeavor. This is what the “New Polytechnic” represents.

To prepare you to lead such collaborations, we will educate you for the qualities we believe are most valuable in the 21st century:

  • The intellectual agility to see across disciplines and create;

  • The multicultural sophistication that will allow you to guide diverse teams;

  • And a global view that will provide the greatest possible context for your efforts.

As we consider intellectual agility, for example, humanity is awash in digital data that we are producing about ourselves every day. At Rensselaer, we believe that all of you will need not only to be data literate in your careers, but data dexterous—with great proficiency in using diverse datasets to define and address complex problems.

So our core curriculum has been revised so that all students at Rensselaer will complete two “data-intensive” courses: one to establish the foundations of data modeling and analysis, and a second within their chosen field of study. You will learn to understand the difference between causation and correlation, between an ethical and an unethical use of data—a subject of many news stories of late!—and methods of visualizing complex data in order to make better decisions.

We also will offer you the opportunity to participate in a data research capstone experience in the Data Interdisciplinary Challenge Intelligent Technology Exploration, or Data INCITE, Laboratory, which connects teams of students with industry partners to tackle data-intensive problems.

We also will encourage intellectual agility with our Art_X @ Rensselaer initiative—which is infused across the curriculum and in co-curricular activities. Through Art_X, we will help you to see, and to understand, the science in and of art, and the art in and of science, to spur your imagination in every field—by utilizing concepts such as the Golden Mean and Fibonacci series, the role of aesthetics in functional design, and through the use of unique platforms that sit at the nexus of science, technology, and the arts.

The resources available at Rensselaer for Art_X are truly remarkable—and include our Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center, or EMPAC, which is one of the most advanced performing arts centers in the world, and a research laboratory for immersive digital experiences and interactions—at human scale. World-class artists come to EMPAC to experiment and to perform—and we will encourage you to expand your horizons, by offering you free tickets to all EMPAC-curated events.

You also will find many spaces on campus to tinker, design, and engineer, to express your creativity in many different realms—including our Burt Swersey Inventor’s Studio, which hosts both classes on innovation and tools for design and prototyping; and the Douglas Mercer ’77 Laboratory for Student Exploration and Innovation in the School of Engineering.

Many of our teaching innovations arise out of groundbreaking research taking place at Rensselaer in fields such as high-performance, neuromorphic, and cognitive computing; in artificial intelligence and human cognition; in the electronic arts and game design; and in computer vision, acoustics, haptics, and immersive technologies of all kinds.

Since languages and cultural immersion are key to a global view, we have made an emerging class that teaches the Mandarin Chinese language and culture—“The Mandarin Project”—a focus of innovation. This class engages students by making them players in a semester-long group game narrative—and uses mixed-reality, immersive environments that recreate the experience of, for instance, the Beijing airport and a Chinese teahouse for cultural immersion.

Not only do our students learn more quickly with this approach, they learn within a cultural context. We are using “The Mandarin Project” as a prototype, and a test bed, of the intelligent immersive classroom being developed at our new Cognitive and Immersive Systems Laboratory, or CISL. This is a multi-year partnership with IBM, where we are creating Situations Rooms that bridge human perception with intelligent systems in an immersive, interactive setting.

Using hierarchies or communities of artificially intelligent agents, and data analytics, these are rooms that see, hear, anticipate, and inform the occupants of the rooms—in multiple modes—with the goal of vastly enhancing group decision-making and learning. For “The Mandarin Project,” this smart classroom will encourage our students to develop and use their knowledge of Mandarin resourcefully, by asking them to complete tasks within a culturally significant setting by interacting with intelligent cognitive agents.

Experiential learning is inherently part of the education here. This is a realm in which Rensselaer has been a true pioneer. We were one of the very first schools in the world to have students conduct their own laboratory experiments in physics and chemistry, and to offer organized instruction in field work. And rather than having our students sit passively listening to lectures, as was the custom in 1824, when we were founded, we sent students to the front of the classroom to present their findings and to share their acquired knowledge. They even took weeks-long boat trips down the Hudson River to New York City—rising before dawn each day—to collect and analyze geological and botanical samples.

Today, we still offer every opportunity for minds-on, hands-on learning, including participation in research. Those of you who are interested in protecting the environment may join the Jefferson Project at Lake George, which is establishing a new, data-driven model for conservation. Lake George, an hour north of here, has been turned into the “smartest lake in the world,” with 41 intelligent sensor platforms monitoring every system that affects its water quality, including weather, currents, and the biology in the lake. With modeling, simulation, and experimentation, we take the enormous amounts of streaming data generated by these sensor platforms, and develop insights and hypotheses that will allow us to protect the lake. Given the many water crises of recent years in the United States and around the world, this work is urgently indeed.

Others of you may do research in the life sciences or biomedical realm, at our Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies, where our faculty and students are discovering the mechanisms of poorly understood diseases such as diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and osteoporosis, and developing new therapeutics and treatment modalities for them. We have, for example, a new Alzheimer’s Disease Clinical and Translational Research Training Program, which positions our students to make new discoveries about Alzheimer’s by exposing them to a range of biotechnology and lighting research on neurodegenerative diseases. The program includes a summer clinical rotation at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, our affiliate in research and education. For those of you who intend to become physicians, The Icahn School of Medicine holds spots in its FlexMed Program for Rensselaer sophomores—in any major—to apply for early acceptance to medical school, and we have a longstanding accelerated physician/scientist program with Albany Medical College.

Our most transformative experiential teaching and learning innovation is the Arch. Through the Arch, all of you will remain on campus the summer after your sophomore year—for a full semester of junior-level classes. You then will spend one semester of the traditional junior year away from campus, participating in activities that comport with your interests, and support your growth, yet still graduate within the typical time span.

Both piers of the Arch will benefit you greatly. During your summer on campus, as a member of the only “full” class present, you will profit from the focused attention of our faculty and Student Life staff at a key point in your educational careers, as you pivot to more advanced coursework—as well as enjoy the cultural and recreational opportunities only available in Troy and the greater Capital Region during the summer.

Then, during your “away” semester, you can do a co-op or internship, research, volunteering, or launching an entrepreneurial enterprise—or some wonderful and original combination of the above. A number of leading global companies and other organizations are helping us to develop opportunities specifically for Rensselaer juniors, in the United States, and around the world. We will encourage you to expand your horizons by going abroad, to develop that multicultural sophistication and global view essential to 21st-century careers.

Our graduates already are in very high demand with graduate schools and leading employers: The Princeton Review has ranked Rensselaer 19th in the nation for “best career placement.” However, the Arch will do even more to help you stand apart, as you launch your careers.

Offering a framework for all of our efforts in student growth and development is our Clustered, Learning, Advocacy, and Support for Students, or CLASS. With CLASS, we connect you to each other, and to the larger Rensselaer community—and offer one of the very best student experiences in the United States. This begins even before your first day of classes freshman year, with our Navigating Rensselaer & Beyond program, which includes wilderness adventures, historical and cultural programs, and community service opportunities—all designed to help you, before classes begin, get to know one another, Rensselaer, and the Capital Region better.

Since the reality is that you will live at Rensselaer, and you will grow here, the clustering we do with CLASS is both residential, and time- or developmentally-based.

Our time-based clustering allows us to offer programming and experiences outside the classroom, designed for each stage of a college career. When you are freshmen, our CLASS programming largely focuses on awareness of an issue. As you grow, we increasingly expect you to lead, and offer you opportunities to do so.

On the residential front, all first- and second-year students live in tight-knit communities centered in their residence halls, with live-in Assistant Deans supporting them. If, later in your college career, you choose to move off campus, you still will be connected through our Off-Campus Commons or Greek Life Commons. We even have opened a physical instantiation of the Off-Campus Commons on 15th Street and College Avenue—at the edge of our Troy campus—as an actual gathering place for our students—where you can study in groups or take a break between classes.

At our Off-Campus Commons, we recently launched a new Safe Ride Home program that allows all of our students to call us, or text us, and request a ride, seven days a week until three in the morning. We expect you to have a lot of fun at Rensselaer—but we take your safety extremely seriously!

For some of you, that fun may include participation in Rensselaer Athletics—as a player, or as a spectator. In addition, with nearly 250 student-run clubs based at the Rensselaer Union, from the Humans Versus Zombies Club, to the extremely popular RPI-SEC computer security club, to our Afro Cuban Jazz Orchestra—you will find myriad ways to connect with your fellow students—to express your personal passions—to contribute to the community around you—and surely, if you are staving off a zombie apocalypse!—to change the world.

This is a special place, and we are so delighted to have you—who are so special—in our midst. We hope that you will join us here, at one of the most exciting places in the world: to live, to learn, and to grow.

Again, congratulations to all of you. I very much look forward to getting to know you better!