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Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)

Remarks at the Reception for Jonathan Dordick

Category: University Events
May, 2018
CBIS Atrium

Reception for Jonathan Dordick

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

Welcome, everyone.

When I arrived at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute 19 years ago, I boldly challenged the Rensselaer community to reclaim its leadership in research. This Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies, or CBIS, is but one example of the major investments we made under the Rensselaer Plan to enable such leadership.

Under the original Rensselaer Plan, we identified five signature thrusts for Rensselaer research in…

  • Biotechnology and the life sciences,
  • Computational science and engineering,
  • Media, the arts, science, and technology,
  • Energy, environment, and smart systems, and
  • Nanotechnology and advanced materials.

Concentrating on these crucial areas of research and teaching, we have hired superb faculty, have created groundbreaking programs, have built sophisticated research platforms, and have initiated important strategic partnerships.

When it came time to refresh the Rensselaer Plan in 2012, we were determined to do even more to link our strengths in research to the greatest of global challenges. That required, of course, a strong Vice President for Research to raise the level and impact of our research programs—and Dr. Jon Dordick, the Howard P. Isermann Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering, embodied that strength.

Dr. Dordick truly had helped to establish biotechnology at Rensselaer, as Chair of the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering from 1998 to 2002.

As we were envisioning CBIS in the years before its opening in 2004, he chaired an internal group, and worked with a blue ribbon panel that included distinguished outsiders to identify which research constellations in biotech and the life sciences were most essential to the world's challenges, and to our core strengths.

He secured a National Institutes of Health training grant for students in biomolecular science and engineering. And when it came time to launch CBIS, I tasked him with putting together a symposium to inaugurate the platform. He did a wonderful job, and we welcomed Dr. Elias Zerhouni, who was then the director of the National Institutes of Health, and Dr. Bruce Alberts, who was then the President of the National Academy of Sciences, to Rensselaer to participate.

As Director of CBIS from 2008 to 2012, Dr. Dordick helped to fill the Biocatalysis constellation and won funding from New York State to create the Rensselaer Center for Stem Cell Research. 

As Vice President for Research, Dr. Dordick set a superb example as a teacher, and his own research established a high bar. Collaborating with chemical engineers, bioengineers, biologists, and chemists, his group focuses on gaining a quantitative understanding of biological principles, and then applying them in bioengineering, nanobiotechnology, drug discovery, and biomanufacturing. Among other projects, his laboratory has worked to scale and commercialize the production of the safe, bioengineered heparin, originally created by Dr. Robert Linhardt, our Ann and John H. Broadbent Jr. '59 Senior Constellation Professor of Biocatalysis and Metabolic Engineering, Chemistry, and Chemical Biology. Dr. Dordick's lab also has investigated self-decontaminating surfaces that avoid the problem of antibiotic resistance; and the control of gene expression remotely, using a radiofrequency-driven magnetic field.

He has received many honors and awards for this work, including the 2015 Food, Pharmaceutical, and Bioengineering Award from the American Institute of Chemical Engineers. He is a fellow of the National Academy of Inventors, the American Chemical Society, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering.

Dr. Dordick has over 40 patents and patent applications to his credit. As the cofounder of several companies, he exemplifies the entrepreneurialism that brings discoveries and innovations out of academic laboratories, and into the world to improve lives.

A great collaborator, he helped to establish our affiliation with the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in research and education. In addition, he has brought to his position of Vice President for Research tremendous administrative talent and vision.

So, while it is understandable, that, having given so much to Rensselaer, he is stepping down from his administrative role in order to devote himself, once again, to research and teaching—it is, nonetheless, a little difficult to accept.

I often have said that research and teaching are the clasped hands that make a university great. Jon's was a hand I reached for often, in advancing the greatness of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. His perspective has been invaluable to me. I am so pleased that he will continue to work closely with me as Special Adviser to the President on Strategic Initiatives. In that role, he will continue to consult with his Cabinet colleagues on new partnerships and initiatives.

I thank him for his service as Vice President for Research—but that is not the extent of my gratitude. I am grateful, as well, for his humor and incisiveness; for his willingness, always, to speak his mind; and for his friendship.