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Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)

Remarks at Rensselaer Scholarship Gala Dinner Program Remarks

Category: Regional
October, 2018
JW Marriott Essex House
Shirley Ann Jackson, Ph.D., President, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Good evening and welcome to our second East Coast Rensselaer Scholarship Gala, which will be followed by an historic performance by the Rensselaer Orchestra at the world-renowned Carnegie Hall.

I would like to begin this evening by reflecting on the content of the video you just watched—a version of which was shown at our inaugural Scholarship Gala in 2016. Tonight, I have some updates for you since this video was made. The first is on Bridging the Gap.

Although the challenge for our students’ financial aid needs still remains, I am pleased to announce that the gap is narrowing. Since we last met in New York City for our inaugural gala, Rensselaer has received nearly $37,500,000 in new scholarship commitments.

In total, commitments to Bridging the Gap now exceed $100,000,000—due in no small part to the generosity of the individuals and organizations who are with us this evening.

With the ongoing and robust support of the entire Rensselaer community and its partners, and a steadfast commitment to The Rensselaer Plan 2024, I have every confidence that we will succeed in building the endowment we need.

  • Because we intend to attract the very best students regardless of their socioeconomic backgrounds;
  • Because we are committed to a Rensselaer living and learning environment that serves as a great crossroads across disciplines, sectors, cultures, geographies, and generations that accurately reflects the world into which our students will enter—as we fulfill our vision for The New Polytechnic; and
  • Because we believe that intellectual agility, multicultural sophistication, and a global view are the essential attributes that will enable them to lead in the 21st century, and to affect the kind of positive change from which we all stand to benefit;
  • We owe it to our students—and to the legacy of Rensselaer—to enter our third century as a globally prominent leader in education, research, and technological innovation, with the resources required to accomplish these goals.

My second update has to do with the talented students, themselves, who were featured in the video. I would like to share with you an update as to where they are now. Four of them have graduated, and one will be graduating in the spring:

  • Mr. Thomas Fajardo of the Class of 2017, who was a beneficiary of the Lois J. and Harlan E. Anderson Scholarship, earned his Bachelor of Science and Master of Science degrees in mechanical engineering through our co-terminal degree program.
  • Thomas landed his “dream job,” working as an Associate Mechanical Engineer at Sikorsky Aircraft in Stratford, Connecticut, where he also is participating in an Engineering Leadership Development Program.
  • Mr. John Abad of the Class of 2017, who also was a beneficiary of the Lois J. and Harlan E. Anderson Scholarship, received his Bachelor of Science degree in aeronautical engineering. John currently is working as an Associate Engineer at QuEST Global in East Hartford, Connecticut.
  • Ms. Zoe Anderson of the Class of 2017, a beneficiary of the Patroon Scholars Program of the Rensselaer Annual Fund, received her Bachelor of Science degree in mechanical engineering.
  • Currently, Zoe is working for Edwards Lifesciences in Irvine, California, a biomedical device company that focuses on innovative solutions for cardiovascular diseases.
  • Mr. Elijah Coley of the Class of 2018, a beneficiary of the William J. Olsson ’51 Memorial Scholarship, received his Bachelor of Architecture degree from the School of Architecture. Elijah currently is establishing himself as an architect in Seattle, Washington, working for Mahlum, a firm noteworthy for its sustainable, ecological designs.
  • And our last featured student is Ms. Naila Brown of the Class of 2019, who is pursuing a degree in business and management from the Lally School of Management. Naila is a beneficiary of the Frank M. Fischer ’64 Patroon Scholarship.
  • Tonight promises to be an especially memorable evening for Naila, who is a cellist and will be performing at Carnegie Hall as a member of the Rensselaer Orchestra—a performance to celebrate our new Bachelor of Science in Music.

Just as scholarship support has made a real difference in the lives of these students, so did it benefit me, and several of our trustees, and their spouses. As scholarship recipients, we appreciate deeply those who gave us the opportunity to realize our aspirations—and who have inspired us to follow suit.

Tonight, I would like to thank:

  • Our Campaign Co-chairs, Trustee Paul J. Severino of the Class of 1969 and Kathleen M. Severino, and the members of our Campaign Leadership Committee. Would you please stand?
  • I also would like to acknowledge those who have made transformative commitments of $1,000,000 or more to Transformative: Campaign for Global Change.
  • You will find a listing of these extraordinarily generous donors in your event program.
  • Please join me in applauding them.

I also would like to recognize those donors who, since our 2016 gala, have made new or additional transformative commitments of $1 million or more, specifically in support of scholarships or fellowships.

  • Laury and Kent R. Edwards of the Class of 1963;
  • The late John S. Holmes of the Class of 1947;
  • Trustee Linda Pitzi Jojo of the Classes of 1987 and 1992, and Robert Jojo of the Class of 1987;
  • Trustee Mark M. Little of the Class of 1982 and Teresa A. Little;
  • Ann (Nancy) and Robert J. Lyons of the Class of 1950, who are profiled in your event program;
  • William F. McKay of the Classes of 1981 and 1986;
  • The late Harry F. Meiners of the Classes of 1952 and 1958;
  • Trustee Emerita Linda S. Sanford of the Class of 1975, who also is profiled in your event program;
  • The late Theodore Singer of the Class of 1948;
  • Carol and Robert J. Weissman;
  • Trustee Theodore J. (TJ) Wojnar Jr. of the Class of 1980; and Susan O. Wojnar; and
  • Trustee Edward J. Zander of the Class of 1968 and Mona Zander.

Please join me in thanking these donors for their truly transformative commitments.

Finally, I would like to thank my cabinet members and our academic deans. Together, they make Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute a great force in research, in pedagogical innovation, and in the lives of our wonderful students.

This is a particularly special evening for Dean Mary Simoni, of the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences, who has been instrumental in the rise of our music program at Rensselaer, and in the development of our newly opened, state-of-the-art Media Studio, located in the Darrin Communications Center.

As I am sure you have noticed, there are a number of students with us this evening, many of whom have benefited directly from the scholarship support provided by those of you in this room. May I ask these students to please stand at their tables?

While we celebrate those whose philanthropy makes it possible for Rensselaer to attract, and educate, the best, brightest, and most motivated students from across the country and around the world, it also is important to recognize that the record-breaking demand for a Rensselaer education that we have experienced over the past several years is due, in no small part, to the world-class quality of our esteemed faculty.

The first pillar of our capital campaign is rightly focused on enabling more deserving students to attend Rensselaer, and on continually enhancing the student experience.

To enhance the student experience, we must continue to empower world-class teaching and research, which is the second pillar of our campaign.

To do so, we must increase the number of our tenured and tenure-track faculty to 500, and establish more endowed professorships.

This is essential if we are to achieve the intellectual critical mass required to pursue forward-thinking research, and drive new discoveries in the leading-edge fields of today, and the emerging fields of tomorrow. It also is essential to advancing pedagogical innovation in the classroom.

Last June, at our inaugural West Coast Scholarship Gala in Half Moon Bay, California, we honored Trustee Curtis R. Priem of the Class of 1982, and Cindi Priem, for yet another transformative gift in support of Rensselaer—the establishment of the Curtis R. Priem ’82 Cognitive and Immersive Systems Constellation, a unique and transformative model for research rooted in the capabilities of the Curtis R. Priem Experimental and Performing Arts Center, and based on multidisciplinary collaboration among our stellar senior faculty, promising junior faculty, gifted graduate students, and ambitious undergraduates.

We also acknowledged four additional commitments in support of faculty and research while in California, but elected to present these awards this evening. In the four months since our West Coast Scholarship Gala, I am pleased to announce we have received two additional commitments in support of research, which we will honor tonight. Let me highlight these six special commitments.

I would like to begin with our foundation partners:

  • Our first honoree is The Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment, whose grant is tied to research aligned with the foundation’s mission to protect and improve the health of the global environment;
  • Our next honoree is the United Health Foundation, whose generous multi-year award is enabling Rensselaer researchers to leverage their data expertise and resources to attract students drawn from mathematics, biology, and computer science to explore the emerging field of Health Informatics; and
  • Our third honoree is The Warren Alpert Foundation, whose support is enabling Rensselaer researchers to develop an inhibitor that may prevent the buildup of senile plaque in the brain, a debilitating pathological process associated with Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Mr. August “Gus” Schiesser, Executive Director of The Warren Alpert Foundation has joined us this evening, and I am pleased to welcome him to the stage to accept this award.
  • As for the transformative commitments in support of our faculty, please welcome Jennifer and Trustee Daniel T. Pickett III of the Class of 1990 to the stage, whose recent endowment will establish the Pickett Family Career Development Professorship of Data Science.
  • I also would like to acknowledge Judith and Thomas N. Iovino of the Class of 1973, whose recent additional commitment enhances the Judith and Thomas N. Iovino ’73 Professorship in Civil Engineering; and
  • The late Betty and Howard P. Isermann of the Class of 1942, whose generous gift will establish the second Howard P. Isermann Chair in Chemical and Biological Engineering.
  • Please give all of our honorees a round of applause for their transformational commitments in support of research and faculty at Rensselaer.
  • In total, commitments in support of the Faculty 500 have reached $50,000,000.

Finally, I would like to extend my sincere appreciation to our sponsors of tonight’s gala celebration:

  • Our dinner sponsor, IBM, whose myriad research partnerships with Rensselaer are at the leading-edge of the Fourth Industrial Revolution;
  • Our Bridging the Gap Circle of sponsors, whose scholarship support is empowering talented and deserving students to pursue a world-class Rensselaer education:
    • The Boeing Company;
    • United Airlines; and
    • Sodexo;
  • I also want to recognize Western Digital, one of our West Coast Scholarship Gala sponsors, whose Western Digital Scholarships for STEM Program recently awarded 36 scholarships to Rensselaer students.
  • Our corporate underwriter, KeyBanc Capital Markets
  • I also wish to thank our corporate benefactor, corporate sponsors, and friends of Rensselaer for their support.
  • Finally, thank you to Mimeo for providing printing services for the wonderful event program. Mimeo was co-founded by three of our alumni who were the 2014 recipients of the Rensselaer Entrepreneur of the Year Award.
  • And now I invite you to enjoy your dinner, after which we will resume our program.


It is my distinct honor and privilege to recognize our first recipients of the 2018 Presidential Lifetime Achievement Award, Trustee Jeffrey L. Kodosky of the Class of 1970 and Gail Kodosky, whose selfless service and generous philanthropy, in support of Rensselaer, have created an enduring legacy.

Please welcome Gail and Jeffrey Kodosky ’70 to the stage.

Our next recipient of the Presidential Lifetime Achievement Award is The Boeing Company in recognition of that organization’s longstanding research partnerships with Rensselaer, and its exceptional dedication to our students.

To accept the award on behalf of The Boeing Company, please welcome Dr. Greg Hyslop, Chief Technology Officer and Senior Vice President of Boeing Engineering, Test, and Technology, to the stage.

Our next recipients of the 2018 Presidential Lifetime Achievement Award are Trustee Dr. John E. Kelly III of the Classes of 1978 and 1980, and Helen-Jo Kelly, whose exemplary support of our students and steadfast commitment to advancing transformative research, truly, are empowering Rensselaer to change the world.

Please welcome Helen-Jo and Dr. John E. Kelly III to the stage.

Please join me in congratulating and celebrating our honorands this evening!

Since the launch of Transformative: Campaign for Rensselaer, I am pleased to say that we are well on our way to our billion-dollar goal, and look forward to reaching our halfway point of the campaign in the near future.

Perhaps most inspiring, are the thousands of individual gifts members of the Rensselaer community have made to our campaign. We thank them, and we thank you. Before we continue with our celebration at Carnegie Hall, please raise your glasses for a toast.

To our students, our honorands, and members of the Rensselaer family–to the bright future of Rensselaer!