Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)

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Society of Families Reception

Category: Regional
October, 2019
Heffner Alumni House Great Room
Shirley Ann Jackson, Ph.D., President, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Welcome, everyone.

Let me begin today by acknowledging my leadership team, who ensure that our students have one of the best college experiences in the world.

Together, along with our remarkable faculty and staff, they help to make Rensselaer a welcoming and dynamic living and learning environment for our students, who are — after all — our raison d’être.

I would like to thank Ms. Natalie Walters-Casey, mother of Autumn Walters of the Class of 2020, for speaking this afternoon on behalf of the Society of Families Leadership Committee.

This morning, during my Family Weekend welcome remarks, I spoke about the academic strength and the geographic and ethnic diversity of the Class of 2023. Let me tell you about some of the unique talents and strengths of some of the individual young men and women within the freshman class.

Overall, the Class of 2023 is health- and fitness-conscious, with more than 800 students having participated in high school sports. Among them is a student who won two gold medals at the U.S. Figure Skating National Championships, and another student who made it to the semifinals for speed climbing at the U.S. Climbing Sport and Speed Nationals Rock Climbing Competition.

These students will find themselves right at home at Rensselaer, where over 80% of our students take part in intramurals, club sports, or intercollegiate programs.

Inventors and creators also abound. One student created a steering wheel cover designed to detect and prevent dangerous and distracted driving.

Another has created a small pill dispenser that quantifies the behavior of patients taking medications, and sends this information to physicians so that treatment can be based on objective data.

There also is a student who was honored at the U.S. Capitol for winning first place in the Congressional Art Competition, and another who is a circus performer for the Trenton Circus Squad in New Jersey.

Members of the Class of 2023 also are altruistic. One started a nonprofit aimed at making computing education more accessible, and another started a program to design, produce, and sell wooden pens — raising over $4,500 for charity. 

These students, too, will find a home at Rensselaer, where we celebrate the talents, interests, and passions of a tremendously diverse community, and recognize these differences as our strengths.

Two weeks ago, as part of a celebration of my 20th anniversary as president, I had the wonderful privilege of attending a picnic at the Rensselaer Armory, hosted by a number of student clubs and organizations in my honor.

Several students expressed how profoundly our investment in the student experience at Rensselaer over the past 20 years has benefitted them, sharing their stories about the impact of:

  • Navigating Rensselaer and Beyond;
  • The First-Year Experience;
  • Clustered Learning, Advocacy, and Support for Students, or CLASS — the bedrock underlying all of our efforts to ensure each student lives up to his and her full potential;
  • Our Athletics and Arts programs; and
  • Our more than 265 thriving student clubs and organizations (plus intramural sports) — half of which were established during my tenure.

They described Rensselaer as a home to never-ending possibilities — as a place where everyone is encouraged to embrace his or her individual abilities, to learn from and to appreciate one another, to nurture each other’s growth, and to support each other’s aspirations.

These are the very qualities that tomorrow’s leaders must possess, and inspire in others, to address the great global challenges and opportunities of the 21st century.

At Rensselaer, we prepare our students to engage with knowledge, skill, intellectual rigor, and a shared sense of humanity, which is why I have every confidence that they will indeed change the world. 

In addition to Natalie Walters-Casey, I would like to acknowledge the other current members of our Society of Families Leadership Committee who have given to Rensselaer at the leadership level of $10,000 and above, and who also volunteer their time doing outreach to fellow families of Rensselaer students to encourage them to join the Society of Families and to deepen their engagement with the Rensselaer community. They include:

  • Our Co-chairs, Lisa and Tom Capek of the Class of 1986, the parents of Madison Capek of the Class of 2020;
  • Shawn Ding and Qun Situ, the parents of Alex Ding of the Class of 2021;
  • David Hammarstrom, the parent of Jacob Hammarstrom of the Class of 2022;
  • Mary Kubli and James Humelsine, the parents of Ryan Huemelsine of the Class of 2021;
  • Bob and Karen May, the parents of David May of the Class of 2020, and Andrew May of Class of 2022;
  • Darlene Yaplee and Donald Jackson, the parents of Jordan Yaplee-Jackson of the Class of 2021; and
  • Arthur Wong, the parent of Mark Wong of the Class of 2021.

I would like to invite members of the Society of Families Leadership Committee who are with us this afternoon to please join me at the podium when I call your name.

  • Ms. Natalie Walters-Casey;
  • Ms. Qun Situ; and
  • Mark Wong, on behalf of his father, Arthur Wong.

Please join me in applauding our committee members for their important work in the service of Rensselaer. In addition, 25 new families became members of the Rensselaer Society of Families, having given $2,500 or more in support of the Institute.

These donations also support our capital campaign. Overall, I am pleased to report that since the October 2017 launch of Transformative: Campaign for Global Change, about which I spoke during this morning’s welcome remarks, we have received more than 1,500 gifts from parents and family members of Rensselaer students — totaling more than $1 million.

These contributions are essential to supporting the three key pillars of our campaign:

  • Improving student access by Bridging the Gap between the cost of a Rensselaer education and our students’ financial need, and enhancing the student experience through programs and initiatives such as CLASS, expanded opportunities for undergraduate research, and The Arch;
  • Creating more endowed professorships to attract and retain the best academic talent in the world; and
  • Continuing to build out the campus with state-of-the-art facilities, including new residence halls, completion of Phase II of the East Campus Athletic Village, expansion of the Jonsson Engineering Center, and a new Center for Science.

Many parents, and others in our society, rightly and rightfully, express concern about the cost of higher education and the ability of those with less means to attend and take on, if needed, debt to attend a college or university. To be sure, the kind of education we offer — through our people (faculty and staff), programs (academic, co-curricular, and support), platforms, and partnerships — is not without high cost, even as we operate as efficiently as possible. But the outcomes for our graduates are great. That is why what you do to support Rensselaer is so crucial.

Please accept my sincere appreciation to each of you for advancing excellence at Rensselaer. We rely on your advice, as well as your support, and we are very grateful that your families are an integral part of the Rensselaer family.

I would urge those of you who are not yet Society of Family members to consider joining. Please talk with any of our Cabinet members or academic leaders to learn more about how you can make a difference.

Thank you for coming, and enjoy your evening.