Stronger, Smarter Connections Needed for Universities to Harness the Full Power and Potential of This New Data-Driven Era

In address to Internet2 Global Summit, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute President Shirley Ann Jackson calls for greater connectivity for collaboration, discovery, and innovation

April 8, 2014

Denver, CO – Universities must make new and innovative connections to harness the full power and potential of this data-driven era, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute President Shirley Ann Jackson said today in a keynote address at the Internet2 Global Summit in Denver, Colorado.

Deriving “insights from the massive amounts of web-based data that humanity is producing about itself, during the ordinary course of every day…. may be the greatest intellectual challenge and opportunity we all face in academic life,” President Jackson told the gathering of academic, business, and government leaders in the arena of information technology.

“Today, we analyze less than 1 percent of the data we capture, even though the answers to many of the great global challenges lie within this overabundant natural resource,” Jackson said. The challenge, she notes, is finding new ways to address the volume, velocity, variety, and veracity of the data.

“In this era of Big Data and Big Science, universities must serve as a crossroads for collaboration. They must model themselves on what I have defined as The New Polytechnic, using advanced technologies—in new ways—to unite a multiplicity of disciplines and perspectives. We must do this because, as we all know, the most important networks in discovery and innovation are human. But unlocking human potential depends not only on the technologies we put in place, but on how we are able to use them,” Jackson said.

“The greatest challenge all of us in academic life face -whether we are network technicians or theoretical physicists, whether we are CIOs, CTOs, or university presidents - is fostering the right connections,” she said.

“The tools we are creating—networking tools that enable consortia of researchers to form, semantic and cognitive tools that allow investigations across unrelated data sets and that weigh and value data according to its provenance—as well as the increasingly central role computation plays in every field—are all contributing to a revolution in research: the crumbling of the walls between disciplines,” President Jackson said.  “That means we all are challenged to consider the ways we teach, and how we organize and fund research, as we prepare the next generation to lead. We must find new ways to bring together the innovators and students in data science and computation, with the innovators and students in every other domain.”

Jackson urged a focus on incorporating new, more intelligent systems to mine, manage, and move the deluge of data.

In addition to creating better connections and tools to address the volume and velocity of data, President Jackson also urged a focus on how data is saved and stored.  “The truth is, we probably do not want to be too selective about what we store. Data is clearly a realm in which one investigator’s trash is another investigator’s treasure,” she said.

Not only what is saved, but how it is cataloged is critical, President Jackson said, calling for a “Yellow Pages for Data” to make data more accessible.

President Jackson noted that the Research Data Alliance—its U.S. arm led by Rensselaer Professor Francine Berman—is working to establish the infrastructure and policies for the preservation and sharing of data among researchers globally.

Because  Internet2—this network of networks—is so critical for research, and noting that “we are connected by our exposures and exposed by our connections,” Jackson said it will be imperative to ensure that this platform is robust and secure by continuing to ask “is there more intelligence we can build into our networks to reinforce their resilience?”

Following her keynote address in the plenary session titled “Future of the University,” President Jackson was joined by University of Colorado Boulder Chancellor Phil DiStefano and Indiana University President Michael McRobbie for a panel discussion moderated by Internet2 President and CEO Dave Lambert.

Rensselaer Vice President for Information Services and Technology and Chief Information Officer, John E. Kolb, P.E., also will be speaking at the Internet2 Summit. In a panel discussion on “The Challenges of Distributed Supercomputing” he will highlight the work of HPC2 - the New York State High Performance Computing Consortium—for which he serves as the principal investigator along with Professor Mark Shephard, co-PI for the Rensselaer effort. The multi-university consortium, initiated at Rensselaer, works with industry to integrate high performance computing into their processes to improve businesses products and processes. Kolb is a member of the Board of Internet2. 

Background on President Jackson

A theoretical physicist, Dr. Jackson has held senior leadership positions in government, industry, research, and academe. She was chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission from1995 to 1999, and currently is a member of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST), co-chairs the President's Innovation and Technology Advisory Committee (PITAC), and is a member of the U.S. Department of State International Security Advisory Board (ISAB). She is a member of the British Royal Academy of Engineering, the U.S. National Academy of Engineering, the American Philosophical Society, and a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Physical Society, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). She is a Regent of the Smithsonian Institution, and a member of the Board of the Council on Foreign Relations and The Brookings Institution. She is a member of the Council on Competitiveness and co-chaired its Energy Security, Innovation and Sustainability initiative. She also is a member of the Board of Directors of global companies including IBM and FedEx.

About Rensselaer
Big Data, broad data, high performance computing, data analytics, and Web science are creating a significant transformation globally in the way we make connections, make discoveries, make decisions, make products, and ultimately make progress. Under the auspices of The Rensselaer Institute for Data Exploration and Applications—or The Rensselaer IDEA – Rensselaer is engaged in a university-wide effort to maximize the capabilities of these tools and technologies for the purpose of expediting scientific discovery and innovation, developing the next generation of these digital enablers, and preparing our students to succeed and lead in this new data-driven world.

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, founded in 1824, is the nation’s oldest technological research university. The university offers bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees in engineering, the sciences, information technology, architecture, management, and the humanities and social sciences. Institute programs serve undergraduates, graduate students, and working professionals around the world. Rensselaer faculty are known for pre-eminence in research conducted in a wide range of fields, with particular emphasis in biotechnology, nanotechnology, computation and information technology, the media arts and technology, and energy and the environment. The Institute is well known for its success in the transfer of technology from the laboratory to the marketplace so that new discoveries and inventions benefit human life, protect the environment, and strengthen economic development.

To read Dr. Jackson’s remarks go to:  “Delivering on the Promise of Big Data and Big Science: The Most Important Networks Are Not Fiber Optic”

For information about the Internet2 Global Summit go to:

For information about Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute go to:

Press Contact Theresa Bourgeois
Back to top