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Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)

The College Life Series From Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute: An Insider’s Perspective -- The Role of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences at a Technological University

Dr. Mary Simoni, who serves as dean of HASS, the school is “a special community in an exceptional university at a critical moment in time, that sits at the crossroads of humanity and technological innovation.” Simoni offers her insight and answers questions on some ways that the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences contextualizes what it means to be a contributing citizen in an increasing complex technological society.

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Media Relations media@rpi.edu

August 5, 2016

The College Life Series From Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute: An Insider’s Perspective -- The Role of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences at a Technological University

Troy, N.Y. — Quiet and park-like, yet full of all the conveniences of a self-contained city, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, located in the city of Troy, New York, is a 260-acre campus with a blend of modern style and classic charm. In the midst of the campus sits the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences (HASS), which was founded in 1957.

According to Dr. Mary Simoni, who serves as dean of HASS, the school is “a special community in an exceptional university at a critical moment in time, that sits at the crossroads of humanity and technological innovation.”

Simoni offers her insight and answers questions on some ways that the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences contextualizes what it means to be a contributing citizen in an increasing complex technological society and the connection that the school has to The New Polytechnic.

At Rensselaer, Dr. Jackson is guiding a transformation that fulfills the vision The New Polytechnic, a paradigm for higher education which recognizes that global challenges and opportunities are so great they cannot be addressed by the most talented person working alone. Rensselaer serves as a crossroads for collaboration—working with partners across disciplines, sectors, and geographic regions—to address complex global challenges, using the most advanced tools and technologies, many of which are developed at Rensselaer. Research at Rensselaer addresses some of the world’s most pressing technological challenges – from energy security and sustainable development to biotechnology and human health. The New Polytechnic is transformative in three fundamental ways: in the global impact of research, innovative pedagogy, and in the lives of students at Rensselaer.

Q: What is the mission of your school?

A: The School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences responds to the world’s greatest challenges with agenda-setting research on human societies, institutions, minds, arts, and culture. With outstanding undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral programs and a world-renowned faculty, HASS is home to an interdisciplinary and highly creative research community. The academic mission is to conduct research and offer degree programs that are rigorous, innovative, and responsive to the contemporary programs and prospects; and to equip all Rensselaer students with the skills and outlooks needed to address complex social issues in their lives as innovators and citizens.

Q: How should a prospective student prepare?

A: Read, read, read! Be curious about the world, the people of the world, and the way the world works. Take time to cultivate your imagination and creativity, as those are the talents that will contribute to personal resilience. Of course, follow a rigorous pre-collegiate curriculum and strive to get good grades. Take time to pursue a holistic approach to your extracurricular activities, including sports, music, and community service.

 Q: What are some of the highlights of the HASS experience for undergraduates and graduate students?

A: Our programs are very unique in that they combine the essence of a liberal arts education at a science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) institution. Our students design and build prototype technologies, create video games, and compose and perform music. Students also have opportunities to perform at the Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center or engage in research at the Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies.  

Q: What are some of the academic, professional, or future career opportunities that HASS students can look forward to?

A: HASS students have worked in industry, developing interactive media. Many students have gone on to attend prestigious graduate programs, while others have pursued careers as designers and writers. 

Q: How does the HASS program connect to The New Polytechnic?

A: HASS is critical to The New Polytechnic in that we embody the values of liberal education at a STEM institution. Our effort in Art_X is a way to promote discovery at the nexus of the arts, magnified on a large scale with the STEM disciplines. It is this amazing intersection that contributes to knowledge and cultural production—the essence of The New Polytechnic.

Q: What do you enjoy most about serving as dean of the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences?

A: I learn something new every day! Whether it be from our students or our world-class faculty, I find it intellectually engaging to be on this campus as a dean.

Q: What is the role of the humanities, arts, and social sciences in the 21st century technological research university?

A: The answer is simple: We are seekers. We seek to understand the very nature of our humanity. We seek to improve the quality of life. We seek to preserve our world. We seek truth through artistic innovation. The School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences is a special community in an exceptional university at a critical moment in time. We sit at the crossroads of humanity and technological innovation. We contextualize what it means to be a contributing global citizen in an increasing complex technological society. We concern ourselves with issues that have plagued humanity since the beginning of recorded history: ethics, truth, meaning, and beauty. At Rensselaer, we posit our contributions alongside the Schools of Architecture, Lally School of Management, Engineering, and Science as equal partners in the quest for understanding.

Q: What advice would you offer to prospective and current students that are pursuing an education in your school at Rensselaer?  

A: Be expansive in your thinking about what your skills and talents can do to make the world a better place.

About Dean Mary Simoni

Mary Simoni is composer, author, teacher, pianist, consultant, arts administrator, and amateur photographer. Prior to joining Rensselaer in 2011, she served as associate dean of the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre and Dance. As associate dean, Simoni developed research opportunities and strategic planning processes for the school, developed and directed electronic publications, and launched and directed the University of Michigan record label, Block M Recordsto promote the vitality, multiplicity, and excellence of the University of Michigan through web-based publication of media-rich scholarly and creative research.

Simoni’s work as a pianist specializes in the use of interactive electronics. Her compositions include the design of performance systems that extend the sonic capabilities of traditional acoustic instruments. Her music and multimedia works have been performed in Asia, Europe, and throughout the United States and have been recorded by Centaur Records, the Leonardo Music Journal published by the MIT Press, and the International Computer Music Association. She is the recipient of the Prize in Composition by the ArtNET Virtual Museum. Simoni is the author of the books “A Gentle Introduction to Algorithmic Composition,” and “Analytical Methods of Electroacoustic Music,” and is currently working on a book with Roger Dannenberg of Carnegie Mellon University on algorithmic composition. She has consulted for the Canadian Innovation Foundation, the National Science Foundation, the National Peace Foundation, and numerous universities and arts agencies throughout the world. 

Simoni is a Medal Laureate of the Computer World Honors Award for her research in digital music information retrieval, and is a Professor Emerita of Performing Arts Technology at the University of Michigan. The Knight Foundation, the Kellogg Foundation, the National Science Foundation, and the Michigan Council for the Arts and Cultural Affairs have funded her research.

For more information about the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences, visit: http://www.hass.rpi.edu/

About Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, founded in 1824, is the nation’s oldest technological research university. The university offers degrees in engineering; the sciences; information technology and web sciences; architecture; management; and the arts, humanities, and social sciences. Institute programs serve undergraduates, graduate students, and working professionals around the world. Rensselaer faculty conduct pre-eminent research in a wide range of fields, with an emphasis on biotechnology, nanotechnology, computational science and engineering, data science, and the media arts and technology. 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. For more information, please visit http://www.rpi.edu.