Meet the Class of 2011: An Overview of Rensselaer's 205th Commencement

May 18, 2011

Meet the Class of 2011: An Overview of Rensselaer's 205th Commencement

This year, 1,700 students will receive degrees from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute on Saturday, May 28, beginning at 9:30 a.m. in the East Campus Athletic Village (ECAV) stadium. They represent the next generation of leaders, engineers, scientists, entrepreneurs, patent holders, game designers, and innovators, in fields ranging from engineering to architecture, from fine arts to science, from game design to information technology, and from business to the military.

During the Institute’s 205th Commencement ceremony, Rensselaer will award a total of 1,866 degrees. They include: 398 master’s degrees, 130 doctoral degrees, and 1,338 bachelor’s degrees. Some graduates have earned more than one degree.

A Global Community
In 2011, graduating students come from more than 42 states, in addition to New York. The Class of 2011 contains graduates from 39 other nations, including: Austria, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Colombia, Egypt, Ecuador, Kuwait, India, Ireland, Pakistan, Peru, Russian Federation, South Korea, Taiwan, and Turkey.

Making the — Perfect — Grade
Six undergraduate students receiving bachelor’s degrees earned a perfect 4.0 grade point average. The students are Ernest Carozza, Cory Crean, Kristen Lee, Matthew Rosenberg, Evan Weinberg, and Kinsley French. In addition, 24 graduate students earned a perfect 4.0 grade point average for the May Commencement, and 19 earned a perfect 4.0 grade point average for August/December.

The Commencement Speaker Is...
U.S. Surgeon General and Vice Admiral Regina M. Benjamin — one of the world’s leading experts on public health and a key player in the national debate on health care reform — will deliver the 2011 Commencement Address.

As “America’s Doctor,” Dr. Benjamin plays a critical role in providing the American public with the best scientific information available on how to improve health. Since her appointment by President Barack Obama in 2009, Dr. Benjamin has been a forceful leader in the national effort to migrate the United States health care system from one focused on sick care to one targeting wellness and prevention of illness. She talked about the issue earlier this year at the Sixth Annual Employer Health, Human Capital and Wellness Congress.

From her early days as the founder of a rural health clinic in Alabama — which she kept running despite damage inflicted by two hurricanes and a devastating fire — to her leadership role in the worldwide advancement of preventive health care, Dr. Benjamin has forged a career that has been recognized by a broad spectrum of organizations and publications, ranging from the MacArthur Fellowship — the “Genius Award” — to Time and People magazines. Dr. Benjamin also was named the United States recipient of the Nelson Mandela Award for Health and Human Rights.

Taking the Podium
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute President Shirley Ann Jackson will also address members of the Class of 2011. President Jackson is the 18th president of Rensselaer. Since taking office in 1999, she has led an extraordinary transformation of the university under the visionary Rensselaer Plan, including new platforms for education and research, such as the Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies, the Computational Center for Nanotechnology Innovations, and the Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center.

A theoretical physicist, she chaired the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission from 1995 to 1999, and currently is a member of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. Described as a “national treasure” by the National Science Board, she is a member of the National Academy of Engineering and the American Philosophical Society, a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and other professional societies, and a director or trustee on a number of prestigious boards.

Class President Jeremie Carlson, a student who majored in biology, will also address the class. The Schenectady, N.Y., native says that his degree represents an education deeply rooted in both theory and research. As an undergraduate student, he participated in the undergraduate research program, and worked in the Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies lab of Douglas Swank, assistant professor of biology. The group studies how muscles have evolved to power many different functions including locomotion and pumping blood. From 2008 to 2011, Carlson was granted the opportunity to investigate the interaction between myosin and actin in Drosophila melanogaster muscle, and gained experience in both molecular biology and genetics. In addition, he said that the experience of shadowing doctors and fellow researchers at the Bone and Joint Center in Albany, N.Y., allowed him to peer into the medical field through the lens of clinical orthopedics.

At Rensselaer, as class president, Carlson worked alongside the Class Council representing the Class of 2011 to increase school pride, and organized a series of class events, ranging from 100 Days to the 50 Days Celebrations, and Senior Week. Carlson also carved out time to serve in several other organizations. For example, as a student ambassador for the Office of Admissions since 2008, he had the privilege of serving as the face of Rensselaer to many prospective students and families, while leading campus tours. In addition, Carlson served as a student orientation adviser, and worked to advise and engage incoming freshmen during their first year of college. Also, as a member of the Red & White Student Organization, Carlson interacted with alumni in an effort to connect them back to their alma mater. Carlson also served as a resident assistant for the Office of Residence Life, and a teaching assistant in the Biology Department. Following graduation, Carlson will travel to Europe for most of the summer. He also plans to work in a clinical or research environment that will utilize his background in biology, and then apply to medical school.

Honorary Degree Recipients
Dr. Benjamin will receive an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree during the ceremony.

G. Wayne Clough, the 12th Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, who leads the world’s largest museum and research complex, will receive an honorary Doctor of Engineering degree. Clough has envisioned a new era for the Smithsonian, expanding its global relevance and helping the nation shape its future through research, education, and scientific discovery on major topics of the day. To ensure its vast collection is accessible and available, he is leading the effort to digitize much of the 137 million objects in the collection and use the World Wide Web and Smithsonian experts and scholars to reach out to new audiences in the United States and around the world. Before his appointment to the Smithsonian, Clough was president of the Georgia Institute of Technology for 14 years, where he completed a building program of more than $1 billion that incorporated sustainable design. Clough is a member of the National Academy of Engineering and a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Samuel F. Heffner Jr.’56, who launched a career in the real estate development business that has spanned nearly 50 years, will receive an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree. Heffner is the founder and president of Dickinson-Heffner Inc., a building and land development firm that has developed several million square feet of office and industrial space in the Baltimore region, primarily in the vicinity of Baltimore-Washington International (BWI) Airport. He has served on numerous civic boards and is a founder and former chair of the BWI Business Partnership Inc, devoted to the fostering of economic development and transportation interests by businesses in the BWI area. Heffner was a member of the Rensselaer Board of Trustees for 33 years and served as board chair for 15 years, retiring in December 2010.

Game On! Degree program’s first graduates set to cross the stage
The Games and Simulation Arts and Sciences (GSAS) program was launched in the fall of 2007 to provide a comprehensive understanding of interactive digital media, a balance of disciplinary competencies, and the mastery of a self-defined set of interrelated disciplinary challenges at the nation’s oldest technical institute. GSAS has been named among the top 15 out of 150 undergraduate game design programs in the United States and Canada, according to a new survey from the Princeton Review. Since its inception, 13 students who matriculated into the program have graduated. However, on May 28, the program will graduate its first full class, comprised of 20 students. Within the group, 16 students are also dual majors in computer science, electronic arts, management, physics, and psychology.

Following graduation, some of the student’s future careers plans include working in the gaming field. Two students will be working as software engineers in the area of consulting and the development of programs to visualize stock market data. Another student plans to pursue a second degree in graphics design, and three students plan to enroll in a co-terminal management program at Rensselaer.

Rensselaer’s Own
This year, eight Rensselaer employees and three employee spouses are graduating. Fourteen children of Rensselaer employees also are graduating.

All in the Family
The Rensselaer degree is well-known throughout the world as a symbol of technological excellence and achievement. Rensselaer alumni are leaders. They are collaborative, able, and smart. This year, 127 members of the Class of 2011 are Rensselaer “legacies,” students with relatives who attended the university.

Continuing Academic Excellence
Many graduates will continue their studies after graduation. Among the schools that graduates will be attending are: Albany Medical College, Boston University, Carnegie Mellon University, Dartmouth College, Duke University, Harvard University, Imperial College (London), Indiana University School of Medicine, Purdue University, Universitat Erlangen-Nurnberg (Germany), University of British Columbia, Villanova University, Yale University, and Rensselaer.

Hot Jobs! Meet the Next Generation of Innovators in the Work Force
As the effects of the economic downturn continue to be felt, job market news looks positive in all regions for Class of 2011 graduates, according to a new survey conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE). Employers who took part in NACE’s Job Outlook 2011 Fall Preview survey expect to hire 13.5 percent more new graduates from the Class of 2011 than they hired last year.

Preliminary results indicate that, despite the economic downturn, Rensselaer students — in all areas of study, including management, humanities, social sciences, information technology, and engineering — are still getting good jobs within the Capital Region, across the nation, and also overseas. Heading from the stage to offices and locations around the country, Rensselaer graduates will work for companies that include: Bank of America, Booz Allen Hamilton, Cisco Systems, FactSet Research Systems, GE, General Dynamics, Global Foundries, Procter & Gamble, RBC Bearings, United Technologies Corporation, and ZS Associates.

“Today’s employers have put an increased emphasis on experiential opportunities as a pipeline to full-time professional employment,” said Tom Tarantelli, director of the Center for Career and Professional Development at Rensselaer. “This is what gives a student the competitive edge when it comes to landing a full-time job. Despite market dynamics, Rensselaer graduates have always proven to be resilient and resourceful.”

“Most importantly, we tell students that it is not just about jobs,” Tarantelli said. “The key factors that have helped Rensselaer students land jobs include: gaining work experience while in college; networking among family, friends, and alumni; and pursuing a non-traditional career. Students should not be discouraged but ready to take advantage of opportunities when they become available. That is the nature of today’s market.”

Career Advice for Class of 2011

Tarantelli offers members of the Rensselaer Class of 2011 some advice on career plans:

  • Get outdoors! The weather is nice for a change (at least in the Northeast). Graduates need to put themselves in a position to meet people who might be able to help. Unless those folks come out of the woodwork in the graduate’s basement, I think it’s unlikely you will meet people by staying locked up at home.
  • Use the computer to gather information about opportunities and to network. Be a joiner. Show up at events, join Linkedin, volunteer, look at internships as a possible way to get a foot in the door, wait on tables (?) — YES — it is a good way to meet people!
  • Join a health club! Shocking! Stay active and fit. That will help you to keep things positive, and it can provide you with a venue for meeting decision makers. In the process, it might be fun too!
  • Develop “situational awareness.” So much emphasis is put on planning that sometimes there are things beyond our control that change the situation. If graduates cannot adjust to changes, then their best plans can become a box! Stay in touch with the outside world. Read-Read-Read! Know the market — the industry — the employer (s). Before that you need to consider your own strengths, limitations, values, accomplishments, etc. and how they FIT — it’s not just about qualifications and interests. Some students I see never consider “FIT.” They think because they are qualified and interested they “should” get the job!
  • If you are not getting interviews, “re-engineer” your resumes and “rethink” your networks. Something is not working and my guess is that it is one or both — the resume and/or the networks. If you they think your IPad or computer is the answer, congratulations — so do eight million other folks! Start thinking about what distinguishes you from the others — what makes you unique.
  • Declare a “no whining zone.” Stop complaining and start doing. When in doubt, go back to the first item above and start over.

Student Service, Leadership, Scholarship Honored
During the May 26 Class of 2011 Zero Year Brunch and Awards Celebration, several graduating seniors were honored for their contributions to the Institute. The Willie Stanton Award, presented to the senior(s) judged to have contributed the most in service to the student body, was awarded to Kyle Mattson, a mechanical engineering major from Honey Brook, Pa. The Livingston W. Houston Citizenship Award, honoring the “first citizen of the college,” ranking high in character, leadership, scholarship, and athletic ability, was awarded to John Kennedy, captain of the men’s hockey team, and a chemical engineering major from Saginaw, Mich. The Leopold L. Balleisen Prize, honoring a senior student athlete who has won a varsity letter in at least one sport during two undergraduate years and who stands highest academically in the senior class, was awarded to Chas Mitchell, a member of the cross country team, and a chemical engineering major from Fairhaven, Mass.

Celebrating Family and Friendships: The Ties That Bind
Joshua Gonya, a dual major in aerospace and mechanical engineering, credits his family with getting him through the tough times at Rensselaer. Gonya, a native of Blackstone, Mass., comes from a family that includes 15 children. In 2007, the family was one of several featured in a reality television series about large families. The show, titled “Kids by the Dozen” aired on The Learning Channel (TLC), and the Gonya episode focused on the family’s preparation to send Josh to Rensselaer.

The oldest of 15 children, Gonya credits his parents with giving him the necessary encouragement and helping him to put things into perspective. “My parents helped me to understand that nobody is perfect, and that I needed to balance school and my other responsibilities.”

While at Rensselaer, in 2009, Gonya participated in a study-abroad program in Singapore. “This was the highlight of my college experience,” he said. While in Singapore, he also carved out time to travel to Japan, China, Hong Kong, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Australia. Josh also served as a work study student while at Rensselaer. His primary responsibility was focused on game day assistance for football, basketball, and lacrosse games and track meets. Gonya was also involved in setting up and running events held in ECAV.

“During Josh’s freshman year, I remember seeing his picture flash across the screen,” said Jerry Davis, lead athletic facility specialist, who recalled viewing the TLC program that featured the Gonya family. “After watching the program, I had a different perspective on the outgoing freshman who seemed at ease with all those that he came in contact with while working in Athletics. Even before watching the program, Josh was different than your average freshman in that he was at ease with adults, had great rapport, and is extremely personable.

“As the years have gone by, I have come to rely on Josh for every major event that we have hosted. He even volunteered to help out at his own graduation,” Davis added. “The hardest part of working in a college setting is having an individual such as Josh for only four short years. My solace is that I have a friend in Josh for the rest of my life.”

“From my experience, the most important role my family played while I was in college was in the amount of support they showed me as I moved ahead in college, tried new things and new experiences, and went through imminent failures and successes,” Gonya said. “My advice to my younger siblings is to work hard for what you want. Nearly everything is within your reach. Don’t limit yourself, and don’t be afraid to leave your comfort zone to try new things.”

During Commencement, Gonya’s parents and five of his siblings will cheer him on as he receives his degrees. Growing up, Gonya says that he wanted to become a pilot, and always thought that “planes are awesome.” Following graduation, Gonya will head to Tulsa, Okla., where he will work as a structural engineer for American Airlines.

Parting Gift
Each year at Commencement, the graduating class presents the university with a gift. The Class of 2011 is excited to present a much-needed resting place for students and members of the campus to enjoy in the years to come. Eleven benches now line the tree-lined promenade area of the ’86 Field that features curved walkways crossing the field that maximize the field area for informal play. The new benches are backless so that individuals can sit facing the sun if desired and watch activity on the field.

Last spring, six student team design proposals sought to transform the ’86 Field from a barren void to a campus hub. Their ideas included a “media wall” along the south side, a reflecting pool, a grand Sage Avenue entrance, a tree-lined promenade, areas for outdoor classes, and terracing and stairs connecting the field with the Quad and Hassan Quad. The designs were presented at the culmination of ’86 Field Design Charrette, sponsored by the Office of the President, Campus Planning and Facilities Design, and the School of Architecture. Other features proposed for the field included a winter skating rink, a quiet grove, and a Karner Blue butterfly sanctuary.

Today, according to Barbara Nelson, project manager in campus planning and facilities design, certain recurrent themes — such as terracing of the west hillside, use of lighting and landscape materials to define areas, preservation of a significant open space, and a “naturalization” of the east end rock outcrop — will have a strong impact on the final design.

Members of the Class of 2011 have already raised more than $4,000 to support the bench installation. To date, 90 members of the class, representing 8 percent, have donated to the project. In addition, 15 students became Patroons of Rensselaer with their gifts of $100 or more.

Awarding Excellence in Counseling
Bimal K. Malaviya, professor in the department of mechanical, aerospace, and nuclear engineering, has been selected as the 37th recipient of the David M. Darrin ’40 Counseling Award, which will be presented during the Commencement ceremony. The award was established by David M. Darrin ’40 to recognize a faculty member who has made an unusual contribution in the counseling of undergraduate students. The selection of the award recipient is made by Phalanx, Rensselaer’s student leadership honorary society.

In recognizing Professor Malaviya, members of the Rensselaer community cited his admirable personality toward his students. He was also recognized for his advocacy of students in and out of the classroom and through undergraduate research, which speaks to his enthusiasm for counseling and enhancement of the student experience. Several nominations also noted that Malaviya “does not hesitate to offer outside guidance, such as advisement on graduate school selection and career choices, or with small pieces of advice he shares whenever he speaks with his students.” Another nominator noted that “with over 45 years dedicated to student advising, counseling, and mentoring at Rensselaer, he has demonstrated special concern for the welfare of undergraduate students.”

Service to Their Country
Forty-nine students will be graduating from the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) programs and starting active military service as officers with the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force. Commissioning signifies the beginning of a student’s active military service. Each student will take an oath of office in his or her respective branch of service in one of three commissioning ceremonies taking place on May 27 on the Rensselaer campus in the Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center (EMPAC) theater, and Academy Hall auditorium.

From Naval ROTC, 21 students will be commissioned as ensigns and two as second lieutenants into active duty in the United States Navy or Marine Corps. Future career paths for those commissioned include: eight surface warfare officers (three will be nuclear trained), six submarine officers, six aviation officers, two Marine Corps officers, and one naval reactors engineer.

The commissioning ceremony will take place from 9 to 11 a.m. in the EMPAC theater May 27. Admiral Kirkland Donald, director of the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program with the United States Navy, will deliver the keynote address and oath of office. Originally from Norlina, N.C., Admiral Kirkland Donald graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1975 with a bachelor of science in ocean engineering. He also holds a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Phoenix and is a graduate of Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government Senior Executive Fellows Program.

After completing his initial nuclear power and submarine training, he served on the USS Batfish (SSN 681), USS Mariano G. Vallejo (SSBN 658), and USS Seahorse (SSN 669). His shore assignments include the Pacific Fleet Nuclear Propulsion Examining Board and the staff of the director, Naval Nuclear Propulsion. He also served at the Bureau of Naval Personnel, on the Joint Staff, and as Deputy Chief of Staff for C4I, Resources, Requirements and Assessments, U.S. Pacific Fleet. ADM Donald assumed his current duties as director, Naval Nuclear Propulsion, on Nov. 5, 2004. For more information regarding Admiral Kirkland Donald, visit:

In the Air Force, 10 graduates will become remotely piloted aircraft pilots, developmental engineers, and civil engineers. The commissioning ceremony will take place from 1 to 3 p.m. on May 27 in the EMPAC theater. Colonel (Retired) Christopher E. O’Hara will deliver the keynote address. During his last assignment as the Commander of Air Force ROTC Detachment 550 at Rensselaer, he was deployed to Iraq as the Deputy Commander of the 732d Air Expeditionary Group at Balad Air Base, where he was awarded the Bronze Star for Meritorious Service.

During his 30 years of service, Colonel O’Hara served with distinction in 19 transportation, aircraft maintenance, and logistics assignments at unit, major command, air staff, and joint levels. As commander of the 62d Logistics Group in McChord AFB, Wash., his logistics unit achieved honors as the 2002 Daedalian Trophy Winners for Best Weapons System Maintenance in the United States Air Force.

In the Army, the Mohawk Battalion operates as the Army’s only commissioning source for colleges and universities throughout the Capital Region. This year, two of the 16 graduates that will be commissioned as second lieutenants are from Rensselaer. Of the 18 total commissionees, seven will go into active duty, nine will go into the National Guard, and two will go into the Reserve. Assignment locations for the new lieutenants include: Fort Leonard Wood, Mo; Fort Sill, Okla.; Fort Benning, Ga.; Fort Lee, Va.; Fort Huachuca, Ariz.; and Fort Carson, Colo. The commissioning ceremony for the Rensselaer students will take place from 10 a.m. to noon in the Academy Hall auditorium. Earlier in the month, the Rensselaer graduates attended a commissioning ceremony that was held on the Siena College campus. Former NFL and NCAA Head Coach Bobby Ross delivered the keynote address.

Commencement Goes Green: Supporting Sustainability
A green, sustainable mindset has picked up tremendous momentum on the campus over the past two years, culminating in the Princeton Review naming Rensselaer as one of the most environmentally responsible colleges in the nation — two years in a row.

In support of Institute-wide sustainability efforts and after consulting with students, the Rensselaer Bookstore has changed the bachelor’s and master’s graduation regalia that will be used for this year’s Commencement. The regalia features caps and gowns that are made from 100 percent post-consumer plastic bottle pellets. The regalia, supplied by Oak Hall Cap and Gown,is known as the “GreenWeaver” style. According to the organization, an average of 23 plastic bottles are removed from landfills for each gown. Other regalia features include: tagless size labels stamped with soy milk, and a reduction in the CO2 gas emissions by more than 54 percent in the process of manufacturing fabric from plastic versus virgin polyester. In addition, the plastic bags used to store the caps and gowns are made from recycled plastic. Following Commencement, the used regalia can be turned in, and it will be used to recycle new fabric.

Of special note, for every gown purchased, Oak Hall will make a donation to an on-campus sustainability program at participating colleges and universities. The organization plans to make a donation to the Class of 2010 Green Roof fund for continued maintenance of the green roof over the Bookstore.

According to Robyn Marquis — graduate student in transportation engineering, member of the Student Sustainability Task Force, and a senior columnist for The Polytechnic student newspaper — prior to this year’s Commencement, Rensselaer had already taken some steps toward planning a more sustainable ceremony. Early efforts included growing many of the floral displays in the campus greenhouses and recycling. This year, in order to support the single-stream recycling program, large bins will be placed around the perimeter of the stadium to encourage attendees to discard plastic bottles and paper programs in the same bins.

In addition, to make this year’s Commencement environmentally friendly, a long-standing decoration will not be used. Recently, a “Non-Research Helium Boycott” initiative spearheaded by Benjamin Cohen ’11, Ph.D. in mechanical engineering, has encouraged members of the Rensselaer campus community to support the initiative and consider the elimination of helium-filled balloons while planning campus events.

Helium, the second lightest element, is a non-renewable resource. The gas is created by the nuclear fusion process of the Sun, or by slow and steady radioactive decay of terrestrial rock, and is typically captured as a byproduct of the natural gas drilling industry.

Recent reports by news, science, industry, and government organizations have noted that the world’s most commonly used inert gas is being depleted at an astonishing rate due to a law passed in 1996 that has made helium too cheap to recycle. The Helium Preservation Act stipulates that the helium must be sold off by 2015, regardless of the market price. Researchers note that it is possible that there may be an empty spot on the periodic table within the next 30 years.

Many industrial processes rely on helium. The gas is used for MRI and nuclear magnetic resonance machines, pressurizing and purging rockets, welding, as well as in the production of fiber optics, LCDs, and food. In his proposal, Cohen stated the following: “RPI as a world-class technological research university, understanding the importance of helium to the scientific community and for common human good, commits to curbing the using of helium on campus for non-research or science-based purposes. This is in effect a boycott of helium balloons in the hopes of also increasing awareness for material scarcity.”

On a larger scale, the latest parking and transportation initiatives planned for Commencement will benefit the community, according to Jason Jones, operations supervisor of parking and transportation at Rensselaer. “One of the Rensselaer goals, similar to many other colleges and universities, is to minimize its carbon footprint through sustainable practices,” Jones said. “Rensselaer has teamed up with several local partners such as the Capital District Transportation Authority and the Capital District Clean Communities Coalition to advance sustainable initiatives.” To cut down on the carbon footprint from transferring guests between the events and parking facilities, Rensselaer will use 14 hybrid CDTA buses.

Hospitality Services at Rensselaer, provided by Sodexo Campus Services, plays a large role in sustainability on the Rensselaer campus as well as at more than 900 higher education institutions in the U.S. The taste for new and original fare has changed campus dining at Rensselaer. Today, a plethora of delectable meal options that includes ethnic cuisines, made-to-order restaurant-style meals, themed meals, guest chef nights, and various specialty desserts — often using local and organic ingredients — can now be found across the campus.

According to Jeff Kurto, operations manager for Sodexo, there are several sustainability initiatives planned for this year’s Commencement that will help to support the local economy and community. For example, for the annual Commencement barbecue, Sodexo will be using locally baked hamburger and hot dog buns, as well as locally made ice cream novelties, bottled water, and canned Pepsi products. In addition, Sodexo will use Aspretto, a 100 percent fair trade certified coffee. The sustainable coffee program, launched last year, is also available in all the resident dining halls. Following the barbecue, Sodexo has invited area food pantries to help them distribute any remaining food items.

In addition, the dinner plates are produced with a combination of recycled material and plant enzymes to aid in composting breakdown. Sodexo also plans to recycle all cans, bottles, plastic table covers, and aluminum food service pans.

Commencement Spaces
This year marks the second time that the stadium at ECAV will be used for Commencement. More than 10,000 graduates and visitors are expected to attend the ceremony. In 2009, the Institute officially unveiled ECAV. The facility represents the most extensive athletic construction project in Rensselaer history, offering athletic and recreation facilities that have changed the student experience dramatically. The new $92 million complex is the latest in a decade-long physical transformation of Rensselaer.

“It is often said that it is on the playing fields — and in other athletic venues — that leaders are made,” said Rensselaer President Shirley Ann Jackson. “But at Rensselaer, athletics are only part of the equation, because Rensselaer already attracts students who have demonstrated leadership potential. Rensselaer develops that potential through the totality of the student experience — so that our graduates are prepared to become leaders in technologically rooted fields.”

President Jackson also noted that “with this addition to the Troy campus, we continue to transform the student experience, to go beyond the standard, to excel — across the board, in all endeavors — and to do even more to create leaders. At the same time, with the initiation of the village concept, we bring our Rensselaer community together in a new way. Our goal — as with all that are doing to transform Rensselaer for the 21st century — is to create a unique residential undergraduate college within a world-class technological research university.”

Beginning in 1950, Commencements were held in the Houston Field House. In 1999, due to the increasing number of graduates, the ceremony was held at the Pepsi Arena (now the Times Union Center) in downtown Albany, where it was held for the next few years. In 2002, Rensselaer planned to hold Commencement on Harkness Field; however, a late May snowfall of 2.2 inches forced the planned outdoor Commencement inside to the Houston Field House. The ceremony has been held outdoors on the Harkness Field since 2003.

East Campus Athletic Village Highlights
From the innovative design of new buildings to the retro-commissioning of century-old Institute landmarks, Rensselaer has embraced sustainability as a way of life and is dedicated to ensuring the ol’ red and white campus is forever green.

In addition to optimized environmental conditioning systems and a strong focus on water efficiency for both waste water and irrigation-free landscaping, three photovoltaic arrays are installed throughout the East Campus. A46-kilowatt array is located on the Houston Field House roof, and two 2-kilowatt arrays are on the ECAV building roof. Of special note, the arrays installed on the ECAV roof include one fixed and one tracking array, both of which are being used for class studies and research on campus. The Institute plans to expand the ECAV areas to 14,000 square feet for future electric generation.

The innovative design — the inspiration for which is a DNA genetic bar code — employs a solar shading screen to control glare and heat from the western sun exposure. The solar array converts sunlight — an abundant, renewable energy source — into electricity that helps to support the refrigeration system that makes the ice for the Houston Field House hockey rink.

In fall 2010, it was announced that ECAV has achieved a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building rating of gold, demonstrating that leaders at Rensselaer are pairing engineering smarts with old-fashioned common sense to trim energy costs and reduce the carbon footprint of the historic Troy campus.

For more information about the East Campus Athletic Village, visit:

Highlights Regarding Members of the Class of 2011
During the annual Student Orientation program, Karen Long, director of undergraduate admissions, often delivers remarks noting some highlights regarding the incoming class. In 2007, more than 1,300 students came to the Rensselaer campus as incoming freshmen. The class included 404 women, roughly 30 percent of the class. Students hailed from 38 states including the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and countries all around the world. So, here’s what Long had to say about members of the Class of 2011:

For the men, more are named Michael than any other name. Michael has been the most common name for the last seven years.

And for the women, Jessica and Sarah are tied for first (that would be Sarah with an H). For the last seven years, the top names have been Jessica, Sarah, Jennifer, and Elizabeth.

Within the class, 102 were valedictorians or salutatorians in high school. Eighty-two had perfect 800 SAT verbal or math scores while three had perfect 1600 scores. Sixty-five percent were in the top 10 percent of their high school classes and the middle 50 percent range on SATs is 1250-1430.

Continuing a Rensselaer legacy, 121 are the sons or daughters, grandsons or granddaughters of Rensselaer graduates “this is a wonderful message about our education and the possibilities it brings”and the longstanding connection we make once you join the Rensselaer family

In addition, 284 won the Rensselaer Medal at your high school. And 84 were captains of athletic teams in high school — but more importantly, 753 participated in sporting activities overall, and since Rensselaer athletes have been recently ranked 2nd in the nation for Academic All-American status for all divisions by the NCAA, this underscores that we truly believe in the idea of the student-athlete!

Your classmates are some people who have done some very interesting things. We have….a student with a perfect attendance at school since 1st grade; the Virginia indoor state champion in archery; the recipient of the Golden Test Tube Award in Chemistry; a member of the Armenian national Women’s Ice Hockey team; and a student, who since the age of seven, has raised more than $40,000 for cerebral palsy.

In short, a diverse and very interesting class.

Notable Moments in Commencement History
As Rensselaer has evolved, so have its Commencement ceremonies. According to the Institute Archives and Special Collections, here are a couple of interesting facts:

  • Rensselaer’s first Commencement was April 26, 1826, in the Old Bank Place in Troy. Asa Fitch, a member of the Class of 1827, recorded the event in his diary. The graduates delivered demonstration lectures on scientific subjects, probably the first of their kind in American education, in language described by Fitch as “plain, one attempting to be elegant or flowery in his discourse.”
  • For over 90 years, Rensselaer required each undergraduate student to submit a thesis in order to receive a degree. The first known “graduating theses” were submitted by members of the Class of 1854.This requirement continued well into the 20th century, but by the mid-1940s only a few departments continued to require the undergraduate theses.
  • Commencement was not held on campus until 1913 when the ’87 Gym provided a large enough space to accommodate the ceremony.
  • The Troy Savings Bank Music Hall hosted 37 consecutive commencements, from 1876-1912.
  • There were no Commencements in 1852 and 1919. The degree program changed from one year to three years in 1850, so there was no Class of 1852. The Class of 1919 graduated in December 1918 due to an acceleration of the program during World War I.
  • In 1942, a handful of women were the first to enroll in degree-granting programs at Rensselaer. The first two women to receive their degrees, Lois Graham and Mary Ellen Rathbun Kolb, did so in 1946. More than 400 women will graduate from Rensselaer this year.
  • There was no Commencement speaker in 1968. Nelson Rockefeller cancelled due to the assassination of Robert Kennedy on June 5, two days before Commencement.
  • In 1976, Walter Cronkite, the American broadcast journalist best known as anchorman for the CBS Evening News for 19 years, delivered the Commencement address. Cronkite, who died in July 2009, received an honorary Doctor of Letters degree.
  • The first honorary degree (Doctor of Engineering) was awarded at Commencement in 1916 to Robert W. Hunt, a longtime trustee (Hunt Dormitory is named for him).
  • The Rensselaer flag combines historic and contemporary elements to represent the Institute’s origins and the present. The design is based on the coat of arms of Kiliaen Van Rensselaer, the great-great grandfather of Rensselaer’s founder, Stephen Van Rensselaer. The Rensselaer flag, created in conjunction with the Class of 1994 gift, was flown for the first time in May 1994, when it was raised in front of the Houston Field House for the188th Commencement exercises.
  • One of Rensselaer’s best-known songs, “Here’s to Old RPI,” first appeared in the 1906 yearbook, Transit. It was composed by Edmund Fales and is sung today as Rensselaer’s alma mater.
  • The Rensselaer mace was created in 1999 for the first time in Institute history. The mace is carried at the head of all academic processions and is prominently displayed during academic ceremonies. The modern mace grew out of an ancient tradition to use it to preserve order. It can be carried before a high functionary as a symbolof authority. Recalling our founder’s Dutch ancestry, the tulip-shaped top of the Rensselaer mace is made of silver with the Rensselaer seal in the middle of the tulip bloom, which is also a symbol of prosperity. The shaft of the Rensselaer mace is made of ebony. This mace was made in the workshop of Rebecca Smith and Anton Pruden in \Ditchling, a small village in East Sussex, England.

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Please Note: All degree numbers include both August and December 2010 graduated students as well as Troy and Distance applicants that are not ‘ceremony only’ students. All numbers cited are as of May 18, 2011, and are subject to change.

Contact: Jessica Otitigbe
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