Meet the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Class of 2012: An Overview of the 206th Commencement

May 24, 2012


This year, 1,613 students will receive degrees from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute on Saturday, May 26, beginning at 8:30 a.m. in the East Campus Athletic Village (ECAV) stadium. They represent the next generation of leaders, engineers, scientists, entrepreneurs, patent holders, game designers, architects, and innovators, in fields ranging from engineering to architecture, fine arts to science, game design to information technology, and business to the military.

During the 206th Commencement ceremony, Rensselaer will award a total of 1,742 degrees. They include: 357 master’s degrees, 136 doctoral degrees, and 1,249 bachelor’s degrees. Some graduates have earned more than one degree. 

A Global Community
In 2012, graduating students come from more than 40 states, in addition to New York. The Class of 2012 contains graduates from 24 other nations, including: Canada, Chile, China, Colombia, Greece, Germany, Japan, Kuwait, India, Macau, Nicaragua, South Korea, Switzerland, Taiwan, and Turkey. 

Making the—Perfect—Grade
Seven undergraduate students receiving bachelor’s degrees earned a perfect 4.0 grade point average. The students are:

Tammy Chiwing Chow, Jeffry Marshall Gaston, Brandon Joseph Kieft, Andrea R. Maret, Eric Conrad McCurry, Nicholas Joseph Mozdzierz, and Michael A. Pinkert. In addition, 15 graduate students earned a perfect 4.0 grade point average for the May Commencement, and 16 earned a perfect 4.0 grade point average for August/December.

The Commencement Speakers Are …
The Honorable Bart J. Gordon, J.D., former Chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Science and Technology, will deliver the 2012 Commencement Address.

Congressman Gordon is a leader in U.S. science, technology, energy, and health policy, and champion of the America COMPETES Act, which authorizes federal investments in innovation and innovators. Currently a partner at K&L Gates LLP, he served for 26 years in the U.S. House of Representatives, from Tennessee. As Chairman of the House Committee on Science and Technology and a senior member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, Congressman Gordon built bipartisan support for enactment of the America COMPETES Act, helped craft the 21st Century Nanotechnology Research and Development Act, and was a leading proponent of America’s space program, and of enhancing science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education.

The Honorable Steven Chu, Ph.D., United States Secretary of Energy, distinguished scientist and co-winner of the Nobel Prize for Physics (1997) will also address the class. Charged with implementing key components of President Obama’s energy agenda since 2009, he has devoted his recent scientific career to the search for new solutions to energy challenges and stopping global climate change. Previously he was Director of the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, Professor of Physics and of Molecular and Cell Biology at the University of California, Berkeley, and he held positions at Stanford University and AT&T Bell Laboratories. The holder of 10 patents and author of nearly 250 published scientific and technical papers, he is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and numerous other civic and professional organizations.

Taking the Podium
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute President Shirley Ann Jackson will also address members of the Class of 2012. 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 Robert Sobkowich, a student who majored in civil engineering, will also address the class.

The Amsterdam, N.Y., native worked alongside the Class Council representing the Class of 2012 to increase school pride, and organized a series of class events, ranging from 100 Days to the 50 Days Celebrations, Class Ring Ceremony, Senior Tailgate at the East Campus Athletic Village, and Senior Week.

Sobkowich also carved out time to serve in several other organizations.  For example, as a resident assistant and director, he was responsible for the safety and well-being of undergraduate and graduate residents, as well as leading a staff of fellow resident assistants. Sobkowich was also one of the many students who joined faculty, staff, alumni, student organizations, fraternities, and community members to roll up their sleeves to assist in clean-up and fundraising efforts to support RPI Relief. The program is focused on raising awareness and funds, as well as coordinating volunteer initiatives when disaster strikes an area. Sobkowich was also inducted into the Rensselaer Phalanx Honor Society for 2012. Phalanx honors student leadership, service, and devotion to the university, and celebrates those who have “worked to better the standing of Rensselaer both on and off campus.” New members are selected—or tapped—by the student members of Phalanx. Following graduation, Sobkowich will serve as a group leader for Target Distribution.

Of special note, Sobkowich has younger siblings who are also part of the Rensselaer community. His brother Tony is a sophomore majoring in industrial and management engineering, and Vinny who plans to major in materials engineering will be entering in the fall as a member of the Class of 2016. Why Rensselaer? The brothers say that being close to home and their family, familiarity with the Capital Region, along with the campus size, academic offerings, and new campus construction and activities at Rensselaer is what sealed the deal.

Honorary Degree Recipients
The Honorable Bart J. Gordon will receive an honorary Doctor of Laws degree during the ceremony.

The Honorable Antonin Scalia, J.D., Associate Justice, Supreme Court of the United States, will receive an honorary Doctor of Laws degree. He is the longest-sitting member of the U.S. Supreme Court, and a self-described “originalist,” interpreting the U.S. Constitution by beginning with the text, and giving that text the meaning that it bore when it was adopted. The Associate Justice was nominated by President Reagan and confirmed unanimously by the U.S. Senate in 1986. His experience spans the private, academic, and public sectors, having practiced law in Cleveland, Ohio, taught law at the Universities of Virginia and Chicago, and applied the law, working in the Administrations of Presidents Nixon (Office of Telecommunications Policy) and Ford (U.S. Department of Justice), before being appointed to the U.S. Court of Appeals by President Reagan in 1982.

The Honorable Steven Chu, Ph.D., will receive an honorary Doctor of Science degree.

Edward A. Feigenbaum, Ph.D., pioneer in artificial intelligence and renowned computer scientist, will receive an honorary Doctor of Engineering degree. He is a recipient (1994) of the “Nobel Prize of computing,” the ACM Turing Award of the Association for Computing Machinery, for pioneering the design and construction of large-scale artificial intelligence (AI) systems, demonstrating the practical importance and potential commercial impact of artificial intelligence technology. Dr. Feigenbaum is the Kumagai Professor of Computer Science Emeritus at Stanford University. He was Chief Scientist of the U.S. Air Force (1994-97). He is a member of the National Academy of Engineering, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Intelligent Systems/Artificial Intelligence Hall of Fame of the IEEE, and the Hall of Fellows of the Computer History Museum. In his honor, the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence awards the Feigenbaum Prize for outstanding AI research advances made by using experimental methods of computer science.

Steven J. Sasson ’72, M.S. ’73, inventor of the digital camera and related imaging technologies that have transformed the industry and the world, will receive an honorary Doctor of Engineering degree. An electrical engineer, now retired from the Eastman Kodak Company, he revolutionized the way images are captured, stored, and shared. Sasson was awarded the National Medal of Technology and Innovation (2010), the highest honor for technological achievement bestowed by the President of the United States. In 2011 he was inducted in the Inventors Hall of Fame. He holds more than 10 key digital imaging patents.  He was awarded the 2011 Davies Medal, the highest honor awarded to an alumnus of the Rensselaer School of Engineering.

Rensselaer’s Own
This year, seven Rensselaer employees and seven employee spouses are graduating. Nineteen 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, 195 members of the Class of 2012 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, Brandeis University, Clemson University, Columbia University, Cornell University, George Washington University, Harvard University, Johns Hopkins University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Royal Holloway University of London, Stanford University, Tufts 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 continues to look positive in all regions for Class of 2012 graduates, according to a survey conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE). Employers who took part in NACE’s Job Outlook 2012 survey plan to hire 9.5 percent more new graduates in 2011-12 than they did in 2010-11.

Preliminary results indicate that 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 in the Capital Region and around the country, some of the companies where Rensselaer graduates will work include:, American Cancer Society, Apple Inc., Bloomberg, Boeing, Corning, ESPN/Disney, Intel, Nuclear Regulatory Commission, NYSE Euronext, Oracle, Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, Rolls Royce, Sandia National Laboratories, Skidmore Owings & Merrill, and St. Jude Medical.

“Today’s employers have put an increased emphasis on experiential opportunities as a pipeline to full-time professional employment,” said Colleen O’Byrne, acting director of the Center for Career and Professional Development at Rensselaer. “As the employment landscape has improved, we have seen an increase in the opportunities for students who carved out time while studying at Rensselaer to gain experience through summer internships and co-op assignments. Despite market dynamics, Rensselaer graduates have always proven to be resilient and resourceful.”

O’Byrne also noted that Rensselaer graduates continue to enjoy overall higher starting salaries compared to national averages. Last year, the average starting salary for all reported undergraduate bachelor’s degree candidates from the Class of 2011 was $59,636, up 3.6 percent from 2010. According to the National Association for Colleges and Employers (NACE), the national reported average for all bachelor degree candidates for the Class of 2011 was $51,171.

“Guess What? I’m Starting (Or Expanding) My Own Business!” 
Instead of pursuing a traditional route of employment, several graduating Rensselaer students plan to start their own businesses. Some examples include:

Fire Department Solutions is a company founded by Joseph Dougherty ’12, an information technology major. The company has developed a cost-effective, user-friendly fire department management software system as well as support for fire departments. He will be graduating with his bachelor’s and master’s degree in information technology, after only four years, and working multiple part-time jobs on campus. 

To further develop the program, he has been working with Chief Richard Graham at the Sullivan County Station 42 Department in Youngsville, N.Y., to provide an electronic management system to replace current paper records. The station has purchased a license for support of the software, and Dougherty continues to work with them to improve the product and market it to their sister departments. While at Rensselaer, Dougherty worked with professors in the information technology, computer science, and management programs to develop a well-rounded base for the company. The company has generated revenue with the one sale to the Youngsville Fire Department as well as through research grants received from the Rensselaer Center for Open Source Software and the New York State Business Plan Competition.

Dougherty says that he is very serious about this endeavor, though, and will continue to move forward with it. “I've always had an entrepreneurial spirit and did start and run my own computer repair business while in high school.”

Julian Volyn, is founder and CEO of RedCandy Games. He will be graduating with a master’s degree in technology, commercialization, and entrepreneurship (TC&E) with a concentration in information systems. Volyn completed his undergraduate studies at Rensselaer last year, and graduated in May 2011 with a bachelor of science in electronic media, arts, and communication (EMAC). He says that his “personal life/educational goal has always been to be at the convergence of bleeding-edge innovation across disciplines. A ‘low walls’ approach to my education has allowed me to explore these possibilities and reveal incredible opportunities for entrepreneurship.”

In addition to Volyn, Zach Lynn ’12, technical co-founder and lead developer at Red Candy Games, a senior majoring in computer science. He has previously worked at Blue Sky Studios and Vista Print. Founded as a game development and technology startup over a year ago by CEO Julian Volyn and technical co-founder/Lead Developer Zach Lynn, RedCandy Games has gone on to secure a content licensing deal with a major publisher, establish contract partners in New York City, and garner recognition through prominent game media such as G4TV, Joystiq, Kotaku, Gampepro, and more, netting over 400,000 media impressions.

After winning the second prize and an associated $10,000 in Microsoft’s 2011 Dream. Build. Play Competition for its debut, the company has continued to diversify its product portfolio in a high-growth space focusing on the convergence of social, mobile, gaming, and data-driven monetization strategies. The founding team is comprised of a well-diversified group of technologists and designers who have previously had experiences working at IBM, BlueSky Studios, Marvel Entertainment, Ubisoft Games, and AMD. Now a part of the Emerging Venture Ecosystems (EVE), the company hopes to continue to grow and be a part of the Rensselaer community.

Fluescent is a company focused on designing precision Parkour Gloves. Company founder, Will Gathright ’12, a Ph.D., candidate studying materials science, was a fan of the training method called Parkour. The sport focuses on vaulting, rolling, running, climbing, and jumping around obstacles with speed and efficiency in both natural and urban environments. On any given day, concrete edges, metal pipes, and wooden beams may be the individual’s playground. To meet the rigors of the sport which take its toll on one’s fingers, the company has designed the first and only gloves in the world specifically engineered for Parkour and Freerunning enthusiasts.  The unique design gives individuals the best combination of sensitivity and strength from their finger tips. The gloves are made using breathable material on the backside of the hand to prevent sweat build up, and the non-slip material on the palm and fingers works even when wet.

Of special note, when GQ Style started featuring the gloves, orders flooded. The company is projecting revenues to be about $60,000 for this year. To support growth and for additional help, Gathright connected with Ryan Maxfield ’14, a business and management major who was serving as vice president of the campus Entrepreneurship Club. Maxfield jumped at the opportunity to help and has simplified fulfillment enormously by turning to Amazon as a sales outlet.One can easily dub Gathright as a serial entrepreneur as he has also launching another company. Tumalow makes software for the optimal design, sizing, and financial planning of energy storage software. While the company does not yet have revenues coming in, Gathright is in the process of closing the first deal.

Additional examples include: Imaginapp, a company founded by Peter Yeager 12, a senior majoring in mechanical engineering, is currently developing a product called Snag, a smart phone concession ordering system.  The Binghamton, N.Y. native, along with Dan Cody ’11 and James Connell are co-owners. Using Snag, stadium goers will be able order concession items from their smart phones and have them the choice of picking the items up at an express line or having them delivered to their seats. This summer and fall, Yeager and his colleagues are preparing for an initial launch into several stadiums. 

Following graduation, biomedical engineering major, Colleen Costello ’12 plans to work full-time to launch VitalIV. The biomedical device company is focused on the development of its prototyped technology designed to eliminate common bacterial contamination in intravenous drug lines. Costello and her business partner, Rensselaer student and mechanical engineering major, James Peterson ’12 have already secured $50,000 in initial funding. The company has received support from the Rensselaer community through the Paul J. ’69 and Kathleen M. Severino Center for Technological Entrepreneurship in the Lally School of Management and Technology; and the Emerging Venture Ecosystems (EVE). VitalIV was also one of the winners of the Spring Change the World Challenge competition, sponsored by the Office of Entrepreneurship, and a winner in the Rensselaer Business Plan competition, hosted by the Severino Center.

Student Service, Leadership, Scholarship Honored
During the May 18 Senior Banquet, 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 Deonna White, a psychology major from Feura Bush, N.Y., and Brandon Graham, a geology major from Bradford, Penn. 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 Carly Antonucci, captain of the women’s swim team, and a materials engineer from Long Valley, N.J.  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 Brandon Kieft, a member of the men’s indoor track and field team, and a computer and systems engineering major from Essex, Vt. 

Honoring Volunteerism
Victoria Song ’12, a native of West Windsor, N.J., who is a dual major in business management and communications, has been awarded the Frederick M. Nussbaum ’30 Memorial Award for Outstanding Volunteerism. The award is granted to an outstanding senior in recognition of his or her volunteer activities on the Rensselaer campus or his or her civic involvement in bettering the local community and its residents.

The award was created by Jim Ferguson ’53 and his family in recognition of their father’s volunteer activities on not only the Rensselaer campus but also in the broader community of Troy. For over 50 years Frederick Nussbaum gave thousands of hours of time to others, according to family members. Song was presented with the award and a check for $1,000  during the Senior Banquet.

While at Rensselaer, Song has been involved in a number of activities on campus and within the local community. She is a member of RPI Ambulance, a student-run organization that provides basic emergency medical care without cost to Rensselaer students. Song is also a member of Circle K and Alpha Phi Omega, Rensselaer Union student service organizations that work to assist community members and young children in the Capital Region.

In nominating Song for the award, Cameron McLean, director of student activities, said, “I believe that the Nussbaum Award was designed to recognize students who unknowingly give of themselves. These acts exemplify the quality of caring that is imprinted in every part of their lives. It is who they are and not what they are. Vickie does not think about giving, she just gives. She doesn’t look for rewards or payback; she enjoys what she does and it has great impact on others. Her essence is contagious and a treasure in today’s generation.”

Parting Gift
Each year at Commencement, the graduating class presents the university with a unique and spirited gift. The Class of 2012 is excited to unveil a newly designed seating area, landscaping improvements, and new building directional signage around the ’87 Gym, which was officially dedicated in June 1912. The area will include two limestone benches as well as three new signs that will match the signage seen around the East Campus Athletic Village (ECAV) and other areas around campus. One can read the following quote, carved onto the benches, written by Lord Chesterfield: “If we do not plant knowledge when young, it will give us no shade when we are old.”

Members of the Class of 2012 have already raised more than $3,900 to support the ’87 Plaza. To date, 357 members of the class, representing 35 percent, have donated funds to support the project. In addition, 17 students became Patroons of Rensselaer with their gifts of $100 or more.

Awarding Excellence in Counseling
Burt Swersey, longtime senior lecturer in the  Department of Mechanical, Aerospace, and Nuclear Engineering, has been selected as the 38th recipient of the David M. Darrin ’40 Counseling Award, which will be presented during the Commencement. 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 Swersey, members of the Rensselaer community cited his exceptional drive to push students to far exceed their wildest dreams both in the classroom and in business ventures.  One nominator said that “his advisement on starting their businesses is unparalleled.” Several nominators also noted that his “techniques of motivating students and keeping them engaged is unlike any other professors they have ever had.”  Another nominator said that “with 24 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
Twenty-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 25 on the Rensselaer campus in the Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center (EMPAC) Theater and Academy Hall auditorium.

From Naval ROTC, 11 students will be commissioned as ensigns and three as second lieutenants into active duty in the United States Navy or Marine Corps. Future career paths for those commissioned include: two surface warfare officers (one will be nuclear-trained), six submarine officers, three aviation officers, and three Marine Corps officers. The commissioning ceremony will take place from 9 to 11 a.m. in the EMPAC Theater May 25.

In the Air Force, 10 graduates will become aircraft pilots, civil engineers, a nurse, an aircraft maintenance officer, an air liaison officer, a cyberspace operations officer, and an operations research analyst. The commissioning ceremony will take place from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on May 25 in the EMPAC Theater. Samuel F. Heffner Jr.’56, who launched a career in the real estate development business that has spanned nearly 50 years, will deliver the keynote address.

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. During last year’s Commencement ceremony, he received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree.

In the Army, the Mohawk Battalion operates as the Army’s only commissioning source for colleges and universities throughout the Capital Region. This year, eight of the 23 graduates that will be commissioned as second lieutenants are from Rensselaer. Of the 23 total commissionees, 11 will go into active duty, nine will go into the National Guard, and three will go into the Reserve. Assignment locations for the new lieutenants include: Italy; Fort Drum, N.Y., Fort Rucker, Ala., Fort Carson, Colo., and Fort Bliss, Texas. The commissioning ceremony for the Rensselaer students will take place on May 25 from 10 to 11 a.m. in the Academy Hall auditorium.

Brigadier General John R. McMahon, who assumed command of the Northwestern Division, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, will deliver the keynote address. In his position, he oversees an annual program of more than $4 billion in civil works, environmental restoration, and military construction in more than a dozen states, primarily within the Columbia and Missouri river basins. McMahon orchestrates Corps of Engineers’ efforts with those of other federal, state, and local agencies, the Army and Air Force, the Administration and the Congress to ensure that the Corps provides exceptional service to the nation.

McMahon was commissioned through the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) Program at Syracuse University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in biomedical engineering in 1977. He subsequently earned master’s degrees in applied mathematics at the Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey, Calif., and in natural resource strategy from the National Defense University. McMahon’s military education includes the Engineer Officer Basic and Advanced Courses, the Mapping, Charting and Geodesy Officer Course, the Command and General Staff College, and the Industrial College of the Armed Forces. He is a registered Professional Engineer in the Commonwealth of Virginia. His awards include the Defense Superior Service Medal (1 Oak Leaf Cluster), the Legion of Merit (2 Oak Leaf Clusters), Bronze Star Medal, the Meritorious Service Medal (3 Oak Leaf Clusters), and the Army Commendation Medal.

That Was Then...Highlights Regarding Members of the Class of 2012
During the annual Student Orientation program, Karen Long, director of undergraduate admissions, often delivers remarks noting some highlights regarding the incoming class. In 2008, more than 1,300 students came to the Rensselaer campus as incoming freshmen. The class included nearly 400, at the time, the largest number of females enrolled in the last three years — and a significant increase in the national and international profile of the student body.  Students hailed from 42 states and the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and more than 19 countries.

So, back then, here’s what Long had to say about members of the Class of 2012: 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, the most common name is Sarah.

Within the class, 80 were valedictorians or salutatorians in high school.  More than 100 had perfect 800 SAT verbal or math scores. Sixty-four percent were in the top 10 percent of their high school classes.

Continuing a Rensselaer legacy, 153 are the sons or daughters, grandsons or granddaughters of Rensselaer graduates, which serves as 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, 256 won the Rensselaer Medal at their high schools. And 58 were captains of athletic teams in high school – but more importantly, 759 participated in sporting activities overall, and since Rensselaer has had 50 National Academic All-Americans over the last few years,  this underscores that we truly believe in the idea of the scholar-athlete!

Your classmates are some people who have done some very interesting things.  We have…a student who has been a published author since the age of 9 who was also named Cosmo Girl of the Year, the 2007 Champion in the Junior Iditarod dog sled race, a national judo champion, the Washington state curling champion, an internationally ranked synchronized figure skater, the leader of a Latin fire band, a ballerina who has performed at the Kennedy Center, the Goldman Sachs Business Plan competition winner who received a provisional patent for an independent research project titled “Apparatus for Magnetic Levitation and Sustained Propulsion,” a student who raised seven puppies for the Guiding Eyes for the Blind program and another student who records books on tape for the blind, and one student who helped to raise $4,000 to send to refugee camps in the Darfur region of Africa.

In short, a diverse and very interesting class.

Commencement Goes Green: Supporting Sustainability
A green, sustainable mindset has picked up tremendous momentum on the campus over the past three years.

In support of Institutewide sustainability efforts and after consulting with students, the RPI 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.

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 15 hybrid CDTA buses, along with two Rensselaer propane buses. This effort means that more than 71 percent of the passenger fleet is using alternative fuel or alternative power during Commencement.

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, napkins, and utensils 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 at Rensselaer
This year marks the third 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 $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, until the move to ECAV in 2010.

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. A 46-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 had 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:

Through the Years: 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 the 188th 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 symbol of 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.

For more information about the Commencement speaker and honorands, visit:

For information regarding Commencement, visit:

Press Contact Jessica Otitigbe
Back to top