Troy, NY: The honorable Shirley Ann Jackson, the first African-American woman to have earned a doctorate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the second African-American woman in the United States to earn a doctorate in physics, has announced she will step down from her role as President, Rennselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI).
Her departure from RPI, the oldest private U.S technological research university, after 22 years becomes official July 1, 2022, she wrote in a memo to faculty and families, according to the Times Union.
“It has been the privilege and honor of my professional career to serve as President of Rensselaer since 1999,” Washington, D.C.- born Jackson wrote in a letter to the campus. “Throughout my tenure, the Institute has transformed into a vibrant community, with significant investments in new and existing academic, research, and residential facilities.”
For over two decades, Jackson has helped the area’s largest private university grow with fundraising, new projects and an increased focus on entrepreneurship. The university’s student body has become more diverse and more international during her presidency, and Jackson’s goal is to have the university reach more than $250 million in annual research spending within the next few years.
Those investments have included the Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies, Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center (EMPAC) and The Rensselaer Plan which set ambitious, innovative goals for the university.
Jackson’s distinguished career includes receiving the National Medal of Science – the nation’s highest honor for achievement in science and engineering. She has presented at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, has 55 honorary doctoral degrees and was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1998.
Prior to joining Rensselaer, Jackson chaired the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission under President Bill Clinton. In a White House ceremony, President Barack Obama presented her with the 2014 National Medal of Science, the highest honor for scientific achievement bestowed by the U.S. government. That year, she also became co-chair of the President’s Intelligence Advisory Board.
Jackson recently spoke on an Albany Business Review panel about the future of higher education. She discussed the importance of having more flexible and creative paths for students of different backgrounds going forward.
“We have to focus more on meeting the financial needs of students who may come from less-wealthy backgrounds and need to bring more underrepresented minorities into STEM fields,” Jackson said. “There has to be a special focus on how we provide access to the university. Some of that relates to student preparedness, but a lot of it relates to economic and the difficulty in affording college for less-wealthy students, minorities and others.”
“Let us look to the 200th anniversary of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute with the relentless curiosity and commitment to make the world a better place that is the hallmark of this special institution.”
Jackson will spend her last year working on the ongoing capital campaign and moving forward key projects endorsed by the board of trustees.
Earlier this year, The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education reported President Jackson was named the 2021 recipient of the prestigious Hans Christian Oersted Medal, presented by the American Association of Physics Teachers. The Medal is given annually to a person who has had outstanding, widespread, and lasting impact on the teaching of physics.
During winter 2007, Our Time Press highlighted President Jackson in the inaugural Our Time At Home supplement. In 2009, OTP publishers met President Jackson through Network Journal publisher Aziz Adetemirin at one of his annual luncheon awards ceremony.
As the Rennselaer and Troy community react to the news, a search for Jackson’s successor has not been announced.
Shirley Jackson is married to Morris A. Washington, a physics professor at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and has one son, Alan, a Dartmouth College alumnus.