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President Collins' Inaugural Address, October 11, 2003

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Members of the Board of Trustees, President Emeritus Brown, delegates, students, faculty, staff, alumni, family, friends and neighbors from the North Country, I am honored to have the opportunity to lead Clarkson University as its sixteenth President. I would remind us all that this inauguration is about our institution and its future much more than it is about the role or position of one individual. This is an occasion to step back and take a look at who we are. It is a time to be grateful to those who have brought us to this point. Together we have arrived at a moment of historic opportunity for Clarkson and the North Country — an opportunity that few universities recognize and even fewer actually seize. For Clarkson has an opportunity to evolve to excellence and that is my theme today — "Evolution to Excellence."

How has Clarkson come to this point? Why are we unique on the higher education landscape? Why does this university have a special role to play in this region and in the world? And why are we at a point to transform Clarkson from a very good to a truly excellent technological university? To answer these questions I will draw on an analogy with Potsdam sandstone. I will speak about our history, and how, though small in size, Clarkson makes a disproportionately large and important impact. I will speak about elevating our academic reputation, about developing our resources, about expanding alumni roles, and about partnerships. But let me be frank. As we have begun the 21st century and are experiencing rapid social change of global proportions, we are confronted by new paradigms in business and education. Status quo will not work. Those with clear direction and focused vision are succeeding and those who lack clarity are threatened with obsolescence. The time is now to seize our moment of opportunity.

Many of you know the history of this university that dates back to a businessman named Thomas S. Clarkson and a sandstone quarry accident that took his life. Let me take a moment to reflect on sandstone because it is integral to the founding of Clarkson and still serves as a powerful symbol of our enduring character as an institution.

Potsdam sandstone is the hallmark of our regional architecture. It is unique. Engineering tests prove it to be the best all-around building stone in North America. It is harder and more durable than granite and the most impervious to weathering. It is more fire-resistant than brick, and able, with much hard work, to be hewn and shaped into blocks that can be fitted together with exceptional precision. Because of its excellent qualities, it has been used far beyond Potsdam in, for example, Parliament buildings in Ottawa, Albany's spectacular All Saints Cathedral, and many buildings at Columbia University.

The formation of Potsdam sandstone required over 500 million years. The formation of Clarkson University has taken, so far, a mere 107 years. Nonetheless, there are strong similarities between the formation of this extraordinary stone and the formation of Clarkson. And I will return to these similarities after some personal acknowledgements.

People are fashioned through life experiences, family, friends and mentors. There are many in this audience today, and others who could not attend, who have been central in my formation and to whom I want to extend thanks.

My late mother and father and my sister, Jan, for starting me down the path that has led to today; my Ph.D. advisor, Bob Johnson, my Ph.D. committee and my environmental engineering colleagues for furthering me on the journey; Egon Matijević for his scholarly inspiration; Helen Cheel, here with us today and at age 99 showing us what passion for Clarkson means; Nobi Ackermann for his optimism and humor; Barb Parker for always seeing the bright side; and the youth of Potsdam for providing me with moments of exhilaration through their musical and sporting accomplishments and demonstrating to me that focus and dedication can achieve dreams; my four children and my wife, Karen, for they have enriched my life beyond what I could have imagined; and everyone in this gymnasium today for so many have contributed to my journey.

Now, let me turn to the formation of Clarkson and the similarities with Potsdam sandstone. Formed by powerful forces of nature and hardened by pressure deep in the earth, sandstone gradually gains potential for productive use. Still, it must be quarried, hewn and shaped, and then placed creatively to form graceful structures that endure the elements. Similarly, Clarkson was formed out of stress, a fatal quarry accident, when Thomas Clarkson's three sisters transformed that tragedy into the catalyst for a school to embody their brother's practical humanitarian values. The Clarkson we know emerged literally from that very quarry, which provided the sandstone that constructed our first building, Old Main.

Over Clarkson's first 80 years, it was hewn and shaped into Clarkson College of Technology. The graduates, primarily engineers, were solid and dependable, of uniform high quality, and became key building blocks, like sandstone blocks, in a multitude of organizations and enterprises.

Ultimately, the process of shaping and weathering produced Clarkson University, the northeast's only technological university in a rural environment and among the smallest nationally recognized universities. Of the 248 nationally ranked universities, just 17 are members of the Association of Independent Technological Universities. And we are one of those elite 17. Our graduates are overly represented in the leadership ranks of American business, where one in 12 is a CEO, president, vice president or owner of a company. Our region, nation and our world are increasingly dependant on the technological graduates that we produce and the intellectual property that our researchers develop. Therefore, our evolving strengths intersect precisely with the growing needs of our technologically driven society.

This is fundamentally why Clarkson's time is now.

And here's another reason: in just the past 20 years our alumni body has more than doubled. The oldest of these 18,000 recent graduates are just reaching their peak years of social and business influence.

For both of these reasons, we are poised to take the last step to excellence, excellence that the world needs and that Clarkson's educational vision deserves.

And there is other momentum building for Clarkson.

A gift from the Wallace H. Coulter Foundation has amplified our strength. Yesterday, in a defining moment for Clarkson, we dedicated and named our School of Engineering, to be guided by the theme "Technology Serving Humanity." An engineer, inventor, entrepreneur and Clarkson Trustee, the late Wallace H. Coulter relished technological challenges but was also moved by a profound desire to make the lives of people better. A permanent tribute to this extraordinary man now enhances our campus. Wallace Coulter can be a model and a touchstone for inspiration as we move ahead.

Which begs the question: Precisely how will we move ahead? Clarkson will found its future on three fundamental building blocks: academic excellence, marshalling of financial resources, and alumni engagement.

First and foremost, our excellence will be based on academic reputation. We will continue to assemble the highest caliber faculty. We will focus on key areas of expertise and we will be world leaders in our chosen curricula, manner of educating students, and in the select research endeavors.

In each of our pursuits, our size gives us an advantage. On this campus, all it takes for face-to-face collaboration is a walk down a couple of hallways or maybe across a lawn. We have few layers of administration and we must take advantage of our size to react to opportunities.

Already, we have married our coursework in engineering, business, science and arts in ways that have drawn national recognition. Our oldest example is Interdisciplinary Engineering and Management (or ID as it was known at its inception 50 years ago). Today, among other collaborations, we are looking at, for example, the intersection of Technical Communications with Computer Science for the possibility of a degree program in Digital Arts and Sciences. And we've seized the opportunity to join physical therapy with engineering to develop rehabilitation engineering.

Currently, our faculty is revising our core curriculum to align it even more closely with the broad needs of society and our technologically based mission. This review is based on setting skill and knowledge objectives for our students, measuring how well we succeed and continuously revising our process to accomplish our objectives. While many institutions and accreditation agencies advocate this approach, few have tackled the problem comprehensively and I expect Clarkson to be a leader in this endeavor.

Following this revision, mastery of fundamentals will continue to distinguish our graduates, but we expect students to also develop personal, societal, and professional ethics; to understand the relationship of science and technology to society, and to value diversity. Let me make a clear statement. Our campus must value and reflect the diversity of our world or we will have failed in creating the best educational environment possible.

All this continues our evolution toward a leadership role in higher education. How do I know this? Consider our recent national recognition. In the past three years we have received five national awards for learning programs in business, engineering, and science.

With research we have taken a focused approach and coupled our faculty expertise across disciplines. We have coupled, for example, fine particle science with materials engineering and with environmental engineering to create world-class research. And we see recognition for this interdisciplinary approach with unprecedented contributions from state and federal agencies.

Recent examples include:

  • $4.5 million in biotechnology funding from New York State's Gen*NY*sis program for research and economic growth, announced by Governor Pataki on campus and supported by Senator Ray Meier,

  • $1.8 million in NYSTAR funding for atmospheric environmental research,

  • $1.4 million in U.S. Defense Department funding for obscurant smokes, with another $3 million possible, supported by Congressman John McHugh. He cannot be with us today as he is on assignment in the Middle East. With the conditions there, we wish him Godspeed and a safe return.


Our second major building block is financial. We must focus investments in Clarkson so that all of our initiatives make both strategic and financial sense. Of course we must increase our financial resources but we need a development program that seeks support for the institution in a broader and more comprehensive fashion. For too long we have relied on too few supporters to do too much — when many others have an interest and a desire to help Clarkson. We will invest in the development area and drive it deeper into the organizational structure to engage and nurture those who want to help us. At the same time, we will build a long-term planning process that will allow us to invest over extended periods of time to achieve our goals.

And our final building block will be new initiatives and engagement of our alumni, especially in the admission process. Our alumni now number some 33,000. They are Clarkson's best advertisement — and greatest resource beyond campus. At our Alumni Reunion last July, I described the Clarkson alumni that I know: "as talented, energetic, versatile leaders who create clever technological advances that make the lives of people better." We must employ their good will more effectively in bringing future generations here as students. But we can be more systematic in providing opportunities for our alumni to interact face-to-face with prospective students and we are taking organizational measures to do such. Our thousands of alumni are an unmatched resource whose talents, energies and committed support are needed to help us achieve excellence.

It is absolutely critical that we understand the connection among these three building blocks, academic reputation, financial resources and alumni engagement. We will garner support from individuals and organizations — be they corporate, charitable, or government — because their goals will be best served by investments in our excellence. Our indisputable excellence and high reputation will convince and galvanize them. Few invest in second-rate institutions.

Much of our drive for excellence will be propelled by partnerships on regional and national levels. And, to be clear, these partnerships are integral to our educational mission because they expand our classrooms and student learning experiences and also apply our scholarship and expertise to the lives of real people.

Last June, for example, we formed a partnership with the Good Shepherd Rehabilitation Hospital in Allentown, Pennsylvania. We share a vision to lead the nation in rehabilitation technology as it pertains to human mobility.

Perhaps we can partner with Potsdam State to see the synergy that might lie at the intersection of the performing arts and technology (or simply put, music and engineering), or partner with the University of Ottawa in a cross-border collaboration or partner with SUNY Environmental Sciences and Forestry, our Associated College colleagues, Paul Smith's College and the members of the New York State Great Lakes Consortium in an educational and research facility focused on the St. Lawrence River.

One partnership strategy has particular potential and can turn our research discoveries into businesses and jobs. It will potentially benefit many people beyond Clarkson — and most significantly our neighbors across the North Country, making the region a premier place to live. Clarkson is exploring how it can best develop its intellectual property - the inventions that are the products of our research, so that commercial enterprises can be grown in the North Country. One possibility would be that Clarkson partner with a Venture Capital Fund. We have often discussed technology transfer and the concept was in fact, part of our 1989 agreement with New York State that brought us CAMP (our Center for Advanced Materials Processing). It is now time to develop a credible technology transfer plan and to execute this plan.

As we move forward with excitement and energy, we should bear in mind that we stand upon the shoulders of those who have gone before us. The undefeated hockey team of 1956, who through loyalty to eight seniors who played as freshmen and were declared ineligible by the NCAA, turned down their prized invitation to compete for the national championship; the FIRST Robotics team, who in the fall of 2001, lost two members in a tragic auto accident and went on to compete with the courage and skill that honored the spirit of their comrades; and Clarke Joy, Class of 1929. At age 96, he has been a student and a loyal alumnus through 13 Clarkson presidents and could have attended 11 inaugurations. Clarke Joy, please stand.

These are defining moments. They speak to our character, values and resilience as an institution. And they remind us of the hard work, dreams, courage and painful losses that turned Clarkson from a tiny trade school into a major technological university of international stature. Focus and dedication. Teamwork and loyalty. All of us share an obligation to those who have preceded us to renew today our enthusiasm and commitment to Clarkson and to the difference this university can make in the world.

Think about the character of Clarkson and its origins in Potsdam sandstone. Clarkson itself has now been hewn, shaped and weathered for more than a century. Today, I ask you to join with me to take the sandstone blocks of Clarkson and build upon their foundation a technological university second to none — a university that develops leaders concerned about humanity and creates technology that aids humanity.

Clarkson will make the fullest and most significant contribution to the world that its collective talents, resources and aspirations can achieve and that its history, character and people deserve. We must evolve. We can evolve. We will evolve. Clarkson will evolve to excellence. And just like Potsdam sandstone, we will be the best.