Marc P. Christensen, Ph.D., P.E. was inaugurated as the 17th President of Clarkson University at an installation ceremony held today on the Clarkson campus in Potsdam, N.Y.
In his inaugural address before more than 650 people, Christensen paid tribute to the 16 Presidents who came before him, laying the foundation for the Clarkson that we know today. He also expressed his appreciation for his family for their love and support over the years. Many of them were on hand to join in on the celebration. The theme for the day was that “Clarkson knows who it is, and why it matters.”
The ceremony began with the reading of the land acknowledgment by Professor Rebecca Pelky, a member of the Brothertown Indiana Nation of Wisconsin. The Royal Canadian Legion’s City of Brockville Pipe Band led the processional. The Golden Notes, a Clarkson student a cappella group, sang the school alma mater. Clarkson Board of Trustees Chair Thomas Kassouf ’74, delivered the official welcome.
The ceremony included remarks by representatives from the local and North Country community, alumni, students, faculty, staff, and government officials, including Senator Daniel Stec from New York State’s 45th District, Mayor Reinhold Rischler, Donna M. McGregor, President of St. Lawrence Health System, an affiliate of Rochester Regional Health, and President of Canton-Potsdam Hospital.
Each speaker is an ambassador representing constituencies President Christensen will consult to further define and amplify his theme of “Clarkson knows who it is, and why it matters.”
Having just celebrated the 125th anniversary of our founding in 1896, the theme honors Clarkson’s past, emphasizing the exceptional social and economic relevance the University and its graduates hold today; defining a path forward for innovative teaching, research, and partnership; contributing to the resolution of issues and solutions to challenges that matter to a world seeking sustainable solutions; and to students pursuing rewarding career outcomes.
Amanda Zullo ’05, a 2015 United States Presidential Award recipient for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching and today the Principal of Tupper Lake Middle and High School, is a 2005 graduate of Union Graduate College, which became part of Clarkson University in 2016. She spoke during the inauguration, and said, “As an educator, Clarkson is the place you go when you have questions and need answers.”
Sen. Dan Stec ’90 echoed her sentiments, “That is the same for industries and New York State. Agencies that need applied research and expertise … and Clarkson is a place to go for answers.” He continued, “Clarkson IS a provider of the technical talent and business acumen matters to job growth here and across the nation; it matters to sustainable business solutions, and it matters to technology innovations that are still to come. Clarkson is a leader in education and has long produced alumni that are leaders of industry, and I am proud to be an alumni of Clarkson!”
Students, faculty and staff spoke on behalf of their peers, offering congratulations to Christensen and shared why Clarkson matters to them.
Clarkson Board of Trustees Chair Thomas Kassouf ’74 vested Christensen with the Clarkson medallion and presented the University charter, which symbolizes the authority of President Christensen. Christensen then approached the podium to address the audience.
Christensen began by asking the audience, “How do you know a world-class university? My response? If a world-class university were to disappear, people would notice, people would care…Ultimately that is the test of a university’s value. Done right, we matter. That is why I chose to come to Clarkson University. So many [universities] are struggling to figure out who they want to be. It is hard to make a difference in the world when you don’t know who you are. Being different is a daunting task. Other universities aren’t built that way, it isn’t in their design. Clarkson, on the other hand, is made of different building blocks, oriented in unique ways. It has had a distinctive identity for over 125 years. We’d be fighting our very nature if we tried to change it. We are a technological university, and as you have heard, we are a university that matters. We matter to our community. We matter to our students, we matter to companies spanning the globe, we matter to our nation, and we matter to the world.”
Christensen said, “At Clarkson we like numbers so let me give you some. 30.1 , 97, 4.77 … 30.1 is the percentage of our students who are eligible for Pell Grants or are first generational college students. 97% of our students have a job – in their chosen field of study --within 60 days of graduation. The data shows that 1 in 4.77 alumni will end up in the C-Suite or running their own company.”
He spoke about the global impact that Clarkson’s alumni and faculty have made, “You’ve probably read a lot about humankind’s return to the moon and the recent Artemis rocket launch that is the first step to taking us there. The project lead at NASA is a Clarkson alum. There are technological devices that have caused the world to sit up and take notice — devices like the iPhone. Clarkson alumni lead both the design and manufacturing teams. Clarkson Matters — through its students and alumni.”
Christensen then outlined The Clarkson Cornerstone, which will be the reference point for all we will build together in the future. It demands that “we will focus our resources on doing things that matter, we will provide our students the best technical education and one they can afford to invest in. We will teach students, not only the fundamentals but what Industry wants them to know to excel. We will ensure each of our students benefits from a paid work experience. And we will ensure that every one of our students has a path to graduate in four years,” he said.
Christensen closed his speech by revisiting his opening question, “How does one know a university is world-class? If Clarkson didn’t exist would anyone notice? Well, If Clarkson didn’t exist there would be 46,000 alumni who would not have had the transformative educational experience that has helped them get where they are today. 10,000 companies wouldn’t have had a founder, CEO, CTO, or CFO, and important scientific and technological advancements would have been delayed or abandoned. Today, it is clear Clarkson Matters. And going forward, Clarkson will matter. We’ve set our cornerstone, now let’s get to building Clarkson’s future.”
Christensen was appointed Clarkson’s 17th president by the University’s Board of Trustees on March 24 and took office on July 1, after Dr. Anthony G. Collins stepped down.
A widely published expert in photonics research that focuses on using light to transmit, process and sense information, Dr. Christensen has coauthored over 100 journal and conference papers and was identified by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) as a “rising star in microsystems research.” He began his professional career as a technical leader in BDM’s Sensors and Photonics Group, now part of Northrop Grumman Mission Systems. In 1997, he cofounded Applied Photonics, a free-space optical interconnection module company that provided hardware demonstrations for multiple DARPA programs. He currently holds 10 U.S. patents.
Dr. Christensen received his bachelor’s degree in engineering physics from Cornell University in 1993, his master’s degree in electrical engineering from George Mason University in 1998, and his Ph.D. in electrical and computer engineering from George Mason University in 2001. He also participated in the Harvard Institutes for Higher Education Management Development Program.
After earning his Ph.D., he joined the Southern Methodist University faculty in 2002, where he was recognized for innovative teaching and outstanding research. He rose through the faculty ranks at SMU and, in 2010, he was selected as the inaugural Bobby B. Lyle Professor of Engineering Innovation. He went on to serve as the Department Chair of Electrical Engineering and has been the Dean of SMU’s Lyle School of Engineering for the past nine years.
Christensen and his wife, Seema, are the proud parents of Asha Christensen, who is pursuing graduate work in Economics at the University of Texas, Austin., and Priya Christensen, who is pursuing graduate studies in molecular and cell biology at the University of Texas at Dallas. With industry experience in engineering, Seema is now a ceramics artist looking forward to opening a new studio in the area.