President Shirley Ann Jackson shared her vision for the New Polytechnic—and its unprecedented potential to harness the power of science and technology—at the inaugural Pauline Newman ’47 Distinguished Lecture in Science, Technology, and Society.
Held earlier this month at Newman’s alma mater, Vassar College, the lecture acknowledges her contributions in the field of intellectual property and patent law, and in the application of science and technology for government, business, and academic use. Since 1984, Newman has served as a judge for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, which has nationwide jurisdiction over international trade legal issues, government contracts, patents, and other subjects.
Jackson was a fitting choice to kick off what will be an annual event at the liberal arts college in Poughkeepsie. Since 1999, she has led an institution that boasts hundreds of alumni and alumnae who have either followed in Newman’s footsteps or benefited from her judicial decisions and leadership in patent law.
Jackson’s remarks, “The New Polytechnic: Addressing Global Challenges, Transforming the World,” included a modern definition of the liberal arts—and a call to “educate young people for this new era of interconnected challenges and great tools of connection.” Jackson also paid tribute to Newman for using “the insights and knowledge she garnered as a scientist to do incisive work in another sphere of influence, that of the law. In the process, she has helped to change the world around us, encouraging the movement of discoveries and innovations into the marketplace—toward the improvement of lives around the globe.”
At Vassar, Newman majored in chemistry and philosophy. She went on to receive a master’s from Columbia University, a Ph.D. in chemistry from Yale University, and an LL.B. from New York University School of Law.
“Hers has been an extraordinary career,” Jackson said, “but one with which we are familiar at Rensselaer, where a number of our alumni and alumnae have moved from science and engineering to become prominent figures in intellectual property law.” As an example, Jackson cited Arthur Gajarsa ’62, chairman of the Rensselaer Board of Trustees, and former U.S. circuit judge. In fact, Gajarsa served alongside Newman for 15 years on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.
“As the president of Judge Gajarsa’s alma mater—the oldest private technological research university in the United States—I especially appreciate Judge Newman’s work in the field of intellectual property, which has guided the growth of technology-intensive industries,” Jackson said.
She devoted most of her remarks to the New Polytechnic, defined as a collaborative endeavor merging across a multiplicity of disciplines, sectors, and global regions.
“We are re-envisioning the meaning of polytechnic, within the context of modern challenges and opportunities,” Jackson said. “The New Polytechnic is predicated on the absolute necessity of educating our students in multidisciplinary and collaborative thinking, and linking our researchers—in the arts, architecture, the humanities, the sciences, and the social sciences—as well as in engineering and the applied sciences. Engaged in by a broad spectrum of participants, guided by societal concerns and ethics, the New Polytechnic ultimately facilitates novel and effective approaches to global challenges.”
Jackson pointed to global threats such as geopolitical tensions, climate change, pandemics, competition for natural resources, and growing income inequality in developed and developing economies.
“Collaborations on a grand scale are required, and colleges and universities, as we educate future leaders and convene brilliant scholars, have an obligation to seed, and to support, new approaches to teaching, learning, and problem-solving,” Jackson said. “It is when we join forces that we truly cancel out our weaknesses and compound our strengths.
“To solve great problems,” she added, “we must connect.”