Rensselaer alumni have always been game-changers. The achievements of alumni through the years have had important and far-reaching effects on the world. From the bridge builders of the 19th century to the engineers of space exploration, from the inventors of the Industrial Revolution to the entrepreneurs of today’s computer technology, Rensselaer alumni have helped shape our world.
Conceived in 1995, the Rensselaer Alumni Hall of Fame was created to honor the past while celebrating all generations of Rensselaer pioneers. Three new members have been selected for induction this year, bringing the total membership to 82. They are:
Alfred P. Boller (1840-1912), Class of 1861. Boller was one of the giants among civil engineers who were responsible for the great progress in bridge building following the Civil War. He was an expert in steel construction and did much to advance the art of bridge design and construction in America. Also an expert in foundations, he served as structural contractor on railroads and buildings, including New York City’s new high-rise towers. Boller designed and built many of the largest bridges in the country in his time. He pioneered in the development of swing bridges, building them to record-setting lengths. He also designed the longest cantilever bridge and the longest simple span bridge. In all of his works he paid great attention to architectural details and urged his colleagues to do the same. He was a leader in civic and professional organizations, and past president of the Rensselaer Alumni Association. At his death he was regarded as one of the world’s foremost structural engineers and bridge engineering experts who contributed enormously to the profession.
Harry H. Rousseau (1870-1930), Class of 1891. Rousseau was appointed by President Theodore Roosevelt to serve as a member of the Isthmian Canal Commission in 1907, and became one of the leaders in the construction and early management of the Panama Canal. Rousseau had distinguished himself in the Navy Department’s Bureau of Yards and Docks such that he was named the youngest chief of the bureau, a record to this day. His tenure as chief was short, however, as he was appointed to the canal commission almost immediately. Initially overseeing a staff of 10,000, he became the invaluable assistant to the chief engineer, George Goethals. In 1911 he also was placed in charge of the design and construction of the canal terminals, including dry docks, piers, fuel oil plants, breakwaters, and floating cranes. Rousseau remained connected with the canal’s operations for the remainder of his life, far longer than anyone else associated with the project. For his service in the building of the Panama Canal, Rousseau was elevated from the rank of commander to rear admiral in 1915 by a special act of Congress.
Wesley A. Brown (1927-2012), Class of 1951. Brown broke the color barrier at the U.S. Naval Academy, becoming its first African-American graduate in 1949. He was the sixth African-American to attend the Naval Academy, but the first to graduate. While the others left the school because they were ostracized and subjected to repeated acts of hazing and racism, Brown endured the harsh treatment with resilience and grace, well before the dawning of the civil rights struggle against racial discrimination. Brown continued his education at Rensselaer, earning a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering. He served 20 years in the Navy Civil Engineer Corps overseeing the construction of military homes, roads, and power plants, followed by construction management positions with the state of New York and Howard University. In 2008, the Naval Academy named its new field house in his honor, the first facility at any U.S. service academy named for an African-American, celebrating Brown as a pioneer of racial justice. Throughout his life, Brown was a role model and mentor to minorities who followed in his footsteps.
For more on the Rensselaer Alumni Hall of Fame, and to see a list of all the game-changing members and their accomplishments, visit alumni.rpi.edu/hof.