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January 2, 2005
Shirley Ann Jackson
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, President
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Info: Shirley Ann Jackson discussed her path to becoming the President of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, what it takes to run an educational institution and her concerns about the lack of minorities and women in engineering and science. Jackson was also the former Chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission under President Clinton.

Uncorrected transcript provided by Morningside Partners.
C-SPAN uses its best efforts to provide accurate transcripts of its programs, but it can not be held liable for mistakes such as omitted words, punctuation, spelling, mistakes that change meaning, etc.
BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Shirley Ann Jackson, what is Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute?

SHIRLEY ANN JACKSON, PRESIDENT, RENSSELAER POLYTECHNIC INSTITUTE: Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute is the worldís -- certainly the U.S.ís oldest private technological university, meaning we educate students in science, engineering, architecture, management and humanities, arts and social sciences; but with a particular focus on engineering and science.

LAMB: Did you ever think youíd be president of an organization like that?

JACKSON: No, but I was on a general trajectory that had to do with science, science research and then moving along to begin to move into other areas. And so I find it a privilege to educate the next generation.

LAMB: How long have you been there?

JACKSON: Five-and-a-half years.

LAMB: How big is it?

JACKSON: We have roughly 8,000 students. We have 5,000 undergraduates, roughly 2,000 full time graduate students. And then we have students in a number of other professional and distance education programs.

LAMB: Where is it?

JACKSON: Itís in Troy, New York, which is 10 miles northeast of Albany, New York.

LAMB: And one of the things I find in researching your background is that at least in 2003, you were the highest paid president of any college of higher learning in the United States. How does that happen?

JACKSON: Well, I think my board of trustees compensates me at a level that it feels is commensurate with the responsibilities, but more appropriately with the what the university has been able to accomplish since my tenure began. In fact, operating under a plan which we call simple the Rensselaer Plan, which we developed my first year, we have some amazing things going on. We call it a veritable renaissance at Rensselaer.

Weíve hired a number of new faculty, really talented young people as well as some established leaders in their fields. Weíve created new academic programs, new research initiatives. and weíve had a concomitant growth in research volume. Weíve had a particular focus in biotechnology research, which is not area where the university was known historically. We have fairly massive, for us, building program, over $400 million in capital projects. And weíve just launched publicly a $1 billion capital campaign toward which weíve already raised over $600 million.

LAMB: I think I saw somewhere in 2001 that your school was given $360 million by somebody.

JACKSON: Thatís correct. It was a $360 million unrestricted gift where the donor wishes to remain anonymous and we are honoring those wishes. And what is the beauty of the gift is that it is unrestricted.

LAMB: Is it somebody that graduated from up there?

JACKSON: The donor does wish to remain anonymous. And at the time it was the largest single gift to a U.S. college or university.

LAMB: Why does somebody do something like that?

JACKSON: Well, this donor indicated that the donor believed in the Rensselaer Plan and what we were trying to do, in our early accomplishments and in the leadership of the institute, and wanted to make an investment, an investment that would help to secure the long-term future as well as animate the plan and allow us to move forward on it.

LAMB: I know you donít want tell me who the donor is, obviously, but can you remember the first time your heard that there was a human wanting to give $360 million to a school?

JACKSON: Well, in fact it wasnít that we exactly heard, because it was a gift that was solicited and negotiated by me.

LAMB: How do you like raising money?

JACKSON: Actually, I think the appropriate way of thinking about it is to articulate and to realize potential, the potential of a university, but more importantly, of the people within it, the younger people we educate and the faculty who educate them.

And therefore a presidentís job in raising money is to animate and to realize that kind of capability. And so I enjoy it in that sense. And Iíve been pretty good at it, so itís fun.

LAMB: "The study of a multi-peripheral model with continued cross-channel unitarity," what is that?


JACKSON: Well, itís the study -- itís the title of my Ph.D. thesis, as Iím sure you probably know by now. But it really refers to looking particles colliding at high energy, and having what we call peripheral interactions, interactions where there is very little force or momentum transfer, but where there is successive interactions. And thatís why itís multi-peripheral, successive peripheral interactions. And the cross-channel unitarity is kind of -- due to the application of a kind of conversation law that allows one to bound the problem in a statistical way.

LAMB: When did you first know that you wanted to go to MIT?

JACKSON: Well, probably not until I was applying to college to be honest with you. I knew I was interested in math and science and it was my high school vice principal. In those days, interestingly enough, we had a high school vice principal for girls and a vice principal for boys. And it was the vice principal for boys who suggested that I think about and apply to MIT.

LAMB: That was at Roosevelt High School in Washington.

JACKSON: That was at Roosevelt High School in Washington, D.C.

LAMB: What were your high school years like here?

JACKSON: I had a great time. I was my high school valedictorian. I had been in an accelerated program. I loved the courses. I loved the teachers. But Iíve always school. But in addition, I lived kind of an idyllic life. My parents worked hard. They always believed very strongly in education. And I loved the kinds of things that I got to do, even though I had grown up in an environment that was segregated in terms of schooling early on, desegregated and then had slowly begun to change back to de facto re-segregation in a certain sense as I was leaving high school.

LAMB: What did your parents do for a living?

JACKSON: My dad worked for the Post Office. He started in the mail room, was a letter carrier and ended up as a supervisor of motor vehicle operations for the Post Office here in Washington.

My mother was a case worker for the Department of Human Services here in Washington, D.C. But at an earlier stage she actually taught. And during World War II she worked in a factory in Newark, New Jersey.

LAMB: Did you have brothers and sisters?

JACKSON: I have two sisters. I had a brother who passed away 20 years ago. My two sisters are very good friends of mine. One of them lives in California and one of them lives in the Washington area, in Northern Virginia.

LAMB: What kind of things do they do?

JACKSON: Well, my younger sister, who lives in Northern Virginia, is an attorney. And she works for the government, for the National Labor Relations Board. And my older sister is also in education. She is vice president for student life for a college in California. Itís called Holy Names (ph) University.

LAMB: So where do these special genes come from?

JACKSON: Well, I think my parents were pretty bright people and hard-working, but they also had a very big focus on the power of education to change lives, to create opportunity. And I think we got that from our parents. And my mother taught all of us to read before we went to Kindergarten. She reads a lot herself. My father was more mechanically minded and had abilities in math, although he had less formal education than my mother.

LAMB: You say though, and Iíve seen it quoted several times, your father is often quoted as saying, "aim for the stars." Do you remember when he first said that to you?

JACKSON: Oh, it was a long time ago. I think I was probably in upper elementary school, middle school, what we call junior high school here. And the whole quote is "aim for the stars so that you reach the treetops and at any rate youíll get off the ground." And his essential message was if you donít aim high you wonít go far. And that was a lesson he taught us all the time.

LAMB: Can you remember -- you say your mom taught you how to read early, can you remember though when you really were clicking along, getting good grades and you knew that you were headed in a direction maybe that a lot of your classmates werenít?

JACKSON: Probably when I made the transition from elementary school to junior high school, because an accelerated program, a tracking program had been put into place in Washington, D.C. We were tested in the sixth grade and then placed in advanced tracks in junior high school. And I ended up in that accelerated program, the so-called honors program at the time. And then I really enjoyed that and started moving ahead.

At the same time there was a lot more emphasis on science and math at that point in time that came about as the result of the launch of the Sputnik satellite and so forth -- and later the space race, and I took advantage of that. My education was transformed as a consequence of that and the Brown v Board of Education decision which desegregated the public schools.

LAMB: What did that do, the Brown decision, for you?

JACKSON: Well, what it did was, I think it opened up a broader spectrum. I think it created the opportunity to compete with people across all ethnic backgrounds and races, and I think it created confidence for me, but it was also just fun to compete with others who were as interested in science and math and like things as I was.

LAMB: Where was the first desegregated classroom you found yourself in?

JACKSON: It as at the Barnard (ph) School, which is about three blocks from where I grew up in northwest Washington. Prior to that, we had to go past that school to what's called the Parkview (ph) School, which was a few miles away. It was not a distance we could walk. There was no real transportation. So the fathers in the neighborhood created a kind of a car pool to take the kids to school.

LAMB: Can you remember a teacher that said, Shirley Ann (ph), you really got something special going on here. Let me take you under my wing.

JACKSON: Well, I had a couple of teachers who did that, but one stands out. Her name is Mrs. Marie Smith (ph). I still call her "Mrs." today. I actually saw her recently at a high school -- my high school reunion. She really took me under her wing. She was my math teacher. And I had her for several years, essentially for all of the math I had in high school. And she did an excellent job both with the formal teaching in the class, but spending a lot of time out of class, just talking with me about math, working on different math problems and encouraging me to follow my interest.

Another was my Latin teacher, Mrs. Davenport (ph). I actually studied Latin for six years, through middle school or junior high school and high school. And I loved that, and it taught me a lot in the way of vocabulary, the structure of languages. I don't know why I've always been interested in those things, but I have been.

LAMB: Latin is hard to find today. Do you think there should be more of it taught?

JACKSON: Well, I think it has a role, I would say particularly at an early stage, to help students understand the structure of language. Because it is the root of romance languages, I think it's a useful background if one then later chooses to study Spanish or French. It helps to develop vocabulary, very strong vocabulary, and a sense of grammar and sentence construction. And so I think it's very useful in that sense.

LAMB: Do you have other languages you studied?

JACKSON: I've studied German. I've studied French. I'm better at reading languages than speaking languages.

LAMB: I have a quote, speaking of languages. This is the English language, and I can tell you I do not understand what I'm about to read, but I want you to see if you can...


LAMB: This is a quote from you. "I am interested in the electronic, optical, magnetic and transport properties of novel semiconductor systems. Of special interest are the behavior of magnetic polarons in semi-magnetic and dilute magnetic semiconductors, and the optical response properties of semiconductor quantum-wells and superlattices. My interests also include quantum dots, mesoscopic systems, and the role of antiferromagnetic fluctuations in correlated 2D electron systems."

You can see I can't even hardly pronounce it, let alone know what it is. What is it?

JACKSON: Well, let's just start very quickly...


JACKSON: ... at the beginning. What is a semiconductor? It is a material which conducts electricity under certain conditions. If you put energy into it in some way, heat it up, put it in an electric field, shine light on it, it can begin to conduct. Because it then doesn't conduct under other circumstances, it can be used, particularly in systems where you need kind of a switching effect. All a diluted magnetic semiconductor is, is that one puts in something like iron, some kind of magnetic atom, into the general mix with other semiconductor atoms, and it then changes the properties and makes the system responsive to magnetic fields, as well as electric fields. That's all. When you put (UNINTELLIGIBLE) an electric field (UNINTELLIGIBLE) voltage on something.

LAMB: When you taught at Rutgers, did you teach this kind of stuff?

JACKSON: I did. I taught a graduate seminar on the optical and electronic properties of layered materials and what we call semiconductor heterostructures (ph). And I could explain that, if you're interested. But I also taught basic physics courses to early undergraduates, et cetera.

LAMB: Can you remember when you got interested in science?

JACKSON: I probably was interested in science pretty early on, when I was in elementary school. I got interested in bumblebees and collecting them and -- and more interested in why they behaved the way they did and how their environments influenced how they behaved. I was never particularly interested in a dead insect collection. I was more interested in live bees.

LAMB: Where did you get your interest in bumblebees?

JACKSON: My back yard. We had little dishes (ph) and flowers in the back yard that the bees liked, and so I would just go out (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and just watch them. And then after a time, I would think about plucking the petal of the flower with the bee inside, and then I would drop it into a mason jar. And then I would -- sometimes I captured them with the jar. And then I would mix them with wasps, yellowjackets and then the traditional bumblebees to see how they interacted with each other and how they behaved according to what they were fed, how much light exposure they had, et cetera.

LAMB: What'd you learn?

JACKSON: Well, like many living things, if something living is in prison long enough, it tends to become lethargic. Its diet can change how it behaves. If it's aggressive initially, if it's in the dark, it tends to be quiescent. Different things.

LAMB: So what was next? When did you next do something in science that led you to MIT?

JACKSON: Well, I got more interested in math and looking at Boolean algebra, mainly algebra based on the binary system, as opposed to the decimal system. I did some projects in that regard. And I think that began to really move me along the line.

Interestingly enough, physics was not what I necessarily thought that I might do. I was originally more interested in mathematics and classical languages -- I think the languages because of having studied Latin, and mathematics because I just loved the beauty of it, as well as what it could allow you to do in understanding the physical world.

LAMB: Along the way, how about the other kids in school and all that? Did -- were you isolated? I mean, were you known as that smart kid over there?

JACKSON: Well, I was called the "brainiac" from time to time. But because I was in this honors curriculum, I had other classmates who were accelerated with me. And we had very small classes. We had some classes that had as few as 10 students. And so we were very good friends. We were actually -- the women formed a social club. We called ourselves "the teens of personality." And so we would meet and -- meet once a week, we had club meetings and talk about different things that were on our minds. We did little projects. And then we had parties.

But the interesting thing about it is that most of us were also in the same classes together, so we studied together, as well as socialized together.

LAMB: Where'd they end up?

JACKSON: Well, one of them is a statistician for the government. One owns her own business, a Hallmark card franchise. One is a psychologist. A few of them became teachers, and so on.

LAMB: Do you stay in touch with them?

JACKSON: Well, we just so happen to have just had a little bit of a reunion when we had our high school reunion a few weeks ago. And then there are one or two of them that I'm in touch with on a regular basis. And they've tended to show up at important moments in my life. They showed up when I got married. They showed up when I was sworn in at the NRC. They showed up when I became -- was inaugurated as president of Rensselaer. And so they've been a great support and good friends throughout my life.

LAMB: Chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for what years?

JACKSON: I was chairman between 1995 and 1999.

LAMB: How did you get that? How did it come to you?

JACKSON: Well, I got a call one day from the White House, is the actual story. And I was told that I was being considered for a presidential appointment. And I ended up coming down to Washington for a series of interviews, and in the end, was offered a position on the commission, and then a little later, interviewed again in the White House and offered the chair -- chairship of the commission.

Now, in New Jersey, I had been on the board of a nuclear utility company that owned or co-owned two nuclear power plants. I chaired for a time (ph) the Nuclear Oversight Committee. I got involved with the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations, which was an industry group formed in the aftermath of Three Mile Island to boost the performance of the commercial nuclear industry. And then I also had gotten involved with science, technology and economic development in New Jersey through membership on the New Jersey Commission on Science and Technology. So I think all of these things brought me to the fore in terms of scientists with interests in the nexus of science, technology and public policy, science, technology and business, plus the specific background and activities in the nuclear arena. And my Ph.D. is in a field known as elementary particle physics, and it basically is an outgrowth of nuclear physics.

LAMB: Did -- had you been political?


LAMB: Not at all?

JACKSON: Not at all.

LAMB: Did you know Bill Clinton?

JACKSON: No. I had not been involved in any political campaign of any kind.

LAMB: When they first suggested that you could be chairman, did it interest you?

JACKSON: Yes, because I had gotten very interested in nuclear power generally, always liked and fascinated by the technology, became very aware, by being on the board of the utility company, in a whole set of issues about energy and energy within a business context, but also energy diversity and diversity of supply, and the public policy issues having to do with the safe use of nuclear power.

LAMB: What were you doing -- were you -- at some point, you were with AT&T Bell Labs and...

JACKSON: That's correct.

LAMB: What years were that?

JACKSON: I worked for Bell Labs between 1976 and 1991, and then I went over and became a professor of physics at Rutgers University between '91 and when I went to the NRC. Now, during the years I was at Rutgers, I also was a consultant in theoretical physics at Bell Labs.

LAMB: What did you do for Bell Labs?

JACKSON: Well, basically, a continuation of the kind of work in condensed matter physics that I had been doing before, and that was the springboard to the kind of work I did at Rutgers and had students working on. So it all worked together. In fact, I kept my office at Bell Labs.

LAMB: Now, I'm going to come back to the NRC in a moment, but I just want you to list -- we've got some on a -- on a slide we'll put on the screen, but I know things move so fast, it may have changed -- the number of boards that you're on. If I'm correct, we've got on this list the New York Stock Exchange, U.S. Steel...


LAMB: ... Public Service Enterprise Group, FedEx, AT&T, Marathon Oil and Medtronic. What's missing?

JACKSON: That's it.

LAMB: That's all?


LAMB: You serve on the board of directors -- and MIT, the corporation.

JACKSON: That's right. I'm a life member of the MIT corporation.

LAMB: How do you have time for all that?

JACKSON: Well, I think you have to step back and provide a context. First of all, it's not unusual for university presidents to serve on corporate boards. And one has to ask why might that be important. And it's important because, one, it is the role of a president to project the university to the outside world, into the larger corporate community. And for a technological university, that's very important.

Secondly, one gets to, obviously, participate in general discussions about business strategy and business trends, about where technologies are going in the corporate sense, in the business arena, and their application and accessibility to the public. That's important for informing what goes on in an educational institution, again, particularly one which is rooted in science and engineering.

So all of those things are very important. So they actually play naturally into what a president's responsibilities are. But I also am a very organized person. I'm a person who can multi-task, and I enjoy doing it. And so for me, that's enjoyment when others may choose to do other things.

LAMB: How much sleep do you need?

JACKSON: Not a lot, but I get my rest.

LAMB: What time do you get up in the morning?

JACKSON: Typically, 5:00 AM.

LAMB: What time do you go to work?

JACKSON: Typically, 6:00 to 7:00.

LAMB: In the office that early.

JACKSON: That's right.

LAMB: How late do you stay?

JACKSON: As long as it takes, but typically, 7:00, 8:00, 9:00, 10:00. It depends because it's not just being in the office. There's meetings that, of course, one has with a variety of different university constituencies and members of the community. And one does things in the larger community. There are events. There are dinners one attends. There are dinners and events one hosts. All of these things. I attend athletic events. I meet with students. I go to their activities as much as I can. I particularly like athletic events. And I meet with student leaders and faculty leaders, et cetera.

LAMB: So what's the favorite time of your day?

JACKSON: Oh, it's hard to pick a particular time because I -- I do enjoy what I do all day long, believe it or not. The morning is always good because it's a new day, and I'm more of a morning person. And so one has the chance to think about what one may do all day long and what might come out of what one does all day. But the end of the day is nice, as well, because one can think back on what's gone on and relax a little bit.

LAMB: Now, of all the things -- you're also on some university boards. You're -- we'll put that on the screen, but you're on Georgetown University's board.

JACKSON: That's right.

LAMB: Also on Rockefeller University's board.

JACKSON: That's correct.

LAMB: You said MIT.


LAMB: And the Emma Willard (ph) School in Troy, New York, trustee of the Brookings Institution, member of the Council on Foreign Relations, principal of the Council on Competitiveness. Let's go to Emma Willard School.


LAMB: What's that?

JACKSON: Emma Willard is a girls' independent school in Troy, New York. It's quite a -- it's older, actually, than Rensselaer. And it's an excellent high-end (ph) institution, and it's had some very well known graduates. And it's very important. If I say that I believe and feel it is important to have women educated at the highest levels -- and of course, I'm particularly interested in the role of women in science -- but that's not all (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Willard is about. It has a broad-based curriculum. I think it's important.

And I mentioned to you earlier I think part of the privilege of being a university president is about educating the next generation, that I think we, at the university, are on the receiving end of what comes out of our school system, be it public or private. And so I think it's very important to be engaged, to understand the issues, to understand the development of young people, and in fact, to contribute back in terms of what is going on in the middle and high school levels for young women and how that plays into what happens at the collegiate level.

LAMB: What do they call Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute? Is there a short...




LAMB: RPI, you said you have about 8,000 total students there, undergraduate and graduate. How many of them are women?

JACKSON: About 25 to 26 percent on the undergraduate level, and 30 to 32 on the graduate level.

LAMB: Has that changed in your five years there?

JACKSON: It's changed a little bit, but not enough. And so we're giving particular focus to looking at how to do a more effective job of recruiting young women and making the case because I think it's very important for the future of this country.

LAMB: When you have a bunch of young folks in front of you, how do you make the case? What do you say to them?

JACKSON: Well, several things. One is to talk about the beauty, frankly, of science, the intellectual and inherent interest and all the kinds of neat things one can study and do in studying science and engineering. Secondly, I make the case of the kinds of careers that one can aspire to, and in fact, have in areas that people might not think about, including in entertainment. And third, I make the point of the importance of it to be able to help people. And I think many young people and many women are particularly interested in that, and to help solve the world's problems. And fourth, I talk about the fact that great industries and great fortunes have been made that are rooted in science and technology.

LAMB: How do you get to entertainment?

JACKSON: Well, let's take any number of them. Let's take "Toy Story" -- animation, visualization, simulation. It's very sophisticated in terms of the ability to do computations, the application of computer science, particularly kinds of engineering, to be able to create these sorts of animated films. That same kind of work is also important in things like health care, in medicine. It also happens to be important in things that relate to security. So you have an opportunity to contribute across a broad spectrum, but it can just be fun.

LAMB: How do you -- you said you tell them about the "neat things."


LAMB: Give us some examples of "neat things" that you can study and learn and all that at RPI.

JACKSON: Well, we have a game (ph) studies major. We have a major called electronic media arts and communications. We have a major in electronic arts. All of these things sit at the nexus of technology and the arts. And they span a spectrum from what I've described a minute ago to the use of new technologies in performance. There are majors like product design and innovation which marry engineering with management. We have a big focus at Rensselaer on entrepreneurship, the creation of new enterprises, and students have the opportunity to take their ideas, which may come out of the classroom or out of the lab or the design studio, and actually create a business. We operate one of the nation's oldest university-based business incubators. In fact, we operate three. We have one on the campus, one in downtown Troy and one in a nearby town called Watervliet, which is across the Hudson River from us.

LAMB: Business incubator.


LAMB: What's that mean?

JACKSON: It means just that. If you think about incubation, you take a fledgling enterprise and you nurture it. And in the case of a business incubator, one is nurturing the enterprise by helping to provide business acumen. It can range from development of business plans to just providing relatively low-cost space as a company gets its feet under it, to providing access to venture networks, so that companies can get an early round of venture funding to begin to move along. And we also operate a technology park, 1,200-acre technology park. And some of the companies have graduated from the incubator into the technology park, but they don't all do. Some of them go off and just become enterprises on their own.

LAMB: All those boards you serve on, if we asked the board itself or the presidents of all those institutions, What is it that Shirley Ann Jackson brings to the board, is there one thing that they would all say, when you're a member of a board?

JACKSON: Well, I think they would say a kind of a combined statement, that I bring a very good business perspective and understanding but that is married with a strong science and technology and academic perspective. And that coupled with the regulatory background, as well, they find it useful, particularly in these days when governance is very important, and so on.

LAMB: Is there a question you always ask of a board?

JACKSON: That I always ask of the board?

LAMB: Or of the management when you're on the board. I mean, is there...

JACKSON: Well, I tend to focus on ethics, on risk assessment and on understanding the broader business environment that the company plays into. But I also tend to have a specific focus on areas that relate to governance and control functions, and so on.

LAMB: Ethics? What do you mean?

JACKSON: The fact -- I look at whether the CEO projects an image and a belief in high integrity, operates that way, and how that propagates in the company, as much as I understand, and how that affects how the board itself operates. I look at the other board members and who they are, not just from the position of -- the point of view of the positions they hold but what kind of people are they.

LAMB: Now, this may be a hard question to answer, but if you -- if you could take every invitation you've had to be on a board of directors, how many would you be on?

JACKSON: More than I care to discuss. I don't keep track of them, but I've been asked to serve on many boards. And I served on boards before I went into the government. I was on five boards then, and I gave them up to do what I did. And I've given up boards that I used to be on, and then there are any number of others. And so I just in general decline inquiries, at this point.

LAMB: Last count, I think you had 31 honorary doctorate degrees.


LAMB: Are there more than that? I saw that figure somewhere.

JACKSON: I think that's about right.

LAMB: Why do you go through that time-consuming business of going to other schools, taking two days to get an honorary degree?

JACKSON: Well, I do it for a couple of reasons. First of all, I enjoy commencements because they are just that. They are a launching point for young people into the next phases of their lives, into their careers, into graduate schools. Secondly, I always get a thrill in watching the parents, the families and how proud they are. Third, I learn things in terms of how other universities do things, what their cultures are. Fourth, it's always a thrill to interact with the others who are being honored because these are very prominent, accomplished people, and it's very interesting to get to know them. So these are some of the reasons I enjoy it. And finally, if I'm able to be a role model of sorts or a model of any kind for the young people who are graduating, however fleetingly, I think that's, as well, important.

LAMB: What's your philosophy of commencement speeches?

JACKSON: My philosophy of commencement speeches? Well, to talk about those things that I value -- excellence, leadership, community, making a difference, understanding the world and applying one's education to that end. So those are general themes. But they're actually tailored to the audience. I very seldom repeat exactly -- well, I never repeat exactly one speech with another. I may use some themes from a speech I've given before, but that's -- that makes it challenging for me and for those who work with me.

LAMB: If you want to go to RPI, what is your -- what's the minimum SAT score you have to have?

JACKSON: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and it ranges from roughly the middle 50 percent, from roughly 1200 to about 1420. The average is about 1320, but it's higher in certain areas than other, higher in engineering and science.

LAMB: Top being 1600.

JACKSON: Top being 1600. We have, you know, in the top 25 percent, the range is basically 1400 to 1600.

LAMB: Anything else that a student does in high school make any difference to get in, besides the SAT?

JACKSON: Of course. I mean, we look at the total record. We look at what students have studied. We look at their motivation, their focus. We look at their other activities. We're particularly interested in those who exhibit leadership, those who feel they want to take science or what they learn and make a difference. Rensselaer was founded to educate those who would apply science to the common purposes of life, and so we could say we look for that as we evaluate students. And of course, we look at how they overall, we think, would both benefit from and contribute to the Rensselaer community.

LAMB: How many of your undergraduates go on to graduate school?

JACKSON: About 25 percent.


LAMB: ... high or low compared to...

JACKSON: It -- I think it's, you know, about average. It's -- we've been working to focus on our juniors who look like they have a lot of potential, to encourage them to continue.

LAMB: What's it cost? What's the total cost, tuition and room and board and all that, for a student for a year?

JACKSON: Well, I'd probably say around -- not counting travel and so forth -- around $40,000. But that is not the true cost because many -- in fact, most of our students have some form of financial aid, at least 85 percent. And so the effective cost is about half that. But as you probably know, even the full nominal cost only covers a third to a half of what it actually costs to educate a young person.

LAMB: Do you get any federal government money to do research?

JACKSON: Yes, we do.

LAMB: How much?

JACKSON: About $90 million.

LAMB: And how does that fare with the rest of the schools in the country?

JACKSON: It depends on what wants to compare oneself to. I mean, if one compares oneself to the very large state universities or MIT or universities that have major medical centers, then it's a relatively small amount of money. But something that's on the order of $90 million to $100 million compared to smaller research universities is not bad. Our goal is to move up to somewhere between $150 million to $200 million.

LAMB: And what's your endowment, the school endowment?

JACKSON: It's about $600 million at this point.

LAMB: There's -- I think there are two men in your life, your husband and your son.

JACKSON: That's correct.

LAMB: Where did you meet your husband?

JACKSON: Well, I met my husband at a physics seminar at Bell Labs. I was in my first month at the lab, and he had just been there a few weeks. I was literally in a physics seminar, and the door opened and this young man came in. Now, he sat in the back of the room, but I'll tell you that he gave me the eye, although the story is that I gave him the eye.


JACKSON: But as we'd like to say you wouldn't know that I was looking at you if you weren't looking at me. So that's the story.

LAMB: What's his name?

JACKSON: His name is Morris Washington.

LAMB: When did you marry him?

JACKSON: About four years after we met.

LAMB: What year was that?

JACKSON: Nineteen eighty.

LAMB: What's he like?

JACKSON: He's a very nice man. He is nicer than I am. He's very family focused. He's done an excellent job with our son. They lived together in New Jersey, as I commuted back and forth to the NRC during my son's high school years. And so they spend a lot of time together.

LAMB: What does he do?

JACKSON: What does my husband do? He too, is a physicist. He is associate director of one of the engineering centers at Rensselaer and he teaches in the physics department.

LAMB: I remember it's Alan?

JACKSON: Yes. Alan is our son.

LAMB: How old is he?

JACKSON: He's 23.

LAMB: And what's he doing?

JACKSON: He works in New York City for an outdoor advertising agency. And he's looking at going to graduate school in law and business.

LAMB: Where did he go to undergrad?

JACKSON: Dartmouth College.

LAMB: So what did you do with your son that was different than your parents did with you, if anything?

JACKSON: Well, I don't know that it was different in a fundamental way. We probably had more means, my husband and I. And being with one child, we probably were able to do more in certain material senses. Our son went from K through 12 to an independent school. I'm a public school product, as is my husband. But in terms of fundamental values, and focus on education and family, we're about the same.

Our son was a swimmer. He was captain of his swim team in high school. And he also was a water polo player. And so these are different activities than ones I had in high school. But we kept him busy and we supported what he did. He was a peer leader. He sang in the men's acappella group and he played clarinet in the school orchestra. So he was a busy young man but a very nice man.

LAMB: And we talked to a -- this is a personal thing. But it's public, so I'll bring it up anyway. The money thing. You're making close to a million dollars a year. At least it was in 2003. The only reason I bring it up is if you look at all of these boards you're on, we've done well financially. Money ever matter to you?

JACKSON: No. Not money per se. I think one wants to be able to live reasonably well. One wants to be able to provide and be a partner with one's husband, to provide for one's family and to launch our son. And then to, of course, provide for our retirement.

And so I'm not particularly money motivated. I think the board at Rensselaer feels that it wants to compensate me in a way that's commensurate with the responsibilities I have. But more appropriately, with what has been accomplished at Rensselaer during my tenure.

LAMB: The reason I ask, though, you talk about your entrepreneurial spirit their at the school and all that. What is your sense of kids today about making money? How important is it to them?

JACKSON: I think it's important. But what I found, which might surprise you, I think. Is that I think young people, the ones we see and the ones we have at Rensselaer, really want to make a difference. They want to use the science to do things that matter to people.

We also have a very strong ROTC program, and so our young people believe in service to the country as well. And so we have a fair number of them who end up going off, not only going to the military, but to work for the government.

And so it's across the spectrum because obviously we have a number who go to work in big companies.

I also think young people, depending upon how they grew up in their own family circumstance, are very interested in financial stability and to be able to provide for their families as well.

And so there is a spectrum. Some are willing to take more risks and develop a businesses enterprise, and we have a lot of those. But there are others who believe strongly in service, and they go that route.

LAMB: When you ran the nuclear power -- the Nuclear Regulatory Agency, how big was it in people?

JACKSON: About 3,000 employees.

LAMB: What did it do? What does it do?

JACKSON: Well, the NRC is the agency of the U.S. government that's responsible primarily for the licensing and regulating the civilian the uses of nuclear energy. But that ranges from the oversight of commercial nuclear power reactors to research reactors in universities and industry and medicine, to the licensing and oversight of transportation, storage and disposal of radioactive wastes. Particularly high level wastes but also low-level waste. Although some of that is delegated to the states.

Responsible for some aspects of uranium mining and the uranium conversion and fuel fabrication. And the NRC happens to be the licensing and the export, control agency for the U.S. government, for the export of nuclear materials and technologies for peaceful purposes.

LAMB: Are you a fan of nuclear power?

JACKSON: I believe in nuclear power. I think it's important to have diversity of supply for nuclear and for energy security general. And I think nuclear is an important part of that. And I believe then one has to have a range of technologies, because the world's energy demand is only getting greater.

And the call on fossil fuels is getting to be greater and greater. And so, we're not the only country that aspires to have a certain standard of living. But we want to maintain our standard of living. And so yes, I do believe in nuclear power.

LAMB: What was the toughest part of that job?

JACKSON: Well, the NRC is an agency that has to balance the interest. It has a fundamental responsibility to protect the public. The protection of the public's health and safety, as well as responsibility vis-à-vis, the common defense and security. But at the same time, it is there to license and oversee a commercial nuclear industry that should be vibrant.

LAMB: In some of your remarks in the past, you kind of threw up a red flag about worrying of the future of this country with kids trained in science, math and engineering. How serious is the problem?

JACKSON: Well, I think today to be honest; it's not going to be like we have a crisis today. I mean we still are the world's leader in scientific and technological capability, still the world's leader in innovation that comes from that.

And so one doesn't want to shout fire in the movie theater. But the work one has to do with signs and trends that could lead to a potential erosion; first of all, our success model is not lost on the rest of the world. And so other nations are racing to emulate our model.

Now, we are I think and have been unique for a long time with our scientific and engineering capacity. Capacity for innovation and the marriage of that with the capital markets, and access to capital to make it bring it all to reality.

But as I said, this is not lost on other countries. So other countries are really racing to: elevate the education of their people, to train many more of their people in science and engineering, and to invest in their own R&D capacities.

So now we play that off against the fact that our own science and engineering workforce is aging. Half the workforce in the U.S. government, particularly in these fields can retire. Begin to retire in the next four years. NASA is one example, where as a testimony of about a year ago, the number of people at NASA who are aged 50 and over out number those age 30 and younger, at about three to one. So that's one sign.

A second, fewer international students are coming to this country. They used to come to this country. For the first time, there are little measurable drops in the number of graduate students. And dependent upon whose survey one sees, it's somewhere between about two and a half and maybe 6 percent. But it's the first time in about 30 years.

Now, that's important because if you look at the -- who makes up the science and engineering workforce in this country with advanced degrees, 40 percent of them are foreign born. And so those kinds of trends are not unimportant.

Third, U.S. domestic students, American-born students are less interested in science. The numbers haven't grown and in many ways they've dropped. And they've certainly dropped in a relative sense compared to other industrialized nations. And on a relative basis, our kids don't do so well in either the international competitions in science and math.

And so all of this is happening when NASA's fortunes are being made based on science and technology, when great advances in basic science knowledge are occurring, and when there are great breakthroughs that have importance for human health and welfare. This is happening.

And of course, there will be visa issues. And visa the issues will happen because obviously they affect the flow of talent from a broad talent, talent that we've depended upon. But it's also a part of the larger picture of the ease of interaction with the larger, global scientific community.

And I'm not saying that there is immediate but it takes years to produce a high quality scientist or engineer with advanced degrees. And all of this is happening, as we're not attracting our own young people.

And what's been hidden in all of this discussion is what I call the underrepresented majority, namely women and the underrepresented minorities. And the demographics of the country are changing. And so if we don't create strategies and a national will to reach all the young people and tap the trove of talent pool, and to tap those who would do good science, then 15, 20 years down the line, we're going to find ourselves in a different place. And that's really the message here.

LAMB: So what would you do? Where would you go? What would you change to make this get better?

JACKSON: Well, first of all, to have public support of science requires public understanding of science. So I think the whole thrust toward public understanding of science, science broad literacy, I think is important.

We know what works in many instances to excite, to nurture young people. But it requires is a real nation leadership, national focus to create a national will to re-ignite the interest of the country and to attract talented young people from all backgrounds into the possibilities of science.

And to be just have people understand science at a level that helps to inform their own comfort levels and their own decision-making with respect to science.

We also need to insure that we continue to support our higher education institutions at a level that is commensurate with the contribution they make. I mean many public institutions are looked to in the areas where they to be engines of regional economic growth. But as you know, there's been a shifting in the relative proportion of public support for public universities.

Private universities have always existed in a universe dependent on private philanthropy and the management of their own assets. That the work they do that relates to the advancements in science and technology comes out of public support, in the form of federal support for basic research in universities with concomitant support form the states, and in some cases from private enterprise.

LAMB: In the short time we have left, I'm not sure you want to do this. But I thought maybe I can mention the number of things you're involved in. And tell me what first comes to mind and what you've learned in the experience.

What have you learned from being on the FedEx board?

JACKSON: How globally linked we are and the world of technology in that global linkage, and the ability to move high-end, critical things around the world. So it's all part of a just in time the way we have to do certain things.

LAMB: What have you learned from being on the AT&T board?

JACKSON: The importance of our telecommunications infrastructure and the importance of maintaining the capability to keep that up.

LAMB: What have you learned from being on the Medtronic board and what does it do?

JACKSON: What can happen when you marry engineering, the physical sciences and the computational sciences with the life sciences, to create bio-medical breakthroughs and devices that can prolong people's lives and improve their lives.

LAMB: What did you learn from being on the MIT board?

JACKSON: What I learned from the MIT board it's, you know, the prime example of what it means to provide a high-end, technological education to be of service to the country, in terms of what one does for the government and to educate the global workforce.

LAMB: What about the Rockefeller University board?

JACKSON: What happens when doesn't try to do everything but focuses well.

LAMB: And what do they do? What are they focused on?

JACKSON: Bio-medical research; physics particularly, theoretical physics and mathematics.

LAMB: And then you do the Brookings board, which a think tank here in Washington. How much time do you spend on that? And what did you learn from that experience?

JACKSON: Well, you know, I just go to the meetings. I'm not there everyday. But what I learned from that experience there are two things. One is it's important to have a forum and a focused institution on important policy issues of the day. But I also learned what major, accomplished people think across political spectrum on those major issues of the day.

LAMB: All right. The three different worlds: government, business and universities. What different atmosphere do you feel when you're in the business world from all the others?

JACKSON: Well, the business world is about translating ideas and inventions and things into enterprise that not only helps to change people's lives, but to create possibilities and jobs.

LAMB: The government.

JACKSON: The government is about service to the larger nation.

LAMB: And academia.

JACKSON: Academia is about creating the future through the education of young people and through the basic research that goes on at major research universities.

LAMB: Now, I asked you the same question I asked you earlier in a different way though. What is your favorite thing to do in all that you're involved in, of all of these board and everything? When...

JACKSON: The fact that I do them all. And that they potentuate (ph) each other and they tear off of each other. And that I have the privilege, and that I have had the privilege through my life to do something very important things that's very interesting things.

LAMB: The last question. What do you do when you have free time?

JACKSON: I read.

LAMB: What do you read?

JACKSON: I read fiction but not science fiction. I read biographies. I read general policy things. And then I'm just a readaholic. So I read in the end, newspapers of all kinds. I also like hiking in the mountains. And those are my favorite activities.

LAMB: Shirley Ann Jackson, thank you very much for your time.

JACKSON: Well, thank you. I've enjoyed it.

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