They Say It’s Your Birthday

by Michael Mullaney on November 1, 2010

Here at The Approach we like to write about research, discovery, and innovation taking place at Rensselaer. Well, today marks the 246th birthday of Stephen Van Rensselaer, one of the two fine gentlemen who set in motion one of the great American educational experiments of the 19th century: a university dedicated to the training of a new generation of scientists, engineers, and technologists.

Van Rensselaer, with Amos Eaton, founded the Rensselaer School in 1824 “for the purpose of instructing persons, who may choose to apply themselves, in the application of science to the common purposes of life.” It was the first university of its kind in the still-young United States.

Taking a look around this blog, or the Rensselaer Alumni Magazine, or any of the news stories that we put out every week, I think it’s safe to conclude that the Rensselaer Experiment was a grand success. Though the university has evolved over the years, and realized a dramatic acceleration and transformation over the past decade, the vision of Van Rensselaer remains solidly in place: science and engineering are critical ingredients of progress and the among the most powerful tools for positively shaping the future of the human experience.

Here is his bio from the Rensselaer Alumni Hall of Fame:

Stephen Van Rensselaer
Patroon, Leader, Founder
1764-1839

Fifth in direct descent from Kiliaen Van Rensselaer, the first Patroon, Stephen Van Rensselaer inherited a vast landed estate in Rensselaer and Albany counties at age 5.

He graduated from Harvard and spent time in state government and as a member of the U.S. Congress (1822-29). His chief services to the state, however, were economic and educational. He was a member of the Erie Canal commissions and president of the state’s first board of agriculture. He was a lenient landlord for 3,000 tenants. He was founder and supporter of a wide variety of social, educational, business, and governmental institutions.

In 1824 it was his vision and support that enabled Amos Eaton to establish the Rensselaer School “for the purpose of instructing persons, who may choose to apply themselves, in the application of science to the common purposes of life.”

Additionally, here are some nice words via Wikipedia:

Despite his active life, van Rensselaer’s most lasting contribution to the world was to establish, with Amos Eaton, the Rensselaer School (now known as Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, or RPI) “for the purpose of instructing persons, who may choose to apply themselves, in the application of science to the common purposes of life” in 1824. RPI has since become a well-respected American technological institution.