Report from Town Hall

Students, faculty and staff filed into Pfizer Auditorium on April 25 for an historic occasion—to hear the first Town Hall address given by the President of the Polytechnic Institute of New York University, Katepalli Sreenivasan. Of course, the community has heard from him many times in the past, but that was before he took on the new responsibility.

Sreenivasan, who has now also been named the Dean of Engineering at NYU, took the opportunity to share his vision for the school—and to outline the steps needed to get there. He takes the reins during a transformative time in Poly history—when the merger with NYU is close to becoming official. Even our name is soon to be changed to Polytechnic School of Engineering of New York University. But, as he pointed out, while our name has changed several times in the past—from the Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn to the Polytechnic Institute of New York to Polytechnic University to the Polytechnic Institute of New York University—the spirit and mission of the institution has not changed.

The important question, he said, is this: Once we become the School of Engineering in 2014, “What kind of school will that be?”

Sreenivasan envisions a school that will not cover every field, but will have a world-class presence in those areas which it does cover. He envisages that we will not do anything poorly. We will have a strong research core, with a focus on urban engineering, bioengineering and information and communications engineering and a strong presence in other key areas like clean energy. Other areas of intellectual endeavor--the basic sciences and mathematics, business and finance, medicine, STEM education, law, and the arts--will not be ignored, despite that focus, and a Poly graduate will be a well-educated, well-rounded graduate.

He envisions our researchers taking on large-scale collaborative projects that truly make a difference and our students steeped in i2e and engaged in project-based learning. He envisions a school that recruits and retains the best students possible and hews to Poly’s historic social mission of educating underrepresented minorities in STEM fields. He sees a school that maintains a strong connection to industry and business and one that will value entrepreneurship and the commercialization of intellectual property. And he will be overseeing a school, he asserts, that values talented, committed, energetic and creative people and provides them with the facilities that they need to do their best work.

Although his presentation was peppered with amusing cartoons (one with two men shaking hands while one thinks “merger,” and the other thinks “takeover”), Sreenivasan was serious and forthright when he said, “Despite the great traditions and illustrious history of Poly, excellence has been spotty over time and the intellectual depth and breadth was hard to maintain because of financial strains.”

The merger will not only bring financial stability to Poly but will open up a wide array of possibilities. “Opportunities abound, but how we use them is entirely our responsibility,” he said. We must think of ourselves as a vital part of the NYU community—“No more us and them,” as he put it—and the Brooklyn campus as integral to the university as Washington Square, the Medical Corridor on the East Side of Manhattan and the various Global sites.

Reminding his audience that Poly has much to be proud of—our rankings have been impressive in some measures and steadily improving in others, and our faculty members have garnered numerous honors in recent years—Sreenivasan nonetheless stressed that there is much work to be done. Among the practical concerns now facing the school are the development of a strong Advisory Board, recruitment of high-quality students and high-profile faculty members, the renovation of several physical facilities and a drive for global accreditation.

Sreenivasan’s promises to put the welfare of others before his own and to keep an eye on where we want to be and have plans for how we can get there were solidly reassuring; as was the sentiment he expressed regarding the need for a sense of belonging to be at the foundation of building a great institution.