President Emerita of the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
Shirley Ann Jackson, Ph.D., served as the 18th president of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, the oldest technological research university in the United States, from 1999-2022. After an extraordinary 23-year tenure, she is now President Emerita.
Described by Time magazine as “perhaps the ultimate role model for women in science,” Dr. Jackson has held senior leadership positions in academia, government, industry, and research. A theoretical physicist, Dr. Jackson holds an S.B. in Physics and a Ph.D. in Theoretical Elementary Particle Physics, both from MIT.
In 2014, President Obama appointed Dr. Jackson as Co-Chair of the President’s Intelligence Advisory Board, where she served until January of 2017. From 2009 to 2014, Dr. Jackson served on the president’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology and as Co-Chair of the president’s Innovation and Technology Advisory Committee. Dr. Jackson currently serves on the Defense Science Board of the U.S. Department of Defense, on the U.S. Secretary of State’s International Security Advisory Board (ISAB), and on the U.S. Secretary of Energy Advisory Board (SEAB). She also is a non-resident Senior Fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.
Before taking the helm at Rensselaer, Dr. Jackson was Chair of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), from 1995 to 1999. At the NRC, Dr. Jackson conceived and promulgated risk-informed, performance-based regulation, and created a new planning, budgeting, and performance management process. Under Dr. Jackson’s leadership, the NRC authored and advanced the Convention on Nuclear Safety, which was signed by over 170 countries and remains in force today. During her tenure at the NRC, Dr. Jackson spearheaded the formation of the International Nuclear Regulators Association and served as its Chair from 1997 to 1999.
Dr. Jackson is a Life Member Emerita of the MIT Corporation and a former Vice Chair of the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian Institution. In 2017, she was named Regent Emerita of the Smithsonian Institution. She currently serves on the boards of corporations that include Kyndryl. Dr. Jackson also serves on the Global Board of Directors for The Nature Conservancy, and on the Board of Directors for the American Prairie Reserve. She is a former member of the boards of the World Economic Forum USA (WEF USA), IBM, Medtronic, PSEG, the New York Stock Exchange, Key Corp, AT&T, Marathon Oil, U.S. Steel, FedEx, and Sealed Air Corporation.
Dr. Jackson is a member of the U.S. National Academy of Engineering, the American Philosophical Society, and the Council on Foreign Relations, where she served on the Board of Directors from 2008 – 2018. She is an international fellow of the British Royal Academy of Engineering, and a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Physical Society, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, where she served as president in 2004.
Dr. Jackson is the recipient of numerous honors and awards. Most recently, she was named the 2021 recipient of the American Association of Physics Teachers Oersted Medal, the 2021 recipient of the FBI Director’s Community Leadership Award, and the 2019 recipient of the American Physical Society (APS) Joseph A. Burton Forum Award.
In 2018, Dr. Jackson was awarded the W.E.B. DuBois Medal from the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard University. The medal honors those who have made significant contributions to African and African American history and culture, and more broadly, individuals who advocate for intercultural understanding and human rights in an increasingly global and interconnected world.
In 2007, describing her as “a national treasure,” the National Science Board selected Dr. Jackson as the recipient of The Vannevar Bush Award for “a lifetime of achievements in scientific research, education, and senior statesman-like contributions to public policy.”
In 2016, President Obama awarded Dr. Jackson the National Medal of Science, the nation’s highest honor in science and engineering.
Dr. Jackson holds 57 honorary doctoral degrees.