Troy, N.Y. – To bring together world-renowned thinkers and speakers from the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) campus community and beyond, a team of Rensselaer students launched the Rensselaer TALKS lecture series in May 2014. On Monday, Dec. 14, the students continue with the fourth installment of TALKS, this time with the theme of “Chaos.” The program will begin at noon in the Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies (CBIS) auditorium. 

“Chaos is ubiquitous. It is hard to explain, predict, or control,” said Raymond Jacobson ’16, a senior majoring in computer and systems engineering and computer science, who is also a member of the Rensselaer Greek Life fraternity Lambda Chi Alpha, which has been spearheading the program. “In planning the fall program, we wanted to bring together three world-renowned thinkers to explore the concepts of creating order and producing meaningful work in a chaotic environment.

“Our focus with RensselaerTALKS and the Speakers Forum lecture series as a whole was to embrace the Institute theme of ‘Resilience,’ Jacobson added. “In the case of this semester’s TALKS event, understanding, managing, and overcoming chaos are all necessities in developing personal and professional resilience.”


The Rensselaer TALKS program will be recorded and the video will be available online. The theme was developed as an umbrella topic to include various outlooks on overcoming chaos and uncertainty. The speakers and selected discussion topics for the event are:


  • John Milanese, Lecturer in the Department of Cognitive Science in the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences | Precautionary Policy and Unknown Dangers


  • Prakash Joshi, Research Scientist in the Center for Astrobiology | Living in an RNA World


  • Jason E. Hicken, Assistant Professor in the Department of Mechanical, Aerospace, and Nuclear Engineering in the School of Engineering | Engineering Design in the Presence of Chaos

“The motivation behind Rensselaer TALKS was to create an atmosphere of excitement with collaboration, community, and transparency at its core,” Jacobson said. “Rensselaer TALKS stands on three pillars: exhibition, inspiration, and facilitation. The concept behind creating Rensselaer TALKS came from a collection of students, largely – but not exclusively – from my fraternity who saw a need for the event around campus that would be focused on developing short, biannual, TED-style talks given by outstanding members of the campus community. During the event, speakers will each contribute their own piece intertwined with their personal narrative and experience.”

Planning for the inaugural event started in fall 2013. The 13-member #committee comprises students representing the Class of 2016, the Class of 2017, and the Class of 2018. In addition to Jacobson, planning #committee members include: Daniel Critz ’16, Julius Alexander ’16, Rebecca Bradley ’16, Brandon Cressi ’16, Kevin Hoelscher ’16, Peter Kang ’16, James Male ’17, Rachel Mannella ’16, Simon McCarthy ’16, Utthara Rameshbabu ’16, Malay Shashank ’17, and John Varvayanis ’18.


In addition, a desire to expand offerings led the #committee to develop a formal relationship with the Rensselaer Union Speakers Forum, with TALKS now being recognized as a Speakers Forum program. The Rensselaer TALKS program and the “Tidbits by TALKS” are also supported by Phalanx Honor Society and the Rensselaer Alumni Association.


In developing the series, #committee members worked to align Rensselaer TALKS with CLASS (Clustered Learning, Advocacy, and Support for Students), which launched in 2009 to provide support and co-curricular opportunities for students throughout their undergraduate years, and which helps to foster new generations of budding and successful entrepreneurs through outreach programs, education, and support systems; and many of Rensselaer’s departmental goals.


Rensselaer TALKS also contributes to The New Polytechnic, a new paradigm for teaching, learning, and research at Rensselaer, the foundation of which is the recognition that global challenges and opportunities are so great that they cannot be addressed by the most talented person working alone, nor even by a single discipline, sector, or nation. The New Polytechnic enables collaborations and dialogue between talented people across disciplines, sectors, and global regions, in order to address the complex problems the world.

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