Union College President Stephen Ainlay said he wants students to be inspired by the school’s history through alumni like John Kelly, senior vice president and director of research for IBM.
Kelly, an Albany native, graduated from Union in 1976 and returned Friday to discuss what’s happening in the technology industry worldwide and what it means for people in the Capital Region.
“When I was here, the engineering center was only a few years old, but now the Wold Center provides a whole new set of opportunities for students.” Kelly said during Union’s annual business campaign breakfast. “The technology now, with things like the supercomputer, has advanced so much that the students are getting access to world-class equipment and world-class facilities.”
Through partnerships with tech giants like IBM, Union has expanded its programs and resources in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics — or STEM — fields. Ainlay pointed to the college’s supercomputer as a cutting-edge tool for students in the neuroscience program.
The supercomputer, called “intelligent cluster,” is worth more than $1 million and was donated by IBM three years ago. It allows students and faculty to make advances toward finding cures for diseases like Alzheimer’s and contributes to research in 3-D printing and robotics.
“We have our own capacity to work with the human genome, but we couldn’t do it if it weren’t for that technology,” Ainlay said. “So a lot of the technological advances at IBM are having a direct impact on what we’re doing here.”
Friday’s event recognized local businesses that donated to Union’s scholarship fund and to specific programs. As of June 30, the college received $106,000 in contributions. Of that, $50,000 was provided to students as scholarships.
Some of the Schenectady County businesses that donated to Union over the past year include the Golub Corp., Proctors and Trustco Bank. In total, more than 70 business leaders and companies in the region donated to Union during the 2013-14 fiscal year.
“We want to create people who are going to change the 21st century and make this a better place to live,” Ainlay said.
He looked out to the audience of about 115 people and added: “I think your investment is working. We can’t tell you how much we appreciate the support from this community.”
Robert Connors, a senior at Union, said studying at the college is so much more than what is taught in the classroom. It’s a thriving community and a growing one.
“I am confident that my Union education and experience has prepared me for the future,” said Connors, a political science and Spanish major. “I’m one of the lucky ones.”
Kelly said the Capital Region’s strength its great colleges and universities. The schools create partnerships between businesses and the state that spur innovation.
IBM teamed up with the College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering in Albany more than a decade ago. That public-private partnership for computer chip research has grown and IBM is focused on expanding the relationship, Kelly said.
“I don’t see any other place in the world doing that,” he said. “I think this area is going to be a role model for other areas. But they are going to have to catch up. We view the Capital Region as very strategic on a research and development standpoint.”
However, Kelly said there is one thing that’s holding the region back.
“People really believe in the Capital District now, but I still don’t think that people here understand the potential,” he said. “Just realizing the potential and going for it is almost an attitude or a belief. That’s the only thing holding us back.”