Jen Rexford and alumni from Japan hold a Princeton banner

Photo by Benjamin Parks


Princeton provost highlights Venture Forward alumni event in Japan

by Advancement Communications
June 12, 2024

Jennifer Rexford ’91, University provost and Gordon Y.S. Wu Professor in Engineering, met with alumni and friends in Tokyo, Japan, on June 6 to discuss the Venture Forward campaign and to provide updates on current issues impacting Princeton and higher education.

Ed Rogers ’87, president of the Princeton Club of Japan, welcomed guests to the Tokyo American Club, previewed the evening’s formal program and reminded Princetonians from near and far that the Princeton Club of Japan is “always here to welcome you with open arms.” 

Rogers welcomed Kevin Heaney, University vice president for Advancement, who spoke of the importance of engagement and service, two crucial pillars of the Venture Forward campaign. “What brings you all together in person and in spirit, year after year, is that there is something you all have in common as Tigers: Princeton made an audacious bet on you,” said Heaney, who used that theme to introduce a recent Venture Forward campaign video

Following the video, Michele Maxson ’01, vice president of the Princeton Club of Japan, stepped to the podium to introduce Rexford and offer a warm welcome. In her remarks, Rexford emphasized the transformative Princeton experience she enjoyed and how making it available to a greater number of talented students is a major reason that the University is in the process of growing the undergraduate student body by 10%. “We’re midway through an expansion of the undergraduate population, adding 500 new students to the undergraduate student body,” she said. “We’re also making that education more accessible to a wider range of students; more than 20% of our undergraduate students come from low-income backgrounds, and we’re ensuring that their education is affordable.” 

Rexford explained that the University’s no-loan financial aid policy also benefits students from middle-class families, particularly those that are sending two or more children to college, as well as international students. Princeton is one of a few schools that makes need-based financial aid available to international students. 

The expansion of the student body is made possible by the construction of two new residential colleges — Yeh College and New College West — that opened in 2022. (Another new residential college, Hobson College, is currently under construction.) 

Rexford explained that the campus itself is being transformed. “As I like to say, Princeton is under construction,” Rexford said, before screening a short video that highlighted several of the most prominent projects. Following the video, Rexford spoke in greater detail about: 

  • Meadows Neighborhood: “On the other side of Lake Carnegie along Washington Road, we’re providing housing to every graduate student that wants it. It used to be 60 to 70%. Now it’s nearly 100.” 
  • Princeton University Art Museum: “It will double the space available for exhibitions, study and conservation, and it also serves as a hub for the humanities.” 
  • Omenn-Darling Bioengineering Institute: Recently dedicated, the new institute “works at the intersection of biology and engineering to transform human health and society.” 
  • Environmental studies and School of Engineering and Applied Science (SEAS): Four new interconnected buildings along Ivy Lane will become a neighborhood of interdisciplinary collaboration. In addition to housing SEAS and other academic units, “these buildings will house the High Meadows Environmental Institute, as well as the Departments of Geosciences and Ecology and Evolutionary Biology to enable the study of climate, biodiversity, water and more.” 

Rexford also mentioned plans for a new quantum science institute near Ivy Lane and the football stadium, “where people are going to grapple with the strange behavior of particles at subatomic scales to understand the mysteries of the universe and also enable new technologies for sensing, computation and communication.”

As a computer scientist, Rexford is well-versed in the issues surrounding artificial intelligence and excited by the opportunities that Princeton has to contribute to the science. She cited several University initiatives — Princeton Language and Intelligence, Princeton Precision Health, AI for Accelerating Invention and the Center for Information Technology Policy — that are pushing AI research from multiple angles, including “the technical challenges and the societal challenges that AI itself introduces.” 

Responding to a question from an alumnus in the audience about how the University is addressing mental health issues among students, Rexford talked about the expanded health services that will become available when the Frist Health Center opens next year. Some of the University’s leading scholars are also researching these issues, she noted. “There are faculty all over campus studying mental health — and actually seniors doing their thesis work in this area,” she said. “In particular, I’m excited about an initiative as part of applying AI to health that’s looking at the influence of technology itself on mental health as a research area.” 

Another alumnus asked about the campus tensions surrounding the Oct. 7, 2023, Hamas attack on Israel and the war in Gaza. “We’ve been very clear that there’s an important value of free speech, even when that speech is offensive or inadvisable in some way,” Rexford said. “The second [issue] is making sure that there isn’t a hostile environment, and balancing those tensions is actually quite challenging. Many schools are threading a pretty complicated needle in making that work, and I feel like we’ve been better at Princeton than other schools in this regard. I think some of that stems from the fact that we have a close-knit community, where people live, work and play together and want those relationships to stay strong.

“We also have a [University] president who’s a constitutional law scholar who is really articulate and thoughtful and insightful on these important principles,” she added. “I think that’s helped us navigate the situation.” 

Following the audience Q&A, Maxson invited Remi Yamazaki ’14 to the podium to lead the room in singing “Old Nassau.”