2017 Spotlight on Philanthropy
These articles originally appeared in the 2017 Engineering @ Northeastern magazine.
When Opportunity Knocks
Every choice, every decision creates a twist or turn in life’s journey. Ramesh Motwane’s (E’77) journey is an American success story seeded from his ambition, resilience, and leadership.
Starting with a diploma in civil engineering from Gandhidam Civil Engineering Institute in India, Motwane boldly left his homeland of India early in his career for a position in Kuwait as a resident engineer. “Opportunity knocked, and I took it,” he says.
Four years later, it knocked again. Motwane sought to come to the United States for a better life. Visas at that time from India to the U.S. took a decade, but since Motwane was in Kuwait, he was granted a visa is just 11 days. “My decision to relocate to Kuwait gave me the opportunity to emigrate to the U.S.; without that my life would be very different today,” he explains.
"I would not be where I am today without Northeastern making my education possible. I want to pay back what I can to the institution that made such a difference in my life."Ramesh Motwane, E'77
But when Motwane arrived in the Boston-area, opportunity didn’t come calling. “Everyone wanted to hire someone with local experience, local education. I had none. I went to interviews with a suit and tie. People here don’t go to construction sites dressed like that. I didn’t know,” he says. Motwane didn’t give up. He humbly took a night shift position as a machinist, and while doing so exploited the opportunity. Motwane, explained, “No one wanted to work at night. So there was a lot of overtime. I used that to my advantage and saved up $11,000 [a value of $64,000 in 2017] in just 14 months in a new country!” With his savings, Motwane invested wisely, putting a deposit down on a house in Needham, Massachusetts.
Owning a home in a new country in such a short time was a tremendous accomplishment, but it was not enough. Motwane explained, “I was an engineer, but doing odd jobs. Maybe I should go back to India, I thought. Then I saw an ad from Northeastern, saying ‘Come to our open house. We’ll give you credit for your qualifications.'” Again, opportunity knocked and Motwane answered. Within four weeks he was enrolled in the engineering program, choosing to forego transferring 48 credits. “It had been over 13 years since I was in school. I wanted to start over so that it was fresh and local,” he says, “but at the same time I needed an accelerated path to make completing the degree possible.”
With years of work experience in India and Kuwait, Motwane urged for a waiver to the co-op experience. His perseverance paid off. “I am forever grateful to the then Dean Spencer of the College of Engineering,” he says. “He came to my rescue. Without his help I would not be where I am today.”
Motwane pursued his education without breaks and completed the program in under 3.5 years. But upon graduation, the economy was such that no one was hiring. He didn’t give up. Eventually, he landed a job for a construction company handling a small scale building project in Salisbury, Massachusetts. He says, “Everything that could go wrong with that job, went wrong, and the company still made money. I thought, I should open my own business.” And that dream became reality when he realized that the equity in his Needham home increased his initial investment nearly five times. “It was a sign. I seized the opportunity, and from there everything I touched turned to gold,” says Motwane. In less than nine years and not yet 40 years old, Motwane’s business, Eastern Contractors, Inc., was so successful that he purchased a new Rolls Royce in 1986. Ultimately, his company grew to a half-billion dollar enterprise with 560 employees, and in 2003 was named the second largest Indian-run business in the U.S. by the India Abroad newspaper, behind only Bose Corporation. After closing his business in 2008, today Motwane reaps the benefits of the opportunities he’s seized over the years, including his Bentley luxury car and a sprawling beautiful home with indoor pool. He also remains a longstanding charter member of TiE Angels, a non-profit organization nurturing early-stage entrepreneurs. Additionally, he actively supports his alma mater in India, which has recently named its MBA program after him: Tolani Motwane Institute. Masters of Business Administration. Gujrat Technological University, Adhipur, Kutch.
“We come into this world with nothing. And we leave with nothing. It is when we are here, during our life, should we make use of what we have,” explains Motwane. And part of that includes giving back. Motwane is generously giving 40 percent of his estate to Northeastern University’s College of Engineering.
“I would not be where I am today without Northeastern making my education possible. I want to pay back what I can to the institution that made such a difference in my life,” says Motwane. It is advice he shares with others too. “Don’t forget the people who came forward to help you when you needed it the most—professors, staff, and others, starting with your parents, and try to donate what you can whether that is $1, $100, or $1 million,” he says.
A Northeastern All-Star
As an electrical engineer who transformed himself into a strategic marketing consultant, Roger Grace, E’66, ME’69, has had an amazing track record of success. If you ask this energetic alum what’s behind his impressive achievements, he’s quick to answer.
“I attended Northeastern for eight years—first as an undergraduate doing co-ops, then as a graduate student employed at Raytheon,” says Grace. “That combination of classroom learning and hands-on experience jumpstarted my career. I’m grateful to Northeastern for enabling me to gain practical experience while earning my degrees.”
As an undergraduate co-op at Avco, an aerospace firm in Wilmington, Massachusetts, Grace rose from the role of a technician to that of an antenna design engineer. “I was at the top of the food chain, doing the same work as college graduates,” explains Grace. “I left Northeastern with three years of professional experience. I didn’t have the highest grades in our graduating class, but I received the highest job offer at graduation from a West Coast firm. However, I decided to stay in Boston and attend Northeastern for graduate school.”
Grace earned his masters at Northeastern as a Raytheon Company Fellow, then worked for the company for several years, managing teams of engineers developing electronic warfare systems. He later worked at Ford Aerospace in Palo Alto, California, designing satellite communications systems.
"I'm grateful to Northeastern for enabling me to gain practical experience while earning my degrees."Roger Grace, E'66, ME'69
“I realized that I enjoyed managing people and projects, working with executives, and bringing technologies to market,” notes Grace. He founded his own consultancy, Roger Grace Associates, in 1982 to help companies from startups to Fortune 100 companies commercialize their products. Grace has demonstrated his gritty entrepreneurship passion for over 30-plus years serving his many high-tech clients, and through his 1990 to 2003 adjunct faculty position at the University of California Berkeley, College of Engineering where he team-taught the marketing segment of a class on entrepreneurship and business plan development. As an acknowledged world expert in the commercialization of sensor technology, he was duly recognized with the inaugural “Sensor Industry Impact Award” by Sensors Magazine in June 2016. Grace was honored with the Northeastern University Distinguished Engineering Alumnus Award in 2004.
Over the years, Grace has maintained close ties to Northeastern, serving on President Joseph Aoun’s West Coast Council and the Advisory Board of the College of Engineering. In October 2016, Grace helped organize and was the general chair of an all-day workshop on printed sensors and systems at Northeastern’s Silicon Valley campus, at which several representatives of the College of Engineering gave presentations, along with Provost James Bean.
Grace has also endowed scholarships that help students write their own success stories. “It only makes sense to give back to the University—and to support the next generation of hard-working engineers and entrepreneurs,” he states.
A native of Somerville, Massachusetts, Grace is just as passionate about the Red Sox as he is about Northeastern. On February 23, he experienced a lifelong dream when he threw out the first pitch at the team’s 2017 opening day ceremony at Jet Blue Park in Ft. Myers, Florida, using a baseball glove dear to his heart; it was given to him from his father when Grace was in Little League.
Cochrane Fellowship Fund
John “Jack” Cochrane has watched Northeastern evolve dramatically over more than six decades, first as a civil engineering student and later as a faculty member. But, he says, one constant remains: the university’s”progressive, rigorous engineering program that gave me my start.”
Cochrane, E’60, earned his MS and PhD from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and returned to Northeastern in 1965, joining its civil and environmental engineering faculty—ultimately serving as department chair and retiring as professor emeritus. A licensed engineer, he has consulted on environmental projects in the Northeast and was active in numerous professional societies.
Today, Cochrane is deepening his commitment to Northeastern by endowing the Cochrane Fellowship Fund through an outright gift and provision in his will. The fellowship will support talented graduate students in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, equipping them with a solid foundation “for a thriving and rewarding career,” he says.
"The Cochrane Fellowship Fund is a way to give back in recognition of the opportunities that Northeastern has given me."John Cochrane, E'60