2018 Spotlight on Philanthropy
These articles originally appeared in the 2018 Engineering @ Northeastern magazine.
Michael Sherman, E’68, and wife Ann Sherman, who through their generosity enabled the creation of the Sherman Center for Engineering Entrepreneurship Education
Sparking an Entrepreneurial Spirit
You only have to speak with alumnus Michael Sherman, E’68, industrial engineering, for a few minutes to get a sense of his passion to instill an entrepreneurial mindset into the next generation of engineers.
Sherman and his wife, Ann, through their generosity and passion, enabled the creation of the Michael J. and Ann Sherman Center for Engineering Entrepreneurship Education at Northeastern’s College of Engineering—with an initial multimillion-dollar investment in 2013—to prepare young entrepreneurs to develop and launch their own business ventures.
A successful entrepreneur himself, Sherman was drawn to Northeastern by its unique co-op program, which helped him pay for his education and get real-world experience. “Whatever I am today is because of co-op,” he says. “It gave me the confidence to do anything and succeed at every level.”
Early in his career, Sherman joined a small MIT startup where he learned how to run a business. “I learned to buy things, to negotiate, I did whatever needed to be done,” he says. That experience sparked his desire to create his own business. It also made him realize that many of his fellow engineers were not well equipped for the business world. “Business people bring the product to market,” he explains. “They don’t have the technology knowhow; they must get that from an engineer. I wanted to bring business skills to engineers so they can better represent their ideas to business people and, if they do become entrepreneurs, be able to successfully run their companies.”
Led by founding director Shashi Murthy, professor of chemical engineering, the Sherman Center is doing just that and making a real difference for students. The Center has grown to offer a host of programs and resources, including semester-long courses in product innovation and design, an entrepreneurial engineering minor, entrepreneurial mentors, a product development studio named Generate, and a co-op program for students to work on their own new ventures.
Recently, Sherman and his wife made an additional $1 million donation to establish a new makerspace for students at the Sherman Center. “The makerspace is being developed to meet the immediate needs of the budding entrepreneurial community at Northeastern,” he says. “When you’re talking about technology, timing matters. You have to come up with the right technology at the right time, and the clock is ticking.”
Murthy commented, “All of the Sherman Center’s programs and courses were started from scratch and today we’re impacting hundreds of students each year. The expansion enabled by the new gift will add a powerful new dimension via new capabilities in prototyping and co-working spaces. Michael and Ann are tireless advocates for our students and it has been a real pleasure to work with them to realize their vision.”
Ultimately, it comes back to co-op for Sherman. “I think entrepreneurship is just a natural extension of co-op,” he explains. “What you do in the Sherman Center is real business, real responsibility, real pressure. You’re applying the theory you learn in class.”
Women ‘Strong’ in Engineering
A self-described “extreme supporter of STEM,” Valerie Perlowitz, Electrical and Computer Engineering ‘86, has a clear goal: continue to increase the number of women in Northeastern’s engineering programs. Women currently represent about a third of all engineering majors at Northeastern. Perlowitz wants to see that number grow to 50 percent or more.
Her desire to see more women in technology—ultimately more women in senior leadership positions and on corporate boards—fuels her passion for mentoring, and inspired Perlowitz and her husband to establish in 2001 the Valerie W. and William B. Perlowitz Women in Engineering Scholarship.
The Founding Partner of International Holding Company in Fairfax, Virginia, Perlowitz has had a long and impressive career as an engineer, systems consultant, corporate development expert and entrepreneur. “Northeastern made me what I am today,” she says. “It gave me opportunities to learn and apply that learning in the working environment, as well as to gain critical-thinking skills. Both my husband and I believe in the depth of training and education Northeastern provides to individuals to prepare them to be future leaders.”
A former university overseer, a Corporator since 2009, and a recipient of the Outstanding Engineering Alumnus Award in 2002, Perlowitz maintains a strong connection to the Northeastern community through her financial support and ongoing involvement with the Women in Engineering program and Society of Women Engineers.
A strong desire to help women succeed is a consistent thread that runs through Perlowitz’s life. Early in her career, she sought out opportunities to network with other women in technical fields. Recognizing that there were no organizations in the Washington, D.C. area that met her needs, Perlowitz founded Women in Technology, creating a place where women can meet each other, share their experiences, learn about new technologies and prepare themselves for career advancement.
Women in Technology honored Perlowitz with its Lifetime Membership Award for her leadership and vision. “I remember when we could fit into a couple of small rooms in an office building, and now we’re more than 2,000 strong,” she says. “I’m proud of the growth of the organization and its role as a force in the marketplace.”
For Perlowitz, nurturing young girls’ interest in science and technology is key to sparking a lifelong passion. “By high school, it’s too late,” she says. She works with girls at the middle school level “to get them and keep them interested” in math and science. “It’s important to let girls know that technology is good,” she says. Perlowitz often speaks to classes about her experiences and the opportunities that a career in technology can offer.
Hearing the stories of those students who have benefitted from the Women in Engineering Scholarship has been particularly gratifying for Perlowitz. She and her husband attended the graduation of the first scholarship recipient, an experience she describes as “very moving.” “The scholarship bridged a financial gap and allowed her to go to Northeastern,” says Perlowitz. “It made us understand how important it is to provide this support.”
In many ways, Northeastern alumnus Frank Tempesta embodies the classic American success story. The child of Italian immigrants, Tempesta grew up poor in Boston’s North End. In high school, he took a commercial course, putting him on track for a job in mechanics. Nearing graduation, he learned that he could have pursued an engineering career had he taken college coursework.
Tempesta decided he wanted to go to college, and reached out to Northeastern for guidance. He went to school for an extra year, completed the math and science courses he needed, and applied for admission to Northeastern’s engineering program. “I chose Northeastern because I could live at home while attending school and because there was a co-op program, both of which made college affordable,” says Tempesta who eventually earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mechanical engineering.
It was his co-op experience—two semesters at Avco Systems, a nationally renowned engineering company in Wilmington, Massachusetts, that ultimately determined the course of his professional life. Following two years in the U.S. Army, including service in Vietnam, Tempesta accepted a job at Avco. He rose through the company ranks—which was acquired by Textron Systems—to become president and CEO, growing Textron’s business from $1.5 billion to $3 billion during his tenure.
“I was just a kid out of water,” he says of his youthful self. “Northeastern guided me to get the credits I needed before I was accepted and facilitated a job that I stayed at through my entire career.”
Reconnecting to Northeastern
More than 30 years after he left Northeastern, Tempesta received a call from Professor John Cipolla, the then Chair of the Department of Mechanical Engineering, who had a proposal: would Textron consider partnering with Northeastern to participate in the First Robotics Program and jointly mentor local high school students? Tempesta agreed and the NU-TRONS team was born. Textron provided volunteers and financial support for the program that continues today.
The First Robotics initiative brought Tempesta back to campus and he was “wowed” at the changes that had taken place in the years since he graduated. Eventually his “reconnection” to Northeastern—and appreciation for the university’s impressive growth—led to his ongoing involvement, including his current participation on the College of Engineering’s Mechanical & Industrial Engineering Industrial Advisory Board.
Following his successful business career, Tempesta and his wife, Marilyn, started to think about how best to give back to the university. Their decision to endow a scholarship for full-time undergraduate mechanical engineering majors grew out of their desire to help deserving young people who, like Tempesta himself, struggled to afford the cost of attending college.
“There was no question in my mind that Northeastern was a big factor in my life,” he says. “It gave me an education and employment opportunities that led to much bigger things. I feel like I owe a lot of my success to Northeastern.”
Investing in the Future
The next-generation hold the face of the future in their hands. To foster their development and contribute to the United States remaining the world’s preeminent leader in technology and innovation, a parent of a Northeastern engineering student has generously established the Sami Alsaif Doctoral Fellowship. Granted to exceptional doctoral students in the College of Engineering, Jennifer Rodowicz and Vikrant Shah are the first recipients of this award.
While a lot of attention has been focused on how the Internet of Things (IoT) can impact our daily lives—including intelligent appliances, wearable electronics, and smart home security and comfort systems—far less attention has been paid to the huge potential of connected medical technologies. Jennifer Rodowicz was selected for the Sami Alsaif Doctoral Fellowship based on the potential of her research on smart medical implants.
After receiving a dual degree in electrical engineering and computer systems engineering in 2014 from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Rodowicz worked in the defense industry for three years. She was drawn back to the world of academia by the chance to work with Associate Professor Tommaso Melodia of Northeastern’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE).
A global thought leader in biomedical applications for the IoT, Melodia has won funding and recognition for his efforts to build reliable intrabody networks that increase the connectivity of devices to gather and exchange data—delivering real-time health benefits for patients.
“I’ve always been interested in signal processing and wireless communications,” says Rodowicz. “Working with Professor Melodia, I’ve been able to see how I can impact a lot of people in a positive way by creating new applications for the IoT within the human body. Improving the connections between medical devices is an entirely new area of research for me, and I’m excited that I have the chance to break new ground.”
Rodowicz’s work focuses on optimizing the path of communication signals through human tissue. “Beam formation and signal direction are complex issues that have always challenged electrical engineers,” notes Rodowicz. “We’ve solved many of these problems for in-air radio applications. My job is to solve these issues within the human body, at a miniaturized scale. The Sami Alsaif Doctoral Fellowship gives me the freedom to focus on this and potentially make a big difference in patients’ lives.”
When he enrolled as a doctoral student at Northeastern, Vikrant Shah was already familiar with the pioneering robotic research of Professor Hanumant Singh. The two had previously worked together at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, where Shah was mentored as a master’s student by Singh.
When Singh joined Northeastern with a joint appointment in the Departments of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) and Mechanical and Industrial Engineering (MIE) in 2016, Shah was eager to support this international robotics leader in his new home. Today, working under the guidance of Singh, Shah is focusing on building autonomous robots that can endure the most brutal Arctic conditions.
“We can learn so much about global warming, temperature change, and oceanic life forms by studying the Arctic environment,” Shah points out. “But in the past, these studies could only be conducted during mild summer months—which paints an incomplete picture. Now we’re creating autonomous robotic technologies that can withstand harsh winter conditions, which enables us to conduct this important research year-round.”
Shah is using support provided by the Sami Alsaif Doctoral Fellowship to develop next-generation software, algorithms, cameras, sensors, and other robotic components built for both durability and efficiency. While he’s currently focused on Arctic robots, Shah’s work has broad implications for autonomous drones and self-driving cars, which also must endure tough environmental conditions.
“Autonomous robotics is one of the fastest-growing and most exciting fields in engineering today,” Shah says. “I’m fortunate to be working under the direction of Professor Singh, an acknowledged leader, to address some of the most pressing problems today. I’m fortunate that the Sami Alsaif Doctoral Fellowship is enabling me to make a meaningful contribution in this industry.”
Helping Dreams Take Flight
John Massa spent his 21st birthday aboard a B-29 Superfortress bomber flying a combat mission in the Korean War. As the crew’s radio operator, he helped navigate more than 30 sorties, sparking a fascination with electronic countermeasures—tactics to disrupt and deceive radar, sonar, and other surveillance.
“I owe my life’s work to those experiences,” says Massa, E’59, MS’66. Not only that, wartime taught him resilience and resourcefulness. When this U.S. Air Force veteran entered Northeastern, the GI Bill fell short of covering tuition—so Massa paid for college through part-time jobs and co-ops.
“I never owned a new textbook,” he recalls. “They were bought used, or I went to the library and memorized the text.”
“ If you give just a little bread upon the water, you’ll be surprised how much comes back to you”
—John Massa, E’59, MS’66
After enjoying professional success success at Sylvania, MITRE Corporation, and GTE Government Systems, Massa decided to fund an undergraduate scholarship through a charitable IRA rollover and charitable gift annuity. In doing so, he is helping future engineers’ dreams take flight.
“Life is a challenge,” Massa says. “But when you make it fun, it’s fun.”