Influencing Students for Several Decades

Professors Michael Silevitch (ECE) and John Cipolla (MIE) have worked at Northeastern University training thousands of students for over four decades and have setup funds to push these students to reach their highest potentials.

Source: Northeastern Magazine

These senior engineering professors became friends and research collaborators soon after joining the faculty in 1971. Celebrating careers that span 45 years (and counting), both have created funds to support a cause close to their hearts: students.

On the desk of professor of electrical and computer engineering Michael Silevitch sits an ink stamp that reads, “So what? Who cares?” With it, he prods students to ask blunt, basic questions—the kind essential for solving their field’s thorniest problems.

Now Silevitch, E’65, ME’66, PhD’71, has another tool to encourage bold inquiry. Using a $125,000 cash prize he won last year for his work as the founding director of Northeastern’s Gordon Engineering Leadership Program, he has created a fund to recognize undergraduates in his department who lead and inspire their peers.

“I endowed the Exemplary Engineering Leadership Fund to say to them, ‘By God, you did it! Keep going!’”

It’s a mantra Silevitch lives by. In 1983, he remembers, his funding proposal to the National Science Foundation for electromagnetics research garnered “scathing reviews.” But following his vigorous rebuttal, the agency reversed its stance and awarded Northeastern’s first sizable research center grant.

Scores of engineers have trained with Silevitch through major research initiatives, including one called ALERT. Established in 2008, this U.S. Department of Homeland Security Center of Excellence focuses its research on uncovering hidden things—a bomb concealed in a suitcase, for example.

“Ask simple questions,” this triple Husky urges his protégés. “They’ll help you cut through clutter and keep you focused on solutions.”

Hard at work on his doctorate in the 1960s, professor of mechanical and industrial engineering John Cipolla loved brainstorming with his thesis advisor, scrawling ideas on a blackboard with abandon. So when he started thinking recently about the legacy he would leave to Northeastern, he remembered that excitement.

As a former chair of his department who dedicated much of his career to research and graduate teaching, Cipolla had delighted in awarding stipends to standout students. With modest cash awards, students could attend a conference, buy research materials, or supplement their ramen-noodle lifestyles.

So Cipolla and his wife, Katharine, established a fund last year to celebrate doctoral students, whom John calls “the intellectual heart of any research university.” The John and Katharine Cipolla Graduate Student Support Fund “is flexible, for any purpose our department or faculty can’t fund.”

Cipolla took inspiration from similar funds set up by esteemed colleagues, to which he and many others have contributed. “A discretionary fund that generates thousands of unencumbered dollars for smart young people is a wonderful thing,” says this 2014 recipient of the Edwin F. Church Medal, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers’ highest accolade for service to the field.

“With time, inevitably, this fund will grow,” Cipolla muses. “My hope is that it will inspire giving long after I’m gone.”

Related Faculty: Michael B. Silevitch, John W. Cipolla

Related Departments:Electrical & Computer Engineering, Mechanical & Industrial Engineering