Nariman Farvardin Inaugural Speech

Stevens Institute of Technology
Nariman Farvardin’s Inaugural Speech
October 14, 2011
Castle Point on Hudson
Hoboken, New Jersey

Secretary Chu; Lieutenant Governor Guadagno; President Kim; Chairman Babbio and members of the Board of Trustees; Mayor Zimmer; Mayor Turner; faculty; staff; students; parents; alumni; friends of Stevens; representatives of leading universities and colleges of our nation and the world-as far away as China; personal friends; colleagues from the University of Maryland; and members of my family: you have honored me by your presence today.

Grateful for the trust you have placed in me, acutely aware of the responsibility you have bestowed on me, and mindful of the vision and aspirations of the founding fathers and the hard work of six generations of presidents, and thousands of faculty and staff, I am honored and humbled to be the seventh president of Stevens Institute of Technology.

I stand here today to formally accept this responsibility and dedicate my time, my energy, my passion, and my utmost effort to the presidency of this great university. As Winston Churchill once said, “It is not enough that we do our best. Sometimes we must do what is required.” And, in this magnificent gathering, I declare that I am prepared to do what is required to steer this historic institution to a place worthy of the lofty aspirations of its founders, the commitment and support of its alumni and trustees, and the hard work and dedication of its outstanding faculty and staff.  

I pledge to carry out my duties with integrity and humility and with an unrelenting commitment to excellence in every endeavor we undertake. I face the future with hope and enthusiasm and look forward to working with my colleagues to build a bright, secure and brilliantly productive future for Stevens and our nation.

Inauguration events are designed to shine light on the individual assuming the presidency. But I feel that it is also appropriate today to use this occasion to focus our attention where it belongs: on the university—with its 141-year legacy of educating engineering leaders, innovators and entrepreneurs who have gone on to have a profound impact on our country; its crucial responsibility to create a technology-savvy workforce to ensure the well being and economic prosperity of future generations; and its urgent mission to generate knowledge and devise innovative solutions to address ever more complex societal problems.

So, allow me first to offer some heartfelt words of gratitude to people who have played especially meaningful roles in my life and career, and then deflect attention from myself to where it belongs - to Stevens, its legacy and its future.

I thank all my personal friends and family members for being here. Many of them travelled long distances for the occasion. I am deeply honored to have with us my parents, who have given everything they have so selflessly to provide for me and my sister. I remain in their debt forever. And, of course, I thank my wife, Hoveida, and my daughter, Tandice, for their love, support and boundless patience with me, my ungodly schedule, and my eccentricities. Once again, I will quote Churchill, who said, “my most brilliant accomplishment in life has been my ability to persuade my wife to marry me.” If he were alive, I would certainly say, "Sir Winston, you are not alone!" Let me add that Hoveida is also an engineer and congratulate Stevens on a very clever two-for-one deal.

Thank you, my many Stevens friends—trustees, faculty, staff, alumni, students, parents, and neighbors - for showering us with kindness and affection from the moment my selection as president was announced, for giving me the opportunity to serve you, for offering me and my family a new home at Castle Point on Hudson, and for your hard work in organizing this splendid event.

I thank my alma mater, RPI, and especially my graduate advisor, Professor Jim Modestino, for giving me an outstanding education and tremendous support at a pivotal time in my life. Jim and his wife Leone have travelled from Miami to be with us today.

And, thank you, my friends from the University of Maryland, for braving the formidable I-95 corridor to be with me at this important event. Your presence means a lot.

I am deeply grateful to a core group of friends - many of them here today in the audience, whose friendship and guidance have indelibly shaped me. I am especially grateful to Steve Marcus to teaching me what it means to be a good human being, to Phil Samper for teaching me about leadership, to Jeong Kim for teaching me lessons of honesty and humility, and for being there when I needed him--through the thick and thin of it, to Chuck Waggner for his kindness and generosity and for showing me the beauty in simplicity, to Tom Scholl for teaching me what it takes to be an entrepreneur and read poetry at the same time, and to Cy Ansary for selflessly sharing his wisdom. And, Jim Clark, it is my honor to have known you and served as the dean of your school of engineering for seven years. You have taught me lessons of integrity, loyalty, leadership, and courage. I know you and Alice typically avoid big public events and so I thank you for being here today. And thank you also for your incredibly generous support of engineering education. The profession of Engineering will be in your debt forever. There are so many others I would like to acknowledge, but there is simply not enough time here today.

Most importantly, I thank this magnificent and welcoming country for giving me a new home, for extending helping arms when I needed them, for allowing me to build a career in a way I could not possibly have done anywhere else in the world, for giving me the chance to become a positive force in society, and for judging me based on the value of my contributions and the content of my character. 

And now I'd like to turn for a few minutes to the history of Stevens, which is interesting in and of itself, but also provides us with important insights into the programs, practices and values that still define us more than 140 years after our founding.

Established in 1870, Stevens was the first institution of its kind in the nation to adopt a single, rigorous engineering curriculum, firmly grounded in scientific principles and the humanities, leading to a baccalaureate degree that the original trustees designated "Mechanical Engineer." The Institute immediately recruited a noted scholar and inventor, Robert Henry Thurston, to found the academic program. Ten years later, he was chosen as the first president of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.

The Institute's founders - the Stevens family - sought to perpetuate a tradition in American engineering dating back to the early days of the Industrial Revolution.  For generations, the Stevens family were trialblazing engineers, inventors and entrepreneurs. John Stevens, a colonel in the Revolutionary War, was a pioneer in the development of the steamboat and designed the first American-built steam locomotive. A proud and passionate innovator, he lobbied Congress to protect his inventions. In 1791, when our new nation established its first patent laws, he obtained patents for his steamboat propulsion inventions. His sons invented the modern T-rail, the form of railroad track still in use today throughout the world, built and operated the first commercial railroad in the United States, and designed and built ironclad vessels for the U.S. Navy.

Colonel John Stevens purchased the present-day campus of Stevens and the surrounding city of Hoboken in 1784 from the State of New Jersey. When his descendant, Edwin Stevens, died in 1868, his will provided for the establishment of the institute that bears the family name, through a generous contribution of land and funds for buildings and an endowment.

 

Over the past 141 years, Stevens has expanded to offer a broad-based education in engineering, natural and mathematical sciences, computer science, systems and enterprises, management, art, music and humanities, all grounded in technological principles. The Stevens family tradition of applied research - of developing pivotal technology and then realizing its commercial potential - is a legacy that continues to thrive today at Stevens.

 

Stevens alumni have furthered this legacy with advancements in areas such as transportation, communication, business, scientific management, art, and more. Notable alumni include:

·      Frederick Winslow Taylor, 1883, who is known as the father of scientific management

·      Samuel Prescott Bush, 1884, an industrialist, entrepreneur and patriarch of the Bush family

·      Charles Stewart Mott, 1897, the co-founder of General Motors

·      Eugene McDermott ’19, the founder of Texas Instruments

·      Alexander Calder '19, whose name is synonymous with an art form, the mobile

 

And now let me turn to today, to a world that is currently convulsed by the diminishing expectations caused by the global financial crisis, but eager to forge a passage to a brighter future.

 

The Country at a crossroads

Our country has recently experienced the biggest and most prolonged economic downturn since the Great Depression. Millions of people are out of jobs, and it is not clear when or if those lost jobs will be replaced by new ones.

Our prosperity is increasingly dependent on a knowledge-based economy--one in which the role of engineering, science and technology, combined with innovation and entrepreneurship -- is more important than ever before. Numerous studies indicate that at least half the growth in the nation’s GDP since World War II can be attributed to advancements in these fields. It is important to note, however, that only four percent of America’s workforce is employed directly in science and engineering fields, underscoring the ripple effect these professions have in creating jobs for a very large number of citizens who are employed in other sectors of society. The new products and processes conceived in research laboratories and engineering design firms create jobs for   the manufacturing workers who make them, for the marketing people who advertise them, for the salespeople who sell them, for the maintenance people who repair them, for the architects who design new buildings for them, and for other businesses that benefit indirectly from the jobs created and wealth generated, such as restaurants, grocery stores, gas stations, retail stores, barber shops, pet stores, and yes, even banks and financial institutions!!

Let me read an excerpt from the National Academies' recent report on American competitiveness, Rising Above the Gathering Storm, Revisited. “… when scientists and engineers discovered how to increase the capacity of integrated circuits by a factor of one million, as they have in the past 40 years, it enabled entrepreneurs to replace tape recorders with iPods, paper maps with GPS, pay phones with cell phones, 2-dimensional X-rays with 3-dimensional CT scans, paperbacks with electronic books, slide rules with computers,” and, I might add, encyclopedias with Wikipedia, and atlases with Google Earth.

In our time, the companies experiencing blockbuster growth rates are those whose focus is on innovation: Apple, Twitter, Facebook, Nissan, Groupon, and Google. It was the vision of a sole, now sorely missed innovator and entrepreneur, Steve Jobs, that rescued Apple from the brink of bankruptcy and propelled it to almost unprecedented cultural and economic influence by creating a company that revolutionized the way we buy, store and listen to music, work with computers, read books and papers, and communicate with one another. Today, with over 45,000 employees, Apple is building perhaps the most impressive office building in the country—maybe the world: a $3.4 billion structure that will serve as a potent symbol of Steve Jobs’ distinctive achievement: technological innovation combined with perfect execution. Let me borrow from him in saying, “innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.”

With the accelerating pace of advancements in science and engineering, one can reasonably expect the creation of jobs in the next 50 years to depend to an even greater degree on developments in these disciplines.

The message is clear: A strong commitment to a technology-centered higher education system will be essential for the future of our nation. Such an emphasis would not only ensure an ample pipeline of engineers and scientists to devise inventive solutions to our many pressing societal problems, but would also provide the requisite technological literacy that is becoming increasingly essential to professionals in other fields such as medicine and health care, law, finance, marketing, the arts, education, and media. Whether we like it or not, technology and technological innovations have become the driver of the economy in more ways than one.

Unfortunately, and for a variety of reasons that are beyond the scope of my talk today, our nation is not making the needed investments to ensure that we remain at the cutting edge of knowledge in science and technology and maintain a strong infrastructure to nurture innovation. If we don’t change course, we will not be able to guarantee the same standards of living for our children as those our parents provided for us. While we are all aware of the unusual fiscal challenges facing our nation, we have no choice but to differentiate between investing in the future and cutting costs in the near term. Norm Augustine, my good friend and the recipient of an honorary degree from Stevens, put it so eloquently: “just as the solution to the problem of an aircraft that is too heavy to fly is not to remove the engine—the solution to the current economic burden is not to eliminate the engine that propels the economy.”

The role of Stevens and a vision for its future

Stevens is an institution with a strong reputation, a long and proud history, remarkably solid academic programs, a growing research enterprise, reputable and dedicated faculty, an outstanding student body, and highly accomplished and committed alumni who are in positions of influence.

In addition, the university enjoys a significant strategic advantage with its location within one of the most vital metropolitan areas in the world, with its dense population, a diversity second to none, a tremendous concentration of wealth, an intensely knowledge-based economy, and the largest number of fortune 500 companies anywhere in the nation. Importantly, we are also a gateway to the rest of the world. These distinctive advantages allow Stevens to attract talent in faculty, staff and students, to build alliances with corporate partners, and to extend its international reach.

Stevens, with its 141 years of experience in engineering and science and legacy of innovation and entrepreneurship, is in an enviable position to help implement the formula that has ignited our economy and re-energized our society following every previous historical turn. Today, I pledge to work with my colleagues at Stevens and our partners outside, to help refire the nation’s economic engine through our contributions to a technology-centered education and research program.

One of the ways we will accomplish this mission will be to continue strengthening our core engineering and science programs and establish compelling linkages between technology and other disciplines that are either enriched or influenced by technology, such as financial systems, healthcare and medicine, the arts, media, education, and public policy, among others. Technology is - and will continue to be - our differentiator.

In this endeavor, we will attract some of the most brilliant minds; we will offer programs of the highest quality; we will conduct research on the key societal challenges where technology can offer a compelling solution, as in clean energy, climate change, public health, environmental sustainability, cyber-security, and global clean water supply; and we will build on our vibrant and productive partnerships with the corporate world and public sector.

We have embarked on a strategic planning exercise that will result in the bright future we are all working so hard here to ensure. Our plan will be bold, ambitious and far-reaching, yet realistic and achievable. Students will be front and center in our planning priorities. I always say, a rose only becomes beautiful and blesses others when it opens up and blooms. It is a great tragedy if the rose were to stay in a closed bud, not fulfilling its potential. At Stevens, the students are our roses, and they will have our promise, as we have done in the past, to provide a nurturing environment to let them open up and blossom.

The Strategic Plan will embrace our four core values. The first is an uncompromising commitment to excellence in everything we do. The second is a commitment to move nimbly and decisively in performing our tasks and in responding to challenges and opportunities that arise. The third is to act with integrity, honesty and the highest ethical standards.Alan Simpson once said, “If you have integrity, nothing else matters. If you don’t have integrity, nothing else matters.” And our fourth core value is the strictest adherence to transparency and openness.

While the strategic plan is in development, we know that it will raise expectations for all, myself included, and emphasize accountability. It will be designed to aim high, engender excitement, create a strong sense of ownership, build communities, embrace and value diversity, set ideas and projects in motion, challenge convention, turn talking into doing, move boundaries and make an impact.

And once the Strategic planning exercise is completed, the hard part will start: Its execution. As Thomas Edison said, “vision without execution is hallucination.” But we are undaunted. Over the next decade, as we approach our 150th anniversary, we will work together to set ambitious goals and accomplish them in a way that justifies a magnificent celebration of that milestone year.

Let me now conclude with some words for each of our important communities:

 

To our faculty and staff: It is an honor and privilege for me to be your president. In serving you, I pledge my all and promise to put Stevens’ interest above all others. As we deal with challenges, we will act with unrelenting determination, integrity and openness. And, as we devise a plan to move forward, we will work together, collaboratively and collegially.

To our students: Work hard. Be smart. Don’t forget to call your mom and never forget your alma mater. Prepare well for the rich, but challenging life ahead of you. And let me offer you this important insight from Bill Gates, “If you think your teacher is tough, wait till you get a boss.”

 

To our Alumni: Remain engaged or re-engage with your alma mater. It is only with your involvement and guidance that we can realize our ambitions for Stevens. Your support and encouragement make hopes worth sharing, dreams worth daring, plans worth making and an academic life like mine worth living.

Stevens’ Motto has never been more relevant than it is today: Per Aspera Ad Astra--Through Adversity to the Stars!

I am grateful for the privilege of serving, and I will work hard to meet the demands of the office and justify your trust. I have unbridled optimism for what we will accomplish together.

For more information please see the Stevens Presidential Inauguration site.