Stepping Toward a Bright Future: STEP Marks 45th Reunion with Many Success Stories

12/6/2013

She had endured a 14-hour flight from Dubai to New York, arriving just the morning before. But Judy Pitchford ’86 showed no signs of jet lag. She simply glowed—exchanging hugs, smiling for photos, reveling in memories and in this moment with old friends, together again at Stevens for one memorable night.

The Stevens Technical Enrichment Program (STEP) marked its 45th anniversary in September, and Pitchford, a STEP alumna, couldn’t miss it. She came back for Dr. Snowden Taylor and for “Maz.”

“They were amazing,” she says. “They took a lot of time with us. I was a kid trying to find my way in life.”

Professor Snowden Taylor ’50, a retired Stevens physics professor, and Professor Varoujan “Maz” Mazmanian, M.S. ’71, a current math lecturer, were honored for their decades of service to STEP students during the reunion. Since 1968, STEP has served more than 1,000 students who have been under-represented in the science, engineering, technology and mathematics fields (STEM), offering everything from a pre-freshman program to tutoring, career guidance and strong social support. Pitchford was among more than 200 alumni and guests at this heartfelt reunion—filled with standing ovations, dancing and many hugs—who came back to say thanks.

Pitchford, an IT professional with Emirates Airline, traveled farthest for the STEP Reunion, which saw alumni and guests journey from as far as Georgia, Chicago and Buffalo, N.Y. The event also raised more than $15,000 in sponsorships and for a newly established STEP scholarship fund.

Among the celebrants was Angie Hankins ’95, who smiled warmly as she recalled Professor Mazmanian.

“He was such a good math teacher—just clear and concise,” she says.

Hankins served four years in the Air Force before enrolling at Stevens and needed to brush up on her math skills before freshman year, she recalls. STEP’s Bridge program—an intensive preparation program held the summer before freshman year—did the trick, along with Maz’s teaching.

Hankins went on to attend the University of Virginia School of Law. In 2007, she was named partner of the prestigious New York law firm of Stroock & Stroock & Lavan—the first African-American in the firm’s history to make partner. 

“I don’t think that I would have been as successful at Stevens and after without (STEP),” Hankins says. “When I left Stevens, I felt I could do anything.”

Anthony Guzman ’91 and his wife, Marcella Hernandez Guzman ’95, also a STEP alumna, traveled from Buffalo, N.Y., for the reunion. STEP, Guzman says, helped him see what’s possible.

Dr. Taylor gave him much needed extra help in his electricity and magnetism courses. Guzman was so inspired by his dedication that he became a STEP tutor himself, to “pay it forward,” he says.

Guzman went on to work in higher education and is currently director of online programs at the University of Buffalo, in its School of Social Work.

“A lot of that is a testimony to STEP,” he says of his career success. “I always wanted to be in education and teaching—(STEP) just re-affirmed it for me.”

Many younger alumni are also making an impact on the world. Eileen Parra ’09, M.S. ’11, works as a project associate with Nautilus Solar Energy, LLC, a solar power generation independent power provider in Summit, N.J.

Parra has also been active since her days at Stevens with Engineers Without Borders. The STEP program helped give her the confidence to meet new people in her professional circle and tackle challenges on the job, she says. Visiting the STEP office—where she can always discuss professional and personal issues—still provides a source of strength.   

“It teaches you to be better and to help others to be better,” Parra says.

So many alumni mention lifelong friendships formed through STEP—from braving the challenging pre-college program together to keeping close bonds decades after their time at Stevens. When Ian Howe ’80 thinks of STEP, he thinks “family.”

“We held onto one another,” Howe says, at times facing adversity, but always supporting one another and giving back to those who followed.

Rachel Jenkins ’80 represented one of the earlier STEP alumni present—and a contingent out of Newark’s West Side High School. There, her guidance counselor urged her to study engineering, given her strong math and science skills.

“I said—what do you do, drive a train?” she recalled with a laugh.

Jenkins may not have had much knowledge of engineering but, even as a high school sophomore, she knew that STEP’s summer program for high school students was worth checking out. So she was crushed when she learned that she had missed the application deadline. Dr. Taylor heard the heartbreak in her voice, and let her in anyway.

“He saw something in me, and he took a chance,” she said.

Jenkins has used her mechanical engineering degree to work as a project manager and IT and computer science professional. Currently, she’s an independent IT consultant.

When Jenkins looks back, she sees the difference that STEP—and Stevens—have made in her life.

“It helped us to see what we were made of,” Jenkins says. “It made us see that it was hard work—no one was going to give it to us. (Engineering) was one more thing that I could consider as a career choice.”