Each year since 2008, the Stevens community has set aside February 15 for Founder’s Day – a celebration of the university’s founding by “America’s first family of inventors” on that date in 1870 and a time to honor Stevens’ legacy of innovation, research and entrepreneurship.
This year, as Stevens marks its 143rd anniversary, the sixth annual Founder’s Day event also honored a different but equally important tradition – the longtime commitment of Stevens students, faculty, staff and administrators to community service and volunteerism.
On Feb. 15, Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer joined the Founder’s Day celebration to officially recognize the heroics of the Stevens community just a few months ago, when Superstorm Sandy struck the area and downed power lines, toppled trees, and flooded homes, businesses and streets.
“Stevens was crucial in helping Hoboken through the most devastating storm we have ever seen,” said Zimmer. “The spirit of innovation and public service that is ingrained at Stevens really came out.”
The hurricane brought out many tremendous examples of bravery, leadership, selflessness and perseverance exhibited by members of the Stevens community. Among them was the story of one group of students – Allison Outwater, Molly Dugan, Trevor Batchelder, Jacob Vanderbilt, Edward Kubis and Jared Crean – who took on the enormous challenge of coordinating hundreds of volunteers who reported to City Hall during the recovery in hopes of assisting victims of the storm. Without electricity and with a total lack of supervision, these students assigned duties, managed projects, and even directly helped those in need by bringing water, food, batteries, blankets, medical prescriptions and other supplies to residents stranded in their homes.
In her Founder’s Day speech, Zimmer said the incredible contributions of these students – as well as many others – to the Hoboken volunteer effort were instrumental in the city overcoming unparalleled challenges to the safety and welfare of its residents. When the city was in dire need, these students put others before themselves. They were innovative in solving problems and efficient in coordinating the relief effort, profoundly impacting countless members of the community in the process.
“We have more than 5,000 volunteers, and these students were really the core,” Zimmer said.
Sam Reckford III, a direct descendant of the Stevens founding family, also spoke about a long legacy of public service that runs throughout the university’s history. Although better known for inventing some of the world’s most important engineering solutions for marine and railroad transportation, the Stevens family also historically took an active role in serving local and national communities. Reckford’s ancestors and relatives helped to ratify the N.J. constitution, served in the U.S. House of Representatives, and ran Habitat for Humanity International.
“Innovation and service have been passed from generation to generation of the Stevens family,” said Reckford, Edwin A. Stevens’ 3rd great-grandson.
The 2013 Founder’s Day event also continued in its tradition of commemorating Stevens’ focus on innovation and entrepreneurship, which Stevens Provost George Korfiatis said the university has “exemplified since its birth.”
“Stevens students are the next generation of innovators,” Korfiatis said.
Peter Tolias, director of the Stevens Bio-innovation Program and a research professor in the Department of Chemistry, Chemical Biology and Biomedical Engineering, shared information about the exciting and interdisciplinary life sciences research happening at the university, including interdisciplinary research involving 55 faculty members as well as undergraduate and graduate students.
With the percentage of the GDP spent on healthcare at 18 percent and rising, Tolias said, “more input from engineering and the sciences to solve healthcare problems and reduce healthcare costs.”
Stevens’ healthcare core activities today include research in tissue engineering, biomaterials for infection control, and systems modeling of healthcare delivery.
Finally, Stevens alumnus Brian Donohue ’11 spoke about his success as a young technology entrepreneur. Donohue invented Echo – a mobile, location-based micro blogging app –and has received $200,000 in financing for his company, Echolocation. Echolocation is based at the NYU Poly Incubator in DUMBO, Brooklyn and the company recently completed the TechLaunch accelerator program in New Jersey. Next month, Donohue will showcase Echo at the SXSW Festival.
“I think every student at Stevens learns two things – how to solve problems and how to learn,” Donohue said. “I know those two things really helped me.”
The Founder’s Day event concluded with a reception in Babbio Atrium.