Each year, one deserving Stevens freshman is awarded a Kaminski Family Scholarship, which will support them throughout their undergraduate years at Castle Point. Many of these scholars cultivated an early interest in science or engineering at Brooklyn Technical High School (also known as “Brooklyn Tech”), just like Joe Kaminski ’60.
As the first in his family to graduate from college, Kaminski is passionate about supporting gifted first-generation and under-resourced students who are interested in pursuing a future in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields. He and his wife, Judith, established the Kaminski Family Scholarship in 2005 to help graduating seniors from Brooklyn Tech access rigorous engineering and scientific training like he did at Stevens.
Even after a 35-year tenure in executive and international leadership positions with Air Products & Chemicals, Kaminski regards the education he received in his high school as one of his most pivotal life experiences. “For many of us who are Brooklyn Tech alumni, it’s the foundation that we have built great careers on,” he explains. “I wanted to figure out a way to build on that and help other people as they go forward.”
Kaminski’s support of his scholars isn’t just financial. He serves as a mentor and champion, offering professional advice and support long after graduation. He and Judith even made the guest list at the wedding of their first scholarship recipient, Justin Rodriguez ’08. “They know that I'm always in the background, looking out to see how they’re doing,” says Kaminski. “It’s been a wonderful experience to meet them and interface with them, to watch them continue to grow. It’s something that has probably given me more than I’ve given them.”
The Stevens Indicator listened in as Kaminski connected with two recent scholarship recipients, Diana Yuan ’21 and Haijun Ramoundos ’18, via Zoom in November.
JOE KAMINSKI: Can you tell Indicator readers a little bit about your background and what your high school experience was like?
DIANA YUAN: My parents, who immigrated from China, were very proud of me when I found out I got into Brooklyn Tech since it is so competitive. My two sisters went to [a rival school], but we won’t talk about that! I was able to take a lot of AP (advanced placement) classes, choose a major and take specialized classes. I was also surrounded by many peers who were super intelligent and driven. I think that contributed to me being able to be so motivated in the work that I do.
HAIJUN RAMOUNDOS: I was born in China, but at 14 months old I was adopted by my family and grew up in Brooklyn. My dad is Greek, and my mom is Norwegian American. And I have one older sister who is their biological kid. I also attended Brooklyn Tech. Like Diana said, we were surrounded every day with some incredible people. I kind of miss that environment, because it did motivate you to want to be at their level and work hard. I was also part of the athletic program, did photography and was in the choir there.
JOE: When you were looking at schools, what prompted you to think about Stevens?
DIANA: Before I started looking at schools, I didn’t even know what Stevens was! Then, as I started searching for schools that specialized in engineering and STEM, I noticed that Stevens was one of the top-ranked schools. Stevens also has a unique co-op program where you’re able to alternate work and classes, depending on your major. My first time visiting, I didn’t realize how close it was to the city. The campus has a super great skyline view.
HAIJUN: At Brooklyn Tech, we chose majors in junior and senior year. I did the mechanical engineering major which helped steer me to look at Stevens, but the main reason that Stevens was on my radar was because my dad, Avgoustis Ramoundos M.Eng. ’72, is an alumnus. I visited a few times and also attended the summer ECOES (Exploring Career Options in Engineering and Science) program during my junior year of high school. The other reason is because I was conflicted between studying mechanical engineering or naval maritime engineering. Stevens and the University of Michigan were the only two schools that I applied to with a naval program. So that’s really what the deciding factor was.
JOE: How important was getting a scholarship to Stevens in influencing your decision?
DIANA: For me, it was super important. If I didn’t receive a scholarship, I probably wouldn’t have gone to Stevens because my parents would have had to take out a bunch of loans for me to go to university.
HAIJUN: I agree, the scholarship was very helpful in easing the financial burden on my parents. I actually didn’t realize I had been offered the scholarship until after I had already accepted admission, so it was a little happy surprise. But it verified my choice of Stevens because it made me feel like Stevens produces great people who are willing to give back to the school and to help the next generation of engineers come through. It made me feel valued that someone took the time to identify me and see where I came from and what I've done and was willing to help sponsor my education.
JOE: What were the most challenging aspects of your experience at Stevens? What were the highlights?
DIANA: For me, the most challenging part was adjusting to a new environment. It was my first time living on my own and having so much freedom. I had to deal with time management, balancing my classes, homework and trying to figure out which clubs I wanted to join and which events I wanted to participate in. My highlights were participating in the co-op program and being able to study abroad in Shanghai, China. That made me want to travel more in the future.
HAIJUN: It’s challenging to navigate an engineering curriculum that’s as rigorous as Stevens’ is without having your parents over your shoulder, saying, ‘Alright, it’s time to study.’ It’s on you now, being alone to focus and set aside time to complete all your tasks. Now, other people say I have some really exceptional time management skills — that’s all Stevens! I think the highlights for me were the co-op program and definitely the senior design project. I was part of the Baja SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers) car. It was really cool to be on a team of people who were enthusiastic about cars like I am. Also, the lunchroom has the best view in the country. I spent a lot of time studying there.
JOE: Now that you have your degrees, tell us a little bit about what you’re doing since graduating from Stevens.
DIANA: I graduated Stevens a little over a year ago. This is my first job out of university and currently I’m working remotely as an implementation consultant at Keyrus, an IT consulting company headquartered in France. Software is what I specialize in right now. I’m trying to learn as much as I can and be exposed to different industries and functions. I really like to travel and I’m hoping that one day I might be able to work internationally.
JOE: Haijun, how is your career developing since leaving Stevens?
HAIJUN: I graduated from Stevens in 2018. Currently I’m in Virginia Beach and working at Newport News Shipbuilding. We build the carriers and submarines for the U.S. Navy. I’ve been working there for just about three and a half years and have had three different positions in design, manufacturing and now, quality. I’m getting a broad perspective of different areas of operations, and the company is also helping to sponsor my MBA program at the College of William and Mary.
JOE: If you were speaking to someone who was on the fence about making a gift, what would you say to motivate them to step up to the plate and support scholarships at Stevens?
DIANA: I would say if someone’s even considering it, they should just do it. Any contribution makes an impact on students.
HAIJUN: I think the biggest thing is, it helps diversify the student body at Stevens. I was just thinking about Brooklyn Tech. We grew up in a diverse environment and a lot of the kids were financially constrained. When we talked about where we applied to college, a lot of [my classmates’] choices were in-state or in-city schools, and they were ten times better than I ever was. I feel like if they had known about scholarship offerings, they would have definitely considered Stevens.