HOBOKEN, NJ... At its annual gala in Manhattan earlier this month, the Edwin A. Stevens Society of Stevens Institute of Technology brought together Institute leaders, energized supporters, and luminaries from academia and the wider technology sector for a glittering and memorable celebration of the 140-year old university and its far-flung community.
More than 250 alumni, faculty, students and friends of the Institute gathered for the annual event at the Lighthouse at Chelsea Piers, a setting that offered spectacular views on a clear night of the brilliantly lit Wesley J. Howe Center across the Hudson River.
At the Gala, the Stevens community honored two eminent technology innovators, one deeply engaged in campus life and the other a pioneer from industry.
Dr. Constantin Chassapis, the deputy dean of the School of Engineering and Science and the director of the Department of Mechanical Engineering, received the President's Leadership Award from the Stevens Society for his significant research contributions and for his dynamic leadership of the mechanical engineering department over the past decade.
Chassapis won warm acclaim for his leading role in rebuilding, modernizing and growing the department, the university's oldest and its largest. Under his leadership, the faculty has doubled in size, the number of degree-earning students has tripled, and the department has expanded and diversified, offering new areas of concentration, including aerospace engineering and pharmaceutical manufacturing, to connect Stevens students to vital industries.
In motivating his students to tackle important, practical problems, backed up by first-rate science and engineering, he serves as a prominent model. His research into remote sensing and control of multi-sensor and multi-actuator environments, for example, has led to the creation of a prototype infrastructure with a broad range of practical applications, including a remotely accessible educational laboratory.
In accepting the award, Chassapis vowed his continuing commitment to an academic program that other engineering schools "openly benchmark against." To support this enterprising standard, he and his wife, Marina, are establishing a fund that will allow more engineering students to broaden their global orientation by spending time abroad in work and study.
"In a global economy, talent, capital and knowledge travel where the opportunities are. Understanding other cultures, learning other languages and appreciating how other people do business is of paramount importance," he said. "Knowledge of the dynamics of globalization, as well as real and affordable opportunities to be immersed in study, work or research abroad are key elements that should be integrated into our engineering program. Problems involving costs, cultural barriers and language are challenges that need to be overcome."
Steven J. Sasson, an electrical engineer who invented the digital camera shortly after taking his first job, received the Stevens Honor Award from the university's Alumni Association.
Two years after joining Eastman Kodak Company in 1973, Sasson produced his industry-changing prototype while investigating the imaging properties of charge-coupled devices to create an image sensor for a film-free camera. He describes his early device as resembling a toaster and weighing about 8.5 pounds. His first digital photograph in the winter of 1975 was a .01 megapixel black-and-white image "of a young lab technician working on a teletype machine." Like all game-changing technologies, it provoked an immediate barrage of questions and challenges.
"Why would anyone want to look at a picture on a television screen ... how do you store this, how do you find these things, how much will it cost, and when will this become practical?" he recounted in his acceptance speech. "It was these questions - and thousands more like it - that have been the focus of the industry's work in managing the digital transformation of photography over the last few decades."
Today, approximately three-quarters of Americans own a sleeker, modern version of his invention, according to the federal government. The 34 million digital cameras sold in the U.S. in 2008 alone generated $7 billion in revenue. The impact of his research and development has reverberated widely since his initial breakthrough, creating new opportunities for commerce, education and improved worldwide communication.
Credited with revolutionizing the way images are captured, stored and shared, Sasson recently received the National Medal of Technology and Innovation from President Barack Obama at a White House ceremony.
In his remarks at the Gala, Sasson noted that George Eastman, the founder of Eastman Kodak Company, was "passionate about technical education" and donated generously to programs he admired, including Stevens, which received $50,000 from him in 1913. "I feel good about that. We've been working together for a long time," he said.
Following the event, Dr. George Korfiatis, interim president of Stevens Institute of Technology, said of the awards recipients, "In honoring these two brilliant individuals, we celebrate what is unique and valuable about our rigorous, ideas-rich academic program, with its emphasis on innovation and entrepreneurship, and the highest aspirations of our graduates once they are able to match their skills with real-world opportunities."
The Society’s outgoing chairman, Ron LeBright ’55, was also honored at the Gala with a plaque recognizing his four years of leadership and commitment to the Stevens community.
The 2010 Gala marked a pivotal moment in the life of the university, which this year celebrates its historic founding 140 years ago and eagerly looks to new challenges with a renewed spirit of engagement.
"I was thrilled to see so many generations of Stevens alumni at this year's Gala. And more gratifying still was the energy and enthusiasm expressed by this dynamic and diverse group," said Annmarie Rizzo '86, the Society's new chair.
"This is such an important moment in Stevens history and we are all needed - from Society leaders like Ron LeBright '55 and Virginia Ruesterholz '83, who have made the university a priority for decades, to the newly engaged alumni from my generation and later stepping up to leadership roles, to more recent graduates whose powerful campus experiences give substance and inspiration to all of our efforts. Working together, and contributing meaningfully, we become a potent force in the academic and entrepreneurial life of our beloved alma mater both on campus and throughout the world."
Rizzo, who has been active in the Society for more than a decade, announced her intention at the Gala to endow a scholarship fund to support students representing a broad cross-section of the university - engineers, academic achievers with grade point averages of 3.3 or higher, and campus leaders involved in student organizations.
"This Gala is such an important occasion for Stevens, because it brings together our leaders, our phenomenal faculty and alumni, and our loyal and generous donors. It also gives me a chance to express my deepest gratitude to the Society, whose members are my heroes," Korfiatis remarked. "My strongest hope is that they will inspire others in the extended Stevens family to play a larger philanthropic role in the life of the university. It takes leadership to motivate people to surpass their own expectations."
"As to the power of individual giving, I need only point to Annmarie and Costas. Their passion for Stevens and its students and their desire to enhance our academic life and provide even greater opportunities for our graduates are truly inspiring," he added. "Again, I hope others will follow their example. We have accomplished so much in the past 20 years, and are now at a pivotal point, poised for even more extraordinary achievements. Tremendous gifts like these ensure it will happen."
The Society is named for Edwin A. Stevens, the Hoboken-born inventor, engineer and entrepreneur who bequeathed the land and start-up funds to establish Stevens Institute of Technology 140 years ago. Its members continue this tradition of philanthropy with donations throughout the year that have an immediate and powerful impact on every aspect of student life, from scholarships, to athletics, to academic programs.
The Gala proved no exception. Amid the festivities, the Society held a silent auction that raised a generous sum that will directly benefit the university's annual fund, the Stevens Fund.