Honoring a STEM Trailblazer
Dr. Michel M. Bitritto (1947-2020) blazed a trail for women in the STEM fields. Her family is continuing that legacy through the Dr. Michel M. Bitritto Endowed Scholarship, which will help future generations of students fulfill their potential as STEM professionals.
Not only was Michel M. Bitritto, Ph.D. the first in her family to go to college, she went on to complete a Ph.D. in Polymer Chemistry and enjoyed a highly successful career in the sciences, at a time when there were very few women pursuing STEM. Although she passed away in 2020, her trailblazing legacy continues.
Her husband, Sunil K. Garg, Esq. M.S. ’74 Ph.D. ’78, still marvels at his late wife’s accomplishments. “When she went to work in industry around 1977, it was hard to find women with advanced degrees at large chemical research companies. Michel was the first female chemical research manager in the history of Celanese Corporation.”
Dr. Garg describes Dr. Bitritto as a pioneer in every sense of the word. The underlying thread of Dr. Bitritto’s career roles – Innovation Assistant Director at NJIT, Director of the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission Business Accelerator, Director of the Meadowlands Regional Business Accelerator at Bergen Community College, Director of NJIT’s Technology & Entrepreneurship Talent Network, and Executive VP of Business Development at The EcoShelf Group – carried a mission to develop entrepreneurial ideas and talent.
With her husband and daughter by her side, Dr. Bitritto also successfully pursued local politics, with the goal of helping women fulfill their potential as leaders. She became president of the Women’s Political Caucus of New Jersey, a bipartisan organization that supports women running for office. Dr. Bitritto also served as an officer and president in the Caucus’ Union County chapter and was active in the organization’s national activities as well.
As her daughter Neena M. Bitritto Garg points out, Dr. Bitritto was never one to look for attention for herself. “She loved hosting events and having people over,” Ms. Bitritto Garg recalls, “and felt very strongly about encouraging young women to go to college. She loved meeting with students and inviting them to consider STEM careers. If a young person came to her for help, she would tap all of her networks in the community to set them on course.”
When the beloved wife and mother passed away in 2020, Dr. Garg and Ms. Bitritto Garg wanted to do something impactful to remember her. “My mom played an incredible role in inspiring me,” Ms. Bitritto Garg explains. “She empowered me to think that I could do whatever I wanted.”
The Dr. Michel M. Bitritto Endowed Scholarship will provide support for undergraduate students with preference given to first-generation female students pursuing science and technology education.
As an alumnus of Stevens, Dr. Garg was already very familiar with the university and its commitment to educating diverse, often first-generation, students. In fact, the creation of the Bitritto Scholarship coincides with celebrations of the first women undergraduates, nineteen in all, to arrive at Castle Point in 1971. Fifty years later, the 1,100 women undergraduates at Stevens comprise 30% of the undergraduate population.
Dr. Garg is also very appreciative of the support he received from the university’s administration when he decided to establish the scholarship. He and his daughter decided to endow the fund, which means that their gift will be invested and a portion of the earnings will be used to provide scholarship support in perpetuity. Their plans include raising additional funds for the Bitritto Scholarship and hope that they can host an event in Michel’s memory in the near future.
“If you are interested in memorializing a loved one, there is nothing better than creating a legacy that reaches into the future,” Dr. Garg says. “What can be better than helping students in need gain an education?”
Ms. Bitritto Garg reflects on what her mother might make of the new scholarship in her name. “I think she would be happy and honored that there is a real effort to continue the legacy that she was building throughout her entire life,” she says. “Enabling people who are less fortunate to have the career and life that they want was so important to my mother. She was always thinking about what she could do to help others.”
Gifts to the Dr. Michel M. Bitritto Scholarship are gratefully accepted. Learn more about how you can support this endowed scholarship fund.