More than 350 faculty, staff, alumni and friends of Stevens turned out in New York City on April 6 to attend the first annual Stevens Awards Gala and celebrate the accomplishments of 13 remarkable honorees.
Beneath the gorgeous, vaulted ceilings of Gotham Hall, attendees viewed a video about Stevens' past, present and future, then settled in for dinner and the presentation of the awards — which have existed since 1937 and featured a number of newly created honors for the inaugural gala. Honorees were feted for accomplishments in a wide range of fields, including satellite technology, computer science, chemistry, telecommunications, entrepreneurship and academics. Several awards also recognized extraordinary personal contributions to Stevens and to society at large.
"Tonight we honor the very best,’’ said Stevens President Nariman Farvardin, introducing the festivities. “I hope you will all be as impressed by each awardee as I am."
"Honoring outstanding people from Stevens is a great tradition, and I hope tonight’s event will be the just the beginning," agreed Joe Weber '64, chair of a Joint Awards Committee that selected the award winners from more than 125 nominations worldwide. "When Dr. Farvardin came to Stevens, he immediately mentioned how many great people have Stevens degrees and that we should honor these great graduates. All of these individuals have used technology to help raise the standard of living in our world.’’
The 2013 Stevens Awards included the Friend of Stevens Award, a non-alumni award given to Robert D. Somerville; the Outstanding Contribution Award, given to John Schepisi ’65; the Young Alumni Achievement Award, given to Mark Biamonte ’01; the Charles V. Schaefer, Jr., Entrepreneur Award, given to David Hershberg, M.M.S. ’68; the Distinguished Alumni Award for Academia and Government, to Dr. William Destler ’68; the Distinguished Alumni Award for Business and Finance, given to Gina Addeo ’86; the Distinguished Alumni Award for Engineering, given to William E. Witowsky ’79; the Distinguished Alumni Award for Science and Technology, given posthumously to Mark Crispin ’77; the Distinguished Alumni Award for Extraordinary Community or Humanitarian Service, given to John Hovey ’57; the Lifetime Service Award, given to Warren Wells ’42 (who received the award off-site on an earlier date); the International Achievement Award, given to Tony Wang M.M.S. ’73; and the Stevens Honor Award, given to Dr. Norman N. Li, Sc.D. ’63; and the President’s Leadership Award, given to Dr. Lawrence Babbio, Jr. ’66, outgoing Chairman of the Stevens Board of Trustees.
Schepisi thanked his family for unwavering support, and emphatically thanked Stevens.
“I credit Stevens with everything I have in my professional life,” said the prominent attorney, who sits on the Stevens Board of Trustees and has long served as a partner in his Englewood Cliffs legal firm. “I request of everyone here: please give of your time, give of your money, so other students can benefit the way I have, the way you have."
Hershberg, a satellite expert who also holds degrees from Columbia University and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, noted that the education that he received at Stevens was the most impressive of the three, because professors with actual industry experience had taught his graduate courses.
Annie Li, a longtime companion of Crispin (who passed away in December 2012), traveled from Washington State to accept the award in his honor. She spoke of how proud he would have been to attend.
"He always thought that after he passed, no one would remember him,’’ Li said of Crispin, who authored the Internet Message Access Protocol (IMAP) that transformed email worldwide. She spoke about Crispin's love of the outdoors. "With his favorite dog (who also recently passed away), he is now traveling the Northern Lights of Alaska."
Hovey, who served on hospital and YMCA boards of directors in Paterson and also helped establish and improve several schools in that city, spoke of his great debts to Stevens and his former classmates.
“I received a lot of help while an undergraduate," he said. "I was not at the top of my class and it was a struggle for me to stay at Stevens, but my classmates really helped me. Persistence, when times are tough, was taught to me at Stevens.’’
Weber read a statement from Wells, who was unable to attend, in which the award winner noted he had received a scholarship to attend Stevens in 1938 and has repeatedly given back to the university and its students ever since in thanks.
Wang, a path breaking franchiser of American restaurants in China, traveled farthest for the evening: all the way from Taipei, Taiwan. Wang noted that he held many happy memories of Stevens, including his marriage and first son during the time when he lived on campus in a student residence. Wang praised his Stevens education.
“In my whole life, the best investment was going to Stevens,” he explained.
Li, a leading chemist who is now CEO of his own firm in the Chicago area, said he was surprised when he received notification of the Honor Award. He had not revisited campus for almost exactly 50 years since graduating — until the night before the gala.
“I couldn’t believe it,’’ he said prior to the ceremony. “It is a great honor to receive this award.’’
Li added that the award held special significance, as 1963 both marked his graduation year from Stevens and the year in which he had been married.
"The school has changed so much in that time. I’m so happy the school is doing so well. Dr. Farvardin told me not to wait another 50 years before I come back again,’’ he chuckled.
The awards portion concluded with the presentation of the President's Leadership Award to Chairman Babbio, who will be completing his final term as Chairman of the Board of Trustees in June. Virginia Ruesterholz '83 will replace him.
After a brief video, in which members of the Stevens community thanked Babbio for his years of dedication and generosity, the Chairman took the stage to a rousing ovation. A surprise announcement followed: the main campus road leading up from Ninth Street to the Howe Center has officially been renamed Babbio Drive, complete with a street sign.
“I’ve always said that no one individual should accept a leadership award. In this institution, it is not just me, but the Board of Trustees, the President, the Provost, and the faculty,’’ said Babbio. “I am so comfortable leaving and having Virginia in this role. I know that Stevens is on its way to an even better future.’’
The evening concluded with an after-party and dancing.