How do you celebrate a university’s 150th birthday? For Stevens Institute of Technology, one party just isn’t enough.
So on Feb. 21, 2020, three celebrations kicked off a year of events that will honor Stevens’ sesquicentennial: the Founder’s Day Ball for undergraduates, the Founder’s Day Reception for graduate students and the Founder’s Day Soiree for alumni, faculty and staff. Hundreds turned out to salute Stevens at each of these unique events that were full of pride in the university’s past and hope and excitement for its future.
More than 600 undergraduate students gathered at The Westin Jersey City Newport in their best cocktail attire for the 11 th Annual Founder’s Day Ball — the largest attendance in the event’s history. The evening included a formal cocktail hour, dinner, dancing and even a visit by Attila the Duck, in a smart vest and tie.
Weehawken’s Chart House hosted 160 graduate students, faculty and staff for a lively dinner, music and dancing with spectacular views of the Hudson River and New York City skyline.
Meanwhile, close to 500 Stevens alumni, faculty and staff flocked to the Samuel C. Williams Library for the Founder’s Day Soiree. This gathering allowed attendees to explore the first 150 years of the university through interactive displays, tours of the building’s special collections and new exhibits featuring lesser-known Stevens history, with some objects on display for the very first time.
Federal, state and local officials presented Stevens with proclamations and letters of congratulations on its 150th birthday — all displayed at the soiree — as an American flag was flown over the U.S. Capitol building on Feb. 15, 2020, the same day that Stevens was founded 150 years ago, on Feb. 15, 1870.
State Assemblywoman Annette Chaparro of Hoboken presented a proclamation from the New Jersey State Legislature to Stevens President Nariman Farvardin at the soiree, as she, Hudson County Freeholder Anthony Romano and Hoboken City Council President Jen Giattino all spoke movingly of their personal connections to Stevens and their support for its bright future. “I feel privileged to serve Stevens at this momentous point in our history,” said Farvardin, during his remarks at the soiree. “Every day, I feel inspired by the tremendous achievements of our alumni, as well as our students, faculty, and staff, and I feel even more confident in our promising future.
“Stevens has grown over the last 150 years in scope and impact, and the university has left its mark on countless students and faculty, and society-at-large. Motivated by standards of excellence and propelled by a spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship, the impact of the Stevens community will continue to be felt across the globe for many years into the future.”
During the soiree, participants navigated the event as travelers, given a “passport” to guide them as they toured themed stations, completed activities for passport stamps and spun a wheel to win prizes.
Some of the special library items on display included a recently discovered letter dated June 5, 1919 from then-Secretary of the Navy Franklin D. Roosevelt, thanking the university for its Navy training program during World War I; a Japanese samurai helmet, mask and sword donated by Keiiche Abe, Class of 1899, Stevens’ first Asian-American graduate; and Johnsonburg engineering camp photos and a camp jacket — signed by campers, who added jokes and drawings — from 1938.
Historic photos from the archives may have provoked some of the most heartfelt reactions from attendees.
Wayne Monsees ’71 M.Eng ’72 M.S. ’78 was particularly moved by photos of children sled riding downhill from campus.
“I love Stevens and I love the history. My family came from Hoboken, and my grandparents used to talk about the Stevens family.” One fond childhood memory of his grandfather: when it snowed, the Stevens family would open the gates to campus and allow the local kids to sled ride from the top of Castle Point all the way down to Washington Street.
Monsees’ grandfather lived to see his grandson attend Stevens. “He was proud,” Monsees says.
It was striking how many generations of Stevens alumni returned for the soiree — graduates from the 1940s to the university’s most recent graduating class. Namankita Rana ’19 particularly enjoyed a special exhibit space devoted to Alexander Calder, with a stabile — a stationary sculpture — and a tapestry created by the artist, plus photos from his Stevens days. As she and friend Victoria Piskarev ’19 smiled at the Computer Center photos over the years — and the Hazeltine 2000 Terminal from 1971 — they saw a campus that looked different yet familiar.
“It’s a big milestone,” Rana said of 150 years. “It’s a flashback in time. (In the photos), you can recognize rooms and objects, but you also see the new technology of the time. It’s a stark reminder that the school existed before us, and it will continue after us.”
One of the most popular exhibits was “Early Campus Traditions” that included photos and stories behind beloved and sometimes strange student rituals. “Calculus Cremation” — the ceremony in which calculus was put “on trial” and a calculus effigy was placed on a wooden pyre at the athletic field, before a jeering crowd of students — fascinated.
“Yes, indeed in 1987, we would have done that if we could,” says DeBaun Performing Arts Center Director Carl Russell, who attended Stevens in the 1980s. Seeing students of many generations — and how they embraced similar joys and faced similar struggles — was illuminating.
“This is a really terrific event,” he says. “Stevens does have this rich history, and it’s nice to put yourself in the timeline and great to empathize with people in the past. The many leaps forward are impressive. It’s very easy to place yourself in the history.”
Joe Schneider ’46 — a longtime Stevens benefactor — said that he couldn’t miss the 150th . As he turns 96 on March 9, Schneider is forward-looking.
“It’s going to be a big year,” he said of the 150th. “The years go by … the campus is so much nicer with the new buildings. It’s going to look like a brand-new place.”
June Markkanen ’77, of the early classes of undergraduate women, made it a point to speak with women students and recent alumnae at the gathering. She shares their desire for a greater number of women on campus, but she also notes progress in many areas.
“I feel proud of what Stevens has been doing. ... I’m glad to hear that Stevens is branching out into new disciplines.”
One truly meaningful compliment of the evening came from John Dalton ’60, who has researched, written and co-produced several Stevens history videos over the years. He praised the Williams Library staff for a job well done.
“I think that they did a great job of displaying our past and setting the scene for our proud future,” he said.
We invite you to view photos from the kickoff celebrations of Stevens' 150th anniversary: