Campus & Community

Teaching Through Service

Stevens professor connects innovation and leadership with the common good.

When someone thanks Stevens School of Business teaching professor Don Lombardi for his service, it might take him a minute to go through the list of everything they might mean.

They might be referring to his career in the United States Marine Corps, where he was the youngest commissioned officer during the 1970s and developed a program for court-referred Marines to further their education, oftentimes earning their GEDs.

Or maybe it’s “Doc’s” 30 years in higher education including 15 at Stevens, where he has been named the Alexander Crombie Humphreys Distinguished Professor (2014), the Outstanding Teacher of The Year by The Stevens Alumni Association (2016), the Outstanding Teacher of The Year by The Stevens Student Government Association (2017) and the University's Henry Morton Award for Distinguished Teaching (2023).

Another option would be his work as the academic director of the Stevens Veterans and Military Office. In 15 years, he helped facilitate more than 350 veterans and family members receiving their Stevens’ education for free. Stevens became one of the first schools in the tri-state area to receive “Yellow Ribbon” designation, allowing veterans and families to supplement their GI Bill benefits to cover the cost of Stevens’ tuition.

Could it be for organizing the Heart-to-Heart program, Stevens’ initiative during Hurricane Sandy, distributing food and clothing to displaced victims of the storm?

Or what about the SAT Max program where he brings a team of Stevens students to local high schools to help improve their scores an average of 25-125 points through teaching test preparation?

Then again, maybe it’s … you get the point.

Professor Don Lombardi stands with a group of students after handing out food after Hurricane Sandy.“I tell the students all the time, ‘You don't care about what I know until you know that I care about you,’” he said. “If I'm doing that every time I walk into one of our classrooms or work with a student in my office, then I must be doing something right.” 

Lombardi often combines his love of teaching, his commitment to service and the innovative nature of Stevens’ students.

When Vets4Warriors, a 24/7 peer-to-peer support network for the veteran and military communities, needed help with the technology in their Rutgers-based national call center, he took a team of students to meet with Major General (retired) Mark Graham, the senior director of Rutgers University Behavioral Health Care (UBHC) National Call Center.

“They designed a software package so when a veteran would call into the hotline, and the operator and the counselor would get on the call, the system would automatically be able to pop up where the person was calling from,” he said.

“Of course, Stevens kids being Stevens kids, they didn’t just stop there,” he continued. “Let's say a person calls in from Ogden, Utah. The system they built pops up a map of Ogden with color-coded locations for physicians, psychologists or psychiatrists, banks and VA centers.”

Lombardi relies on “Stevens kids being Stevens kids,” for another of his successful initiatives, the Stevens Select Summer Scholars Program (S4). Each year, 20 rising high school seniors are chosen to participate in the six-week online program. In 2023, there were more than 400 applications with 10 states represented in the final selections.

The high school students are by Lombardi and a group of teaching advocates who are also participants in the Lawrence T. Babbio ’66 Pinnacle Scholars Program. Pinnacle Scholars “have the opportunity to participate in original, advanced research projects under the guidance of full-time Stevens faculty, are eligible for an annual stipend and have the option to pursue an accelerated master’s program.”

Each S4 student is assigned a “Stevens 60” company, Fortune 500 companies like Marriott or Hershey, that “most businesses kids would not pick because if you gave them a choice, they would Apple, Microsoft, Tesla and Amazon,” according to Lombardi. They are also paired up with a teaching advocate to help guide them through their projects which include SWOT and marketing P5 analysis and an evaluation of 16 company personality characteristics followed by designing a matrix of qualities they look for when hiring.

Three of the participants in 2022 are now first-year students at Stevens, a reflection of both the quality of high school students and the experience provided by Lombardi and the Pinnacle Scholars. It also gives the teaching advocates a chance to learn more about themselves and how to be better leaders.

“When Dr. Lombardi told me about the S4 program I knew that I wanted to take part because of the learning value I saw in it for not only the participating students but also for myself,” said Elsa Bley, an accounting and analytics major from Puyallup, Washington. “The business evaluation process that the students go through is a great introduction to the college learning environment. On the other hand, being a TA teaches you a lot about certain managerial qualities such as giving actionable feedback, getting those under you to do work in a timely fashion and just generally encouraging them to provide their best work in a consistent manner.”

Don’t be fooled by all the good deeds, mentorship and commitment to service. There are some ulterior motives to all his work.

“I tell the students all the time that helping somebody out is called selfless, but in a way it is the most selfish feeling in the world because you feel so good when you're doing things,” he said. “And the beautiful thing about Stevens is these kids are so talented. You get the good feeling of doing it, but you can also see how far we can push some of this stuff. You just teach them something and they do it. They constantly innovate. When you think about Stevens being the innovation university, this is your proof.”

Talking More About S4

Riho Fukura stands in front of her poster describing her work with the S4 program."One thing that gave me a delightful surprise was how mature these high school students were. This was true not only of the works they produced, which were all well thought out and crafted with excellence but also their attitude toward their participation in and goals for the program. One of my students responded to our feedback almost, if not every, week thanking us for the comments. We could see her putting in the extra effort to incorporate what she learned from us to polish her work, and I found myself increasingly proud and motivated by her clear desire to learn and create value from the time she spent in this program. Participating in this program was a great undertaking for me as well—it was my first time being a TA, so I especially appreciated being able to work with such bright, motivated students. I believe this program is very effective in encouraging college readiness in high school students while still maintaining that balance to allow students the freedom to explore, take initiative and instill creativity in their works. I am excited to see how the program will continue to grow, together with the students it inspires! "

- Riho Fukura '24 | Literature | Fort Lee, New Jersey 

"My favorite part about working with the students was being a mentor for them. Outside of the material learned in class, I received questions about the college process, helpful tips, and the things I liked most about attending Stevens. I was completely honest and open with them, and I think that mentorship was so rewarding for both them and myself.  Being a TA for the S4 program will better prepare me for the future when I am needed to help others who are learning something new. Whether it be in a job or some other capacity, the experience from being an S4 TA has helped me grow as a mentor and leader. Overall, the S4 program was an amazing program. I want to give all of the credit to Dr. Lombardi for pioneering such an incredible program that allows high school students to gain business knowledge at the college level. He put in so much of his time and effort to make it possible, and Stevens is better because of it. Thank you Dr. Lombardi!"

- Ronnie Melao '23, M.E. '24 | Systems Engineering | Westfield, New Jersey