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The Wow Factor

Page 3 of 3


In the days just after September 11, as English professor Stuart Peterfreund read the names of the passengers on the hijacked planes, he realized one name was naggingly familiar: Peter Hanson.

"A fundraiser once told me that nothing is permanent. You can set up a memorial, and maybe someday it
won't be there. But if you give money for something
at a university, then you know a lot of students are going to learn from that. And that can influence the way they do things for the rest of their lives."

Then he remembered that Hanson, AS'91, had taken several of his classes.

Hanson was onboard United Airlines Flight 175, the second plane to crash into the World Trade Center. The thirty-two-year-old vice president of sales for TimeTrade-a Waltham, Massachusetts, company that specialized in web-based scheduling services-was traveling with his wife, Sue, a Boston University medical student, and their three-year-old daughter, Christine.

Peterfreund, shaken by his realization, had a bad dream that night. When he woke, he decided to put shape to his grief by writing a poem. Later, he sent it to Peter's parents, Lee and Eunice Hanson.

"It was a beautiful poem," says Lee, BA'55. "Like many messages you get from people after you lose someone you love, it offered a different side of Peter's character, [this one] from the viewpoint of an instructor. It went into the kinds of books Peter read, the kind of thoughts he had. It was very striking and very beautiful."

Moved by Peterfreund's effort, the Hansons decided to create two endowments for the College of Arts and Sciences in Peter's name. One boosted the monetary prize for an annual undergraduate writing contest.

The other funds an annual presentation on campus by a noted writer; the first visitor was poet Rosanna Warren, daughter of late literary lion Robert Penn Warren.

Hanson says he and his wife believe giving money to educational causes is the perfect way to remember Peter, Sue, and Christine.

"A fundraiser once told me that nothing is permanent," he explains. "You can set up a memorial, and maybe someday it won't be there.

"But if you give money for something at a university, then you know a lot of students are going to learn from that. And that can influence the way they do things for the rest of their lives."



Like many connections, theirs is one that is rooted in commonality.

Peter Ogren, E'69, and Marissa Sordillo, E'04, both majored in civil engineering. They're both from the North Shore. Each of their co-op stints was spent at Hayes Engineering, in Wakefield, Massachusetts, and they both went on to full-time jobs at the firm.

There are a few differences, of course. Ogren has worked at Hayes several decades longer than Sordillo.

"I'm still on my co-op job," he says, laughing.

And he started with the firm back when its founder and president, George Hayes, LI'50, now deceased, employed only a handful of people. Today, it's more than forty people strong.

One more thing: Sordillo is an engineer at Hayes. Ogren is the company's owner and current president.

Ogren met Sordillo her freshman year when he decided to help fund the Legacy Scholarship program, which offers worthy students $5,000 a year for tuition over their entire college careers. She was one of the students so honored.

"Most of our practicing engineers here at Hayes are graduates of Northeastern," Ogren says, "so we thought it would be a good thing to support."

After a lunch held to introduce the Legacy Scholars to their sponsors, Ogren invited Sordillo out to Hayes for a tour. Next thing she knew, he was offering her a co-op job, then another, and another.

"Obviously, over time Marissa became a valuable employee," says Ogren. "Then we asked if she'd like to come full time."

The answer: A resounding yes.

"When I started [as a co-op] at Hayes, I had no experience in engineering," Sordillo says. "But I started working on real projects right away. I learned everything I know at Northeastern and Hayes."

Ogren, a Northeastern overseer, points out that Sordillo has already worked on some fairly complex site designs, including a thirty-seven-unit condo project in North Andover.

"The client was very complimentary of her abilities," he says proudly.

Efforts like the Legacy Scholarship program are important, Ogren believes, because they encourage students with sterling academic backgrounds to choose Northeastern over less-expensive state colleges.

Indeed, Sordillo says she had originally considered some less-pricey options herself.

But "the scholarship really made a difference," Sordillo says. "Northeastern was my first choice."


Middler Jason Evanish wants to have his own business someday.

And, even though his major is electrical engineering, he's confident he's going to have the entrepreneurial know-how he needs. That's because he's minoring in technological entrepreneurship at a new school made possible by a university trustee's gift.

The School for Technological Entrepreneurship helps students learn how to turn good business ideas into viable high-tech products or services. This kind of multidisciplinary effort is tailor-made for Northeastern, which has a long history as a launching pad for entrepreneurs.

Trustee Jean Tempel, a venture capitalist at First Light Capital, thought the school was such a good idea that she infused it with $1.5 million of her own money.

In a way, the year-old school is itself a start-up. Paul Zavracky, LA'71, MS'75, returned to campus in September to serve as the school's first dean. A former Northeastern electrical engineering professor, Zavracky had left his faculty post in 1998 to run his own company.

Other schools, such as the University of Pennsylvania and Lehigh University, offer students with entrepreneurial inclinations dual degrees in business and engineering.

But Northeastern has created the first freestanding school that will eventually grant both degrees and certificates in technological entrepreneurship. "This school is one of a kind," says Zavracky.

Along with the minor, the School for Technological Entrepreneurship will soon offer a graduate certificate and a master's degree. It won't draw just business and engineering students; it will also attract students from the health sciences and the liberal arts who are interested in creating and marketing new tools, gadgets, or services.

In fact, Zavracky says, Northeastern decided to create a stand-alone entity for the study of technological entrepreneurship because the field doesn't fit neatly into the standard engineering or business curriculum.

"Starting technological companies is typically done by technologists," he says, "and really requires a huge amount of understanding of the technologies involved. Nothing in the business school can help you there.

"On the other hand," Zavracky continues, "technology companies are businesses, and there's a lot that needs to be understood about running a business. And the engineering school can't help a lot with that."

Classes in the new school are taught by faculty from engineering and business as well as arts and sciences, health sciences, and computer and information sciences. Soon, Zavracky hopes to hire new professors, create endowed chairs, and bring in experienced technological entrepreneurs to speak to students.

For now, Evanish and his classmates are soaking up the interdisciplinary approach to outlining a vision and making it fly. He's convinced of the practicality of what he's been learning: balance sheets, market research, business plans.

"The minor is giving me the tools to wrap around my ideas," he says.

Actually, this is an appropriate metaphor for the entire Leadership Campaign and all ongoing Northeastern fundraising efforts, like the annual-giving program. Reaching across boundaries and around barriers, they help people find what they need to build their dreams and soar.

Remember that the next time you get one of those early-evening phone calls.

— Karen Feldscher is a senior writer for Northeastern Magazine

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