David Luzzi’s maternal grand­fa­ther emi­grated with his wid­owed mother and five younger sis­ters from Ire­land to New York in 1914, and at age 14 he worked long days. He attended high school and col­lege classes in the evening. Even­tu­ally, he became the trea­surer of the American-​​Hawaiian Steamship Company.

Luzzi’s paternal grand­fa­ther, the son of Italian immi­grants, sim­i­larly pur­sued his edu­ca­tion in night school. He later rose as an engi­neer in Admiral Com­pany to design the refrig­er­a­tion system for the Rock­e­feller Ice Skating Rink and the first air-​​conditioning system for the Empire State Building, as well as for other notable buildings.

The up-​​from-​​nothing suc­cesses of these patri­archs were enor­mous points of pride for gen­er­a­tions to come. Fueled by this family his­tory, Luzzi has taken this pas­sion and work ethic to heart in his own pro­fes­sional endeavors, and this spring, the National Ethnic Coali­tion of Orga­ni­za­tions awarded him the pres­ti­gious Ellis Island Medal of Honor. The prize rec­og­nizes dis­tin­guished Amer­i­cans who have made a sig­nif­i­cant impact in their field and is named for the place where mil­lions of immi­grants — including Luzzi’s grand­par­ents — first arrived in America.

Com­mu­ni­cated down from my grand­par­ents through my par­ents was this deep appre­ci­a­tion of the ideals of this country, what it stands for and what it meant in their minds,” said Luzzi, exec­u­tive director of Northeastern’s Strategic Secu­rity Ini­tia­tive. In this role, he is respon­sible for building and enhancing the university’s impact, rep­u­ta­tion and scale in home­land secu­rity research and innovation.

The idea of this country as the land of oppor­tu­nity was a major theme in my family — and that in turn has made me a very patri­otic person,” Luzzi said.

The Ellis Island Medal of Honor is pre­sented annu­ally to a group of dis­tin­guished living Amer­i­cans who meet cri­teria such as the exem­pli­fi­ca­tion of a life ded­i­cated to the Amer­ican ideal of hard work, self-​​improvement and com­mu­nity ser­vice; and the preser­va­tion and cel­e­bra­tion of the his­tory, tra­di­tions and values of their ancestry.

Luzzi pre­vi­ously served as dean of Northeastern’s Col­lege of Engi­neering until late last year. He said his grand­par­ents’ immi­grant back­ground has shaped his approach to his work and helped him develop a kin­dred rela­tion­ship with George J. Kostas, E’43, H’07, who gave North­eastern $12 mil­lion to build the George J. Kostas Research Insti­tute for Home­land Secu­rity, a secure, state-​​of-​​the-​​art home­land secu­rity facility that opened last year at the university’s Burlington, Mass., campus.

George is pas­sionate about this country and the oppor­tu­nity it pro­vides for its people to suc­ceed based on their tal­ents and efforts,” Luzzi said.

Before coming to North­eastern, Luzzi was a leader of the Air Force Sci­en­tific Advi­sory Board, spun out two com­pa­nies from his research lab­o­ra­tory and built a 12-​​​​university insti­tute that cre­ated and trans­lated a broad port­folio of new technologies.

During Luzzi’s tenure as dean, the Col­lege of Engi­neering achieved new levels of excel­lence in edu­ca­tion and research. He led the recruit­ment of 37 out standing new tenured and tenure-​​​​track fac­ulty, devel­oped new cen­ters and schol­arly direc­tions, oversaw a sig­nif­i­cant invest­ment in research and teaching infra struc­ture, strength­ened the college’s alumni engage­ment and phil­an­thropy, and was a forceful spokesman for the power of coop­er­a­tive education.