More than 300 Gathered for NJIT Alumni Weekend

Gen. Ellen Pawlikowski gave the keynote address for Alumni Weekend.

More than 300 NJIT alumni gathered on campus this weekend (May 20-22) to collect awards, listen to tech talks, receive university updates and hear from Gen. Ellen Pawlikowski, an NJIT alumna who as  a four-star general in the U.S. Air Force is one of the most powerful women in the United States.

Before introducing Gen. Pawlikowski, who earned her chemical engineering degree in 1978, President Joel Bloom discussed the transformation of NJIT from a small commuter school to a nationally-ranked STEM university.

STEM employees are in great demand both in New Jersey and in the nation, said Bloom, and as a public university NJIT is doing all it can to educate the next generation of STEM leaders. To meet the STEM demand, he added, NJIT has grown both physically, with new campus buildings serving an enrollment of more than 11,000 students, as well as qualitatively, with better-prepared students whose later success as alumni is second to none in the nation.

“BuzzFeed ranked us first in the nation based on tuition relative to the average starting salaries of our alumni,” said Bloom. “That’s a tribute to all of you alumni who’ve come to campus this weekend to reunite and to celebrate NJIT.”  

In introducing Pawlikowski, Bloom said that as head of the Air Force Materiel Command she ensures that Air Force personnel have the operational capabilities they need to function, which has immense implications for national security.

During her talk, Pawlikowski gave an overview of the Department of Defense’s post-World War II strategies, known in military parlance as “offset strategies.”

After the war, the main emphasis of the Air Force was to develop and deploy nuclear weapons to contain the Soviet Union, she said. Later, after the breakup of the Soviet Union, the Air Force focused on stealth technologies, which allowed aircraft and missiles to precisely and undetectably penetrate an enemy's radar. Now, as part of the “third offset strategy,” the Air Force Materiel Command is working to deliver new weapons and aircraft that can combat cyber attacks as well as attacks in the air and space, where satellites serve American security. Air Force researchers are using computer modeling and simulation tools to allow for the marriage of flexible new technologies that will protect America on several fronts, from Russia to the Middle East to North Korea, she said.

A few times during her talk, she cited her engineering education at NJIT, which gave her the problem-solving ability to manage a workforce of 80,000 people -- part military and part civilian.  

“I use my technical skills every day, particularly the problem solving and critical thinking you learn during your freshman year at NJIT,” she noted. “The education I received here was second to none.”

She also repeatedly mentioned how important STEM is for the effectiveness of the Air Force -- and how essential it is to have personnel trained in STEM fields.

“That’s why the Air Force turns to a great STEM school like NJIT for its personnel,” she said. “We need talented graduates from schools like NJIT to keep us at the forefront of technology.”

And though she is one of the most powerful women in the country, Pawlikowski said she was humbled to return to her old school -- NJIT -- and talk about her job. 

“I love my job. I love the Air Force and I love to talk about the great work we are doing to keep our great nation safe,” she said. “It’s my honor to return to NJIT on Alumni Weekend and to talk to all of you talented alumni.”

Also during the weekend, Alumni Achievement Awards were given to: Col. Heather McGee ’93, Ehsanollah Bayat ’86, Harry Ettlinger ’50, Ramon Gonzalez ’09 and Bob Rossi ’67. To read their bios click here.

By Robert Florida (robert.florida@njit.edu)