Deciding to Make a Peaceful Difference: Meet Alumni Shimon Schwarzschild '50

Alumni Shimon Schwarzschild '50

It was in San Francisco, in the late 1970s, that Shimon Schwarzschild made a life-changing decision.

Although he was the head of a successful firm representing manufacturers of scientific instruments, his affinity for social and environmental activism had also led to demanding commitments such as serving as the volunteer president of the city’s largest neighborhood-improvement organization. Taking stock of his life, he chose a direction very different from his career of some 30 years as an engineer in technical and executive positions.

“I was bothered by the fact that almost all the instruments my company sold, while used in peaceful applications, were funded by the Department of Defense,” Schwarzschild says. “I had already spent eight years and two wars in the military, and found myself again being supported by military funds. I decided to look for a more peaceful earning alternative.

“Just then I was offered a job as executive director of American Youth Hostels’ San Francisco office, though at a much lower salary. I took it. It felt good to lead the development and operation of hostels in northern California, and to plan a Pacific coast hostel chain stretching more than a thousand miles from Canada to Mexico.”

Schwarzschild, who had come to this country from Germany as a child before World War II, served with the US Navy aboard destroyers in the Pacific during that conflict, taking part in the invasion of Okinawa. Later recalled to duty during the Korean War, he did so with an NCE degree in electrical engineering made possible by the GI Bill and with a naval officer’s commission.

Subsequent to his work with the hostels, Schwarzschild became an editor of reports on endangered wildlife and plants for the US Forest Service, executive director of a national whale and ocean protection organization, and associate producer of environmental videos for television. His volunteer activities included serving as a member of the Commission on Education of the World Conservation Union.

Schwarzschild also spearheaded efforts to protect the world’s wild yew tree population, promoting a sustainable approach to using this resource to produce a new anti-cancer drug. He described this effort in an online supplement to the fall 2010 NJIT Magazine, titled “Liberal Arts, Yew Trees and Combating Cancer”.

The Assisi Bird Campaign in Italy was another initiative led by Schwarzschild. “I launched the campaign after visiting Assisi in 1980 to see the songbirds of Saint Francis. Instead, I discovered hundreds of spent shotgun cartridges and feathers, but no songbirds. I was so angry that hunters had decimated Francis’ songbirds that I launched the effort to bring them back.” With local and global support, and perhaps the help of Saint Francis, we achieved a permanent moratorium on hunting songbirds on Mount Subasio, and the establishment of an environmental education and ethics center in Assisi.”

Schwarzschild says that the knowledge and problem-solving skills he acquired at NJIT have been the foundation of success in all of his pursuits. He emphasizes that engineering can be a force for good. “If this planet is to survive, engineers can and should be at the forefront of developing green energy, mitigating the adverse effects of air and water pollution, climate change, and hunger and disease, just to name a few of our challenges.”

It is also imperative to ensure that young people have access to the education that will enable them to take part in meeting these challenges, Schwarzschild says. “I laud the availability of the GI Bill that helped to transform my life. We need such support for education today more than ever if we want college graduates to start their careers free of a debt burden that can thwart dreams and severely limit their choices in life.”

Schwarzschild continues working for conservation and education as founder emeritus of Action for Nature, and as local coordinator for the Council on International Educational Exchange (CIEE) that brings together local host families and foreign high school students interested in a rich cultural- exchange experience. He invites anyone to contact him at shimons@earthlink.net.