New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) will confer honorary Doctor of Science degrees on a pharmaceutical executive and a distillation-engineering expert during its Jan. 30, 2004, commencement ceremony at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center’s Prudential Hall, Newark.
During the 10 a.m. ceremony, NJIT will award students some 477 bachelor’s degrees, 533 master’s degrees, and 34 doctoral degrees.
The first honorary degree will be conferred upon Peter Heere, of Livingston. For nearly 60 years, Heere has been at the forefront of distillation engineering. His contributions to the science and practice of distillation – the foremost separation system in chemical engineering practice – can be seen in all commercial applications.
Born in Holland, Heere came with his family to New Jersey as a child. Since his family moved to many different cities, his education was cobbled together at a number of schools in north Jersey. Unable to afford college, he continued to study on his own while working as a cleaner and oiler in the power plant of Standard Laundry in Jersey City. The second largest laundry in the world, the facility generated its own power with steam.
Through independent study and diligent effort, Heere rose to become chief engineer of the facility within two years. At 21, he was licensed as a stationary engineer, a year before he began his engineering studies at Cooper Union. His career took him though engineering positions at Kellogg and Foster Wheeler, including an assignment to the Manhattan Project to work on the design of a Steadman distillation plant.
Judy C. Lewent, of Bernardsville, executive vice president and chief financial officer of Merck & Co., Inc., will receive the second honorary degree. Lewent has helped to foster a corporate growth strategy unique in the pharmaceutical industry that focuses on internal growth and joint ventures rather than mergers and acquisitions. She played a key role in designing and negotiating these ventures, beginning with a landmark agreement in 1982 with Astra AB – the Swedish company now called AstraZeneca. Through this pact, Merck took on the marketing of such Astra pharmaceuticals as the anti-ulcer drug Prilosec. By 1997 this joint venture boasted revenues of $2.3 billion.
During more than two decades at Merck, Lewent has developed sophisticated revenue hedging and research-planning models that have positioned the company for strong top-level growth. Her strategic leadership has been pivotal in building the company’s revenues to more than $30 billion. In a role far broader than that of a typical CFO, she decides which developmental-product projects to fund and how to structure product franchises, acquisition possibilities, and licensing agreements. She set up Merck Capital Ventures, which she now chairs, to fund private businesses that use Web-based technologies to make the pharmaceutical industry more efficient.
Karisa Solt, the school’s valedictorian, is at 18 the youngest student ever to graduate from NJIT.
Solt, of Quakerstown, Penn., enrolled at NJIT’s Albert Dorman Honors College, on a full scholarship, when she was 15. Graduating as a biomedical engineering major with a near perfect cumulative grade point average of 3.996, she’s already been accepted to medical school. She has received a full scholarship to the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey – New Jersey Medical School. But she’s still waiting to hear from Yale, Columbia and Johns Hopkins. While a student, Solt developed a computerized model of the knee that orthopedic surgeons can use to practice knee-joint injections. And what’s more she accomplished all this never having attended high school and having gone only two years to grammar school. She was home schooled by her mother.
Elizabeth Whitworth, of South Orange, an NJIT student who will receive a bachelor’s degree in human-computer interaction, will be the undergraduate speaker. Whitworth, a student in NJIT’s Albert Dorman Honors College, did research on software that helps rehabilitate stroke patients. She was also a teacher’s assistant for a human-computer interface course at NJIT. She worked as an NJIT peer counselor, helping students sort through problems, and had an internship at Mercedez-Benz USA, Montvalle, working on the firm’s internal Websites.
Dawn Bennett, of Burlington, who will receive a doctorate degree in mechanical engineering, will be the graduate speaker. While a student at NJIT, Bennett did research on the detection of biological warfare agents for Sandia National Laboratory, Albuquerque, New Mexico, the government lab that develops technologies to protect national security. She was part of a Sandia research team that worked on developing “smart” biological sensors that could detect lethal biological weapons such as anthrax and small pox spores.
Editors’ Note: Photographs of the graduation speakers, including Heere and Lewent, will be available as of Wednesday, Feb. 4, 2004. Call Robert Florida at (973) 596-5203 if you are interested in photos.