A Message from President Zupan

Higher education is about passages, from child to adult, from one way of life to another. For a select group of our alumni,the passage also has involved leaving their home countries to pursue “the American Dream” by way of an Alfred University education.

A recent tweet from Dr. Preeti Malani noted that it was 51 years ago when her father, Narayan Malani, arrived at Alfred University to begin working on his master’s degree. Her tweet showed a photo of her father in borrowed graduation regalia, captioned “the start of my family’s American Dream.”

Preeti, who is an infectious disease specialist and was recently named chief health officer for the University of Michigan, put us in touch with her father who earned his master’s degree in glass science in 1969 from Alfred University. “He came from Secunderabad, India in 1967. My mother joined him in 1968. The photo of him in graduation regalia was staged (he borrowed his friend's cap and gown to take the shot). He missed his actual graduation in 1969 because he had already moved to Detroit and I was born later that month,” Preeti wrote. Her brother, also an infectious disease specialist, followed to complete their American family.

“Dad took all of us to visit Alfred in 1978,” Preeti said. “I remember him taking photos and saying ‘I want to be able to show people the place I went to school.’ They had very little in those early days but somehow he managed to build a successful future. He worked in the Alfred University library where there was this new device called a ‘Xerox machine. ’He saved up enough money to buy a manual typewriter to complete his thesis. I used that typewriter through high school.”

Narayan recalled, “I was hired for the Glass Division of the Ford Motor Company by Dr. Lou Rossi ’62, an Alfred alumnus who had come to campus to recruit. In 1988, I spent two months at Alfred University as a visiting scientist representing Ford’s Glass Division in a study sponsored by the University’s Center for Glass Research (CGR). Ford was one of the founding members of the CGR. I interacted with faculty members such as David Pye ’59, PhD ’68; Bill LaCourse; and Arun Varshneya. I worked closely with Dr. Robert Condrate and glass scientists from Corning Incorporated in analyzing glass bubbles using mass spectroscopy.”

Preeti recalled that visit, and the fact that “Due to my persistent begging, he got me an Alfred t-shirt, which I wore proudly.”

Preeti added, “Part of my current role is supporting the special health needs of our international students. While the world is very different 51 years later, some challenges are unchanged. I think about my father—leaving everything he knew with literally no safety net. I like to think I have one fraction of the resilience and grit of my parents and others from that generation.”

“These stories are uniquely American but everywhere we look, education is the common thread. My husband's family has a similar story. His father left Poland after World War II as a child, eventually becoming the first in his family to go to college. His mother came to Detroit from Iran in 1964, also for education,” she said.

Preeti’s tweet and Narayan’s story resonated personally. My parents immigrated to this country in the late 1950s—seeking to avoid imprisonment, in my father’s case, by Tito’s communist regime in Yugoslavia. They ended up in upstate New York, where my mother obtained a scholarship from and became the first female graduate of the University of Rochester’s doctoral program in chemistry, the start of our family’s American Dream journey.

There are other Alfred University alumni whose journeys have started in other countries and passed through Alfred University on their way to achieving the successes we define as the American Dream. On a recent swing through Florida for a series of alumni events, for example, we met Phil Lau ’58. Phil’s father was a blue-collar tin miner in Malaysia. Phil received a scholarship created by an Alfred University trustee, allowing him to study at our University. He went on to earn a doctorate in chemistry from Syracuse and then garnered a post-doctoral fellowship at the University of California, Berkeley. He had a distinguished research career at Kodak, being appointed to the top of the technical ladder as a Kodak Research Fellow, publishing extensively, and earning over 60 patents along the way.

A few weeks prior to our Florida swing, I had the pleasure of visiting with Katja Lindenberg '62, an immigrant from Ecuador, who earned her doctorate in theoretical physics from Cornell University. Katja was the first woman to earn her doctoral degree in that field at Cornell, just one of many “firsts” in her career, after majoring in mathematics at our University. Katja’s parents had fled Germany just before the onset of World War II. She now holds a distinguished professorship in chemistry at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) and is among the top scholars at that highly-regarded institution. Among other accomplishments, she has authored three books and over 300 research articles and/or book chapters and been elected a Fellow of the American Physical Society. At UCSD, Katja has been the first female: faculty member in the department of chemistry and biochemistry; chair of her department; chair of the Academic Personnel committee; and vice chair and then chair of the Faculty Senate.

“Alfred opened a world to me that I did not know even existed, and made this possible with the very generous scholarship that covered all of my studies at that time,” Katja said. “My teachers at Alfred University were outstanding for what I needed at that point in my life. Ecuador did not have the possibilities. I have forever been grateful for what I got from Alfred University in the years that followed. I don't know how to stress this in a way that is strong enough. Alfred University was the start of my wonderful academic life.”

Finally, at an alumni gathering last week in the context of the annual National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts (NCECA) meeting in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Professor John Gill ’75 MFA, introduced me to Du Chau ’01, MFA ’03. Du was born in Vietnam and came to the United States with his family in 1981 as refugees after the end of the Vietnam Conflict. He first pursued a career in pathology, and has been the pathology technical coordinator at Methodist Dallas Medical Center.

But Chau had another dream, too—to become a ceramic artist. After taking a sabbatical to earn his two degrees from our University, he was awarded an art residency from the C.R.E.T.A. Foundation in Rome, Italy. In 2017, he received the prestigious NCECA International Residency Award, which gave him the opportunity to work at the Curaumilla Arts Center in Chile. On top of that, “my art degree has helped my medical work,” said Chau. “Art has helped me to ask more questions as a scientist.” As his art career grows, Chau is realizing his American Dream, Part Two, thanks to Alfred University.

In keeping with our University’s strategic plan, we intend to provide an ever more meaningful intersection between opportunity and impact—whether our students hail from the United States or abroad. If anything, we aspire to increase our global connectivity through increasing the percentage of our student body that is international while providing more of our students the opportunity for an overseas experience through the soon-to-be launched APEX program. It is through such steps that we will better prepare our graduates to succeed in an increasingly interconnected world while creating further success stories among the immigrant students at Alfred University who follow in the footsteps of Narayan Malani, Phil Lau, Katja Lindenberg, and Du Chau.

Fiat the American Dream!