Henry M. Rowan College of Engineering humorously, poignantly celebrates 20th commencement with largest class

Henry M. Rowan College of Engineering humorously, poignantly celebrates 20th commencement with largest class

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With about 45 minutes to spare, Mother Nature opted to cooperate and spread some sunshine over Bunce Green as the largest class ever of Henry M. Rowan College of Engineering students prepared to graduate after showers peppered South Jersey on and off for a few hours on Thursday, May 16.

“They say that engineers rule the world, don’t they? In fact, I think the engineers this morning ruled the universe,” joked Dr. Ali Houshmand, Rowan’s president, suggesting that engineers made the rain and clouds disappear. “Only you guys can do that.”

Houshmand went on, on a serious note, to tell the 300+ graduates, “. . . Getting an engineering degree takes tremendous amounts of dedication and hard work and brilliance.”

The sunshine and humor were just the start of a great morning for the 20th Engineering graduating class members and their family and friends who perched on dried-off folding chairs to take in the festivities.

Making choices

Commencement speaker and Medal of Excellence Award winner Brighid Burgin Hoempler, a 2012 chemical engineering graduate, shared her personal story and encouragement with the audience. Hoempler, who works for ExxonMobil near Houston on commercial vehicle lubricant deployment in the United States and Mexico, spoke to the graduates about making choices.

Among other things, she talked about how – after a stellar high school career – she was shocked that the only one of the seven engineering schools she was accepted into that she could afford was Rowan and about being a little resentful she couldn’t attend an Ivy League school. That, she said, was a “stupid comparison trap,” the world trying to force her expectations “into a teeny tiny engineering mold.” She noted, “My life wanted me to spend four incredible years at Rowan University. And my life wanted me to lean into my college choice, to flow and to embrace the opportunity that an incredibly generous man (philanthropist Henry M. Rowan) I didn’t even know laid out in front of me . . . So I chose to be happy at Rowan, and that made all the difference.”

She told the graduates they will face uncertainties. “I’m here to tell you,” she added, “that the choices won’t always be easy, but you need to actively choose for yourself. Embrace the uncertainty, potential path, all the options for your life moving forward, and take the leaps of faith that feel right for you.”

Getting past fears

Veronica (Ronnie) LaMastro, recipient of the Irene Elizabeth Tracey Award for Excellence in Engineering, was the student speaker. She talked about the fears she had during her college career and her dread of commencement day, fears of the future and leaving family and friends as she heads to Brown University to pursue a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering. She told her classmates, “The true college experience is pushing yourself out of your comfort zone. It’s about meeting and exceeding all goals that you set for yourself . . . It’s about growing as a person . . . It’s about doing things that absolutely terrify you and using that as fuel to motivate you.”

While there were many celebratory moments and comments, there were poignant ones as well. The College left a chair empty on the platform in honor of the late Mr. Rowan, benefactor of the College and Rowan University. And it presented a posthumous degree to Tammy and Tom Thornton, the parents of the late Thomas Thornton, a civil and environmental engineering student who was one of two students with ties to the College who passed away this year. (The other, David Lin, was in exploratory studies with an interest in electrical and computer engineering.)

Honoring the dean

And the College honored Dr. Anthony Lowman, dean, who after six years at the helm of Rowan Engineering has accepted the position of Rowan University provost.

Dr. Stephanie Farrell, incoming interim dean, said that during his tenure Rowan Engineering doubled its student population and full-time faculty and brought online a comprehensive research mission. “Despite that growth, Dr. Lowman maintained a commitment to what was at our core – our hands-on programs that seek to inspire students with a sense of entrepreneurialism and empower them with skills and competencies that are in demand and essential for professional and academic success.”

A moved Lowman said, “It’s truly been an honor to work with this group of faculty and administrators.” He told the students, “You’re why I come here every day and do what I do. . . Every day I’ve come here and tried to make the experience that you get the best possible experience . . . You’re an outstanding group of students.”