For Harvey Kushner ’51, “to lead” is a very active verb
”When asked how he felt about receiving the Whiting School of Engineering’s inaugural Dean’s Special Recognition Award in April 2001, Harvey Kushner ’51, management and technology consultant, civic leader, and long-time Whiting School friend and supporter, responded with characteristic humility. “It was a surprise,” he said.
What may be more surprising is how many ways and for how many years Kushner has worked on behalf of Hopkins engineering and the Whiting School. To list but a few, he is a member of the School’s National Advisory Council (NAC) and has provided useful advice to every dean since the School’s founding in 1979. He became a mentor, lecturer, and teacher in the wildly successful January Intersession course in entrepreneurship and management. A former member of the Biomedical Engineering Campaign Committee, he currently is a member of the advisory board for Mathematical Sciences. In presenting Kushner with the Dean’s Special Recognition Award, Ilene Busch-Vishniac commended Kushner for being an “incredible asset to the School” and a “leadership volunteer extraordinaire.”
As is so often the case, Kushner traces his commitment to Hopkins engineering back to the influence of a single teacher, in this case, James F. Bell. The Mechanical Engineering professor who devoted 50 years to research and teaching at Hopkins was Kushner’s advisor throughout his undergraduate years. “I didn’t even want to be a mechanical engineer,” admitted Kushner. “But I had a full scholarship in engineering; that’s why I was in it. When I was working on a research project with Professor Bell, he would say, ‘I want you to know enough of the underlying theory that you can write the book.’ That got me interested.” Bell was more than a good teacher. He was a “remarkable man,” Kushner recalled. A saxophonist, Bell would invite Kushner and other undergraduates over to his house “in the middle of the day to listen to jazz.”
“He died a few years ago,” says Kushner, “and I regretted that I had not spent more time with him.” That year, 1995, Kushner dedicated his Whiting School gift to Bell’s memory. “Somehow, all of that really got me thinking about how important Hopkins had been to me,” Kushner said.
But this is getting ahead of an incredible story. Born in Brighton Beach, New York, in 1930 to European immigrant parents, Kushner moved to Baltimore with his family three years later, and grew up here. From 1951 until 1953, he served as an associate engineer in the Navy at the Navy’s Bureau of Ships in Washington, D.C. Other positions followed in engineering, computer systems, and management for firms in Northern Virginia, suburban Maryland, and New York. It wasn’t until the 1970s that Hopkins re-emerged on Kushner’s personal radar screen.
As a founding member of the Montgomery County Technology Council, in the 1970s Kushner worked alongside Charles V. Gilchrist (the former county executive died in 1999) and other corporate and civic leaders to gain commitments from Hopkins and others to provide much needed technology- oriented educational resources in the Washington, D.C. suburbs. Hopkins brought in people representing its programs in public health and engineering, explained Kushner. “They talked about how a local campus could benefit the National Institutes of Health, other government agencies, and the technology companies in the area.” The message, however, was they could not pay for the campus, that the government would have to do it. At that point “Charlie Gilchrist became inspired,” Kushner said.
Montgomery County came up with the money to provide the land and the facility. Because of the presence of Hopkins at its Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, the new campus had a ready source of adjunct faculty. “Within two years,” said Kushner, “we had about 2,000 students. It was a terrific program for employees.”
According to Sarah Steinberg, executive director of the Whiting School’s Part-Time Programs in Engineering and Applied Science based at the Montgomery County campus [MCC], “Harvey was very influential in the early development of the MCC, and he continues to be a driving force impacting engineering’s growth and expansion in the region.”
“Hopkins had reconstituted its engineering school as the Whiting School in 1979, with David VandeLinde as its first dean,” Kushner explained. “Dr. VandeLinde invited me to be part of the NAC” in 1988.
Kushner’s experiences as a corporate and civic leader have helped guide every Whiting School dean since then as well, and toward a real-world focus. Don P. Giddens, now dean of the College of Engineering at Georgia Institute of Technology, noted that “Harvey Kushner was a trusted and valued advisor to me during my time as dean of the Whiting School [1992–97]. Not only was he a member of the National Advisory Council, but we also discussed on many occasions the directions that might be taken by the School in order to enhance our performance.”
Said Kushner, “My life has mostly been punctuated by getting together with others who share my interests, getting things done, and moving on. I am interested in doing something useful. I have fun getting things done.”
As president of Kushner Management Planning Corporation, based in the Los Angeles area, he developed expertise in advising corporate managers of technology-based service and product companies. He has put his commitment into action in many key positions over the years, including as a member of Board of Visitors of the University of Maryland Biotechnology Institute, chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Maryland Venture Capital Trust, CEO of ORI Group, Inc. (a major IT company in Montgomery County), and vice president of RGI.
When Hopkins in the mid-1990s introduced an entrepreneurship and management program in the Whiting School’s Department of Mathematical Sciences, Kushner seemed a natural to speak on those topics. He recalled, “I was approached with the question of how to integrate more management issues into the curriculum. Kushner; L. Gordon Croft ’56; Mark E. Rubenstein ’62, ’67 MSE (a fellow NAC member and a University trustee); and John C. Wierman (professor of Mathematical Sciences who later became director of the W.P. Carey Program in Entrepreneurship and Management) discussed how to bring about that integration. “We decided to mount an Intersession course in entrepreneurship and management,” Kushner said. The course began six years ago with a group of 40 engineering students. Then it was opened to all undergraduates. “We had 150 students this year,” Kushner said with pride. “We evolved a business plan contest in the second or third year, and have had some wonderful business plans developed. Some will probably be able to raise money.”
Kushner added, “I don’t like sitting around in meetings. I like to do things.” And, he emphasized, there are countless ways other alumni can also “do things” to help the School—and help shape the future of engineering. “For those who can and are interested, each department in the School has an advisory board,” he said. Alumni can explore “ways for their companies to get involved in collaborative research” with faculty. He also suggested that “showing up on campus and getting back together with professors” who made a difference in their lives is a great way for alumni to reconnect. “Of course, there are Society of Engineering Alumni groups all over the country as well,” he pointed out.
“Especially in engineering, the connection between alumni, faculty, and students is essential to keeping the education focused on the problems of the real world,” Kushner believes. “All of us on the NAC are very concerned that education be treated as seriously as research because these students will be our future employees. This is one of our roles as ‘outsiders’— we keep that dialogue going. We can provide direction.”
For information on how you can become more involved in the future of engineering through the Whiting School, contact Megan Howie at [email protected] or (410) 516 8707.