Success & Impact
Mary H. Van Brunt ‘93 (MBA) will become Spring Hill College’s first female president in January 2023. She credits her corporate background with making her a highly effective leader in higher education.
Success & Impact
Even as a youngster, Ken Young, Ph.D. ’72 appreciated physics. He found the discipline inherent in the study of physics an appealing way to look at the world — developing a theory, experimenting and then repeating the process — using the scientific method.
Young was a bright student at Gloucester Catholic High School in Brooklawn, New Jersey, where he was valedictorian of his graduating class. Even though a large number of his classmates were college bound, and teachers encouraged him, college was not a given, although he did want to go. He is the eldest of seven siblings, whose parents had lived through the Great Depression and had not attended college. No decision was made until a recruiter from Saint Joseph’s University came to his school and discussed his options.
“So, I applied and was offered the Presidential Scholarship,” Young remembers. “It was full tuition, which my parents saw as a great opportunity, and I was a physics major from the get-go.” Young says there were many aspects of college that he “stumbled through” in the beginning, as the first in his family to attend college. Everything was new and different.
A variety of summer jobs paid for Young’s room and board and he participated in every intramural sport available, having what he calls the best time of his life. Growing up in a small town and attending a Catholic school, he wasn’t quite prepared for some of the diversity he encountered when he arrived at St. Joe’s, including a roommate whose family had fled Castro’s Cuba.
“The diversity was eye-opening and epitomizes my experience. I never would have met such diverse people at home, including the incredibly vibrant and smart professors who really cared about their students and their teaching,” he says. Young took every available physics course and participated in discussions and debates around civil rights and marched in protest against the Vietnam War.
“Everything I learned and experienced at St. Joe’s informed and shaped my worldview,” he says. “And the scholarship made it all possible.”
Young went on to earn master’s and doctoral degrees in physics from the University of Pennsylvania and then was employed by Bell Labs in New Jersey. When that company was divested, he became an executive director of Applied Communication Sciences, where he worked for more than 30 years. For the last several years, Young also taught both high school and community college physics, and today is happily retired, living in northern New Jersey, with his wife, Mara, and younger daughter, Grace, whom he often tutors in her honors high school physics classes. His older daughter, Emily, is a graduate student at Rutgers University.
Young’s commitment to science and to advancing the education of physics students, especially those at St. Joe’s, has translated in the last couple of years to making generous gifts to the institution.
Last year, he donated a confocal microscope, which helps upper-level students in the Physics Department in their studies and with research. Laser scanning confocal microscopy, is an essential tool in biological and biomedical sciences, has now found its way in the arsenal of tools used by physicists. “I talked with professors there and got a tour and asked them what one thing I could do to enhance the desirability of physics as a major at St. Joe’s, and they suggested this microscope. The confocal microscope is the central instrument used by Piotr Habdas, Ph.D., professor of physics and a condensed matter physicist, who uses this technique to study various aspects of colloidal glasses. Biology students are also using this instrument to look at the entry of photoactive drugs into the cell, looking to see if they can be potential agents for killing cancer cells.
“I want to see Saint Joseph’s Physics Department grow and thrive and provide opportunities for many students to go on to successful careers … like the opportunity I was given. I’m making these donations as a payback,” he explains.
Recently, Young made a generous new gift to the University, which includes support for the
Young Family Scholarship, as well as the Summer Scholars Program and the Campus Transformation Fund. The Young Family Scholarship is for a student studying physics who has financial need. “A scholarship helped me, and now this will do something similar for others,” he says.
The scholarship recipient for 2021 is Francis Snyder, a junior majoring in physics. Getting his start in research through the Summer Scholars Program, Francis has remained in Habdas’s lab for the past three years, presenting his work at a range of national scientific conferences.
“I was happy to get this scholarship, and I am sincerely grateful to Dr. Young for his generosity,” says Snyder. “It allows me to focus on my studies and research at the University.”
An advocate for science, Young’s commitment to Summer Scholars was a natural one. The program provides students with an 11-week opportunity to engage in research full time with faculty mentors, and then share the culmination of that work. The new endowment will provide ongoing financial support to two students annually, beginning in 2021, who are interested in STEM-related positions, with a preference for students from the Physics Department.
When he was a student, Young worked on an honors research project with Thaddeus Burch, S.J. whom he credits with mentoring him in experimental physics. “Research projects give you a leg up if you’re planning to go further in your education, and the summer program is a way for students to really focus on that,” he says.
I want to see Saint Joseph’s Physics Department grow and thrive and provide opportunities for many students to go on to successful careers … like the opportunity I was given. I’m making these donations as a payback."
Young’s commitment to giving back has transformed lives and will continue to do so. Now, his commitment to Saint Joseph’s University will help transform the residential experience at St. Joe’s with his gift to the Campus Transformation Fund. The fund supports the University’s sweeping vision for the campus and will enhance every facet of University life, from academic facilities to athletics fields to student spaces. This interconnected, phased project involves long-term, strategic planning to upgrade classrooms and laboratories, modernize student centers and residence halls and build better pedestrian walkways to link all areas of campus.
This comprehensive campus plan will enhance academics across all disciplines, strengthening the unique Saint Joseph’s skill set, adding vibrancy and connecting all parts of the community.
“Saint Joseph’s validated what I thought of physics being — a discipline that provides a great worldview that allows you to do things that may not be done by people with other worldviews. I had a great time there, learned a lot, got into a top-tier graduate school and worked for a world-renowned company. I attribute that all to my time at St. Joe’s.”