Lifelong Learning: Paul Ossenbruggen ‘63 

Paul Ossenbruggen

When it comes to lifelong learning, there’s no better example than Paul Ossenbruggen ‘63. With several decades of experience as a professor, and an engineering career spanning over 40 years, he continues to publish new research papers to this day. However, the journey towards settling into his teaching role took some time. With so many different things he enjoyed learning, it made choosing a specific career difficult. 

“I never seem to settle in anything. Some people got involved with one thing and that’s what they do,” he says. “That’s not me – I jump around from one thing to the next.” 

Graduating from Brooklyn Tech High School in 1959, Ossenbruggen was uncertain about his career path. Though he began studying civil engineering at Syracuse University, he remained open to exploring other options. At one point, he even considered becoming an airline pilot. It was only during his internship at an energy technology company, Babcock and Wilcox, that he finally discovered his passion for nuclear engineering. 

“Babcock and Wilcox make huge boilers,” he says. “Even though I was a civil engineering student, I was getting more involved with nuclear engineering. It was challenging but interesting and I loved every second of it.” 

After completing his undergraduate studies at Syracuse in 1963, he continued pursuing his interest in nuclear engineering when working at General Dynamics Electric Boat, where he helped build nuclear submarines. Yet, a part of him wanted to continue learning and exploring other options. 

“I loved my job at Electric Boat. They designed and constructed the first nuclear-powered submarine, the U.S.S. Nautilus,” he says. “But I felt there was so much more I wanted to learn so I decided to go to grad school at the University of Connecticut in 1967 and later Carnegie Mellon University for my Ph.D. in 1970. I like learning new things.” 

Initially planning to return to Electric Boat, Ossenbruggen became interested in higher education and decided to pursue teaching instead. He began teaching at Northeastern University in Boston, and later in 1975, he moved to the University of New Hampshire where he taught for 34 years. He also taught at the University of California, Berkeley from 2000-2003.

Teaching not only allowed him to mentor and guide students but also explore new engineering concepts, which he found fulfilling. During his tenure as a professor, he also wrote a textbook in 1984 titled “Systems Analysis for Civil Engineers.” The book combined the fundamentals of engineering economics and civil engineering systems and garnered critical acclaim at the time of its publication. It was also translated into Chinese.

“It was a cutting-edge book. Civil engineers didn’t usually write this kind of textbook,” he says. “And one of the great things about it is that it’s still being read to this day.” 

Nowadays, Ossenbruggen has settled down, returning to Syracuse where he sees a bright future for the University and the city. He’s been particularly excited about Micron’s plans to invest an estimated $100 billion into Central New York as well as the community grid in downtown Syracuse.

“I’m excited to be in Syracuse now to see this transformation happen. Micron is going make a big difference,” he says. “I’ve been to every meeting, and it looks promising to me. This area turned into a rust belt but hopefully, it’ll become stainless steel.” 

Ossenbruggen also looks forward to the Operations Research and System Analytics Master’s Program, which he believes will bring immersive learning to the college’s forefront and fuel students’ passion for learning and discovery. 

“I’ve been interested in operations research since I was a grad student at Carnegie Mellon. It had just got off the ground when I was completing my Ph.D. I even proposed a similar course while I was at the University of New Hampshire.  

“I’m glad ECS is committed to introducing this program. It’s interdisciplinary, which I like very much. The course selection is great and offers a nice variety of courses that can be tailored to meet a student’s interests. Syracuse University is in a great position.”  

Environmental Excellence: Eric Gerstenberg ’89

When Eric Gerstenberg started at Clean Harbors, he was about as far from the C-suite as he could be.  After graduating from Syracuse University, Gerstenberg landed a job at the company as a field lab technician. He went out in a truck and took care of chemicals or materials that companies in eastern Massachusetts needed to either recycle or dispose of. At the time, Clean Harbors was a relatively small company helping businesses and government agencies but the need for the company’s environmental and industrial services was growing each year.

“I was given the opportunity to excel through advancing with the company,” says Gerstenberg.

Gerstenberg moved into a role running a business unit for Clean Harbors in Natick, Massachusetts and then managing larger facilities in Baltimore and Chicago.

“When I moved into a supervisory role, I learned a lot about the environmental industry,” says Gerstenberg.

Gerstenberg had been an aerospace engineering major at the College of Engineering and Computer Science but found that the fundamental engineering and problem-solving skills he gained at Syracuse University were helping him thrive at Clean Harbors.

“I was applying science and business skills,” says Gerstenberg. “The engineering curriculum got me exposed to the important principles of material science.”

As Clean Harbors continued to grow, so did the opportunities for Gerstenberg. The one-time field lab technician took positions as the president of the environmental, industrial & field services business, vice president of disposal services and executive vice president for environmental services. In 2015, Gerstenberg was named as the chief operating officer for Clean Harbors which had grown into a five billion dollar company with 20,000 employees. On March 31st, Gerstenberg and Clean Harbors chief financial officer Michael Battles will become co-CEOs of the company, succeeding founder Alan McKim.

Gerstenberg is grateful for his time as a student at Syracuse University and what it had to offer. He is especially eager to help engineering and computer science students looking to start their careers or take a step forward.

“Now I get to offer opportunities to talented young engineers who want to grow their career,” says Gerstenberg. “Syracuse is where I made many of my lifelong friends. It created an experience where I was exposed to a diversity of education, diversity of people and many different channels.”

Gerstenberg spends more of his time focused on the overall business operations at Clean Harbors than hands-on engineering but his Syracuse University degree is still proving its worth.

“An engineering education helps people be better problem solvers using methodical approaches. They can think through problems, understand the details and dig deep. It helps you analyze a problem and have that process,” says Gerstenberg. “I can use these skills in recycling and disposal as well as revenue growth and business operations.”

Gerstenberg sees a bright future for current engineering and computer science students and hopes they can learn from the adaptability he has shown over his career.

“Be open-minded in your approach to what opportunities you look at,” says Gerstenberg. “Be willing to travel and willing to relocate – you can do so many things with an engineering degree.”

National Science Board Awards Electrical Engineering Alumnus Betty Lise Anderson ’78 with Public Service Award

The National Science Board (NSB) honored Betty Lise Anderson ‘78, Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the Ohio State University with its 2022 Public Service Award. The award honors exemplary service in promoting public understanding of science and engineering.

“Dr. Anderson exemplifies what this award is all about” said Maureen Condic, Chair of NSB’s Subcommittee on Honorary Awards. “Not only is she helping shape the next great minds of our STEM enterprise at the university level, she also enlists those minds to help cultivate and motivate young minds at a fundamental level. Her work exemplifies the priorities put forward in NSB’s Vision 2030 to expand STEM opportunities to all Americans.  She’s invaluable.”

Dr. Anderson has led a program – free to participants – that has reached 35,000 students at over 100 different schools, libraries, after-school programs, and scout troops. The program  delivers hands-on engineering activities to K-12 students throughout central Ohio and beyond.  Graduate and undergraduate students, as well as over 600 volunteers operate the program, which hosts an average three events each week. Many volunteers are still students, while others are alumni who want to stay involved or who want to bring the program into their own communities.

She obtained her Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering at Syracuse University and a Master of Science from the University of Vermont where she also obtained her Doctor of Philosophy in Materials Science and Electrical Engineering. Her technical area is photonics, or the physical science of light waves.

Dr. Anderson’s achievements include: Fellow of the Society for Photo-Instrumentation Engineers, senior member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, and the Optical Society of America. She is also co-author of “Fundamentals of Semiconductor Devices.”

Electrical Engineering and Biomedical Engineering Alumni Profile: Grace Lanni ’88

Great ideas often disappear into a chasm that exists between inception and execution. To help bridge that gap, Grace Lanni ’88 has an innate ability to communicate with an array of stakeholders, help entrepreneurs find clarity in their ideas, and turn them into solutions that help people. Her fluency in a diverse set of subjects and ability to adapt was apparent from the start of her time as a student at Syracuse University.

Lanni entered college on a full Airforce ROTC scholarship and chose electrical engineering and biomedical engineering as part of a dual degree, along with a minor in music. Lanni found Syracuse University provided her with opportunities and resources to pursue her differing interests.

“The professors were very entrepreneurial, and I leaned into that. I was able to work with a physician at Upstate Medical Center as a lab assistant and I had other internship activities so I could apply the stuff I was learning,” said Lanni. “I also got to join the jazz band and be part of a community of musicians.”

After graduating, Lanni accepted a position where she quickly learned she was uniquely effective at communicating between two key departments.

“I would sit with the engineers in the morning and then spend the afternoon with the marketing people to explain what it was the engineers were building, and how to sell and implement the products,” said Lanni.

Lanni admits she had more fun spending time with the marketing team, and it opened her eyes to a side of business she had never experienced. This was the first of several significant shifts Lanni used to chart her career. In her next job, Lanni got a taste for selling. Then she moved to California where she took a position at a small networking hardware company and helped them grow to 35 employees within a year. The next move was to Austin, Texas and into software sales at a startup, but suddenly her momentum was stopped. After two months of being in the role, Lanni arrived at the office to find the doors chained shut. The company had gone out of business. Lanni had moved to Austin with her kids, she didn’t know many people, and did not have a job. After briefly considering retreating back to California, Lanni made some calls to colleagues and started looking for projects. Six months later she had her own company.

At the time, companies were just beginning to move servers off site to colocation centers, but the software they needed to manage the new server set up didn’t exist. Recognizing a sound opportunity, Lanni drafted a proposal and became one of only two women to score million-dollar money from a tier one venture capital firm that year. This was Lanni’s first time working with a venture group, and she says although it came with new challenges, the experience made her want to help women entrepreneurs.

“I really didn’t have any experience in the venture community. I had some support, some mentorship, but nothing like today,” said Lanni. “One of the things I love to do is support other women who want to go into the venture community and that is why. I didn’t have the support. I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t know how to manage the money. Those are skills I learned.”

Lanni broke away to work on a new startup in collaboration with Dell engineers to develop and sell an early version of the tablet PC. Lanni booked the first order, signed up the first partner and the first distributor, and after seven years she decided it was time for another move. Healthtech allowed Lanni to enjoy bioengineering and entrepreneurship, but by 2016, she went all-in on digital marketing. Lanni went to her team and asked what they thought she should focus on, and they said, “you’re a personal branding expert.” In response, Lanni launched a new business called All About That Brand to focus on helping entrepreneurs tell their stories to attract their ideal customers.

Lanni is a pioneer in the branding influencer space. All About That Brand helped bring personal brand influence into the spotlight and it took off. The platform includes an award-winning podcast, an award-winning book, and it positioned Lanni as an influencer in marketing, personal branding, and customer experience. In February of 2020, Lanni was searching for a new opportunity to innovate, and her reputation led to an invitation to appear on the cyberbullying episode of “4 Days to Save the World,” a reality show that challenges groups of entrepreneurs to develop solutions for global social problems.

The eruption of COVID-19 nearly derailed any further participation with the show because Lanni needed to focus on managing disruption facing All About That Brand. When she notified the showrunners that she wanted to step away, they countered by asking Lanni to stay on board in a new role, associate producer. It may sound like a strange role for an engineer, but both engineering and producing require a similar way of thinking.

“You have a problem in front of you almost every hour of every day. It is 24 hours of problem solving to the emergency room level,” said Lanni.

Her engineering mindset made Lanni a natural fit and within six months she became the executive producer in charge of 4 teams responsible for recruiting show-ready entrepreneurs, sponsorships, and financing to bring the show to set.

“With all my business expertise, I was able to weigh in and work directly with the studio owner and creator. It was a wonderful, wild experience for 18 months,” said Lanni. “It was like going back to college. I loved college. I learned so many new things.”

While talking with entrepreneurs around the world for the show, Lanni would often hear about the causes that mattered most to them and why. Those conversations got her thinking about how to stand out in the increasingly crowded brand space and blend her complimentary roles as a branding influencer and executive producer with her passion for helping entrepreneurs.

“When you’re talking with really smart entrepreneurs about how to save the world, it’s pretty fun. I decided I wanted to be in the conversations about cause. I wanted to help my clients identify and lean into their cause,” said Lanni.

Cause branding became Lanni’s new lane, and her latest enterprise is called Giving Out Loud. It is a media program that focuses on helping entrepreneurs select a cause that aligns with their brand and helping them demonstrate care for that cause.

“If you’re in business and you want to interact with younger generations, figure out what matters to you and talk about it,” said Lanni. “Be in that conversation because that is where things are headed.”

In the simplest terms, Lanni is an entrepreneur who wants to help other entrepreneurs at every level. Including aspiring entrepreneurs at Syracuse University.

“I am a fan of the entrepreneurship focus at Syracuse University. I love being a judge for Invent@SU and being a mentor,” said Lanni. “Have a great time and realize it is a journey. What you’re studying today is more about the people in the room than what is on the page. Really celebrate those relationships.”