Leon Hojegian

“My well-rounded education allowed me to explore a lot of different areas.”
-Leon Hojegian ’61

On a bright September morning, Leon Hojegian ’61 arrives at Stevens for lunch with the Old Guard. “A good day for a walk,” he says, explaining the shuttle wasn’t running with the kind of confidence that comes from always having a backup plan.

Hojegian is a busy man in retirement. Busier than when he worked full-time, he said. He sits on the Executive Committee for the New Jersey Education Association and serves as Secretary for the Vocational Education of New Jersey. Education is important to him and a key to success. He graduated from Stevens in 1961 with a B.S. in science and math and Master of Management Science in 1967. “My well-rounded education allowed me to explore a lot of different areas. I developed perseverance,” he said. “You have to work at it.”

One of the skills he learned from engineering was problem solving. In the technical field you have to get to the point and solve the issue. When he made the switch to education, he noticed colleagues would write long reports, which was very different from his experience of getting things done. While he was taking courses to become certified to teach, he also turned in a paper that was worth four points. “I turned in one page. I got an A on it, but [the teacher] wrote – terse,” he said.

It’s easy to see Leon in his former role as a teacher. He is vibrant, well-spoken, and knowledgeable about many subjects. And it’s also clear why so many former students would want to keep in touch with him. He’s candid without being opinionated and funny without a hint of snarkiness.

Teaching wasn’t his first career or his only area of success. After graduating from Stevens, he got the draft letter. Born and raised in midtown Manhattan, he explained that there were very few eligible young people in the city at the time, so he and all his friends were drafted. He took the letter to Air Force Recruiting Center and became a Missile Combat Crew Commander. It was tough work and long hours. With typical candor, he explains that he feels sorry for the launch officers today who work in isolation with just a team of two. During his term of service he had a crew of five men.

His skills have taken him into various fields. He was a successful business man long before he began teaching math and electronics at Passaic County Technical Institute. At one time he worked for WOR and was an engineer for the Catholic Diocese in Brooklyn. He had his own business manufacturing mobile homes, recreational vehicles and fiberglass assemblies. After he sold his business, it was his wife Rosalie who nudged him in the direction of teaching. Teaching quickly became a passion and aligned with his deeply held belief in giving back. After his wife died, he set up a scholarship at Passaic County Community College in her honor. “We’ve always been givers to charities because there is a need,” he said.

His generosity extends far. Hojegian is a proud member of Stevens Legacy Society and a member of the Lifetime Giving Societies. “We’re making good progress. We are advancing in all the right fields. They have been moving things along in a really beautiful way. It makes you feel proud,” he said.

The notion of giving back was ingrained in him from an early age when he attended fundraisers with his mother. He and his wife have always given back to the arts or the non-profit sector. He explained that ticket prices at NJPAC or a city opera don’t come near to covering the costs of things, so they would always include a donation. This is a value that he has instilled in his sons. “Always include a contribution. If you want these institutions, you have to support them,” he said.

Giving back to their alma mater would be enough for many, but Hojegian is always looking for ways to help someone in need. He supports a couple of orphans in Armenia and through the Episcopal Diocese of Newark, he helps sponsor a girl’s orphanage in Panama. He is also extends his time at St. John’s Episcopal Church as a volunteer and a donor.

In addition to his good works, Hojegian finds the time to travel. He’s visited India and Iceland and plans to go to Thailand and Taiwan in January. This past summer, he was able to get his entire immediate family together for a week in Denver including both his sons, their wives and his grandkids. He is close to his family. In fact, he shares a house with one of his sons. After his wife died, he offered his house to his son and daughter-in-law when they were expecting another baby. His daughter-in-law told him they would only come if he stayed.  Twelve years later, they are all still happily cohabitating. “It’s very nice. We are close and yet we are separate. If they know I’m busy, they won’t bother me,” he said.

Hojegian is indeed busy, yet volunteers at the Museum of Natural History. At the museum, he meets people from all over the world and his natural ability to engage a crowd is still flourishing. He shared an anecdote about a business man from Korea who asked him if he could take his picture. Not only did the picture end up in a magazine, the Korean man now tells his friends when they are in New York to look up Leon on Wednesdays at the museum.

His curiosity about the natural world led him to go on several fossil digs. While out in the field, he discovered that there are dozens of museums around the world looking for curators at no salary, which is sad, he said. With his sharp intellect, he looks for solutions. When examining the practical applications of any career, it’s essential to look at the salary after five years. He explains how important it is to have the right education: “If you are going to go through the trouble, it’s important to do something that has a future,” he said.