Learning, Earning, and Returning

With a romance that started in kindergarten, Michele and John Dearborn ’79 share values, memories and a fondness for Stevens.

“First you learn, then you earn, and then return.” That’s the philanthropic mantra that Michele and John Dearborn live by. After working across the globe, they are now giving back to Stevens as a place that shaped their way.

The charming couple has had a long romance. “We actually met in kindergarten,” John recalls. “We started dating during our sophomore year when Michele was attending Holy Family Academy in Bayonne, and I was a student at St. Peter’s Prep in Jersey City.”

Following high school, they maintained a long-distance relationship while John studied at Stevens and Michele was at Georgetown. “Part of my memory of those days,” Michele said, “is visiting John at Stevens and being impressed with the students and the technical environment right across from New York City. It was all very cool.”

John enrolled at Stevens thinking he would become a physician, but as he learned more about engineering, his goals shifted. “I happened to meet a professor in physics, of all departments, who got me involved doing research connecting physics with chemical engineering,” John remembers. “This got me thinking about a career that was more research and development oriented.”

John earned a master’s degree in chemical engineering in 1981, with a thesis in extensional rheology and polymers. “I graduated with a deep understanding as to why things worked in the chemical engineering field,” he said. “I understood why a pipe or vessel needed to be designed a certain way, whereas some of the other engineers I worked with later in my career knew better how to go to the tables and design that system.”

To complement his technical degrees, John earned an MBA from New York University. John’s technical knowledge, business acumen and strong work ethic led to an extraordinary career that spanned the chemicals, plastics and energy industries. His roles included R&D, sales, marketing, licensing, finance and executive leadership. John worked for Union Carbide, Dow and SABIC, overseeing operations in North and South America, Africa, the Middle East, India and Asia. He retired as a senior vice president with Williams Energy, and he continues to consult for several businesses.

During the height of his career, John and Michele weren’t able to fit in much involvement with Stevens, but they did try to stay connected with some faculty and alumni from Castle Point. It was after he and Michele moved back to the United States that John visited campus and reignited his engagement. “I recall stepping onto campus and feeling compelled to give back because so much of what Michele and I have achieved is rooted in my Stevens education,” John said.

Michele agrees about the impact of a Stevens education. “I always admired the analytical thought process and problem-solving capabilities of a Stevens graduate,” she said. “And I’m very impressed with alumni I have met who have careers in science and technology, positively contributing to the way we all live.”

Michele and John increased their involvement at first by hosting gatherings for Stevens alumni and supporters at their home and by contributing to some special needs identified by the university. John’s involvement has grown over time. In 2012, he became a member of the Board of Trustees, and last year he joined the executive committee of the Stevens Alumni Association.

A hallmark of their legacy is the Michele Z. and John R. Dearborn ’79 M.Eng. ’81 Classroom inside the new Gateway Academic Center. “Stevens is undoubtedly on a pathway of excellence in delivering unparalleled student outcomes,” John said. “A journey to which we are delighted to contribute.”

These days, Michele and John are focused on what might follow their successful careers. They enjoy spending time with their family, plus cooking, photography, travel and golf. Now that they have reached the return phase of their three-step journey, Michele and John are excited to watch a new generation of students start to learn and earn.

“You may not know all you need now,” John imagines telling students, “but with a Stevens education you’ll be able to figure it out. Find something you believe in, that you’re extraordinarily passionate about, and follow that passion.”