George J. Pierson has had his share of kudos for engineering the sale last October of global design firm giant Parsons Brinckerhoff in what many consider an impressive $1.35-billion deal. But the firm's president and CEO, who has since stepped down, was equally pleased to see, last spring, the first 14 graduates of a unique four-year program he founded at his alma mater, Bucknell University, to boost the number and diversity of its engineering students. The grads, many who came to the elite private university from under-resourced high schools, now are pursuing industry-focused careers and further study.
As the first member of his family to attend college, Pierson has long embraced education as a "passion," he says.
He sees the Engineering Success Alliance program as a key tool to insure that the broadest array of Bucknell engineering students stick with the tough curriculum to eventually join the construction industry. "It's important that these engineers reflect the communities they will serve, and it's important that we, who are in a position to influence and impact these vital issues, step forward," says Pierson.
To lower the dropout rate through all undergrad engineering years, ESA offers targeted math tutoring, peer support, mentoring and on-site industry experience and internships through all four years of college. ESA participants must be invited into the program; standards are not lowered, says Pierson.
He and PB committed $250,000 to launch the program in 2010, with further investment from other industry firms, investment firm Goldman Sachs and several foundations. Pierson says PB has extended its financial support for five more years and aims to raise $1 million to keep the program self-sustaining—and replicating.
Already, non-engineering programs at Bucknell are moving to implement ESA-like efforts for students, says Pierson, now CEO of newly founded consulting firm Pierson Advisory Group. He remains co-chairman of ESA's advisory committee and a high-profile role model and mentor for its now 60-plus participants.
"Students see someone as successful as George giving so freely of his time and making such a commitment to their professional development and it makes a difference, particularly to those who might otherwise feel unsure of belonging in the profession," says Jason Milner, ESA director.
Adds 2014 graduate Oswaldo Galicia, who attended an under-resourced high school in largely minority Canoga Park, Calif., but made the dean's list twice at Bucknell and now is in an environmental engineering master's-degree track at the University of Southern Florida: "Despite his busy schedule, he really showed us how much he believes in us succeeding in our dreams."