Changing Lives, Student by Student
Hugo Ferguson ’56 is quietly affecting change on the Rensselaer campus. While you won’t see his name on a plaque outside of a new building, his support of students is instrumental in allowing the best and brightest the opportunity to thrive here on campus.
Five students thus far have been fortunate enough to receive scholarships as a result of Ferguson’s generosity, thanks to his recent gift of $1 million to the Institute in 2011 and past gifts used to fund two Patroon Scholarships. His recent gift established a graduate student fellowship and a scholarship in Rensselaer’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering. In addition, his generosity established a scholarship in the School of Science’s Department of Physics, Applied Physics, and Astronomy.
After growing up on a small dairy farm with no money available for college, Ferguson joined the Navy, and as a result of the G.I. Bill, a small scholarship and a job, he was able to put himself through Rensselaer, graduating without any debt.
“Students just out of high school have a difficult time paying for college, unless they are from a wealthy family,” Ferguson reflects. “Borrowing large sums to attend college makes starting out in life difficult. Giving is one way of directing wealth to a worthy cause, education. There is considerable satisfaction in seeing others move ahead in life.”
It is his Rensselaer education which he credits with the success in life that has allowed him to give back. Early in his career, he worked closely with fellow Rensselaer graduates Warren “Doc” Savage ’43 and Ernest Nippes ’38. In 1957, they founded Dynamic Systems Inc. together, which invented the Gleeble thermal-mechanical system and pioneered the field of physical simulation of metallurgical processes. He also worked closely with Professor Hillard Huntington during his early career. The appreciation for his work with his colleagues is reflected in the fact that two of Ferguson’s gifts are named for Savage and Huntington.
Ferguson recalls fondly his time working with Savage. “My early work at RPI was almost entirely with ‘Doc’ Savage,” Dr. Ferguson said. “Doc was a hands-on person, and spent much of time in the laboratories. In school and after my leaving school, Doc and I worked on many projects together. He was very innovative; he had many ideas and he was always ready to try them out. Some of my effort was in the implementation of these and other ideas.”
While the work of Ferguson and his colleagues has had a global impact, his legacy here at Rensselaer also endures. Not only did three of his sons graduate from Rensselaer, one of his granddaughters is currently pursuing her MBA in the Lally School of Management and Technology.
His legacy is also carried on through his philanthropy and Ferguson appreciates the opportunity to connect with his students. Today’s students, who are tomorrow’s innovators, truly reap the reward and are inspired to follow his lead. “Dr. Ferguson is a great role model for me,” said Torrin Betchel ’12, Dr. Hillard B. Huntington School of Science Scholarship recipient. “He’s made so many contributions to science and research and it’s really something I would like to live up to one day and eventually give back the same way he has.”
For more information about supporting our students, please visit our Student Support page.