High school students in upstate New York have their pick of colleges and universities within driving distance, and some choose to head to nearby states such as Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont, or New Hampshire. However, many students choose Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI), a technological research institution with a global reach that also happens to be local.
This Saturday, May 20, 1,957 students will receive degrees from RPI at its 217th Commencement Ceremony. They will include students from across the state of New York, and many from the Capital Region. Following Commencement, they will continue their education or start careers in their chosen fields. However, the common threads among them all are hard work, ambition, and the desire to make a difference.
Michael Pink, a graduate of Schuylerville High School, considers his biggest achievement while at RPI “working alongside the City of Troy, RPI, and fellow students to promote and advance on-campus recycling awareness and motives.” After receiving his bachelor’s degree in civil engineering, Pink won’t stop studying. Next, he will prepare for the exams required to become a Professional Engineer.
Ben Kogan, who graduated from Shenendehowa High School, will receive his master’s degree in civil engineering. He completed his master’s in only four years! Kogan also played on RPI’s soccer team, and will never forget advancing to the Elite 8 of the NCAA soccer tournament his freshman year. Next, he will start his career in Manhattan.
Peter Kowal, an Averill Park High School graduate, will graduate with a doctoral degree in nuclear engineering and science. Previously, he earned his bachelor’s from RPI. Looking back, he is amazed by the opportunities afforded him. “I knew I'd leave RPI with a degree (or two), but I never expected to also be managing routine operations at a nuclear reactor while still a student,” said Kowal. “I progressed from an operator-in-training, to a senior reactor operator, to finally becoming the operations supervisor at RPI's Walthousen Reactor Critical Facility.” Next, Kowal will work as an engineer at Knolls Atomic Power Laboratory and continue in his role at Walthousen.
Delana Bonci, a graduate of Taconic Hills Central School District, will head to California following Commencement to start her career at Edwards Lifesciences, which produces medical innovations for structural heart disease. Bonci will graduate with a bachelor’s in biomedical engineering. Bonci enjoyed playing for RPI’s field hockey team as much as her studies. “My most memorable experience at RPI is definitely the camaraderie and experience of athletics, as well as meeting and learning from a great group of professors who truly expanded my knowledge,” said Bonci.
Bryan Pustolka, a graduate of Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake High School, chose RPI “because of its reputable, robust engineering program and its proximity to (his) hometown.” Pustolka, who will graduate with a bachelor’s degree in industrial and systems engineering, was not disappointed by the academic challenge that RPI presented. However, he also had a lot of fun. “Troy is truthfully a super fun city to live in,” Pustolka said. “The things to do and see in Troy are limitless, with new restaurants, cafes, and shops popping up every year. However, those considering RPI should be assured that they will be surrounded by like-minded students with high aspirations.”
Jeremy Gregware, an Averill Park High School graduate, holds a similar sentiment. “RPI students have plenty of opportunities to succeed at their goals, and if they stay motivated and get help and guidance they will succeed. By the end of their education, they will be prepared for whatever their next steps are,” he said. After graduating with a bachelor’s in civil engineering, Gregware will work as a structural design engineer over the summer and pursue a graduate degree from RPI in the fall.
Eric Sowalskie, who graduated from Clayton A. Bouton Senior High School, is earning a master’s degree in mechanical engineering. He advises other students “to apply to jobs early and often, even if they're not qualified. They'll learn what employers are looking for, and it will help them pick good elective classes and better direct their energy.”
Paul McKee, an Averill Park High School graduate, transferred to RPI from Hudson Valley Community College, like Kowal, Sowalskie, and Pink. “At first, it was a bit of a culture shock,” said McKee. “I felt intimidated and I wondered if I’d ever be a ‘real engineer.’ After I got word that I’d been accepted for my first NASA internship in the summer of 2017, my insecurities vanished.”
McKee went on to earn a bachelor’s and a master’s from RPI, and will graduate with his doctoral degree in mechanical engineering on Saturday. Now, he works at NASA’s Johnson Space Center and is supporting the Artemis II lunar mission, whose commander is RPI alumnus Reid Wiseman.