Where There’s a Will, There’s a Way—to a Scholarship

Peter Polito, BA’65, MS’67, PhD’71, a Triple Husky, faced an uncertain future after high school. From a young age, he had an affinity for math and science, and with the encouragement of his parents and teachers, he avidly pursued his interests. However, attending college seemed a distant goal since Polito’s family could not afford the cost.

“I never knew I was going to get to college,” he says. The only way to achieve that ambition would be through a scholarship.

In sixth grade, and then again in ninth grade, a diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis kept Polito from attending classes, and he was tutored at home to continue his studies. When he was well enough to return to high school, a teacher encouraged him to apply to a summer program at MIT for students interested in science. Thinking it would be a good addition to his summer job, Polito applied, was accepted, and attended classes in the evenings after work. It solidified his desire to pursue a college education.

Polito applied for scholarships, and Northeastern University stood out because of the variety of subjects he could study and because of its co-op program. He enrolled as a chemical engineering major, but soon realized it was not the best fit. A professor suggested physics due to his ability to problem-solve from different perspectives. At this point, co-op became very important to Polito because of two influential work experiences at the MIT Synchrotron and the Harvard Cyclotron Laboratory.

“I learned by doing,” Polito says, and the field of particle physics became his main interest.

Polito earned his master’s degree from Northeastern and was awarded a three-year National Science Foundation Traineeship, and subsequently a research associateship to continue his graduate studies at the university. He reminisces fondly about his graduate advisor, Dr. Michael T. Vaughn, who led weekly get-togethers of students at Boston’s Top of the Hub restaurant to enjoy a beverage and talk physics—and it was a great way to share ideas and collaborate, Polito recalls with a smile.

When Polito received his PhD in physics in 1971, he had a job waiting for him at Springfield College. In 1973, he met his wife, Claire, and they were married in June 1974. Claire became a registered nurse in 1986.

During his first years at Springfield College, Polito thought he’d stay at the college for a couple of years and move on. However, Springfield was forming a program in environmental science studies across several departments, and Polito was asked to help develop it. Completely involved with directing new programs, including a program in computer science, and also teaching, Polito remained at Springfield for his entire career as professor of computer science and physics.

Today, when Peter and Claire Polito reflect on making their gift to establish an endowed scholarship at Northeastern, he says that they both were fortunate to have people in their lives who directed them on paths to personal and professional success. Both hailing from modest families, they understand the challenges of affording a college education, especially for first-generation students. The Peter and Claire Polito College of Science Scholarship, established through a gift in their will and trust, will make the dream of a college education a reality for those undergraduates. Now, the Politos continue to give back to their community and enjoy retirement along with their border collie, Gracie.

I never knew I was going to get to college. The only way to do that was through a scholarship.”

Peter Polito, BA’65, MS’67, PhD’71

This article was originally written by Carolyn Buckley-Cooper
and published by Northeastern’s Office of Planned Giving.