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Northeastern University

Rita Fahy, LA’78, ME’89

Although Rita Fahy graduated from Northeastern more than 30 years ago, her legacy and steadfast commitment to her alma mater are still deeply felt. A passionate mathematician, she received her bachelor’s degree in mathematics in 1978 and master’s in industrial engineering in 1989, before earning her PhD from Ulster University in 2000.

Originally planning to pursue a career in accounting, Dr. Fahy admits it wasn’t until her first co-op in the collections department of Gordon’s Department Store that she learned that wasn’t the best path for her. After some self-reflection and experiential learning, she began to shift her focus to computer programming and engineering. 

Her remaining two co-ops were with the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). A private international nonprofit group established in 1896, NFPA has more than 70,000 members and is the world’s leading advocate of fire prevention. Responsible for more than 300 U.S. codes and standards designed to minimize the risk and effects of fire by establishing criteria for building, processing, design, service, and installation.  

“During my inaugural co-op at NFPA, I was a FORTRAN programmer,” explains Dr. Fahy. “We worked on developing a fire simulator to help study fire growth, which was very interesting and quite groundbreaking at the time. Before this, in order to study fires, they would have to mock up a building and burn it down,” she shares. “As you can imagine, that was costly. The simulating project allowed NFPA the ability to study what influenced fire growth and rate in a much more economical way.” After the completion of two co-ops programs, Dr. Fahy was hired by NFPA and has been with the nonprofit for more than 30 years as a manager.

A longtime supporter of Northeastern, Dr. Fahy’s generosity to her alma mater dates back to the mid-1980s. Her contributions to the College of Science's Dean's Scholarship Fund allow Dean J. Murray Gibson to allocate funding to one of the college’s most important initiatives—helping students afford their tuition at a cost within reach.

As a student, Northeastern made Dr. Fahy’s education possible by providing a very generous financial aid package. Today, in appreciation for that support, she is leveraging her gift in a way that will ultimately help the College of Science achieve its goals. She recently joined the Frank Palmer Speare Society, whose members are shaping the future of the university by including Northeastern in their long-term financial planning. Such strategic investments are critical to helping students and faculty to influence change in the world for generations to come.

On the value of co-ops: “Without these experiences, I would have been a miserable accountant.” Fahy adds with a smile: “My co-op allowed me to realize at an early age what I wanted to pursue and the best path for me.”

On supporting the Dean’s Scholarship Fund in the College of Science: “Giving back is a vote of confidence in Dean Gibson’s vision, and it is also my way of simply saying ‘thank you’…Donations that can be managed at the discretion of the dean assures me and other alumni that our contributions are being used in the most efficient and pragmatic way.”

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