Northeastern University

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Northeastern University

Robert W. Smith, E’37, LI’47

When Bob Smith was a student at Northeastern during the Great Depression, things were a lot different. At the time, Bob traveled 25 miles, by train, ferry, cab, and then foot, from his parent’s home on the North Shore to Northeastern’s modest campus at the Boston YMCA. It was a nine-to-five kind of school, with a commute to start and end the day.

Today, student life at Northeastern has completely changed. It is a round-the-clock experience, with most students living on or nearby its award-winning campus, which boasts more than 80 academic, administrative, and residential buildings. Today’s commute, getting from one side of the 73-acre campus to the other, is a lot shorter than Bob’s was nearly seven decades ago. Although the University has transformed itself into a global university—boasting dynamic residential amenities, state-of-the-art research facilities, and a diverse student body—one constant has remained during the last 100 years: cooperative education.

Since 1909, co-op has remained the backbone of Northeastern. Generation after generation, the University’s signature model of higher education has continued to blend classroom study with professional experience. Bob Smith can testify to that.

“I went to Northeastern because co-op gave me a chance, at that time, to work for five weeks and then go to school for five weeks. Make enough money to keep going. That’s the reason, period.” Bob’s co-op position at Eastman Kodak would eventually lead to his life’s work and a career of more than 42 years. In 1977, he retired from Eastman Kodak as plant engineer.

“I started with overalls, boots, gloves — chipping off mortar from old bricks to use again,” said Bob about his co-op experience. “By the time I retired, I was overseeing well over a hundred people. I crawled right up that ladder,” added the nonagenarian, who is a member of the Frank Palmer Speare Society by virtue of providing for Northeastern in his long-term financial planning.

The 97-year-old is a proud donor and has been for decades, helping to transform Northeastern into a world-renowned university. “One time we had a mass meeting, and this is before women were admitted,” Bob recalled from the 1940s. “President Carl Ell said, ‘Boys, I want you all to dig in and donate; we’re gonna start a campus!’” And he did, pledging $50 over five years. “I just figured it was the way to go.”

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