Pavlis Gives $2 Million to Michigan Tech

By Marcia Goodrich | Published

When Frank Pavlis graduated from Michigan Tech in 1938, he was the first in his family to make it through college, graduating at the top of his class with a BS in Chemical Engineering.

That education enabled his highly successful career, which began in 1940 at Air Products and Chemicals Inc., a Fortune 500 company. Retiring in 1980 as its vice president for international/world trade, Pavlis now is giving back. His $2 million gift to the university will give selected students the skills in technological leadership that formed the underpinning of his own career.

"The Pavlis gift will allow us to initiate a four-year technological leadership program at Michigan Tech that will give our students an innovative and visionary entrepreneurial spirit, communication and people skills, and a broad systems perspective that includes not only technical breadth and awareness but also the global business sense to create a sustainable, quality future for all of us," Dean of Engineering Robert Warrington said.

The program will include an enriched curriculum, special seminars, and international experience for highly capable students throughout their entire MTU experience.

"Frank's help will allow us to leap ahead in educating students who can lead in the management of innovation," President Glenn Mroz said. "We modeled this program on the experiences of Frank and a lot of other alumni who devoted their careers to managing innovation.

"These same skills are even more critical to our students today, as well as to our state and the nation, given the competitive global economy. As a country, we cannot outsource innovation; we need a new generation of leaders to make sure we stay competitive," Mroz said. "This program will provide a unique opportunity for our students to excel, as it fuses science and technology with business and communications skills. This is key to their lifelong success, as it has been with alumni like Frank."

In the global economy, it soon won't be enough to just be an engineer, Pavlis says. With much of the world's manufacturing moving to Asia, it's imperative that American universities--including Michigan Tech--respond.

"The current global challenge is frightening and is going to affect the entire country," Pavlis said. "American higher education institutions need to adapt, or fate will pass them by."

The new technological leadership program is just the sort of adaptation required, he said. "We can't stand still as the world is constantly advancing, and education is no different. This institute will provide a service to young people that is not currently available."

He stressed that complacency is not an option. Throughout history, nations have risen and fallen on the world scene, and with the ascendancy of China, "the future of the world is likely to be in the East," he said. To compete, American engineers will need a broader set of skills, similar to those Pavlis drew upon to help Air Products become a leader in the U.S. specialty gas market. "My goal is to persuade others to think in a like manner, which is why I invested in this program," he said.

After graduating from Michigan Tech, Pavlis earned an MS in Chemical Engineering from the University of Michigan and later completed the Harvard Business School's Advanced Management Program.

After turning down a job with Shell Oil, he became the first employee at Air Products, then in Detroit, where he was paid $3 a day as chief engineer and helped design an affordable oxygen generator, which became the foundation of the company's product line.

After nearly 20 years of struggling, the business took off and in 1961 was listed on the New York Stock Exchange. Air Products currently employs nearly 20,000 workers around the globe and had 2004 sales of $7.4 billion. It has built leading positions in key growth markets such as semiconductor materials, refinery hydrogen, home health-care services, natural gas liquefaction and advanced coatings and adhesives.

During his 40 years with the company, Pavlis rose through the ranks, joining the Board of Directors in 1952 and serving as vice president for engineering and then for finance before retiring in 1980 as vice president for international/world trade. A longtime supporter of the university, he is a member of Michigan Tech's McNair and Hubbell Societies.

"Air Products was often looked down upon in the early years because we were the little guy and were competing against the big companies," Pavlis recalls. "Now, Air Products dominates some of those markets."

Like Air Products in 1940, Michigan Tech is “the little guy,” Pavlis says, at least compared to the other two universities he attended. Also like Air Products, that means MTU must make the extra effort to succeed and differentiate itself from other schools. "That's why I chose to invest in Tech," he said. "I like the little guy."

Michigan Technological University is a public research university, home to more than 7,000 students from 60 countries. Founded in 1885, the University offers more than 120 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in science and technology, engineering, forestry, business and economics, health professions, humanities, mathematics, and social sciences. Our campus in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula overlooks the Keweenaw Waterway and is just a few miles from Lake Superior.