Meeting of the Minds
Cable and satellite pioneer visits with scholars
YouTube, social networking, and iPhones were the stuff of science-fiction when Sidney Topol left UMass Amherst in 1947 with a degree in physics. Cable and satellite communications were then nascent industries but ripe for a smart kid from Dorchester, Massachusetts who had 20-20 vision about what they could become. Topol forged new ground in telecommunications that served as the foundation for the devices that keep us connected and communicating 24/7.
Now Topol’s 20-20 gaze into the future is fixed on students whose ambitions are being underwritten by Topol and his wife, Lillian. The students – all Class of 2008 graduates of Boston Latin School where Topol also earned his high school diploma – have varied interests. One intends to become a lawyer, another seeks a career in natural resources and the environment, and others plan to become engineers.
The Topol scholarships carry a social justice message. The couple wants to increase diversity in the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics by giving preference to those who have been historically underrepresented in higher education.
Topol came to campus recently to meet the students as well as attend the annual Sidney Topol Distinguished Lecturer Series on Telecommunications, started with a gift in 1997. Awarded an honorary doctorate in 1985, Topol has donated an array of professional correspondence, speeches, engineering notebooks, and other materials to the campus libraries that document a rich history of pioneering telecommunications.
Topol Scholar Hannah Tosi, a freshman biology major, says she is confident about her decision to attend UMass Amherst. “I feel I am very productive. There is so much to do,” she says.
Allen Chew, 18, a freshman computer engineering major, says he was honored to receive a Topol scholarship, especially since his academic interests are closely aligned with the work Topol has done.
Topol, too, was keen on meeting and connecting with the students. He listened as each of them described their dreams for their lives after UMass Amherst. They shared stories about different neighborhoods of Boston and laughed as Topol recalled his stern Latin teacher at the Boston Latin School.