Remembering the Human Side of Science


David Wadiak ’73

Dr. David T. Wadiak ’73 loves to travel. Traveling expands your world view and offers experiences beyond the ordinary routines. Long before he attended Stevens for chemical engineering, David spent his childhood moving around. Born into a military family, he lived in many different places because his father, a major in the Army, had a tour of duty. He was born in Alaska, and lived in Germany for three years. Having explored so many different terrains, it’s not surprising that David would work in a field that involves the last undiscovered country, which is space. For over three decades, he worked as an engineer at Lockheed Martin.

His skills made him a valuable asset to the company and he eventually became a Fellow at Lockheed Martin, a position that only 1 percent of the company’s technical population ever reach. “That to me was not only an achievement, it was something I really enjoyed,” said David, who added that he became a company resource. “I got to be involved in many different things. I’m very proud of that. It was an honor for me.”

During his many years of service, he worked on many different projects involving solid rocket propulsion, primarily for the U.S. Navy, Air Force, and NASA, he said. He worked on strategic programs centered on solid propulsion for missiles, rockets, and space craft. His work content ranged from everything from design concepts to system development, early development and research, computing systems, manufacturing, system deployment, to aging programs. “We were looking at surveillance for aging effects and then final disposal,” he said. “When systems wear out in defensive weapons, you look at replacement and new system development and deployment. My career touched many different aspects of aerospace, but all centered around solid rocket propulsion.”

While working at Lockheed Martin, he completed a doctorate in mechanical engineering in 2002 from Santa Clara University. He says the switch from chemical to mechanical disciplines wasn’t difficult for him. “The principles of engineering cut across all of the engineering disciplines. They all share a set of fundamental principles. I think if you learn those principles in one discipline and then move to another specialty, what you are really doing is enhancing your understanding of it,” he said.

Lockheed Martin’s mission statement says, “We solve complex challenges, advance scientific discovery and deliver innovative solutions to help our customers keep people safe.” During the course of his 37 year career with the company, Wadiak worked on conventional explosives safety issues for about 35 years. “We worked on issues of nuclear system safety at the national level. I’m very proud of that,” he said.

Never losing sight of the human side of science is an appreciation he learned while at Stevens. He took two semesters of the history of science, which demonstrated the human struggle. It focused on the human side of science rather than the technical aspects of it, he said. While there were many advantages he gained by his education at Stevens, he thinks the broad education base may have helped him the most. “I think that it gives the graduates a particular advantage in being able to converse intelligently with people of all trades and all professions,” he said.

But perhaps the largest benefit of his education was meeting Dr. Costas Gogos in the Chemical Engineering department. Professor Gogos became a mentor and later a valued friend. David consulted Dr. Gogos professionally on projects he was working on at Lockheed Martin. “There were some interesting challenges that I was facing. I did call on him professionally and he was very helpful,” he said.

Having a mentor formed an important part of Wadiak’s philosophy to give back to Stevens. He and his wife created the Maureen and David Wadiak ’73 Endowed Scholarship to help future students. “I think it is the right thing to do. Our belief is that if you can help a struggling student make it you have created then another person who can become a mentor and support people just like him or her. I think it is part of life,” he said. “You pick and choose the place that you want to give of yourself. We chose Stevens. Stevens can find a student that needs support and your gift can make it a little bit easier for them to succeed and then they will succeed. The gift is only a means for them to be successful. And when they are successful, they remember your gift and then they do the same.”

David and Maureen are both retired now, and they recently moved west of Seattle, across from the Puget Sound. Throughout their lives, they have traveled to many places including Western and Northern Europe, the Mediterranean and the Caribbean. They still enjoy traveling, he says. When they lived in San Jose they were part of the regional Stevens Alumni Association. He misses the club, not just for the social events, but the connections to the larger Stevens family. He recognizes that it is time for them to return to Stevens for a visit. “We were involved for a few years and it was very fulfilling. Stevens people are pretty close and even from different years we all share that life event that is going to Stevens. It’s a common bond and it was a lot of fun. We very much enjoy the Stevens family.”


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