Education Was His Calling—and Now It’s His Legacy

Claire and Peter Polito

Claire and Peter Polito

More Northeastern University students will be able to achieve their goals thanks to Claire and Peter Polito, who established an endowed scholarship through a gift in their will and trust.

Peter Polito, BA’65, MS’67, Ph.D.’71, a Triple Husky, was destined to become a teacher. From a young age, he had an affinity for math and science, and with the encouragement of his parents and teachers, he avidly pursued his interests. However, attending college seemed a distant goal since Peter’s family could not afford the cost. “I never knew I was going to get to college,” he says. The only way to achieve that ambition would be through a scholarship.

In sixth grade, and then again in ninth grade, a diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis kept Peter from attending classes, and he was tutored at home to continue his studies. When he was well enough to return to high school, a teacher encouraged him to apply to a summer program at MIT for students interested in science. Thinking it would be a good addition to his summer job, Peter applied, was accepted, and attended classes in the evenings after work. It solidified his desire to pursue a college education.

Peter applied for scholarships, and Northeastern University stood out because of the variety of subjects he could study and because of its co-op program. He enrolled as a chemical engineering major, but soon realized it was not the best fit. A professor suggested physics due to his ability to problem-solve from different perspectives. At this point, co-op became very important to Peter because of two influential work experiences at the MIT Synchrotron and the Harvard Cyclotron Laboratory. “I learned by doing,” he says, and the field of particle physics became his main interest.

Peter earned his master’s degree from Northeastern and was awarded a three-year National Science Foundation Traineeship, and subsequently a research associateship to continue his graduate studies at the university. He reminisces fondly about his graduate advisor, Dr. Michael T. Vaughn, who led weekly get-togethers of students at Boston’s Top of the Hub restaurant to enjoy a beverage and talk physics—and it was a great way to share ideas and collaborate, Peter recalls with a smile.

When Peter received his Ph.D. in physics in 1971, he had a job waiting for him at Springfield College. In 1973, he met his wife, Claire, and they were married in June of 1974. Claire became a registered nurse in 1986. During his first years at Springfield College, Peter thought he’d stay at the college for a couple of years and move on. However, Springfield was forming a program in environmental science studies across several departments, and Peter was asked to help develop it. Completely involved with directing new programs, including a program in computer science, and also teaching, Peter remained at Springfield for his entire career as professor of computer science and physics.

Today, when Peter and Claire reflect on making their gift to establish an endowed scholarship at Northeastern, Peter says that they both were fortunate to have people in their lives who directed them on paths to personal and professional success. Both hailing from modest families, they understand the challenges of affording a college education, especially for first-generation students. The Peter and Claire Polito College of Science Scholarship, established through a gift in their will and trust, will make the dream of a college education a reality for those undergraduates. Now, the Politos continue to give back to their community and enjoy retirement along with their border collie, Gracie.

Your future gift can provide Northeastern students with an authentic experiential education in the classroom and beyond. Contact the Office of Gift Planning at 617.373.2030 and to learn more about your options.