A Way Forward
Behind the Custom MMIC Women in Engineering Scholarships
Throughout last year’s application process, Lillian Geller of Westford looked forward to becoming a college student while mindful of the possibility that her first choice, Tufts University, wasn’t going to be financially feasible.
As one of three recipients of a 2019 Custom MMIC Women in Engineering Scholarship, however, she was able to enroll this fall as a chemical engineering major at Tufts with a focus on environmental sustainability. Geller was awarded a four-year scholarship totaling $96,000, while Ananya Srinivasa-Gopalan of Chelmsford and Lina Abu-Absi of Groton each received four-year scholarships totaling $72,000 to attend Worcester Polytechnic Institute and Northeastern University, respectively.
The scholarships were presented in partnership with Greater Lowell Community Foundation, which enhances the quality of life in the Merrimack Valley through charitable gifts, grants, legacy donations and scholarships from private and corporate donors and other foundations.
The impetus for Custom MMIC’s extraordinary gesture has roots in a previous time and place. Founder, President and CEO Paul Blount, a naturalized U.S. citizen who lives in Groton, grew up in a middle-class family in England, where his own dreams of higher education would have remained unfulfilled without a government scholarship.
At a December 2017 holiday party for the Chelmsford-based firm, which designs and manufactures radio-frequency and circuit devices, Blount announced his intention to fund a women’s engineering scholarship as a way to give back while also doing his part to diversify the predominantly male engineering ranks. After determining that the legal fees and tax implications of operating a scholarship would be cost-prohibitive, Custom MMIC partnered with Greater Lowell Community Foundation to oversee the process in March 2018.
Although Custom MMIC’s request for assistance wasn’t unusual, according to Greater Lowell Community Foundation President and CEO Jay Linnehan, the value and focus of the academic scholarships are special.
“It’s a significant grant, and also extremely timely,” Linnehan says. “Data shows that women are woefully underrepresented in science, so having a company invest in female engineers is a great story that hopefully inspires someone else to follow their lead.”
Geller, in fact, is already thinking about paying the generosity forward to another female engineering student in the future. The struggle, she says, is real.
“In high school, there [were] only two girls in my AP physics class, and I do feel intimidated sometimes when I hear how difficult [working in a male-dominated field] is,” she says. “That’s why scholarships like this one are so important, to give more girls the means to pursue STEM fields.”
The original intention was to provide full tuition and to one female student from Westford Academy or Groton-Dunstable Regional High School who had been accepted into an engineering school. After interviewing three finalists last spring, however, the Custom MMIC scholarship committee unanimously voted to divide the money among them.
Emma Fournier of Groton, who is studying chemical engineering at Tulane University, was awarded a full scholarship totaling about $112,000 over four years. Grace Remillard of Groton, who is pursuing electrical engineering at UMass Lowell, and Sarah McKinley of Westford, who is studying mechanical engineering at Clarkson University, were each awarded partial scholarships totaling $40,000 over four years.
In 2019, the scholarship application was expanded to include students from Chelmsford High School. In addition, Blount awarded internships at Custom MMIC to all three original scholarship recipients this past summer.
Noting that the students “vastly exceeded expectations,” Custom MMIC Chief Scientist Charles Trantanella says he and his colleagues are proud to play a part in their ongoing education — and perhaps in the thinking of the wider business community.
“Whether it’s women in engineering or other societal issues,” he says, “we hope to inspire entrepreneurs in other avenues of giving.”