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Beyond These Towers

The Campaign for Worcester Polytechnic Institute

Spotlight on Unity Hall Donors: Mike Abrams ’77

April 7, 2022

Since graduating from WPI (with high distinction), Mike Abrams has stayed connected to his alma mater over the years. He has attended his class reunions and volunteered for WPI in various capacities. He served on the Alumni Association Board of Directors from 2011 to 2015, and then as treasurer of the Association for two years. Mike was an electrical engineer in the oil and gas instrumentation industry and before retiring had become an independent consultant in the oil and gas industry.

Even living far from the Hill, Mike has carried a fondness for WPI and for Worcester. He has given back financially, donating almost every year since graduation; he and Nancy are members of the President’s Circle, WPI’s leadership annual donors. They supported renovations in Higgins House, where the Abrams Library is named in recognition of their philanthropy. In Unity Hall, Mike and Nancy supported a distinctive lounge and workspace on the second floor—the Nancy and Mike Abrams ’77 Multi-use Lounge and Creative Zone.

What interests you or excites you most about Unity Hall?
There are a few different aspects of Unity Hall that excite me.

The Academic Advising Suite being named in honor of Dean John P. van Alstyne is the fruition of a long (greater than 10-year) campaign to find the right way to memorialize “van A” in a permanent way on the WPI campus. We were glad to be able to raise enough money—more than $500,000 to get this naming honor for van A done in Unity Hall.

Even though my major at WPI was mathematics, I ended up as an electrical engineer (MSEE from the University of Houston) specializing in instrumentation design and digital signal processing. AI and robotics have always been “just around the corner” to being applied in the industry in which I spent most of my career. I sometimes wished I had (or rather took) the chance to get into robotics. I was very pleased to see WPI go big in robotics, and the new facilities to that end in Unity Hall are very exciting.

Finally, I was glad to see the large amount of collaboration, or free, space in Unity Hall. It was always difficult when I was at WPI to find usable space to work. Each part of being a student at WPI has different space requirements. Quiet, alone areas to study, group work areas with enough technical support equipment to make it easy, white board, brainstorming areas for a decent size bull session, and so on. I think there are areas of Unity Hall that can fit all those needs.

What motivated you to support this new facility?
In addition to all the answers above, I was (honestly) interested in getting a space that students will use on the WPI campus with my name memorialized on it. I remember seeing named spaces when I was a student at WPI, and I had only the vaguest idea how that naming came about. I think that WPI is doing a better job today of instilling the idea of philanthropy and “giving back” as an important part of the culture. I hope that some students see the space in Unity Hall with my name on it and wonder: “How did that come about? How much did it cost to get that name up there? Maybe one day I can give back to WPI and my name will be on a new room.”

What do you hope your gift will achieve—either for future generations of students and faculty at WPI, or for individuals and communities beyond our campus, or both?
I hope that students will find better academic advising services in the new van A suite than I had when I was at WPI. It was not really a strong suit of WPI in the early Plan years. Some students got lucky and tapped into van A. Many of us did not, and we had subpar advisors. Some of that was by choice and built into The Plan. A lot of us were at WPI to drink from the firehose, and it really wouldn’t have mattered that much if we had contrary advice. We got to choose, good or bad. But better advising might have helped!

I hope that the collaboration space I contributed to will also really suit the needs of various student groups. I envision some exciting projects being planned, discussed, and worked on in the space. I hope there are some great ideas that come out of student time spent working together in my named space.

What excites you about WPI now and in the future?
I am excited about the fact that many years of deferred maintenance is getting taken care of, or at least panned to be taken care of. I am excited about the expansion of forward-looking programs like robotics and bioengineering. I am excited about the continuing excellence of the projects done by students of WPI.

What would you say to other alumni and friends to encourage them to stay connected—and to participate in Beyond These Towers: The Campaign for WPI?
I continue to encourage my classmates and WPI friends to stay connected to WPI by participating in programs like Alumni Weekend, Tech Old Timers, and others. I ask them for support and donations on Giving Day and for concrete projects like the van A suite.