Heather and Hal Jurist

Heather and Hal Jurist ’61

Hal Jurist and his wife, Heather, aspire to make an impact on some of the world’s greatest problems: climate change, world poverty, clean and accessible energy solutions, pandemics, and access to healthcare. One way to advance these issues is through government action, Hal says, and another is through universities.

“Heather and I feel strongly about preserving the world we live in. We believe universities have the power to shape the world,” he says. “We’re hopeful that by giving to universities, they’ll work on the issues we care about.”

To that end, the Jurists have made a significant seven-figure contribution to Beyond These Towers: The Campaign for WPI, advancing WPI toward its $350 million philanthropy and overall $500 million goals.

Their gift will advance faculty research by establishing an endowed deanship through a bequest as well as by funding the Harold L. Jurist ’61 and Heather E. Jurist Dean’s Professors. Distinguished faculty who are named the Jurist Dean’s Professors are pursuing cutting-edge research in one of WPI’s multidisciplinary concentrations focused on the smart world: robotics, decision-making/autonomous robots, cyber security systems, biomedical devices/image analysis, climate change, sustainable fuels/energy, environmental science/adaption, and other disciplines closely aligned with these research areas.

The first Jurist Dean’s Professors were announced this fall: Emmanuel Agu, computer science professor; Danielle Cote, mechanical engineering assistant professor; Dmitry Korkin, computer science professor; Pratap Rao, mechanical engineering associate professor; Carolina Ruiz, computer science professor.

“This generous gift from Hal and Heather Jurist recognizes the School of Arts and Sciences’ leading researchers in artificial intelligence, machine learning, and biomedical data analytics,” says Jean King, the Peterson Family Dean of Arts and Sciences.

Carolina Ruiz is an expert in machine learning, artificial intelligence, and data mining, who is a founder and core member of the Bioinformatics and Computational Biology Program, the Data Science Program, and the Neuroscience Program at WPI. Emmanuel Agu’s research in the areas of computer graphics, mobile computing, and wireless networks—with a particular focus on using smartphones to deliver better healthcare—has received funding from the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, DARPA, the U.S. Department of Education, U.S. Army Research Labs, Google, and others. Dmitry Korkin’s interdisciplinary research spans the fields of bioinformatics, computational genomics, systems biology, and biomedical data analytics—a recent example of which is the structural 3D roadmap of the novel coronavirus that he and his team created and shared with the scientific community. 

“These three researchers exemplify cutting-edge and multidisciplinary scholarship in the expansive field of smart world research,” says King. “We are beyond appreciative to the Jurist family,” 

“I’m deeply grateful to Hal and Heather Jurist for this gift which will allow us to recognize the accomplishments of our faculty,” says Bernard M. Gordon Dean of Engineering John McNeill, noting that Danielle Cote’s work in advanced manufacturing has brought funding and visibility for WPI across several fields, for industrial as well as defense applications. Pratap Rao is investigating advanced materials that can be applied to solar energy conversion, catalysis, printed electronics, and sensors. “In different ways, both of these researchers are developing technologies that will improve people’s lives now and in the future.”

Hal Jurist credits his WPI education with giving him the means now to make this transformational gift to his alma mater.

“When I look back on my career, I know that I could not have accomplished all that I did without a solid education,” says the electrical engineering major.

After graduation, Hal embarked on a long and impressive career with IBM. He was one of the first engineers in its components division and worked in and held management positions in several of its semiconductor laboratories before becoming development manager in a new business unit that would eventually become IBM’s PC division. He also lived in Tokyo, managing IBM’s telecommunications business in the Asia/Pacific Region. Along the way, he spent two years in the military (he was in ROTC at WPI) at Philadelphia Air Defense. He later took a position overseas with a large electronics firm, where he served as senior vice president, COO, and director. He concluded his career as a land developer in Florida.

Heather also had a successful career at IBM, joining the company after she met Hal. She was a technical writer and editor and later became a systems engineer. A graduate of Newcomb College at Tulane University and Florida Atlantic University, where she earned a master’s degree in linguistics, she was blessed with a near-photographic memory and a special talent for languages, Hal says. He proudly notes that Heather could speak five languages and understand seven before an accident robbed her of some of these skills.

Now the Jurists enjoy retirement in Florida and consider their legacy. Heather has made a similar gift to Tulane University. Through their philanthropy, they also hope to inspire others and help researchers generate interest from other funding sources, such as federal and private grants, for their work.

“We hope to make the world better for future generations,” Hal says.

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