The newest campus addition is the cornerstone of Manhattan College’s modernization of facilities, supporting its engineering and science programs.
Slated for completion in fall 2020, the facility is named after Patricia G. Higgins, Ph.D., and Cornelius J. (Neil) Higgins ’62, Ph.D., who provided a $5 million leadership gift. Below are some highlights on this exciting project.
On a picture-perfect, 65-degree day in New York City, Manhattan College officially broke ground on the Higgins Engineering & Science Center, a 30,000-square foot academic facility on its South Campus, adjacent to Leo Hall.
Thanks to a leadership gift of $5 million from Patricia G. Higgins, Ph.D., and Cornelius J. (Neil) Higgins ’62, Ph.D., Manhattan is set to break ground on a 30,000-square foot academic facility on its South Campus, adjacent to Leo Hall.
Prior to the groundbreaking of the Higgins Engineering and Science Center in April 2018, the College’s STEM steering committee imagined Manhattan College students involved in the building of the Higgins Center from day one.
The story of how this building and this gift came to be began 56 years ago.
“Your undergraduate institution tends to be the most formative for you,” says Neil, who has served as a member of the Manhattan College Board of Trustees since 2003. “It probably has the greatest influence on what you do after that, both your future education, as well as your career. That is really where your heart is.”
The Formative Years
A graduate of Cardinal Hayes High School in the Bronx, Neil had enjoyed math and science throughout his schooling, so pursuing an engineering degree seemed like the logical next step in his academic career. So did applying to Manhattan College. During the summer between his freshman and sophomore years, he took a structural engineering class with the late Otaka Ondra, Ph.D., a civil engineering professor who taught at the College for more than 30 years. It was a pivotal class because it basically determined his future profession. “I was so impressed with him, and that made me decide to be a civil engineer,” he says.
Back then, he took his classes in “the shacks” and Azarius Hall, post-World War II federal-works constructed buildings on the hill where Draddy Gymnasium now stands. Leo Hall hadn’t opened yet.
While he remembers riding the bus up the Grand Concourse (a major thoroughfare in the Bronx), his courses, and the proms, he has a lot of fond memories of his time in the College’s Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) and participating in the Arnold Air Society, its professional, honorary service organization.
Back in his day, Neil explains how students were given a choice: take physical education or Air Force ROTC for the first two years.
“After the two years, if you wanted to continue to become a commissioned officer, then you continued in ROTC,” he says. “But remember, those were the days of the draft, so there was a pretty good inducement to become a commissioned officer.”
After receiving a B.S. in civil engineering from Manhattan College in 1962, he dropped the pilot slot he obtained from his ROTC training, and decided to continue on to graduate school at the Air Force Institute of Technology, in Dayton, Ohio, where he earned an M.S. in astronautics in 1964.
Both Manhattan College and the Air Force, probably in equal measures, had the most impact on his professional and personal life.
“The College provided a terrific undergraduate education in engineering,” Neil says. “The Air Force also played a very important role in my career because the Air Force offered me the opportunity to go to graduate school.” But before Neil graduated from Manhattan College, he also had another milestone in his life: he met Patricia during his junior year.
How They Met
When Neil was a junior, one of his friends was dating a nursing student from Bellevue and Mills School of Nursing, the same school that Patricia was attending, and set Neil and Patricia up on a double date.
Meanwhile, Patricia’s friend, who was dating that other Manhattan College student, said to her: “How would you like to go on a blind date with the smartest boy in the junior class?” To which she said, “Well, no.”
The way Neil humorously describes it is that Patricia “interviewed” him beforehand — they met and had a conversation — before Patricia agreed to go on that date. The rest, as they say, is history.
“That was in junior year, so we dated through junior and senior years,” Neil says. “Then I went off to Dayton, Ohio, to graduate school, and Patricia continued at Bellevue for a year, and then we were married. We’ll be married 55 years this September.”
Their Professional Lives
Neil spent seven years on active duty, serving as a civil engineering officer in the U.S. Air Force. He first went to Albuquerque, New Mexico, where he put his engineering degree to use.
“In those days, it was the Cold War, so we worked on our ICBM [intercontinental ballistic missiles] systems, and mainly their hardness. Hardness being whether they could resist an attack by our Soviet opponents,” he says.
The couple wasn’t there too long before he received an assignment in Taiwan, where two of his three children were born. After three years in Taiwan, he decided to leave the Air Force, but not before they sent him to Vietnam for a year, and he served on the Air Force advisory team. The family then settled back in Albuquerque, where Neil was offered a job at an engineering firm.
“The Air Force had a tremendous impact on my career because I wound up becoming a defense contractor. I worked for the firm for a while, I worked for the University of New Mexico for a while. I did a Ph.D. at the University of New Mexico. I did it funded by a National Science Foundation research grant that I had written the proposal for.”
He eventually formed Applied Research Associates Inc., a national engineering and science firm headquartered in Albuquerque, with a friend from the Air Force. The now chairman emeritus held the position of principal and chief executive officer from 1979 until his retirement in 2010.
A registered professional engineer and a member of the American Society of Civil Engineers, Neil also earned a few more degrees along the way: a Ph.D. in civil engineering from the University of New Mexico in 1978, an executive MBA from the University of New Mexico in 1987, and an M.A. in liberal arts from St. John’s College in 2007.
“In listening to Neil’s story, I think Manhattan College gave him this grounding and the skills to be an outstanding civil engineer,” Patricia says. “The Air Force provided the opportunity for him to spread his wings, very apropos to the Air Force.”
Meanwhile, Patricia had been establishing her own career. After receiving a diploma in nursing from the Bellevue and Mills School of Nursing in 1963 and raising their family, she received a B.S. in health education in 1975 and a B.S. in nursing in 1978 from the University of New Mexico. She then earned an M.S. in nursing from the University of Arizona and returned to the University of New Mexico for a Ph.D. in health education in 1984.
She served on the faculty of the College of Nursing of the University of New Mexico from 1980 until her retirement in 2000, rising from visiting instructor to full professor, and specializing in maternal-child nursing. Prior to her career at the university, Patricia taught health occupations at Rio Grande High School in Albuquerque, New Mexico, as well as nursing refresher courses at Albuquerque Technical-Vocational Institute.
Patricia always knew that she wanted to be a nurse. She even recalls an eighthgrade composition that she had to write in response to the question: What do you want to be when you grow up?
She also spent a summer in the hospital for a fractured shoulder when she was young, which she looks back upon with more fondness than one would expect. “I spent the whole summer in a hospital, and it was the most marvelous experience of my life,” she says. “The nurses were incredible. They let my friends come anytime that they wanted to come. I was on a ward, so I was exposed to all sorts of other women, and philosophies, and songs, and mischief. That’s what really grounded me to become a nurse, and I went to Bellevue and only wanted to go to Bellevue.”
Education, as well as supporting it, is very important to both Neil and Patricia, which is evident in their three children: Eileen graduated from the University of New Mexico with a mechanical engineering degree and went on for her MBA at Cornell University; Christopher studied civil engineering at Marquette University and then earned his master’s and Ph.D. in civil engineering at the University of Texas and Lehigh University, respectively; and Lorraine attended The Catholic University of America, where she studied French, and received an MBA from the University of New Mexico.
Their hope is that the Patricia and Cornelius J. Higgins ’62 Engineering and Science Center, with its modern laboratories and cutting-edge technology, will help to educate and prepare Jaspers for their future careers, whether that be in engineering, science or nursing.
“Engineering and science can be a foundation for nursing, as well as nursing education, practice and research — the whole gamut encompassing nursing,” Patricia explains, with a nod to the career to which she devoted her life. “I think the new center will just bring new minds, new skills, new innovations, and new, wonderful medical surgical devices from engineering to chemical engineering to bioengineering. It will be a very, very exciting time.”
“Engineering is applied science,” Neil adds, noting how important engineering, science and technology are in today’s world, and how those disciplines are important to engineers. “It’s taking science and putting it to practical use. Whether it be kinematics, structural mechanics or nuclear physics, engineering is making that stuff work for humanity. That’s essentially what it is.”
And their devotion to education derives from their own backgrounds and academic pursuits.
“I wanted to support Neil with this gift,” Patricia says. “We needed to do this. It was very important to give back just because we’re both the first generation to go to college and to be educated ourselves. That piece is very important for us.”
As an engineering graduate of the College, Neil thinks that the facilities need to be modernized to enhance their continued competitiveness, as well as to recruit future students and faculty.
“Although the programs are very strong, the facilities themselves are tired, and when you stack them up against competitive schools, Manhattan just needs to be refreshed,” he says. “The modern facilities will serve both the students and the current faculty well. I think that will probably encourage them to raise their sights.”
“In today’s world, when parents and young people look at colleges, they look at the bells and whistles,” Patricia says. “That’s why I think a new engineering building is absolutely critical to recruit new students.”
As Neil explained earlier, it’s those formative years that have the greatest impact on our lives. But Patricia, who attended various schools of her own, has her own reasons for giving — and those stem from their strong partnership and marriage.
“It’s because it’s important to Neil, therefore it’s important to me,” she says. “He has always supported me on anything that I really wanted to do in my whole life. I hope I have supported him on everything he has wanted to do in his whole life. We’re a good team.”
Manhattan College had the greatest influence on what I had to do after graduation, provided me with an excellent basis, both moral and academic, to continue in graduate education and in an engineering career. It’s really where my heart is.