The Clarkson Connection: Honoring the Past by Impacting the Future

Bob Mann ’69 enjoyed a successful career as an ExxonMobil project manager that took him to six continents and more than 35 countries. But while he built connections across the globe, he never forgot or took for granted the connections he made at Clarkson or the value of a Clarkson education. After celebrating his 50th reunion, Bob was inspired to make a gift whose impact would ripple into the future.

Bob lives in Flint Hill, Virginia, overlooking the Shenandoah National Park. He travels frequently, visiting family and friends and sustaining lasting connections

Bob came from humble beginnings. He was born in Brooklyn, New York, and later raised on Long Island. His parents worked very hard and encouraged a strong work ethic. Bob’s father often said, “Do good and have a good time,” a simple yet positive mantra that Bob lives by daily.

While Bob was the first in his family to go to college, he credits good genes for his success in math and science. He learned about Clarkson and its excellent reputation for engineering studies from a neighbor and became interested in the school. After researching engineering careers and the field’s outlook for the future, Bob decided to leverage his math and science skills and pursue a degree in engineering.

Fast forward to his senior year of high school, Bob’s top college choices came down to two options: West Point and Clarkson. West Point was very competitive, and while he received a nomination, the appointment did not come through. However, Clarkson accepted him and awarded him a generous Trustee Scholarship, which made his attendance possible. Sight unseen, Bob and his parents made the daylong journey from Long Island to Potsdam in early September 1965. And even the following year, when he got the appointment to West Point, he chose to stay at Clarkson — partially due to the Vietnam War, but also because of the connections he had made with students, staff and faculty. His Clarkson experience was off to a great start, and financial aid and other opportunities made Clarkson the right choice.

Did he regret passing up West Point for Clarkson? No, though when Bob arrived back at campus after Labor Day for his sophomore year, many could argue that there would have been probable cause: 8 inches of snow covered the campus grounds! He moved his things into Hamlin House right away and hurried off to the cafeteria to grab some Slater food service trays, which made perfect makeshift sleds. Bob and his friends slid down the hills, embracing the September snow. He still has a Slater tray in his basement, which he nostalgically pulls out from time to time.

Bob seized many opportunities that Clarkson presented — academic, social and those that would help him pay for school and give him professional experience. He was a resident advisor (RA) his sophomore through senior years. And while he had the difficult task of contending with unwieldy underclass students at times, the job also paid for his room and board, for which he was grateful. Bob played varsity lacrosse, was chaplain and scholarship chair of Theta Xi fraternity, served as president and national secretary, respectively, of Chi Epsilon and Tau Beta Pi engineering honor societies, and was a member of Clarkson’s Varsity C Club. He landed a summer internship opportunity with the California highway department’s design offices, as well as a subsequent job offer, which he respectfully declined. He fondly remembers Professors Egon Matijević and Martin C. Martin and the impact they had on his learning.

In 1969, Bob received a Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering from Clarkson. He graduated with great distinction, joined Esso Research and Engineering Company and remained with the oil company through its several name changes until he retired in 2006. He primarily supported and managed ExxonMobil’s large capital projects across the globe. Bob, his wife, JoAnne, and their two children had the opportunity to live in and travel to some fascinating places.

Leading up to retirement, Bob and a small group of ExxonMobil senior project personnel worked to standardize the corporation’s project procedures across all business lines, reporting directly to the CEO. As a result of his longtime relationship with the company, Bob continued to work for ExxonMobil management part-time after retirement from 2006 to 2014.

Knights Help Knights: A Gift Designed for Maximum Impact

Bob stayed connected to Clarkson throughout his career, both as a donor and as a recruiter for Exxon and then ExxonMobil, knowing firsthand that Clarkson students and graduates have the experience and skills needed to hit the ground running. In 2019, after attending his 50th Clarkson reunion — the first he’d been able to attend — the impact of what Clarkson had done for him hit Bob hard. He was inspired to make a two-pronged gift that would directly reflect his appreciation for his Clarkson education and the difference it made in his life.

“Clarkson has always been good to me,” Bob says. “The Trustee Scholarship I received made it possible for me to attend Clarkson, and the RA job helped reduce the student loans I required. The skills I developed at Clarkson served me well in my business and personal endeavors throughout my life. While I’ve supported Clarkson for many years, I wanted to fully recognize Clarkson’s positive influence on my life.”

In 2021, Bob established the Robert ’69 and JoAnne Mann Family Endowed Scholarship to benefit engineering students who show vast academic potential but need a boost financially. Additionally, he made a major gift toward the Science Center Renovation and Expansion Project, which will positively impact thousands of Golden Knights for decades to come.

The Science Center project goes beyond building new learning spaces; the reenvisioned building goes hand in hand with a fundamental shift in how Clarkson students will learn and approach science. Scientific research and training will shift from iterative to innovative, from risk-averse to risk-tolerant. All students, from day one, will learn new ways of doing science as part of their core curriculum. Students majoring in the sciences will gain entrepreneurial skills in design thinking and business practices to ignite ideas, encourage new approaches and generate solutions to real-world challenges.

“I owe Clarkson a lot from the very beginning,” Bob says. “That’s why I felt the need to give back. I’ve always given a little something. But when I started to look at just what I had and what I could do, I knew that support in these areas would set up many students for success in their future careers.”