by Kris Ross
Richard March ’50 has experienced many firsts in his 92 years. Now he can add another one: March is the first alum to be formally recognized as Clarkson’s longest consecutive donor — and a pillar of Clarkson Loyal.
Since graduating, he has made a gift to Clarkson every year for 71 years. “I always felt it was the right thing to do — to give back to the school to help keep students coming,” says March.
He remembers his Clarkson days fondly. With the end of World War II, many American soldiers came back and enrolled in colleges and universities, Clarkson included.
At age 17, the New York City native — and first-generation college student — attended Clarkson’s Malone Campus before shifting to the Potsdam Campus for his sophomore year. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical and industrial engineering in 1950 and was one of 470 men in the class.
March has always been highly active and dedicated to all things Clarkson. As a student, he was involved in dozens of activities. He was editor in chief of the Clarkson Integrator, the student newspaper; a member of Tau Beta Pi engineering honor society, the oldest engineering honor society and the second oldest collegiate honor society in the U.S.; and a member of Pi Tau Sigma, the International Honor Society for Mechanical Engineers. He was also a member of Phalanx, Clarkson’s highest honorary society.
March went on to Northwestern University to earn a master’s degree before starting work at the Atomic Energy Commission’s Argonne National Laboratory. He completed an early nuclear engineering training program, which would fuel his career.
“In those days, there was no such thing as nuclear engineers; there were no courses anywhere,” he says. “The Atomic Energy Commission developed a program at Oak Ridge, equivalent to a master’s degree in nuclear engineering.”
March recalls that the Commission needed engineers in the Pittsburgh office, part of the Naval Reactors program. “Those were the very early days of getting into the nuclear business for the Navy. I worked for the Nuclear Navy for about 33 years.”
It was a career of firsts. “We built the first nuclear-powered ship, the USS Nautilus. Eventually, we built aircraft carriers and more submarines,” he shares. And, as part of the Atomic Energy Commission program to develop civilian nuclear power, March was involved with the first civilian nuclear power plant at Shippingport, Pennsylvania, just outside Pittsburgh.
March eventually moved on to Ansys, Inc., a small (at the time) company that sold engineering software worldwide and provided technical support. His job was to develop the international distributor network. He did that for nine years until he retired.
Throughout his career and well into his retirement years, March continues to be a devoted and engaged alumnus. He was an alumni admission and capital campaign volunteer, served on the Clarkson Alumni Association Board of Governors and Clarkson Alumni Council and was a regional chapter president. He was also highly engaged in his class reunion activities. Now, he remains active mostly through his philanthropy.
Engage, Invest, Ensure
What makes Clarkson so special that March has stayed connected all these years? “Clarkson is a place where you get a sound education, but you also get personal attention,” he says. “You’re not a number; you’re a name.
“When I talk to young people who have attended other schools, I hear about lecture classes with over 300 kids; professors don’t know them, and they don’t know the professors.
“When I was at Clarkson, the professors knew everybody by name. And it’s still that way. Going to a small school is a valuable asset in terms of learning, making friends, having connections and getting whatever personal attention you may need in an environment. I think that’s very important.”
March, who received the Golden Knight Award in 1990, gives to Clarkson — and encourages others to do the same — so the personalized Clarkson experience can continue for decades to come. “Help the next students that come along,” he says. “Return some of what you received if you can. Any amount is always helpful.”
While March achieved his Loyal status by making annual gifts to The Clarkson Fund — which provides students with need-based scholarships — his philanthropy doesn’t end there. He and his late wife, Helen, also made gifts toward Bertrand H. Snell Hall and the Alumni Gateway and provided gifts in kind. They established the Richard ’50 and Helen March Endowed Chair in 2014 and a bequest to secure the named position into the future. In 2020, March also contributed to the COVID-19 Student Emergency Fund.
March isn’t just Clarkson Loyal; he’s a Clarkson Legend. He remains dedicated to ensuring that Clarkson students have the tools and the means to succeed, despite the challenges they may face.
“It’s become a lot more expensive since I went to school,” he says. “The important part of giving to the school is to help those after me — all these young people who want to go to school but need help. It is essential for this country to graduate engineers and scientists. We don’t graduate enough. Graduating scientists, engineers and mathematicians is paramount.
“Clarkson is a smart investment. Whether you’re a student considering Clarkson or an alum looking to give back, Clarkson is an opportunity to change your life and, in return, change the lives of others.”