Students looking for examples of academic perseverance and positive attitude need look no further than Tom Maniscalco, who earned his B.E. in Mechanical Engineering back in 1967. A student at NYU’s old campus in the University Heights section of the Bronx, he cobbled together enough credits to graduate by attending classes at night while dealing with work, family obligations, and a lengthy commute from New Jersey.
There was one brief period in which Maniscalco–the son of a dress presser and a seamstress– was able to enroll in daytime classes, but circumstances then forced him to decline a coveted aeronautics fellowship. Despite the challenges, Maniscalco excelled academically and was invited to join Tau Beta Pi, the second-oldest academic honor society in the nation and the only one representing the entire engineering profession. He was in attendance in 2019, when the Tau Beta Pi Bent (the trestle-shaped symbol of the society) from the former Heights campus was rededicated behind Rogers Hall, and was thrilled to see his former professor Richard Thorsen there. “He taught me thermodynamics when I was in night school, and then, when I was attending during the day, he oversaw my senior design course,” Maniscalco recalled. “He didn’t seem to have changed at all since the 1960s, so I recognized him right away. He said he recognized me as well, but I admit that I’ve changed some in five decades.”
Mechanical engineering was a natural fit for Maniscalco, who had exhibited a talent for building things from an early age. “When I was about eight, I spent weekends helping my grandfather build our family’s summer house on Long Island,’ he explained. “Not only is it still standing but the wall that runs along the back still has th e inscription my brother and I carved into it: ‘Tom and Pete, November 23, 1948.” He parlayed that talent, along with his NYU education, into a long career that included stints at the Bendix Corporation, where he worked on calibrating test equipment for the Saturn V rocket and once met famed scientist Wernher von Braun; and Kearfott Guidance & Navigation, where he worked as a senior design and development engineer and had a hand in the guidance systems used in the Space Shuttle program.
Maniscalco retired from the U.S. Department of Defense in 2019, after almost three decades there and a previous three decades in private industry. He delayed, he says, for fear that he would be bored but that has not proven to be a problem. He serves as a volunteer tutor at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, where he studied at night to earn both his master’s degree and his DEN, the equivalent of a Ph.D., after finishing at NYU, and is now taking a course in applied mathematics at Rutgers, close to his home. “I’m proof that even at 82, you’re not too old to learn new things,” he says.
It’s also never too late to show your violet pride, he has found. While he had never ordered a class ring during those challenging years of young adulthood and getting an education, he often admired his friends’ college rings and decided to pursue getting one. With the help of Valerie Cabral, Tandon’s Director of Alumni Relations, he found a vendor and now proudly wears the amethyst piece emblazoned with his honor society’s Greek letters. “NYU will always be special to me,” he says, “so I’m very happy to have this now, after a 55-year wait.”