RIT’s 2015 Nathaniel Rochester Society Award: Jeffrey Harris ’75

JOHN DAHMS: I’ve known Jeff Harris for 40 years. I was Jeff’s first supervisor. He had just graduated from RIT, bright eyed and bushy tailed. We were both working at the CIA, which was not the Culinary Institute of America, it was actually the Central Intelligence Agency. Jeff was my worst employee ever because he didn’t believe necessarily in following rules without understanding why they were there and what their purpose was and did they really apply to him. And Jeff loved to question everything. They came up with this new idea about dissolving classified paper and outside was this big dumpster and these little spitballs came shooting out of the machine into this dumpster, and Jeff said, “Ah! I wonder if it really works?” He climbed into this dumpster in suit and tie and started unraveling these spitballs, only to find out it wasn’t doing its job. It was actually classified information, highly sensitive, top secret classified information in there. The director grabbed it and said, “I’ll take care of this!” Now I could tell you what happened after that, but it’s classified. BRIAN O’SHAUGHNESSY: Jeff’s life experiences that he brings to the board’s deliberations, and I think he would be the first to tell you that his life experiences are largely attributable to the skills and the knowledge that he got here at RIT, but he went out and has done some rather remarkable things and he’s been exposed to some rather high level decision making. And the fact that he brings that sort of experience back to campus is just incredibly valuable. It’s important to have alumni like Jeff deeply involved in RIT because he brings with that involvement a level of perspective. The strategic plan for RIT is such a crucial document. It sets the stage for where we’re going, what we’re going to do, what our priorities are and Jeff did just an absolutely remarkable job of making sure that everybody had a voice, everybody’s voice was heard. I think Jeff is absolutely a wonder to watch when he comes across somebody whose intellect he respects and he will immediately bore in on what it is that he wants to know that they are expert at. And he does it in an incredibly disarming and affectionate and sincere but illuminating way that again, carries with it such wit and it’s just a pleasure to watch. It’s fun to be in those conversations with Jeff because everybody benefits at the end of the day. SOPHIA MAGGELAKIS: I wanted to have someone on my board that would challenge me and not agree with everything that I will present because that makes us think and improve our programs and not think that everything’s a rosy picture, and Jeff does ask these questions that make some people uncomfortable. What impresses me about Jeff is his dedication and passion to RIT, our initiatives, our dedication to our students. Jeff appreciates the importance of undergraduate research and how important it is to have students be active learners. Jeff and Joyce contributed to this area by establishing the Rochester City Scholarship Fund, which helps students who cannot afford college and also helps us with the cause of attracting more female students in science and mathematics and underrepresented populations of students. DAHMS: They were looking for an interesting present to give his mom for her ninetieth birthday and he thought that would be something she would really enjoy. And he was right; his mom’s gotten a great thrill out of it. But the person that’s really gotten the biggest thrill out of it is Jeff, because again, he doesn’t come up here without seeing her and seeing how she’s doing. And that’s just Jeff, just Jeff. HOWARD BOZENHARD: People probably don’t know he’s a bonafide member of the “Wild Tigers” motorcycle gang, so when Jeff’s not at RIT and he’s not on his boat and he’s not involved with technology and mentoring young people, he can often be found on a motorcycle with us driving from point A to point B, just for the fun of doing it. RICHARD FRISICANO: So the first trip that we took as Wild Tigers was down to Key West and we decided that we should have t-shirts or logos or something. And the silver halide with the photon was always the symbol of photo science and we took off on the “Wild Hogs” movie, because you know, four old guys on motorcycles…: Middle-aged! Sorry, middle-aged guys on motorcycles, but being RIT it had to be Wild Tigers and that’s how we got the tiger. The first trip, Ritchie, the alumni tiger, came along with us and he was photographed at numerous places along the way but somehow he, I think, fell off the motorcycle at some point. JERRY COVEY: He was always a gadget guy. BOZENHARD: Yeah, every gadget he could get a hold of, Jeff always had a gadget, that’s true. COVEY: So I think technology has always been his thing, still is, he’s always into technology and he always has to have the latest and greatest, to his credit, and he does! His love of technology, I think he wants to know, he wants to learn everything he can and he wants to know why, how, where? That’s why he asks a lot of questions and that’s why he knows so much. BOZENHARD: You always have to be ready to try and answer them whenever you’re with him, too. (laughing) DAHMS: He has this unquenchable desire to understand how things work, how they’re connected and he loves making a change and seeing the effect that it has, even if it takes years to get there. I think he just loves RIT. Jeff Harris loves RIT. MAGGELAKIS: His heart is, as they say, in the right place. Sometimes I feel he knows more about RIT than we do, and we are here every day. COVEY: It’s like it’s his school, “We have that, we’ve done that.” He takes personal ownership of that. BOZENHARD: I remember he said to me, “Yeah, it’s a real school now!“ And I think he feels a part of that, I think he just loves it. FRISICANO: Yeah, he never does anything part way. When he built his boat, he was totally involved in the whole process to the point where you thought he was part of the company that was building the boat. And it’s the same thing here. He doesn’t do anything halfway. So when he got involved in RIT, he became all involved in RIT. And that’s the way it is for, I think, everything in his life.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *