WPI Wire, Vol. 10, No. 1 - Spring 1996

Alumni Chronicle

Tyson's gift honors his memories

Charles A. Tyson '57 of Mountain View, Calif., is an educated and accomplished man. With three degrees and positions as director of the Biochemical Toxicology and Pharmacology Department and associate director of the Toxicology Labo ratory at SRI International in Menlo Park, Calif., he is at the forefront of his field. But Tyson's heart is in the past, with his memories of growing up in an unusual family situation in the Boston area - an experience that helped make him a leader in co llege and in his career.

In 1994, Tyson honored those memories when he become the first WPI alumnus to fund a scholarship for an African-American student. The scholarship is named for the late Thomas E. and Estelle (Johnson) Tyson of Everett, Mass. Charles Tyson's gift of $16,600 , in the form of two paid-up life insurance policies and cash, is providing the first Tyson Scholar with $4,125 per year over four years, or about a quarter of his tuition. That first recipient is Kirkpatrick Burke, a junior majoring in electrical and com puter engineering.

"I am very pleased to be able to make this gift," says Tyson. "Worcester Tech has meant so much to me in affording me a fine education for starting my career and many, many fond memories."

Charlie Tyson has impressive credentials. After graduating from WPI in 1957 with a degree in chemistry, he went on to earn an M.B.A. at Harvard Business School and a Ph.D. in chemistry at Illinois Institute of Technology. He was a National Institutes of H ealth postdoctoral fellow at Kyoto (Japan) Medical School and the University of Illinois. He worked for International Paper Co. in New York City, Procter & Gamble in Cincinnati and the University of Wisconsin, Madison, before joining SRI, the second large st not-for-profit research institute in the world, as a senior biochemist in 1977.

Today, Tyson studies the value of in vitro cell preparations from animal and human donor organs as models for in vivo response to drugs and environmental chemicals. He is the editor of the Methods in Toxicology textbook series and the author or co-author of more than 80 articles in professional journals and books. He and his wife, the former Noriko Uenosono of Tokyo, have two children, Elaina and Corie.

Tyson has made his mark at WPI, as well. As an undergraduate, he was a member of Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity and Pi Delta Epsilon, the chemistry honor society. He was active in Masque, the Literary Society, the Rifle and Pistol Club, and the Debating Team , and wrote for Newspeak and the yearbook. He maintains his connections to the Institute as a member of the President's Advisory Council and as a 40th Reunion solicitor.

These are remarkable accomplishments for anyone, but especially so for someone who says that in his early years he was "heading off in the wrong direction." Tyson's gift is his way of repaying the man and woman he considers his parents, and whom he credit s with turning his life around. A quiet, articulate man, Tyson tells an inspiring story.

"Shortly after I was born," he says, "I was given over to a home and resided there in the beginning of my life. I was never acquainted with my parents. Thomas Tyson, the fellow who looked after me, was of mixed blood. He and his wife, a black woman, ran t his boarding residence. She died before I was 2.

"Although I had a governess for about 10 years after that, I did not have the kind of guidance and support most youngsters receive from their mothers until I was 12 years old, when Thomas married Estelle Johnson, a black woman with two children from a pre vious marriage. Estelle was loving and giving and set high standards - all the things I needed in those years. To show my gratitude to my parents, when I was 14 I assumed the name Tyson.

"I grew up as a member of a black family in a white community. My parents provided me not only with food, shelter and clothing, but with a stable home environment that got me 'squared away.' I will always be indebted to them and I still feel a strong atta chment to the family. Estelle's son is still alive and my wife and I try to visit him whenever we are in Boston. My wife is Japanese, so we are truly a multiracial, multicultural family.

"I spent a great deal of my time in the black community, where I met good people with good prospects who didn't have the resources to get to college; I saw their opportunities lost because of that. Now that my family and I have a good financial footing, I chose to support a scholarship as a way to give something back to my parents and to the people of that community who never had the financial advantages of going to college. The 40th Class Reunion is the perfect impetus. It's all I can do to combine my gr atitude to the people who raised me, to the disenfranchised individuals I grew up with, and to Worcester Tech."

At 20, Tyson Scholar Kirkpatrick Burke is a thoughtful, charismatic young man whose smile and interest in others makes him welcome wherever he goes. He and his brother Boris, sons of Carmen Burke of Bloomfield, Conn., were among the group of 30 students w ho spent most of the summer of 1992 at WPI as the first participants in the new Strive for College and Careers in Mathematics, Engineering and Science program.

Strive was established in 1991 with seed money from United Technologies Corp. to identify motivated and academically talented black, Hispanic and Native American students, who, after completing their junior year in high school, come to campus for four wee ks in July and early August. Strive students spend the first two weeks in classes and laboratories as part of the WPI Frontiers program, then stay on to work full time in campus laboratories or appropriate work sites. During their four weeks on campus, St rive participants also attend workshops of interest and concern, such as writing, public speaking, study skills, and making the transition from high school to college.

"I liked WPI from the beginning," says Burke, whose brother is now majoring in engineering at the University of Connecticut. "The college was nice and quiet and seemed like a community I could learn and also relax in." Burke is an EMSEP (Excellence in Mat hematics, Science and Engineering Program) scholar, treasurer of the Black Student Union, and a member of the National Society of Black Engineers. Each summer since he enrolled at WPI he has held a paid internship at UTC as part of INROADS, a nationwide c areer development organization that develops and places talented minority youth in business and industry and prepares them for corporate and community leadership.

"The job has gotten progressively more responsible," says Burke. "The first year I worked in the electronics department doing systems analysis and software verification. The second summer I assisted in writing the "pop-up" help screens for WindowsTM< /SUP> for my company, Carrier World Headquarters. I am looking forward to returning this summer, although I do not know what my job will be."

"Kirkpatrick is one of our first EMSEP peer advisors," says Blanche D. Pringle, director of minority affairs. "He provides personal, financial and academic advising to entering freshmen in the residence halls. His involvement as a peer advisor has also he lped him academically because he must practice what he preaches. This has strengthened him both academically and personally by enhancing his communication, personal and leadership skills."

"The Tyson Scholarship is important to me," says Burke, who would like to remain at WPI after graduation to pursue a master's degree in electrical and computer engineering with an emphasis in electronics. "Without it I would be in a dilemma, trying to fig ure out how to come up with $4,000 for tuition. It's really a big help, because, if you think about it, even if you're missing $10 it can keep you from your goal."

-- Bonnie Gelbwasser

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