Shining a Well-Deserved Spotlight on Class of 1962 Fellow Classmate
Although we know WPI alumni are some of the world’s leading innovators, scientists, entrepreneurs, and business leaders, humility doesn’t always afford the opportunity to celebrate the many WPI alumni careers of great achievement. Understanding this phenomenon, Richard DiBuono ‘62 worked to ensure the story of his 1962 classmate Michael Davis was shared among the WPI alumni community. DiBuono said of Davis, “Mike Davis has had a truly remarkable career in both science and medicine and is a very special graduate of the institute. Among many other accomplishments, Mike was instrumental in the development of the magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) program at WPI (a joint effort between WPI and UMMS) and in recruiting Professor Christopher Sotak to run the WPI side from the BME Department. ”
We recently contacted Michael Davis with an invitation share his story. Continue for a brief Q&A with Davis.
Q. What drew you to WPI as a student, and how was your overall WPI education experience?
A. During my senior year in high school, I knew I wanted science or engineering, so I only applied to three universities, MIT, WPI, and RPI. The choice was easy for me as MIT was too close to home and I would have to live at home and commute; RPI was too far to bring my dirty laundry home on weekends, so WPI was perfect! Seriously, the school size, campus, and reputation were the reasons I chose WPI.
In high school I excelled in physics and chemistry, so I entered WPI as a physics/chemistry major and was placed in the physics section. After the first semester, I realized that chemistry was where I fit best and changed to the chemistry section. At that time, the Department was called Chemistry and Chemical Engineering and the chemistry group was quite small, about a dozen students. Overall, my four-year experience was very good, and I decided to stay for an additional two years to earn a master’s degree in synthetic organic chemistry under the tutelage of Professor David Todd. This turned out to be a life-changing decision as I was introduced to nuclear chemistry and the WPI Nuclear Reactor. In addition to majoring in synthetic organic chemistry, I minored in nuclear chemistry with Professor Robert Wagner serving as my research advisor. Upon completion of my MS, it became clear to me that I needed to combine my chemistry and radiation knowledge in a manner that would be meaningful to society and embarked upon a career in healthcare that was totally unforeseen when I entered WPI.
Q. Please talk about your professional career including Synergy Consulting Group. Why has your work been important to you?
A. Rather than pursuing a PhD in organic chemistry, I accepted a Fellowship at the Harvard School of Public Health in Radiological Health and received an SM (Master’s) and SD (Doctor of Science) in Radiological Health with specialization in Radiation Biology. My doctoral thesis was performed in the Neurosurgery Department at the MGH using the neutron beam at the MIT Reactor to kill brain tumor cells using a technique known as boron neutron capture therapy. Upon completion of my SD, I was offered an Instructor position at Harvard Medical School and Director of Radiopharmacy in the newly created Nuclear Medicine Department at Brigham & Women’s Hospital. This first academic appointment in 1969 led to a marvelous 10-year stay where I rose to Assistant and then Associate Professor at HMS. With several NIH research grants and a laboratory with several postdoctoral fellows and research assistants, I saw the need for acquiring management skills, so I enrolled and received an MBA in 1975 from Northeastern University. At that point I had envisioned becoming a full professor at HMS and spending the rest of my career there, but destiny called in 1979 when I left HMS to accept a position as Professor of Radiology and Nuclear Medicine and Director of the Division of Radiologic Research at UMass Medical Center and simultaneously become a first-year medical student. After receiving my MD degree in 1985 I remained on the UMMS faculty until I took early retirement in 2003. In 1989 I formed Synergy Consulting Group, Limited to help Pharmaceutical and Medical Device companies get their products through the FDA regulatory process. From 2003 to present I have and continue to serve as the Medical Director for several small device and drug companies. In 2020, at the age of 79, I decided to limit my work to 25% in order to spend more time with family, my wife of 59 years (Rona), my 2 children and my 4 grandchildren.
Q. How did being a member of ALPHA EPSILON PI impact your experience at WPI?
A. I grew up in a very close family where I saw my grandparents and all my cousins on a weekly basis. Going off to college was a big change and being part of a fraternity was a big help in adjusting as my fraternity brothers became my replacement family. I retain a close friendship with several as well as some WPI graduates that were a few years ahead of me but live close to me on Cape Cod.
Q. How have the education and life skills you gained at WPI gone on to serve you in your career?
A. My education at WPI has served me extremely well as it allowed me to change careers several times and has given me the confidence in myself to make those changes. My freshman advisor, Professor Harry B. Feldman, was instrumental in getting me back on track when I almost fell by the wayside due to an intense interest in playing tournament bridge in place of studying. Professors Todd and Wagner guided me to achieve my goals and I was very fortunate to have terrific mentors thereafter in Dr. S. James Adelstein at HMS, Professor Albert H. Soloway at MGH, and Professor Jack B. Little at HSPH. Without these mentors my success would not have been possible, and I enjoy serving in that capacity to younger students uncertain as to which career path to take.
Q. I see that your philanthropic support of WPI goes back many decades. Why has it been important for you to support your alma mater?
A. I believe that the support of higher education is the responsibility of every individual that has benefited from it. I received my MS from WPI in 1964 and started donating just a few years later even though I was still a graduate student on a meager fellowship. I currently contribute yearly to all the Universities I have attended, with WPI being my favorite.