Inventor and Space Pioneer Ernie Schaeffer Pledges $2 Million for Entrepreneur Program at Cal State Northridge
Pioneering inventor and entrepreneur Ernie Schaeffer has had a long relationship with Cal State Northridge. Over the years, he has mentored students, collaborated with faculty and hired countless alumni to work at his former company, Schaeffer Magnetics, which has played a role in nearly every U.S. space mission since the 1960s.
The Calabasas resident has decided to take the relationship one step further by pledging $2 million to endow the Ernie Schaeffer Center on Innovation and Entrepreneurship in the College of Engineering and Computer Science. The center will promote the development of innovation and entrepreneurship-related knowledge and skills among CSUN students, faculty, alumni and the community at large.
The center also will engage students directly with real-world inventors and entrepreneurs, support projects on new ideas, strengthen faculty professional development, hold seminars, lectures and panel discussions and conduct other activities consistent with its mission and subject to the resources available to it.
Cal State Northridge President Jolene Koester called Schaeffer's gift "transformational."
"His generosity and inspiration will be the foundation of a center where imagination and creativity will be encouraged and flourish. It is from such an environment that true innovation emerges, and we are proud to partner with Mr. Schaeffer in fulfilling his vision," she said.
Schaeffer, 81, has been leading a group of volunteers at the university, members of an informal entrepreneurs' roundtable, who have been discussing how to weave entrepreneurial themes into academic programs. He said it seemed natural, given his history with the university, to establish the endowment for the center.
"I'm impressed with the school and its diversity of students. If we are going to succeed as a region and a country, we need people like CSUN's students, with their wealth of diversity and ideas, to become educators and contributors to society," he said. "I don't see that happening at some place like an Ivy League. I see that happening at CSUN."
S.T. Mau, dean of CSUN's College of Engineering and Computer Science, said Schaeffer's gift is the largest the college has ever received.
"Ernie is a longtime friend and supporter of the college," Mau said. "His vision of a Center on Innovation and Entrepreneurship will further establish the college as a leader in educating tomorrow's innovators and entrepreneurs like Ernie Schaeffer."
Mechanical engineering professor Nhut Tan Ho, who advises the university's Entrepreneur Club, said he was excited by Schaeffer's gift.
"It makes the future of our effort to bring entrepreneurship to CSUN very bright," Ho said.
Schaeffer was raised in New York and moved to Southern California in the 1950s. He worked a series of jobs for defense contractors, eventually designing gyroscope motors for defense contractor Whittaker Corp. In 1960, he convinced his bosses to let him take on a subcontract designing a specialized motor for a classified space project. His specialized motors were soon bringing in $750,000 a year.
In 1966, Whittaker went through some restructuring and Schaeffer saw it as an opportunity. He talked Whittaker into letting him take his motor designs and he started his own company, Schaeffer Magnetics, in his garage. The company took off, eventually moving into a 40,000-square-foot plant in Chatsworth and employing up to 180 people.
In 1990, Forbes magazine hailed Schaeffer's achievement as "solid evidence that an inventor with a good idea and a lot of patience can prosper in a business dominated by giants." The magazine pointed out that his small, privately held company included among its clients Hughes, Lockheed, General Electric and TRW. The magazine noted that his equipment--motors and electric actuators--has been aboard "a list of missions that reads like the history of space exploration: Apollo, Viking, Explorer, Voyager 2, Mariner" and other projects such as the Hubble Space Telescope.
Schaeffer sold the company eight years ago, but stayed on as a consultant for another five years.
He hoped that his gift to CSUN, and the center it will create, will encourage other "creative thinkers" to follow their dreams.
"You get into a stream and are pushed along, and then you come to a fork in the river. If you make the right decision and choose the right direction, your world can change," Schaeffer said. "I am hoping that the center will give those who come to it the information and tools they need to become successful entrepreneurs or 'corporatepreneurs' if they work for a company."
Schaeffer recalled feeling "goose bumps" when he would drive across the country with his family and look up at the night sky and know that somewhere up there was a satellite containing equipment he designed for a classified defense project.
"That feeling is intoxicating--better than any high you can imagine--to know that something you did could touch the lives of so many people," he said. "I want the students who come through the center to know that feeling. It doesn't have to be something they engineered, it could just be an idea. But to know that you thought of something and followed through on it and it made a difference in the lives of people or the company you work for, that feeling is indescribable, and I want the students at CSUN to have an opportunity to experience it."
Contact: Carmen Ramos Chandler, (818) 677-2130, email@example.com
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