“These students are a valuable resource, and we want to be sure they have the chance to come to MIT,” Papastavros says.
He grew up in Roxbury, Mass., the son of Greek immigrants. “My father lost his business in the Depression, and then he became ill. The family had difficulty making ends meet, and financial support for college was out of the question. I was interested in chemistry and was accepted at MIT, but the only way I could go was if I raised the money myself.” So Papastavros delayed college for a year and worked as a teaching assistant at his alma mater, Boston Technical High School. He saved enough money to pay his first year’s tuition at MIT — $800. He also received scholarship support and loans from the Institute in addition to his part-time jobs. Papastavros worked summers with the MIT buildings and grounds crew. “I actually used to cut the grass in Killian Court,” he says.
In 1955, Papastavros graduated from MIT with a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering. He subsequently went to work at Ionics, Inc., a small firm that developed membrane technology for water purification and desalination, which is the process for removing salt from seawater. Forty-eight years later, Papastavros retired from Ionics as executive vice president and treasurer. During that time Ionics had grown to be a world leader in water processing, with 2500 employees and annual revenues of $500 million.
“Looking back on my life and the success, I became concerned about students today, kids like me — children of immigrants, new citizens — and whether they would have the chance to go to MIT. If they don’t, I see that as a major resource for our country being wasted. I worry, too, about talented kids who don’t even apply because they think they can’t afford it. MIT had a big influence on my life, and Mary and I want to make that opportunity available for students now and in the years to come.”