SEAS Welcomes Seven Alumni into GW Engineering Hall of Fame

Goya Foods vice president and several entrepreneurs among those inducted.

SEAS Hall of Fame
From left to right: Ashok K. Jha, Sassan Kimiavi, Gazelle Hashemian Kimiavi,SEAS Dean David Dolling, Gurminder Bedi, Peter Unanue, Christopher Wiernicki, David V. Mastran
October 28, 2013

By Lauren Ingeno

The vice president of Goya Foods, a retired Ford Motor Company executive and several entrepreneurs were among the seven George Washington University alumni inducted into the GW Engineering Hall of Fame on Thursday.

“American universities are working hard to encourage students to choose careers in STEM fields. I sometimes wish that the students we are recruiting could have a window into an event like tonight’s to see the range of possibilities that engineering opens up to them,” GW School of Engineering and Applied Science Dean David Dolling said during Thursday night’s induction ceremony at the House of Sweden.

The GW Engineering Hall of Fame was established in 2006 to honor distinguished SEAS alumni, faculty, staff and friends who have contributed to engineering, technology or management in a “sustained and significant way” during their careers.

The seven 2013 inductees represented diverse industries, and each had a unique story to share about his or her professional journey.

Peter J. Unanue, M.S. ’92, the executive vice president of family-owned Goya Foods, said GW gave him the foundation to excel in his field.

He began his career as an operations research analyst at GROWMARK, Inc. and then worked for Baxter Healthcare and Merck-Medco Managed Care before joining Goya Foods in 1997. Goya Foods is the nation’s largest Hispanic-owned food company and one of the fastest-growing food companies in the U.S. In 2006, Mr. Unanue was named the company’s executive vice president.

“My teachers at GW were outstanding,” Mr. Unanue said. “We learned from a cutting-age curriculum that not only taught us what we needed for the engineering concepts of the time, but for the theories of the future.”

Gurminder S. Bedi, B.S. ’69, was offered a job with Ford just two years after his graduation, which kick-started his 30-year career with one of the most well-known companies in the world.

He served as vice president of the company’s $60 billion worldwide truck enterprise from October 1998 until his retirement in December 2001. He was instrumental in delivering on Ford’s series of “Cleaner, Safer, Sooner” pledges by making all pickups and SUVs low-emission vehicles.

Mr. Bedi, who is now the chairman of the billion-dollar Compuware Corporation, said that on his graduation day, he “never could have imagined” his eventual achievements.

“I think the selection committee probably never looked at the GPA on my transcript,” he said with a laugh at the induction.

Four of the newest SEAS Hall of Fame inductees paved their own paths to success by combining engineering and entrepreneurial skills to build their own businesses.

Gazelle Hashemian Kimiavi, M.S. ’97, was 15 when she immigrated to the U.S from Iran. In July of 1985, Ms. Kimiavi’s parents took her to the U.S. Consulate in Ankara, Turkey to apply for visas to visit family in D.C.

The consulate officer asked Ms. Kimiavi’s father if he was going to leave his daughter in the U.S., since many of her family members were already there.

“He made my father promise not to leave me behind. And my late father, in his broken English said, ‘I promise you.’ To my mother’s dismay, once I got to the U.S., I made a declaration. I declared I was not going back to Iran. I wanted to stay in this land of opportunity,” Ms. Kimiavi said.

Ms. Kimiavi’s brother-in-law introduced her to a local high school counselor in Alexandria and convinced him to apply for a student visa for her, promising that she would be a “positive member of the community.”

He was able to keep his promise, even if Ms. Kimiavi’s father had to break his. Ms. Kimiavi had early success in the telecommunications industry. Her early career included serving as a director of IT at Broadband Office, the chief information officer at Picus and the director of IT at Teligent.

In 1997 she co-founded Paragon Technology Group with her husband, Sassan Kimiavi, B.S. ’85, M.S. ’87, D.Sc. ’98. Dr. Kimiavi, president and CEO of ALTA Development LLC and ALTA Worldwide LLC, was also inducted to the Hall of Fame on Thursday.

Dr. and Ms. Kimiavi grew the company from five employees to 240 before selling it in 2012.

Ms. Kimiavi received one of Washington SmartCEO Magazine's Brava! Women Business Achievement Awards in 2007. She is a member of the SEAS National Advisory Council and was the 2013 SEAS commencement speaker. Dr. Kimiavi was selected twice as a top CEO by Washington SmartCEO Magazine.

Dr. Kimiavi said GW has influenced his life “tremendously” and continues “to be intertwined in my life in surprising ways.”

He attended GW as a freshman when he was only 16 years old. Three years later, when Dr. Kimiavi was still an undergraduate, he founded his first company with three friends at GW, using the Estelle and Melvin Gelman Library as a “laboratory.”

“It was there that I was able to learn about friendship, teamwork and business,” he said.

Other SEAS Hall of Fame inductees included:

--Ashok Jha, B.S. ’86, B.S. ’90, M.S. ’92, co-founder and CEO of ADNET, which provides engineering and IT solutions to the NASA science community. Mr. Jha began his career at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. Over the next five years, he continued to work on his education as he juggled jobs and plans to begin his own company. ADNET launched in 1991 and supports more than 40 NASA science missions.

“The three most important things I learned at GW are not listed on my diploma: If you want to achieve something, think big. It’s better to be overconfident than to have a lack of confidence. If you want to look good, surround yourself with the people who hide your flaws and accentuate your strengths,”Mr. Jha said.

-- David V. Mastran, D.Sc. ’73, transferred his systems analysis skills in 1973 from the U.S. Air Force to the Department of Health, Education and Welfare. In 1975, he founded MAXIMUS to provide consulting, social welfare program management and information technology services to government. He served as CEO of MAXIMUS until retiring in 2004. MAXIMUS was selected four years in a row as one of BusinessWeek magazine’s “100 Best Hot Growth Small Companies.” Dr. Mastran also founded GrandVista Music and Quaver Marvelous World of Music.

Dr. Mastran said his best memory of his time at GW was his one-on-one class with the SEAS dean at the time.

“He taught me two days a week, game theory for a semester. That was the kind of dedication, in those times, that professors had toward their students. I’ll never forget that,” he said.

--Christopher J. Wiernicki, M.S. ’83, is currently chairman and CEO of the American Bureau of Shipping—one of the largest and most respected international classification societies—and chairman of ABS Group, a global leader in risk consulting services. Mr. Wiernicki has been a leading voice on issues impacting the marine and offshore industry, including modernizing maritime safety through the use of risk-based methodologies.

“The GW master’s degree grounded me in my engineering fundamentals. Second, the GW experience taught me how to hone my engineering skills and technical instincts. And third, the GW community exposed me for the first time to international intellectual diversity,” he said.