Where Genius Thrives

Through a new Genius Bar, Jane and Rob Stricker are helping students “believe in their own bright ideas.”

Jane and Rob Stricker, E69, in the Genius Bar, a central resource in Tufts’ new makerspace.

Tufts’ newest makerspace is humming on a Wednesday afternoon. The Nolop FAST (Fabrication, Analysis, Simulation, and Testing) Facility opened in January in Robinson Hall, and students hover over work tables finessing projects they’ve made with tools such as 3D printers and laser cutters. One student is putting together a small, six-legged robot. Another student team perfects the mechanics of a marble game that incorporates marble tracks, sensors, and an LED scoring device. 

“I am in awe,” said Rob Stricker, E69, who had stopped by for a visit with his wife Jane. Back when he was studying electrical engineering on scholarship, he worked mostly with paper, pencil, and a slide rule, he said. “The beauty of a place like this is that it gives students hands-on experiences. It has exceeded my expectations.” Jane Stricker was similarly impressed. “I was overwhelmed when I first walked in,” she said. “I just had to look around. Wow.”

The couple’s visit gave them a chance to see their philanthropy at work. Their gift to the Nolop Facility supported the Stricker Family Genius Bar. Here students can pull up a stool to a tall table staffed by fellow students until 11 p.m., to get the help they need to learn how to work through a problem and to use cutting-edge tools. Students can also work at small round tables, brainstorm on whiteboards, and stash works-in-progress in one of dozens of cubbies.

There’s a spirit of warmth and optimism about the Genius Bar that’s emphasized by words on the wall: “Let your own genius thrive.” That language is the work of Jane, who said she hopes it’s a reminder of how important it is for students to believe in their own bright ideas. “I just want kids to be themselves,” she said. “That is what is important to me.”

The success of Tufts and its students means a great deal to the Strickers. The two met when Rob, the first in his family to attend college, was a freshman. A fraternity brother fixed him up with a date for the spring dance and the rest, as they say, is history. Rob and Jane dated through their college years—he at Tufts, she at the University of New Hampshire—and were married in Goddard Chapel a week before Rob’s graduation. They will celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary at this year’s Commencement Day.

After graduating in 1969, Rob earned a master’s degree from MIT. He then went on to Bell Labs for three years before embarking on a career in finance—the field was different, but his training served him well. “Engineering helps you solve problems in a systematic way,” he said, noting that many of his fellow fixed-income portfolio managers also majored in engineering. “So I give credit to Tufts for what I’ve accomplished.” His gratitude extends to the lifelong friends he made here, which is one reason he is co-chairing his 50th reunion this year (Jane is also on the committee, a testament to her own affection for Tufts). Rob is on the School of Engineering’s Board of Advisors and its Brighter World campaign committee. He and Jane are loyal supporters of the Tufts Annual Fund and members of the Charles Tufts Society, Tufts’ recognition society for those who have included Tufts in their estate plans. The Strickers have also endowed a scholarship in honor of one of Rob’s fraternity brothers who passed away. 

Brandon Stafford, director of the Nolop FAST Facility, said the Strickers’ gift of the Genius Bar is indispensable. Having a team of students trained to help others is key, because this is the only makerspace on campus open to the entire university; visitors may likely have little or no makerspace experience. “We’re establishing a community of mentors and lowering the barriers to experimentation and innovation,” Stafford said.

He adds that the word “genius,” as the Strickers define it, mirrors his own hopes for the inclusive future of the facility. “We are aspiring to a genius level, but not by saying one person is smarter than the other—we are all future geniuses here,” Stafford said. “We’re giving students the confidence that they can each do something truly extraordinary.”