A long career in the medical-devices field taught retired executive Joe Ciffolillo a lot about the impact of innovation on health care and the urgency of product development.
"Any day that goes by that we don't produce new medical products is a lost opportunity to help others," said Ciffolillo, a member of the Class of 1961.
That desire for better outcomes inspired the former Bucknell trustee to expand his longtime support of the Department of Biomedical Engineering (BME) in a way that maximizes the potential of student research in device development.
Ciffolillo observed the department's rapid success since its establishment in 1999, and noted the increasing quality of its students. Realizing that undergraduate BME research was ripe for growth, he made a bequest commitment in 2013 to establish the Ciffolillo Healthcare Technology Inventors Program. To accelerate the program's impact, Ciffolillo recently made a generous portion of his bequest available for immediate use.
"I have a sense of the additional value that is available when students involved in medical technology get an opportunity to try their hand in the development area," said Ciffolillo, who 15 years ago endowed two scholarship programs at Bucknell and sought to expand his University support. "It's exciting, it's innovative and it brings phenomenal value to all of mankind."
In creating the fund, Ciffolillo, who majored in management at Bucknell, saw opportunities for a double return on his investment — the enrichment of the students through high-impact learning experiences, plus potential royalties for the University from intellectual ownership of products developed through the program. The gift presents Bucknell with an extraordinary opportunity, said Pat Mather, dean of the College of Engineering.
"We are extremely grateful for Mr. Ciffolillo's support," Mather said. "Our students will greatly benefit from education and practical training related to the protection and marketing of new ideas. This experience will engender confidence in creating new solutions to challenging health care problems."
The fund will support several planned programs, ranging from faculty-led technology development projects to student fellowships and a seminar series that brings health care innovators to campus. Projects leading to novel inventions will be shepherded through patent filing and marketing to potential health care industry partners.
Ciffolillo, who hopes other alumni and parents join him in supporting the program, was inspired in part by his service on medical-development advisory boards at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Johns Hopkins University, which introduced him to similarly structured research programs at the graduate level. He thought the concept could be translated to Bucknell. The result, he believes, is unique to undergraduate institutions, and one that will better position Bucknell to recruit top engineering students.
"When all other things are equal and the opportunity to perform funded research is available, that can be a huge factor in enrolling the best applicants," he said.
Those applicants become BME majors who flourish at Bucknell and graduate ready to succeed in whatever profession they choose — be it medicine, product design, medical sales, law or any other field, said Professor Dan Cavanagh, the William C. & Gertrude B. Emmitt Memorial Chair in Biomedical Engineering, who was instrumental in founding the BME program.
"At the end of the day, our best measure of success is not devices or external funding. It's our alumni. That's why we're here. This is something Joe recognizes," Cavanagh said.
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