Steeped in traditions that date back to 1907, the Iowa Alpha chapter of Tau Beta Pi (TBP) has long recognized students who are distinguished in their scholarly efforts and who demonstrate exemplary character. This past December, the group added a program to recognize outstanding alumni, inducting Stephen Watson (BSIE’67) as an Eminent Engineer.
Watson joined 52 undergraduate and 4 graduate students, as well as Janis Terpenney, professor and chair of industrial and manufacturing systems engineering, in a private initiation ceremony followed by a banquet with TBP members, Iowa State faculty members, and family and friends of the initiates.
“The whole process was very impressive and being inducted in the society was very meaningful,” Watson says. “For anyone involved, it’s not only a reflection of successes as a student, professor, or professional. It’s about having character and doing what is right. It’s a great honor to be a part of Tau Beta Pi.”
Watson served as the keynote speaker during the banquet, where he talked about his journey through the College of Engineering at Iowa State and his perspective on the future of engineering, including the challenges and exciting opportunities students are going to face.
“Engineers will be responsible for designing and implementing technologies that will help provide shelter, food, and clean water to 7 billion people,” he explains. “It was inspiring to see this incoming class of TBP members who are learning how to address these issues. The things they are going to do for the future are going to be remarkable.”
Watson is currently a private investor in the area of early-stage information technology companies and a founding member of Walnut Venture Associates, a group of experienced entrepreneurs concentrating on development of emerging high-technology companies.
He was a practicing engineer for the first dozen years of his career and slowly moved over to product management and marketing then ultimately ended up in general management.
From 1967 to 1979, Watson worked for the Westinghouse Electric Corporation, Becton, Dickenson & Company, and Digital Equipment Corporation as an engineer and project manager. Between 1979 and 1989, he founded and was CEO of two companies: Computer Centers of New England and California Micro Systems, Inc. In 1991, he became president and CEO of Software Developers Company, Inc. followed by similar positions with ScanCenters of America (1996-97), Imagen, Inc. (1998), Environmental Engineering Corporation (1999-2000), and Medispectra, Inc (2006-07).
“Every single job I’ve had, even as a CEO, has had strong ties to engineering,” he says. “The discipline taught me about analytical thinking and problem solving. It provides a foundation for how to approach any work issue or project that stays with you for forever.”
His career has spread across several engineering disciplines, including environmental and computer, and he says the training and background he received at Iowa State helped prepare his transition to new industries and the leadership roles he would inevitably fill.
Watson shows his gratitude to Iowa State through his involvement on the College of Engineering Industrial Advisory Council, serving two years as its chairman. He is also a governor of the ISU Foundation, currently serving on the board of directors, and has served on the investment committee of the university’s endowment fund.
“There’s no question Iowa State was a big factor in my ultimate development in career,” he says. “The heartland of this country has an incredible structure in place to help aspiring students learn and excel.”