A Bit of Luck Plus a Keen Intellect Equals a Top Student: Meet Chris Sakowski

Chris Sakowski, NJIT’s Top Electrical Engineer

Sometimes a bit of luck – a stroke of happenstance – helps a student find a subject he loves. 

It worked that way for Chris Sakowski.

During his first year in high school, Chris signed up for an elective – a class in business management.  But since he was the only student to pick it, the school cancelled the class and asked him to choose another.   

He chose an electronics class, a lucky pick that became his path to academic excellence.

 “I immediately fell in love with the class, the teacher, and the subject matter,” recalls Chris. “And I’ve not lost an ounce of passion for it since.” 

After high school, Chris enrolled at NJIT and majored in the field most closely allied to electronics: electrical engineering.  And now, four years later, the Newark College of Engineering (NCE) has named him its Outstanding Senior in Electrical Engineering. Each year, NCE gives the award to an academically accomplished student who has also helped improve the university.

Chris’s accomplishments have been many.  He has a near perfect GPA: a 3.964, and his name perennially appears on the dean’s list. He’s a scholar in the Albert Dorman Honors College with two honors scholarships. He has four more endowed scholarships and he belongs to four honor societies. He has tutored physics and electrical engineering classes and he helps the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering recruit students. Somehow, he also found time to do a nine-moth internship at Panasonic, in Secaucus. He worked in the company’s computer solutions unit.

All of this hard work has already paid off for Chris – career wise. Last year, BAE Systems, a major aerospace firm, came to a career fair organized by Career Development Services. Chris visited BAE’s booth, talked with recruiters and left his resume. A few weeks later, a BAE recruiter called and invited him in for an interview. The recruiter told Chris he'd have to a give a presentation on some aspect of his research. Chris decided to give the BAE interviewers a power-point presentation on a project he did for his Controlled Systems Course. For that project, Chris used software programs to simulate how to control a crane, so that its movements on a construction site would be precise and safe.

“For so many of classes here my professors made me give presentations, and sometimes it was a pain,” said Chris. “But when it came time for me to present to BAE, I was grateful to my professors. I was so used to giving presentations for my classes that I wasn’t nervous. I felt well prepared.”

His presentation went smoothly and his interviewers were impressed. After he graduates in June, he'll begin working at BAE as a systems engineer. Perhaps more importantly, he'll be part of special leadership development program that BAE uses to groom future managers.

At NJIT, Chris also proved to be an adept researcher. Working with Professor Timothy Chang, Chris is designing a micro-processing device that patients could wear while having an MRI. The wireless device will clip onto a patient’s ankle and record his vital signs. Many patients who have MRIs are ill and require such monitoring. The patient’s data, via the wireless device, could be streamed live to the Internet. Doctors could thus monitor their patient’s conditions from afar.     

“Chris is developing both the software and the hardware for the micro- processing device,” says Chang.  “He is an excellent student with a nice personality – easy going and humble but hard working.  He has a very bright future ahead of him as a researcher.”

Chris started doing research early, when he was a student at Marlboro High School. The electronics elective he luckily signed up for was so good that he took electronics classes all through high school. He joined the Technology Student Association, whose members stayed after school to work on electronics projects. They were guided by their teacher, Charles Lloyd, who believed that if students loved what they were learning, they’d never forget it. So he gave the students a lot of hands-on projects: They built a robot, a radio and an amplified microphone.

Chris loved the club and excelled in the projects. So much so that Lloyd, now retired, has never forgotten him. 

“In my 39 years of teaching at Marlboro,” said Lloyd in a recent phone interview, “Chris was the best student I ever encountered. The thing I recognized right away about him was his inquiring mind and his ability to problem solve. He had that as a freshman. He just had a genuine enthusiasm for knowledge. He was always searching for the reason behind something. He had unusual creativity and a great mechanical aptitude, which he probably got from his father, who is a Mr. Fix It.” 

Lloyd’s hunch was right: Chris did get his mechanical ability from his father.

Ever since he was a boy, Chris liked to help his father around the house. His father, a talented craftsman, patiently taught him how to use hand tools and do household repairs. When he was 10-years old, Chris eagerly helped his father put an addition onto their house.      

“Helping my dad around the house had a huge influence on me,” says Chris. “That’s why I’ve always loved hands-on projects, both in electronics and in engineering.”

Sakowski was also the kind of boy, his parents recalled, who'd spend endless hours playing with his Legos -- building them up and tearing them down.  He did the same with his erector set.

“He had enormous boxes of Legos under his bed that you wouldn’t believe,” said his mother, Priscilla Sakowski.

She fondly recounted teaching Chris how to read when he was just three years old. She’d sit teaching him phonics and reading children’s books to him.  From an early age, Priscilla said, Chris was always eager to learn. Always a good student--never had to be pushed--a blessing to have as a son. 

His father, Dan Sakowski, remembered the time when Chris, then in fourth grade, was home sick with a sore throat. The soreness had caused him to loose his voice and he missed two days of school. On the next day, Dan opened the door to Chris’s bedroom and asked if his throat was better.

“I wanted to see if he was getting his voice back,” Dan said, “so I jokingly asked him to recite the preamble to the U.S. Constitution. I turned to leave the room, but before I did I heard him mumbling something in a raspy voice. It took a moment before I realized he was reciting the preamble -- word for word.  I couldn’t believe it. I don’t know how he ever learned that.  I started to laugh and I walked downstairs and told my wife that I just heard Chris reciting the Constitution. We just looked at each other and one of us said, ‘We have some thinker for a son. He’s going to make some college student.’”

(By Robert Florida, University Web Services)