Retired engineer Norman Rumpf ’59 returned to Lehigh for a week in summer 2017 as an expert-in-residence to mentor students in the LaunchBayC program of the Baker Institute for Entrepreneurship, Creativity & Innovation and students in the Mountaintop Program.
Rumpf was chief engineer within the Defense Support Program of Northrup Grumman Electronic systems. He earned a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from Lehigh University and a master’s degree in nuclear engineering from Kansas State University.
What did your job as chief engineer entail?
I was a chief engineer within the Defense Support Program (DSP) engineering department. I was moved to program management for about the final seven to nine years before I retired. As chief engineer, I was first responsible for the coordination between engineering and the fabrication of the satellite payload. Subsequently, I was chief engineer of the DSP design department. Then, as program manager, my responsibility was for direct support to the Air Force, covering maintenance of unlaunched satellite systems, evaluation of the operation of the orbital multi-satellite system, and detailed event analysis of unique, previously-observed mission events.
Can you please explain your involvement with Lehigh, especially being an expert-in-residence?
The discussions with Mountaintop and LaunchBayC teams covered technical issues with which I happened to be familiar and, more importantly, looked at subtle business operation issues that would need to be confronted for successful implementation.
For me, this involvement is partly personal and partly goal oriented. The personal part is that I have a strong desire to see people achieve as much of their full potential as possible. So, any way I can help make that happen, piques my interest. The goal-oriented part has to do with the fact that I read extensively about subjects that make me think in ways that otherwise I would not do. My intent, then, is to collaborate with students in such a way that will help them think in different ways to expand their projects.
How did Lehigh help shape your professional success?
Since much of my career was a mixture of technical involvement and management responsibility, there are two ways Lehigh played a significant part in my success. A firm grounding in both math and physics, combined with the engineering training I received, enabled me to understand the interrelationships of a complex satellite system and speak knowledgeably with those responsible for a) system design and b) evaluation of orbital performance of the system.
I also learned to appreciate the time spent on courses outside of my curriculum, since they enabled me to be able to think on the same plane as Air Force personnel with whom I interfaced and who had non-technical backgrounds.
Why do you think it is important to offer students learning opportunities such as the Mountaintop Experience and the Baker Institute for Entrepreneurship, Creativity & Innovation?
To me, Mountaintop projects are the closest experience that can be created, within the school environment, to prepare for work-life after graduation. It focuses on both teamwork (collaboration) and self-reliance; two attributes that are essential for successful contributions in the workplace. It’s an experience that I hope, eventually, every student has the option to have before graduation.
I see the Baker Institute as implementing an experience that is definitely needed at an institute of higher learning. A significant percentage of Lehigh graduates end up distinguishing themselves in the workplace, across the spectrum of the many major study programs offered to undergraduates. In the past, some students have decided to form their own businesses, but the percentage who have done so is relatively small. Making entrepreneurship classes available at the undergraduate level, plus offering a master’s degree program in technical entrepreneurship, offers students the opportunity to make a name for themselves in their own business. It would not surprise me if some of these students will make contributions that receive significant acclaim. The Baker Institute’s LaunchBayC program serves as an incubator for new business ventures.
Why are you passionate about working with students?
My passion comes from the pleasure I find in working with students who are both intelligent and motivated, and who can have a direct impact in making the world a better place. When discussing different facets of various projects, they have confidence in what they are doing and are willing to defend it, yet they are also willing to listen to alternate options that might improve their outcome. I have found this to be especially true when they are about to take the next steps, after they have developed their product or service sufficiently, to be ready to “go public” with it.