The résumé of Dr. Fred Fisher boasts an extensive list of positions in the field of engineering that spans both coasts and close to 30 years. He has not one, not two or even three, but four engineering degrees from Drexel University: a Bachelor of Science, two Masters and a Doctorate in environmental engineering.
But Fred, a native of Philadelphia who lives in Center City with his wife Ann, will be the first to tell you that his motivation to keep going back to school was never to “climb up the corporate ladder.” In fact, he goes on to say that as a young man he didn't even like engineering.
That’s not what you’d expect from someone with four engineering degrees. But as he put it, he’s "not your typical engineer."
"I came from a poor family, which a lot of people did at that time," Fred said as he explained why he chose to pursue engineering at Drexel. The job market was bad in the late 1950’s and Fred was looking for a sense of security in an unstable, struggling economy.
"I was in a field that I was not too thrilled about but I knew I had to make a living."
Fred graduated with his first degree in 1958 and after several months as a substitute teacher for the city, he got a job as an electronic engineer with the Naval Air Material Center.
A few years later, he took a new job as an environmental simulation engineer working with weather satellites in Princeton, NJ.
"Basically what we did was simulate outer space by putting the satellite in a vacuum chamber with no air," Fred said. "We’d test it to see if the satellite failed under those conditions before it was actually out in space."
"I really enjoyed that job," he said. "It was very cutting edge; we were dealing with the latest in weather satellites."
His career took him down many other paths including working at North American Rockwell in California as an environmental test engineer and living in the Hollywood Hills with his wife for 3 years.
Itching to return to Philadelphia, he took a job back in his hometown with General Electric Company as a project engineer working on a hydrogen bomb.
"I knew we needed to defend our country but the idea of working on something that could potentially kill millions of people made me feel guilty," he said. "I was actually happy when I got laid off."
It was while he was at General Electric, he discovered Drexel’s environmental engineering program and realized that that was a type of engineering that could really be of interest to him. So Fred started taking classes at Drexel to pursue his first Masters degree.
"Environmental engineering appealed to my idealistic nature," he said. "Before I looked at engineering as what I had to pursue to make a living but learning about environmental engineering made the field exciting and interesting to me. I thought, ‘this is something I can do that I really believe in."
The years went by and Fred continued working in the field of environmental engineering, while simultaneously maintaining a rigorous class schedule – sometimes consisting of 12 hours of class a week – and raising two children with Ann. It was challenging at times, to say the least.
"I have a very good wife who took good care of me, that’s number one,” he said. “Also, my brain was very stimulated at the time. I loved to learn."
He also joked about eating a lot, “in order to fuel the brain,” of course.
He fondly talked about how he enjoyed the well-rounded curriculum of his Masters programs and how he had very sincere relationships with his professors at Drexel. When asked what advice he, a Drexel student four times over, would give to current Drexel students, his reply was this:
"Try your best to be a well-rounded person. Remember the arts and expose yourself to the cultural side of life and make life fun and enjoyable."
Now happily retired, Fred continues to practice what he preaches.
He enjoys going to the opera, the ballet and does Pilates regularly. He has many interests including painting and improvisational acting with the Center for Intergenerational Learning at Temple University.
And now, 50 years after leaving Drexel with his first degree, Fred is still in the classroom, learning art through a senior associates program.
Looking back, Fred’s Drexel journey can be seen as rather ironic.
He attended Drexel because it was a logical step towards financial stability, but he ended up returning to Drexel over and over...and over again. Only this time it wasn't out of obligation, it was because he wanted to learn. He found something in engineering that he truly enjoyed, and over time, found that it was a field for which he had developed a real passion.