By his own admission, Mike Zisman ’70 was not a particularly good student during his first two years at Lehigh. An encounter with chemical and bioengineering Professor William L. Luyben changed all that.
“I remember how Professor Luyben pulled me aside one day and said, basically, ‘Shape up or ship out,’” recalled Zisman.
“It changed my life—I just woke up and thought, ‘Well, maybe I should try studying. Maybe that would make a difference.’ And I made the dean’s list after that.”
Grateful for the impact that Luyben had on his life, Zisman, founder and co-CEO of Golf Genius Software, and his wife, Linda Gamble, recently made a $2.5 million gift to endow a faculty chair in honor of Luyben, who was his chemical and biomolecular engineering professor and who has been a Lehigh faculty member since 1967.
The chair will initially be called the Zisman Family Chair in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering. Upon Luyben’s future retirement from Lehigh, it will be known as the William L. Luyben Chair, with the chairholder embodying the qualities of Luyben as “an exemplary teacher, mentor and distinguished researcher.”
Luyben further impacted Zisman’s life and career trajectory by introducing his students to the use of computers for simulation. “I loved doing those simulations,” Zisman recalled. “It helped me realize that I really loved computer programming.”
After graduating with a bachelor of science in chemical engineering and working briefly at DuPont, Zisman went on to earn a master’s in systems engineering and a doctorate in decisions sciences from the University of Pennsylvania. He was a faculty member at the Sloan School of Management at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) until 1979, when he founded Soft-Switch, a company that, in a pre-internet era, allowed users of different computer brands the ground-breaking ability to email each other.
Soft-Switch was acquired by Lotus Development Corporation in 1994, with Zisman serving as CEO. A year later, IBM acquired Lotus, and Zisman stayed on until his retirement in 2004 as vice president of corporate strategy. In 2009 he founded Golf Genius, a cloud-based software system that helps golf professionals manage leagues, tournaments and events.
“I thank Mike and the Zisman family for this honor,” Luyben said. “I like the expression, ‘I touch the future—I teach.’ I think that’s applicable in Mike’s case. I also want to thank Lehigh for providing the faculty with students we can challenge and encourage.”
President Joseph Helble, himself a graduate of Lehigh’s chemical engineering program and former student of Luyben’s, thanked Zisman for his incredible philanthropy and said the gift in honor of Luyben is proof that “what the faculty and staff do at Lehigh makes a huge difference in shaping the future.”
“We are grateful to Mike Zisman and Linda for this generous, impactful gift for the university,” said Nathan Urban, provost and senior vice president for academic affairs. “Chairs such as this one are incredibly important to us as a university, to attract and retain the very best faculty, to give them the kind of support and resources that they need to carry forth and excel in Lehigh’s research and teaching missions.”
A former Lehigh trustee, Zisman served on numerous committees during his tenure. He was part of the Rossin College Advisory Council and was inducted into Leadership Plaza in 2009.
“I often tell people I’m a product of my education,” Zisman said. “I got an incredible grounding at Lehigh and a great foundation in analytical, critical thinking. But I think Professor Luyben had more impact on my life than anybody. And I’m grateful.”
Story by Cynthia Tintorri