Statue of Jumbo the Elephant on Tufts campus.

2017 GSAS Alumni Award Winners

Each year the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences presents awards to our alumni for Outstanding Career and Service Achievement. We are thrilled to introduce our two alumni award winners this year: Kate Dempsey and Kuzhikalail M. Abraham, Ph.D.

Dempsey and Abraham may not have been in the same Tufts cohort or field, but their stories both highlight that the combination of graduate study with a bit of serendipity can lead to a rewarding career.  As Abraham notes, “luck needs you to be prepared to take advantage of opportunities as they come up. Tufts prepared me to do that.”

Kate Dempsey, M.A. ‘93, Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning
Dempsey is currently the State Director of the Maine Chapter of The Nature Conservancy.

Kate Dempsey at the 2017 Graduate Awards Ceremony (Jake Belcher for Tufts University).

Kate Dempsey was drawn to Tufts, and to the Department of Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning, because of the department’s commitment to creating not only scholars but also “practical visionaries.” Here, the curriculum required her to be in conversation with not only her peers from different perspectives, but with cutting edge ideas and theories that challenged her and all those in her cohort.

Today, her work is perfectly in line with this – she says, “conservation today demands we work together. It is a very active approach to working with communities to think about how nature can help solve their biggest challenges.” She gives examples of working with fisherman and using their knowledge of local ecosystems to rebuild the fishery and adapt to changing water temperatures, and working with communities to create infrastructure solutions to ensure roads do not blow out and waterways are protected. “Today, it’s hard to think of conservation and community development working together as radical,” Dempsey says, “but in 1991 it was. Integration of the environment and people was highly unusual at the time, but Tufts was making a great effort to bring those voices into our learning.”

Integration of the environment and people was highly unusual at the time, but Tufts was making a great effort to bring those voices into our learning.

Kate Dempsey M.A. ‘93, Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning

Dempsey points to Tufts’ commitment to providing students support as being critical to her ability to succeed. “I had to work the whole time I was at Tufts,” she says, “but if it hadn’t been for Tufts giving me additional funds when I requested, there’s no way I could go to a graduate school like Tufts.” She also found serendipitous support at the on-campus job she took at the Lincoln-Filene Center with a management and community development program that coached non-profits – there, she met her husband and gained valuable skills which helped her get a job after graduation.

When Dempsey first saw the job opening at the Nature Conservancy where she was eventually hired, she says she knew immediately that this was the place for her. “I was like ‘Oh my gosh, this is the great confluence in my own life – economic development and acumen, knowledge of federal government, and by then a quite robust knowledge of conservation!’” she says—all skills she gained during her time working and studying at Tufts. “It was luck that the job was posted, but I’d like to think I had something to do with getting the job.” Most of all, Dempsey points to her time learning to be a practical visionary at Tufts Department of Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning as the reason she is where she is today.

Kuzhikalail M. Abraham, Ph.D. ‘73, Chemistry
Abraham is currently a Research Professor at Northeastern University, and the President and Chief Technology Officer of E-KEM Sciences.

Kuzhikalail M. Abraham, Ph.D., at the 2017 Graduate Awards Ceremony (Jake Belcher for Tufts University).

Kuzhikalail M. Abraham, Ph.D., calls himself a very typical Tufts student. “I really liked working with my professor, who gave me a lot of independence. I was mentored by a good teacher and I had the opportunity to become an independent researcher after being trained in Professor Grant Urry’s group,” he says. Indeed, his pre-Tufts accomplishments are quite typical of Jumbo excellence—he was the top-ranked student in his college at Kerala University, India, and was the third-ranked student in the entire state of Kerala, India.

Serendipity plays a large role in Abraham’s story, as well. After two postdoctoral fellowships at Vanderbilt and MIT, he joined a start-up company in Norwood, Massachusetts, that was attempting to develop rechargeable lithium batteries. At the time, this was considered a very risky venture. Many did not believe that developing a rechargeable lithium battery was even possible, and so Abraham’s involvement in this line of research was somewhat a leap of faith.

Luck needs you to be prepared to take advantage of opportunities as they come up. Tufts prepared me to do that.

Kuzhikalail M. Abraham Ph.D. ‘73, Chemistry

“When I look back, it was the best thing that could have happened to me,” he says. “I was there in the very early stages, was able to make some good contributions and publish some seminal papers and disclose a number of patents, and now to everyone’s amazement we are at the point where we cannot live without rechargeable lithium batteries.”  Abraham has been honored with several awards for his work including the Battery Division Research Award of the Electrochemical Society, NASA Group Achievement Award for the Rechargeable Battery Team, Fellow of the Electrochemical Society, Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry, and Kerala Center (New York) Award for Outstanding Achievement in Applied Science.

Luckily enough, the field Abraham chose to pursue became one of the most important fields in modern life. After 25 years of work in the industry, he was invited to join Northeastern University as a research professor at the Center for Renewable Energy Technology.  There, he continues his work on battery-related problems, inventing new batteries, and supervising graduate students.

Where does much of this success stem from? Abraham attributes a great deal of it to his training at Tufts. “My research supervisor Professor Urry told me, you’re not being trained as a chemist to work in one area. You’re being trained as a scientist, so you should be able to tackle a variety of problems in a number of scientific fields. So, I entered a research area that involves chemistry, physics, and engineering, and I was able to do pretty well.”

Story by Ariana Hajmiragha