Manuel Perez ’68 Memorial Scholarship Fuels Students’ Dreams
The Manuel Perez ’68 Memorial Scholarship is transforming a uniquely American life story into a Stevens legacy. Created by the late mathematician’s family and friends – with help from a generous challenge grant – the new scholarship will continue Perez’s commitment to helping promising students further their studies in mathematics and computer science.
Were it not for a couple of no-show dates, Maria Perez and Manuel “Manny” Perez ’68 M.S. ’70 (1947-2022) might not ever have found each other. “I had a lot of friends in college and we were always meeting new people,” Maria recalls. “Someone in the group arranged a date for him to go to this particular party but it didn’t work out, and then my date backed out as well. Manny and I were both at the party alone and decided to spend the time together.”
They learned of each other’s love for mathematics, tracing formulas on a frosty window, and a romance was born. “English was a second language for both of us,” Maria points out. “Math, however, is a universal language.”
By the time they met, Manny was a senior at Stevens who had already overcome significant barriers to earning an education. “He came to this country alone, at the age of 13, as part of the Peter Pan initiative that moved some 14,000 children from Cuba to the U.S. after the island was taken over by a communist government,” Maria says. “His mother came soon after, and they moved from Florida to New Jersey, to be near his older sister. It was very difficult for his mother, who was a piano teacher, to provide for them.”
“Manny went to high school for one year before deciding to go to work to help support the family, earning his high school diploma by taking classes at night,” she continues. “Kudos to Stevens for what they did for Manny. He had talent but no money. Stevens accepted him. They helped him.”
After graduating from Stevens in 1968 with a B.S. in Mathematics and completing an M.S. in Mathematics in 1970, also at Stevens, Manny began his career at Exxon, traveling the world in roles of increasing responsibility. In 1983, he began building the functional database that would become TM1. “Manny launched the product in 1986,” Maria says. “He raised funds, founded Sinper Company to market the product, and hired a sales team. It was tough going – we had two small children at the time – but by 1992 TM1 picked up steam. He sold it to Applix in 1996.”
TM1 was later acquired by Cognos, and is now owned by IBM, as part of the company’s Planning Analytics services. “More than one million individuals at 8,000 companies use TM1 regularly,” notes Ben Heinl, director at Cubewise, an IT consulting firm specializing in the use of TM1.
In 2021, a documentary titled “Beyond the Spreadsheet” was released by Cubewise telling the story about how the database product grew out of a small New Jersey company into one of the most important financial/data analysis applications in use today.
Manny’s life was much larger than the powerful technology he created, however. He was passionate about food, art, literature, music, his wife of 50 years and two children, and his large extended family. He lived on three continents and visited more than 70 countries, journaling his travels through photography.
“When I met Manny, he hadn’t had much exposure to the arts,” Maria says. “I took him to museums and galleries. Together we discovered a love for art. For Manny it grew into an inspiration to create his own art.”
“Manny was a serious student,” she continues. “Whatever he set his mind to do, he did beautifully. He began using a mainframe to draw paintings. His art has since been featured in four gallery exhibits.”
Although his life was full of demanding roles – husband and father, inventor, artist – Manny never forgot the opportunity offered to him by Stevens. He stayed involved in the Stevens Latin American Club, and for a time, served as a graduate program lecturer.
“I have heard from a number of students who say that they would not have graduated from Stevens without Manny,” Maria says, noting that the Stevens Latin American Club once presented him with a sculpture, to thank him for his support over the years. “Manny took the time to make sure that every student got what they needed to learn. That’s the kind of person he was.”
Leonardo (Leo) Rodriguez ’73 was one such student. Retired as chairman of Emerson Automation Solutions Latin America and now serving as general partner of SpaceFund, a venture capital firm focused on building the space economy, Leo was once a 17-year-old who lacked direction and confidence. Manny helped prepare the teenager for his SATs and continued to support and inspire him throughout his education and career.
“Manny opened my eyes to what was possible for my life,” Leo says. “He encouraged me to apply to Stevens, tutored me so that I would be ready, and assured me that I could figure it all out – how to apply and register, and how to work out the funding.”
“Manny had a brilliant mind and a gentle manner,” he recalls. “When Manny taught you math, you began to see math in a different way.”
Leo explains that his cousin, Pedro, and Manny were friends and Stevens classmates. Both families had come to the U.S. from Cuba in the 1960s, settling with so many other Cuban immigrants in Hudson County, New Jersey. They kept a watchful eye on their younger siblings, cousins and friends. “Manny made sure we didn’t lose momentum,” he says. “There were very few Hispanic students at Stevens at that time. Manny’s dedication to our progress paved the way for us to enjoy wonderful careers.”
“Manny was such a positive influence,” Leo adds, noting that the families he grew up around were often overwhelmed by the challenges of living in a new country, trying to learn a new language, and needing to work at multiple jobs to make ends meet. “It is hard to say where we would be today, were it not for Manny’s kindness.”
Maria and Leo are part of a growing group of friends, colleagues and family members who are creating a special scholarship in Manny’s memory. The Manuel Perez ’68 Memorial Scholarship will assist Stevens students who are furthering their studies in mathematics and computer science.
“We want to inspire and support students like Manny, the creators among us who have big ideas and the ambition to match them,” Maria says. “I think Manny would like that.”