Alumni and Donors

Martha J. Connolly ’75 M.S. ’75 is Passing the Torch to the Next Generation

Martha J. Connolly ’75 M.S. ’75, one of the first women to be admitted as an undergraduate to Stevens, went on to succeed in research, academia, industry and entrepreneurship. Through mentoring – and a keynote speech at the 2024 Stevens Biomedical Engineering Day – Connolly is using her experience to encourage today’s women students to blaze their own path to fulfilling careers.

Martha J. Connolly ’75 M.S. ’75 was part of the first Stevens undergraduate class to admit women. She was one of the first 19 co-eds to begin their college education at Castle Point, but by no means was she the first trailblazer in her family.

“My mother was in the first class of WAVES – Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service – during World War II,” Connolly explains. “She was a mathematician and plotted the Loran coordinates of North America. She retired from the military as a lieutenant commander.”

Connolly learned about Stevens from her uncle, Karl E. Schlachter ’45, but didn’t consider the university seriously until she visited. “Dean Robert Seavey gave me a personal tour of the campus,” she recalls. “It was a much more welcoming reception than I experienced at the other schools I was considering. Even more surprising was that he knew every student we encountered by their first name. I felt at home.”

The women at Stevens in those first years of co-education faced unique challenges, in addition to academic rigor. “Our pictures were published in the school newspaper, so everyone knew who we were, including the professors who often called on us first to answer questions in front of the class,” Connolly says.

Nonetheless, Connolly enjoyed a robust social life, singing in a glee club for the women students and playing clarinet for the university concert band. “We performed throughout New Jersey,” she notes.

“And there were great parties aboard the S.S. Stevens,” Connolly adds, referring to the decommissioned passenger-cargo liner that, for nearly 10 years, served as dorm space. “The view was incredible. The Class of 1975 saved the anchor as our class gift to Stevens. It was returned to campus in 2024 after being held in storage during campus renovations. I look forward to seeing it again on my next visit to Castle Point.”

After earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees in chemistry at Stevens, Connolly continued pushing boundaries, becoming the first woman to earn a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering from The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. She began her career as a research faculty member at Johns Hopkins before joining the faculty of the University of Maryland, where she taught surgery and physiology and oversaw an NIH-funded laboratory.

Her career pivoted toward industry when she joined the State of Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development as senior biotechnology industry representative. She spent a year as director of business development for the biotechnology company EntreMed, then returned to the University of Maryland where she served as director of the Maryland Technology Enterprise Institute (MTech). She also served as director of Maryland Industrial Partnerships, facilitating and funding collaborative R&D projects between companies and University of Maryland faculty.

An expert in early-stage technology commercialization, business development and economic strategies, Connolly is the founder of an entrepreneurial technology development company and directed business development at a publicly traded biopharmaceutical company. Semi-retirement for Connolly included lecturing on life sciences entrepreneurship at the University of Maryland and Johns Hopkins, and consulting on life sciences technology commercialization for the University of Maryland.

Connolly has authored 36 publications in cardiovascular systems physiology. In 2013, she was elected a fellow of the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering. She has been recognized as one of Maryland’s 50 Most Influential People and included on the Daily Record’s list of “Top 100 Women” in the Baltimore Region. In 2010, she received the Greater Baltimore Committee’s 2010 Bioscience Committee Presidential Award.

“Stevens prepares you for a satisfying career,” Connolly says. “It goes deeper than earning potential. It offers the finest caliber of undergraduate education – forward-thinking, yet well-rounded and grounded.”

Now fully retired, Connolly’s time is devoted to family, travel and singing with Larksong, the a cappella ensemble she helped form nearly 30 years ago. The group has produced five albums and will be performing at the Maryland Renaissance Festival in the fall of 2024. She will also travel to Italy this year to perform at the Amalfi Coast Music & Arts Festival with the Baltimore Choral Arts.

She remains devoted to her alma mater as well, serving as class vice president, meeting with students at the Lore-El Center for Women’s Leadership, and becoming the first woman to sit on the Old Guard Committee. In 2017, Connolly’s commitment to Stevens was recognized with the Distinguished Alumni Award for Academia and Government, and she offered the keynote address at the 2024 Stevens Biomedical Engineering Day.

Mentoring is Connolly’s priority, however. “I get a lot of joy from encouraging students,” she says. “About three years ago, one of my classmates, Harry MacArthur, and I put forward a plan to engage with alumni in a more meaningful way. That concept developed into the mentoring program recently piloted on the StevensConnects platform.”

“We began with mentoring recipients of our class scholarship,” Connolly continues. “I encouraged one student to pursue patenting her ideas and connected her to an alum who is in the exact field she was interested in – roller coaster design! Mentoring is such a meaningful way to share what we have learned in our careers and lives, and at the end of the day, you get much more than you give.”