To help support STEM students in financial need, California State University, Dominguez Hills (CSUDH) alumnus and retired Boeing executive John Tracy, and his wife Katherine, have donated $200,000 to establish the Takeshi Katsumata Endowed Scholarship in the College of Natural and Behavioral Sciences (NBS).
Through the endowment, scholarships of at least $5,000 will be awarded annually by NBS to help full-time, low-income students studying computer sciences, physics, chemistry, or mathematics excel at CSUDH, and better compete in the booming STEM industries.
“There’s so much untapped potential in our communities, especially in underserved communities,” said Tracy, who grew up in Gardena and attended Gardena High School. “I have always believed that if people from places like where I went to school had a vision of what they could do, and their communities were supportive, they could achieve things they have never dreamed of, and change their and their families’ lives.”
The Takeshi Katsumata Endowed Scholarship is named in honor of Katherine’s father, who was placed with his family in one of 11 camps that imprisoned more than 120,000 Japanese Americans during WWII. When they were released, Takeshi’s father – who was a farmer – had lost everything and struggled to rebuild.
A teenager at the time, Takeshi couldn’t go back to school. He held several jobs and became the breadwinner for the family. Over time, he saved enough to buy a small nursery for his father, while Takeshi went on to become the lead groundskeeper for the City of Gardena.
“We wanted to honor his life and journey. The nursery he bought for his parents was on Main Street, right in the shadow of Cal State Dominguez Hills,” Tracy shared. “He worked so hard to support his parents and his sister, and later his own family, that he didn’t have a chance to go back and finish his high school diploma until his mid-40s. He was a very smart guy who could have been anything – a doctor or lawyer – but his path was fixed due to the hardships of his past.”
Katsumata had six children. His two youngest attended CSUDH, and two of his grandchildren graduated from the university with degrees in computer science.
Tracy received his bachelor’s degree in physics from CSUDH in 1976 and moved on to eventually earn a doctorate in engineering from UC Irvine. He has been an active alumnus who has given much of his time and resources to help students achieve.
A longtime technology veteran with close to 40 years of experience in the aerospace industry, Tracy served the 10 years prior to his retirement in 2016 as chief technology officer (CTO) and senior vice president of engineering, operations and technology for The Boeing Company.
As CTO, Tracy led Boeing’s engineering team in the creation of such internationally successful aircraft as the 787 Dreamliner, the 747-8 Intercontinental airplane, and the X-37, an experimental 30-foot unmanned “space plane” and the first reusable spacecraft to be built since the Space Shuttle.
“My experiences at Dominguez Hills really helped me in my career and I have tremendous memories there,” he said. “The campus was small enough to give me the chance to have direct interactions with my professors, who made sure that I understood all the concepts I needed to learn. In fact, the professors there encouraged me in all aspects of my studies.”
John and Katherine Tracy have been sponsoring scholarships for students for more than 20 years. Most have been in East Los Angeles in honor of his mother, Victoria Alegria Tracy, who grew up in a Spanish-speaking household in Boyle Heights and made education a priority for her children.
Tracy, who was the first in the family to go to college, admires the determination and grit of first-generation students from underserved communities.
“What makes first-generation college students so special is that they don’t think anyone owes them anything. They know that they must work hard for everything they need, and if they don’t, it won’t happen,” he said. “Many have multiple jobs while in college and are guided by the underlying belief that their lives will get a lot better if they continue, even though it’s hard. It is rewarding being part of that in some small way – helping people achieve their vision and trying to share with others what life can be.”
Tracy looks forward to meeting the scholarship recipients. He offers one piece of advice: “There isn’t anything stopping you from doing everything that you want to do, except your own vision of what you can do.”