Generous Donors Took a Chance on Alan Desrochers ‘72 and Now He Does the Same for UML Students

Alan Desrocher

By Ed Brennen

In the summer of 1968, as Alan Desrochers ’72 was preparing to leave home in Chicopee, Massachusetts, and begin studying electrical engineering at Lowell Technological Institute, he received an unexpected $400 scholarship from the local Teamsters Union. 
“I’m pretty sure my father helped arrange it by getting everyone to chip in 10 bucks,” says Desrochers, who used the scholarship to cover his first year of tuition, which at the time was just $200 a semester. “These people didn’t know me; they just said, ‘Let’s do this.’”
More than 50 years later, Desrochers still thinks about the generosity of those strangers.
“I was amazed that people who had never met me were willing to invest in me,” he says. “At the same time, the state invested in me by paying over 80% of Lowell Tech’s budget. So I was getting this good education practically for free. I knew it then, and that’s why I thought I should try to pay it forward in some way.”
So, in 2012, after retiring as a professor at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, he created the Alan A. Desrochers ’72 Engineering Endowed Scholarship Fund. The scholarship supports UML undergraduate students majoring in electrical or computer engineering who have financial need and a GPA of 3.25 or higher.
“I know there are plenty of students at UMass Lowell who are in the same situation I was in — people who need the money and are also doing very well in their discipline,” says Desrochers, whose scholarship has helped 10 students so far. “I’ve met most of them, and they are very impressive. They’re just so determined, and they know what they want to do.”
Through his estate planning, Desrochers has directed more than $1 million toward his scholarship fund, earning him Circle of Distinction recognition in UML’s Lifetime Giving Society.
“I wish I had more money to give,” says Desrochers, who also contributes to the Cape Cod Scholarship and serves on the Francis College of Engineering Industrial Advisory Board and the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department Advisory Board. In 2022, he was recognized with a University Alumni Award.
Growing up, Desrochers read Popular Electronics magazine and learned how to build circuit boards for speaker amplifiers. A high school electronics course sparked his interest, and he decided to enroll at Lowell Tech, which checked two important boxes: It was affordable, and it was far enough away from home to give him some independence.
But being a first-year engineering major, Desrochers quickly discovered, was more like “boot camp.”
“During Orientation week, they gathered us in Cumnock Hall and said, ‘Look to your left. Look to your right. Only one of you will be here at the end of the year,’” he recalls. “It seemed like they were determined to get rid of most of us. I mean, it was hard.” 
He proved up to the challenge, though, thanks in part to guidance from faculty members such as Prof. Emeritus George Cheney and Ross Holmstrom. 
“Lowell Tech gave me an excellent educational foundation, and I felt that I was very well prepared for graduate school and my professional career,” says Desrochers, who got a master’s degree in electrical
engineering at Purdue University before heading to Sunnyvale, California, in 1974 to work for Lockheed Missiles and Space Co.
“I had one of the best jobs there as an engineer, but things moved so slowly. When you’re 24 years old, it’s like, ‘Come on, let’s move this thing along,’” says Desrochers. He returned to Purdue for a Ph.D. in 1975 before becoming an assistant professor of systems and computer engineering at Boston University. In 1980, he joined the faculty at RPI, where he taught and conducted industry-sponsored research for more than three decades.
Today, he is enjoying retirement in West Dennis, Massachusetts, where he takes his Boston Whaler boat out on
Nantucket Sound. He also plans to do more traveling; Morocco is high on his list.
“If there’s such a thing as a perk in academia, it’s that if you have the research and publish papers, you get to travel to these conferences in some nice places all over the world,” says Desrochers, who remembers one trip to Paris in the late ’80s in particular. “Here was this kid from Chicopee, standing in Hôtel de Ville, looking at Notre Dame Cathedral. I thought,
‘I guess I did pretty good.’”
It’s a feeling Desrochers hopes many more UML engineering students will have the opportunity to experience with the help of his scholarship — students like junior Nicholas Psikarakis, a recent recipient.
“This award is a reminder that all my hard work will get noticed. … I am truly grateful for this award and all the motivation you have given me to keep going,” Psikarakis wrote in a thank-you note to Desrochers. “Furthermore, you have given me the chance to help my parents in the financial aspect, which is a lifetime goal for me.”
After a long and rewarding career in academia, Desrochers understands those financial challenges as well as anyone.
“I think most of the alumni still think that tuition is really cheap. And most people think that the state pays maybe 90% of the bill, and that’s so far from the truth; I think it’s around 20%,” he says. “Even though UMass Lowell is affordable in comparison to many other schools, today’s students need our financial assistance.”
Just like those generous strangers from the Teamsters Union helped him back in 1968.