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Arthur SchmittIt was 1941. World War II loomed. Arthur J. Schmitt, a successful inventor and entrepreneur in his mid-40s, was concerned about the direction the world was headed.

“People always follow leaders,” he said, “whether they are good or bad. The good leaders must outweigh the misguided leaders or chaos will result.”

This was something too important to leave to chance. So Arthur signed over four patents he held, valued at $3.5 million, along with all their future royalties to establish the Fournier Institute of Technology in Lemont, Ill., a Chicago suburb. The institute, which took up residence in a restored Viatorian novitiate, was to encapsulate Schmitt’s vision for engineering education: teach the practical engineering skills a rapidly advancing society demands while imparting the “keen sense of justice and morality” necessary for enlightened leadership.

Arthur canvassed high schools throughout Chicago seeking promising students and asked principals to send the kind of students “you hate to give up.” A testament to his flair for salesmanship, 200 candidates applied to be accepted into Fournier’s first class and underwent a punishing round of written examinations and interviews. Eighteen young men composed that first class.

Tuition, room and board were free of charge, but each graduate left the school with an obligation. They would only be discharged, Arthur told them: “when you have taken your place in industry and have become a credit to yourself, Fournier and the United States. Until then, you still owe it.”

Though the Fournier Institute closed in 1955, Schmitt’s legacy remains in the foundation that was established to support undergraduate and graduate education at select Catholic and public universities, including Marquette.

Like before, the student selection process was to be rigorous. But it also was to be more open. Women could be Schmitt Fellows, and support for students in multiple fields was expanded.

Marquette hosted its first Schmitt Fellow in 1963. In the decades since, roughly one quarter of Marquette doctoral students have benefited from the foundation’s support. Each new school year brings another new group.

Like the long line of Schmitt Fellows before them, today’s students are being groomed to assume leadership roles within their fields. The Schmitt Foundation trustees remind them that their intellectual and leadership abilities carry an obligation — to be of service to others.

As Arthur liked to say: “The important thing to do is figure out a place for yourself in this world. And then do something about it.”


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