Funding help he received as student inspires materials expert to give back

David Kubarek
March 24, 2020

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Looking back on his 35 years in the industry and building products arena, John A. "Jack" Coppola can count his accomplishments.

Coppola, who earned his master’s and doctorate degrees from Penn State in 1969 and 1971, was named 1978 Niagara Frontier Inventor of the year — competing against top-tier companies such as Kodak, Xerox and Dupont — and received R&D World magazine’s IR-100 award for the top 100 technologically significant products and advancements. He earned several Penn State awards, including the prestigious Alumni Fellow award in 2019. He also laid claim to several U.S. and foreign patents.

None of that would have happened, he said, if it weren’t for the generous funding he received while at Penn State.

Coppola said that’s what inspired him and his wife Jane to endow the Graduate Student Excellence Fund in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering (MatSE) and to dedicate his time to the department’s External Advisory Board, on which he’s served since 2006.

“Without funding, I would not have completed the Ph.D. program,” Coppola said. “The financial resources we’ve provided for MatSE students are a small token of our appreciation of the value my graduate career at Penn State has given me and my family.”

Coppola retired from Johns Manville (JM) in 2007 as a senior vice president and chief technology officer responsible for research and development, including new product innovation and commercialization. Prior to joining JM, Coppola worked with The Carborundum Company for 24 years. There, Coppola earned inventor of the year for creating a sintered ceramics component for the automotive industry using a method that had previously evaded other manufacturers.

“The problem-solving challenges and learning experiences I encountered during my graduate student tenure helped me through many situations in my professional career,” Coppola said.

One particular challenge was a three-year assignment in the 1980s as the only Westerner in a joint venture company in Tokyo, Japan.

Coppola said MatSE’s external advisory board (EAB) allows industry leaders to help improve the education of students on various fronts, but he feels improving lab safety and the safety habits of students is an area where he’s had the most impact.

“The department has continued to advance its commitment to safety and is considered a safety leader on campus and in the academic world,” Coppola said.

The EAB’s tasks include reviewing the department’s safety processes while searching for ways to improve. Because of the extensive safety training and experiences within the department, Coppola said, graduates have a significant competitive advantage when they begin their careers.

“I believe the EAB interactions with the graduate and undergraduate students are the most helpful in gauging the success of the MatSE department,” Coppola said. “They are truly the ‘products’ of the educational process and research programs within MatSE.”

Coppola, who earned his bachelor’s in ceramic science and engineering from Alfred University in 1966, was the recipient of Penn State’s 2006 ASM International McFarland award, a 1996 Penn State Earth and Mineral Science Centennial Fellow and the Alfred University 1994 Outstanding Alumni. He is a member and past vice president of the American Ceramic Society, a member of Keramos and the Society of Sigma Xi.

  • John A. (Jack) Coppola

    John A. (Jack) Coppola

    IMAGE: Penn State

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Last Updated April 30, 2020