For the latest in a series of eloquent centennial-year tributes to its traditions and people, a record crowd of more than 250 flocked to Newark College of Engineering’s 21st annual Salute to Engineering Excellence, held last night at the Park Avenue Club in Florham Park.

“What we’ve achieved at NJIT is on the bedrock of NCE – the oldest and largest college of the university,” President Joel Bloom noted at the evening’s outset.

For Dean Moshe Kam, that bedrock exists to nurture students – past and present – with their diverse and distinctive skills and their rich potential to shape the future.

Fresh off inducting 11 graduates into the inaugural class of the NCE 100, the College’s alumni hall of fame, he chose to highlight three graduates he wished he could have met: Beatrice Hicks ’39, a pioneer in the field of environmental sensing devices and an urgent advocate for women in engineering; Victor Stenger ’56, a particle physicist, philosopher and author of more than a dozen books calling for the ascendancy of science over religion; and Harry Ettlinger ’50, a Congressional Gold Medal recipient for his success in recovering looted works of art during World War II.

“What do we learn from meeting these people? That we should have a lot of respect for our students,” Kam said, adding, “Every student at NJIT carries the mantle of leadership in his or her backpack.”

Billed as an annual celebration of engineering and technology, the event is also a salute to the deep relationships that enrich the College, and particularly to those people who have forged them at many levels – not only with the administration, but with faculty and students as well.

The two graduates honored last night as NCE Outstanding Alumni fit that bill. They both spoke warmly about NCE’s role in launching them into the world, where they both succeeded beyond their expectations and eagerly gave back.

Angelo Del Russo ’82, CEO and founder of Del-Sano Contracting Corporation, recalled “always wanting to be a builder” and initially thinking that as a “kid from Newark,” college was beyond him. He managed to do both: earning a degree over the course of eight years as an evening student, while also working in the trade and building his company, founded seven years before he graduated. He is now a member of NCE’s Board of Visitors.

Stephen P. DePalma, ’72, the former chairman and CEO of Schoor DePalma Inc. who is now an executive consultant and chair of NJIT’s Board of Trustees, explained his enduring tie to his alma mater, where he also struggled initially, with this: “NJIT continues to be a beacon, an integral part of this ongoing American Dream.”

Bob Tarantino ’90, the founder and president of New Jersey Precision Technologies, the high-tech manufacturing company that received this year’s NCE Outstanding Industry Partnership Award, also spoke of his close, mutually nourishing links with NCE over many years.

He launched his company in 1995 in NJIT’s business incubator, then called the Enterprise Development Center, and that berth gave him access to sophisticated equipment that would have been out of the reach of most small companies, as well as to a highly skilled workforce, including NJIT work-study students, some of whom went on to become full-time employees at Precision Technologies. He noted last night that he also “sponsors original student research.”

Of Tony Howell, the longtime, but recently retired executive director of NJIT’s Educational Opportunity Program who received the NCE Spirit Award, Bloom noted, “He not only ran the program, but he took it to an astounding level.”

In his brief remarks, Howell described himself as “extra proud of a place I didn’t graduate from, but I love… when people ask, ‘what’s your degree?’ – I say NJIT.”