During the years that Rocco Palmieri ’72, ’77 was an undergraduate student at NJIT, the first man walked on the moon, the Mets won their first World Series, the Jets won their first — and only — Super Bowl and there were demonstrations on campus concerning the Vietnam War.
“These were important events,” recalled Palmieri, who will be recognized at the 2017 NCE Salute to Engineering Excellence for his achievements since graduation. “My fellow students and I participated in them and became closer because of them. My professors were also great teachers and mentors. They were available for guidance and had a great impact on my life. The campus was not as developed as it is today, but the Student Center was the gathering place for students and a focal point of my college life at NJIT. I truly enjoyed my years at NJIT and I am very happy to have a continuing association with the college today as an alumnus.”
There were many other memorable moments that Palmieri associates with his time at NJIT.
“There are two that stand out for me,” Palmieri said. “The first, a somewhat comical one, was as a sophomore in surveying class. Our midterm survey test was a field assignment in Branch Brook Park just before the Christmas break. It was extremely cold and we used whatever ‘resources’ we had to stay warm. As the day wore on, panic set in on our crew members as it got darker and our ‘warming resources’ began to kick in. But somehow we completed the assignment just before dark. As we made our way back by bus to the college, we had a good laugh as we realized we shouldn’t have started to celebrate the holiday break so soon.”
The other memorable moment was a more serious one as it related to Palmieri’s role as an officer of Chi Epsilon Fraternity in his senior year.
“Our guest speaker and award recipient for our annual dinner was Newark Mayor Kenneth Gibson,” Palmieri noted. “The mayor was also a professional engineer. It was my responsibility to meet and escort Mayor Gibson to our dinner and introduce him to the membership. I was so impressed to meet him, not only a mayor, but a professional engineer as well. Little did he know that I would be a mayor someday.”
Born and raised in Newark, Palmieri attended grammar school and high school in the city before attending NCE in 1968. He earned his B.S. in civil engineering in 1972 (cum laude) and an M.S. in environmental engineering in 1977. As an undergraduate student at NCE, Palmieri participated as an intern in community affairs working as a student volunteer for the city of Newark evaluating the city’s public transportation system. This first challenge would lead to a rewarding career in civil engineering. He says that his NJIT degrees “most definitely” have helped him in his career.
“I received a great education at NJIT. I was taught by very learned and dedicated professors who helped me develop a basic understanding of engineering principles and who also taught me how to apply them to real world problems. Most of all, I came to understand that my role as an engineer would not only apply to my professional endeavors but to my role in society as a citizen. NJIT had a tremendous impact on my career and my life.”
During his 45-year career, Palmieri has worked in both the public and private sectors. Upon graduation from NCE, he began his professional career with the consulting firm of Edwards and Kelcey in their Newark office. In 1973, he accepted a position with the township of Fairfield as assistant to the municipal engineer. Over the next 15 years, Palmieri advanced to become municipal engineer and director of Public Works. Some of his more fulfilling accomplishments were the completion of the township’s $20 million wastewater management system, the development and implementation of one of New Jersey’s earliest municipal recycling programs and the design and construction of the Beverly Road Recreation Facility, which received a first- place award from the New Jersey Society of Municipal Engineers. Palmieri also was a member of the first class of municipal engineers to earn the designation of “Certified Municipal Engineer” (CME) from the New Jersey Society of Municipal Engineers.
In 1988, Palmieri left Fairfield to form the firm of Harper and Palmieri, Engineers and Surveyors, where he was the managing partner in charge of site development projects throughout New Jersey. In 1995, he joined the firm of Schoor DePalma, where he spent the next 16 years as a principal and managing partner of offices in Parsippany, N.J., and White Plains, N.Y. Palmieri cites the Cranbury Business Park Development Project in Middlesex County and the Hilltop Redevelopment Project in Essex County as a few of the more challenging projects he successfully completed at Schoor DePalma. Through his years at Schoor DePalma, and its successor, CMX, he rose to become a senior VP, a principal of the firm and eventually served as a member of the board of directors in 2009-2010. In 2010, Palmieri joined Birdsall Services Group, Inc. and was the manager of Birdsall’s Cranford, N.J., office. He remained with Birdsall until 2013 when he retired from his full-time position due to health limitations. Palmieri is currently a senior project manager with Partner Engineering and Science in Eatontown.
In addition to his professional career, Palmieri has served in numerous elected, appointed and volunteer positions. While at Schoor DePalma/CMX, he was the vice chairman of the CMX Community Foundation. In 1994, he was elected a councilman for the township of Fairfield. In 2003, he was elected mayor and he served from 2003-2008. As an elected official for 15 years, he focused his efforts on alleviating flooding problems, improving infrastructure and recreational facilities and generally improving the quality of life for the citizens of Fairfield. He also served for 15 years as an appointed commissioner to the Two Bridges Regional Sewerage Authority representing the township of Fairfield. Palmieri was appointed as a member of former Essex County Executive James Treffinger’s Transition Team to offer his expertise in the areas of engineering and public works.
Palmieri was a charter member of the Fairfield Soccer Club and served as its president for many years. He holds an “F” Level Soccer Coach License and has coached youth soccer teams in competitions throughout New Jersey, Pa., and at the USA Cup International Soccer Tournament in Minnesota. A member of St. Mary’s Parish in Barnegat, he serves as an Extraordinary Minister of the Eucharist, is a volunteer in the Pastoral Care Ministry at Southern Ocean Medical Center in Stafford Township and is a 3rd Degree Knight of Columbus. He is also a trustee and treasurer of the board of directors for the Homeowner’s Association where he resides in Barnegat.
In 1980, Palmieri was selected as the “Young Engineer of the Year” by the Essex County Society of Professional Engineers. He is a past recipient of a Distinguished Alumni Achievement Award from NJIT. He continues to support NJIT as a member of the Alumni Association and is a member of the NJIT Civil and Environmental Engineering Industrial Advisory Board. He is a licensed professional engineer in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, a licensed land surveyor and professional planner in New Jersey and a New Jersey CME. He has held other licenses and certifications for water/wastewater operations and public works management in New Jersey.
Palmieri and his wife, Carole Ann, have been married for 43 years. They are the parents of Dr. Amy Marie Palmieri-Cohen and her husband, Scott, of New Jersey and Peter Rocco Palmieri Sr. and his wife, Ashley, of Maryland. They have been blessed with four grandchildren: Aaron Rocco and Alexander Samuel Cohen and Clara Elizabeth Palmieri and her brother, Peter Rocco Palmieri, Jr., who passed away in 2016.
Palmieri said that he was “genuinely surprised” when he found out that he had been selected for the 2017 NCE Outstanding Alumnus Award.
“It is very special to me because it comes from my college, my peers and my colleagues,” he said. “In past years, I have attended events to support friends and associates who have received this award. I am honored to be selected as an outstanding alumnus of our great college and to now be included with these esteemed alumni of NJIT.”
What advice would he give to students who are planning to pursue a similar career path?
“Work hard, learn all that you can and do your best in all you undertake,” he said. “I am a member of the NJIT Civil and Environmental Engineering Industrial Advisory Board. Each semester, board members make a presentation to undergraduate students in the FED 101 class. Each board member discusses their particular area of civil engineering. We also discuss our careers and the experiences we’ve had through the years. I’ve always tried to stress the importance of working hard to earn their degree. I also stress that a formal college education is only the foundation for a career in engineering. Real-life education through actual work is the best teacher. My first job was not my last. It only got me started. My interests grew and, in some ways, changed as I moved on to different professional positions.
Also, as a civil engineer, earning my professional license was a critical goal for me. Developing strong and lasting relationships with colleagues and clients based on mutual respect and trust is very important. Completing work in an ethical, honest and professional manner defines who we are. We must look for opportunities to have a positive impact on our society. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, try to have a balance between work, family and recreation. This last one is not always easy.”