Working Hard to Give Back

Original article by Engineering Communications as part of their Alumni Magazine.

Growing up in Durham, NC, Kenneth A. Stevens, industrial engineering ‘72, developed a strong work ethic from an early age.

His mother, Amelia Stevens, encouraged him to do well in school. His father, Boone Stevens, showed him the value of working hard to provide for his family through long hours — up to 80 per week — running his service station.

“When it came to work ethic, he gave his three children a wonderful role model,” Stevens said. “He had to do it to survive, and he did it with a smile on his face most of the time.”

Stevens carried his parents’ guidance with him as he became the first in his family to attend college. A lifetime of hard work put him in a position to give back, and he established a planned gift for NC State to support engineering students. Preference is given to students who are studying industrial and systems engineering, are Caldwell Fellows and are from Durham County or Guilford County.

“Someone who has aspiration to improve themselves through education, I would like to have it so that someone can do that either more affordably or maybe even for free if they’re able to buckle down … and do the work,” he said.

While at Northern High School in Durham, where Stevens took math and science courses with teachers who helped him feel prepared for college, he worked at the local A&P grocery store starting at $1.26 an hour, a penny over minimum wage.

Ken Stevens during his senior year.

“People would ask what I’d do with the money, and I’d say I was saving for college,” he said.

His Sunday school teacher Melvin Christy, an NC State chemical engineering alumnus, asked Stevens about his goals, which led him to his interest in industrial engineering and how it combined business and technical skills.

At NC State, Stevens became editor of The Southern Engineer, the magazine of the Engineers’ Council of the College of Engineering; vice regent of Theta Tau, the engineering professional fraternity; and president of NC State’s chapter of Circle K International — all while continuing to work at A&P.

People would ask what I’d do with the money, and I’d say I was saving for college.

Kenneth A. Stevens

He spent a lot of time in southeastern Raleigh, NC, where he did after-school tutoring and sports, creek cleanups and other community service. NC State’s Circle K chapter won best in the world his junior and senior years. His senior year, Circle K asked Norm Sloan, the NC State basketball coach at the time, if players could visit the community recreation center to do some basketball drills. David Thompson and Tommy Burleson, two future NBA stars, were among those who spent an afternoon there.

Special honors during Stevens’ senior year include being inducted into the Blue Key Honor Society, and being recognized by Dean Ralph Fadum as a Knight of St. Patrick.

After graduation, Stevens worked for Trane Company until 1988. He then became president and ultimately majority owner of Heat Transfer Sales of the Carolinas until 2007. In retirement, he has continued to give back to NC State and his community in Greensboro, NC.