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Winston Erevelles shares his journey to the ƵƬ’s presidency and outlook on the next chapter

Community
June 02, 2024

Building Momentum

by Jennifer R. Lloyd (M.B.A. ’16)

From the whir of his drill biting into wood to the footfalls marking his confident stride across the ƵƬ’s University campus — the sounds that follow Winston Erevelles mark the motions of a man building something.

Winston Erevelles, Ph.D., is the 14th president of ƵƬ's University.
Winston Erevelles, Ph.D., is the 14th president of ƵƬ’s University.

Erevelles, Ph.D., has been a fixture of the University’s School of Science, Engineering and Technology as its long-time Dean, Professor of Industrial Engineering and one of the masterminds behind the new Blank Sheppard Innovation Center and the Nursing Program soon to occupy the building’s third floor.

The joyous tones of his laughter have traveled from his cubbyhole of an office in Treadaway Hall to the President’s suite in St. Louis Hall as Erevelles took over as the 14th president of ƵƬ’s University on
June 1.

Erevelles relies on the lessons from his childhood in India, his career in engineering and academia, his embracing approach to the ƵƬ’s community and his love of the Marianist charism to create a blueprint for the future.

True to his engineering roots, he uses the scientific term “momentum” to describe what’s to come.

“We have momentum, which means we have magnitude and direction,” Erevelles said. “We’ve got energy behind it. Progressively, we take what we have today and run with it.”

Learning to give 100%

Erevelles’ journey to become the first ƵƬ’s president of Asian descent began as his parents met in Mumbai after World War II. His father, Frank Joseph Erevelles, served in the Royal Indian Navy before moving to the United Kingdom to work for the tractor company David Brown. An engineer like his future son, Frank Erevelles, took those lessons in agricultural machinery back to India and began a tractor company with his younger brother.

Though Winston Erevelles’ bent toward engineering may have come from his father, perhaps his effusive way with words comes from his mother, Jaya Erevelles, who was a professor of English and American Literature for more than 40 years at what was then known as the University of Bombay.

His father died in 1966 when Winston Erevelles was 2 years old. Both his parents came from Catholic families, and after his father’s death, his mother instilled that faith in Winston Erevelles and his older sister, Gianni Erevelles, sending them to Catholic school.

“I grew up with my mom being the boss of the house, and my sister was her XO [executive officer],” Winston Erevelles said. “When you lose a parent very early, you grow up a little bit faster and get the sense of responsibility very early.”

Winston Erevelles, right, plays music with his sister, Gianni Erevelles, during their childhood in India.
Winston Erevelles, right, plays music with his sister, Gianni Erevelles, during their childhood in India.

Though the tractor company continued to be successful, family friends provided fraudulent financial advice to his mother, leaving the family in dire economic conditions. Determined to raise her children on her own, his mother picked up tutoring in addition to her work as a professor.

The family shared household responsibilities, including a chore that’s still a favorite of Winston Erevelles — cleaning the dishes.

He continues to draw on the lessons he learned at this time to guide him through hardships. His mother, sister and stepdad, Kurian Pottanani, fostered in him a work ethic that remains evident to this day. The first philosophy his mother, who lives in Mumbai, shared with her children was to accept that the hand you are dealt is the one you must play. The second is to trust in God and prayer, but still put in the effort to be successful.

“You’ve got to give 100% and then leave it in God’s hands,” Erevelles said.

When it came time to decide what he wanted to study in college, Erevelles found the origins of his love for engineering in his father’s massive blue toolbox. Using hand tools, he fiddled with scrap wood and metal in his free time on Sundays between obligations with Church and Boy Scouts.

Winston Erevelles in his Boy Scouts uniform.
Winston Erevelles in his Boy Scouts uniform.

Like so many students at ƵƬ’s who find value in real-world experiences, when Winston Erevelles first began studying for his bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering at Bangalore University, the classes — Physics, Calculus, labs — didn’t click until his internship at a small manufacturing company called Mykron Engineers.

“All of a sudden, the drawings that I was doing in Engineering class came to life with the materials, dimensions, tolerances,” he said. “This Engineering class now ties in with this concept of the product that we’re making. It was about hands-on learning more than about grades.”

The internship led to a role with Mykron building components for ship engines, such as grinding 18-foot-long crankshafts that weighed three metric tons, spending time facing his fear of heights on an oil rig in the Arabian Sea and, later, becoming a plant manager.

To advance his career, he knew he would have to get a graduate degree. His original plan was to earn a master’s abroad and return to Mykron, where he was working on a project to re-engineer ship engines to work in cement plants. But “the research bug,” that itch to find ways to perform better in new environments, had already begun to take hold and would lead him toward a master’s and Ph.D. at what was then called the University of Missouri-Rolla and a career in academia.

Engineering a path forward

Some might see the early days of his career as less than glamorous. Erevelles worked several jobs while earning his master’s. 

He worked as a machinist and electronics technician, creating instrumentation for the Department of Cloud Physics at Rolla and also as a janitor for minimum wage of $3.13 per hour. Another job paid slightly better — $5 an hour — as a fish technician on the graveyard shift of a Department of Life Sciences project to grow tilapia in recycled water. 

“We have momentum, which means we have magnitude and direction. We’ve got energy behind it. Progressively, we take what we have today and run with it.”

Winston Erevelles, Ph.D.

Taking readings for temperature and oxygen and cleaning the tanks and filters left him wet, smelly and feeling like he never wanted to eat tilapia again.

When his adviser began discussing his Ph.D. options, Erevelles said, “My take was that Ph.D.s were for smart people. I’m just an engineer.” However, he was guided toward more research projects and stayed at Rolla to do his Ph.D. in Engineering Management, focusing on Manufacturing Engineering.

A chance encounter at an engineering conference led him to an opening at what was then called GMI Engineering & Management Institute in Flint, Michigan, where he fell in love with their hands-on approach to learning as the Program Director for Manufacturing Engineering. Erevelles spent about a decade there before being lured to Robert Morris University in Pittsburgh, which wanted to set up an Engineering program. 

Winston Erevelles surveys the new Blank Sheppard Innovation Center.
Winston Erevelles surveys the new Blank Sheppard Innovation Center.

At Robert Morris, building something from scratch in a 10,000-square-foot former gymnasium offered him “a huge hook.” He spent his first year there rallying the community from high schools to foundations to find funding, building a coalition of support for the program and creating a transfer pathway to enable students with an associate degree to get a bachelor’s in Engineering quickly.

“When you get a bunch of people sitting down and talking, you can move the needle,” Erevelles said.

Erevelles held several roles at Robert Morris, including Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs, overseeing faculty recruitment and promotion, the grants office and international exchanges. He said the most fun portion of that job was hosting international visitors in the Rooney House on campus, made possible by the Rooney family, who own the Pittsburgh Steelers. This experience cemented his enthusiastic devotion to the football team.

In 2001, while at Robert Morris, he met and married Christine “Chris” Erevelles, M.D., an emergency physician. The couple had two sons together, Joseph Erevelles and Michael Erevelles, and two older children from Chris Erevelles’ previous marriage, David Tullius and Claire Tullius. And Winston Erevelles found “the joy of having a spouse who is your biggest supporter.”

“Very early on, I knew that Winston was my soul mate,” said Chris Erevelles, now the medical director and system director for the Baptist Neighborhood Hospitals in San Antonio. “We shared so many things on a very deep level, from our faith to our love of children to our desire to take the gifts that we were given and help other people.”

During this time, Winston Erevelles first encountered ƵƬ’s University as a commissioner for engineering accreditation, voting to reaccredit the Industrial and Electrical Engineering Programs at the School of Science, Engineering and Technology.

His ties to professional organizations in his field have continued to grow since then. In 2015, Erevelles was named a Fellow by ABET, the global accreditor of college and university programs in applied and natural science, computing, engineering and engineering technology. In January 2024, Erevelles also become the President of the Board of the Society of Manufacturing Engineers.

Creating a one-school culture

The connection to ƵƬ’s was one he nearly missed because a snowstorm left him stuck at the airport in Atlanta on his way to interview for the role of Dean of Science, Engineering and Technology in 2009. On the cusp of giving up, he found a quiet spot in the Delta Sky Club to pray the rosary. A Delta employee approached him a few minutes later to say they’d found a seat for him on a flight to San Antonio. With his luggage in tow, he was only three minutes late for the interview.

The connection was a fortunate one, as he would spend the next 12 years leading the School of Science, Engineering and Technology.

ƵƬ’s Professor Emeritus of Law , led the hiring committee that selected Erevelles as Dean. Reamey said Erevelles stood out, even in a highly qualified pool of candidates.

“It’s difficult to find people in administrative positions, particularly executive positions like a deanship and presidency, who have both the energy to do the job well, the experience to do the job well, and the vision to know what job is going to be most beneficial to the school or university they lead. Winston had the combination,” Reamey said. “I think he’ll bring that same energy and vision to the presidency that he brought to the deanship.”

At the School of Science, Engineering and Technology, Erevelles found talented and hardworking faculty and saw a path toward better tying the school to the region’s needs. A thread that remains throughout his work at ƵƬ’s is bringing in students from disparate backgrounds and ensuring all are “wildly successful” post-graduation.

“I see that spirit of Mary reflected in Winston: a deep faith grounded in prayer; a warmth of welcome and hospitality to each person, a family spirit, an openness to God’s plan for his life like Mary.”

Rev. Jim Tobin, S.M.

Finding labs and spaces that had not been updated since the 1960s, he created a 110-line spreadsheet of areas for improvement and developed a strategic plan to address needs for employees, students, scholarships, services and construction. During the next 12 years, with significant help from about 70 “co-owners” of the plan — from faculty and staff of the School to employees of University Advancement and the Office of Sponsored Projects, Academic Research and Compliance — Erevelles progressed steadily through those action items.

He demonstrated his ability to fundraise while serving as Dean during The Defining Moment Comprehensive Campaign, which concluded in 2021. The School of Science, Engineering and Technology secured more than $45 million in gifts and grants to modernize labs, provide state-of-the-art equipment for learning and research, advance STEM education and create a drone lab.

But he said his top achievement — less tangible than brick-and-mortar and more meaningful than dollar signs — was helping forge a strong school identity, created through engaging with the mission and grounding the work in the Marianist charism.

“I’m proudest of the one-school culture we created,” Erevelles said. “It used to be silos of people who liked each other. Now, it’s a one-school mindset where it is always the School of Science, Engineering and Technology over my home department.”

Across campus, the Rev. Jim Tobin, S.M., got to know Winston when Tobin became Chaplain of the Greehey School of Business in 2013. Tobin said he soon realized that “Winston truly ‘caught’ the Marianist spirit or charism, and it found a true home in his heart.”

“I see that spirit of Mary reflected in Winston: a deep faith grounded in prayer; a warmth of welcome and hospitality to each person, a family spirit, an openness to God’s plan for his life like Mary,” Tobin said. “And as Mary told the waiters at the wedding of Cana: ‘Do whatever He tells you,’ I see a readiness to do it, to serve, even assume the presidency of ƵƬ’s.”

Winston Erevelles, left, and his wife, Chritine Erevelles, take turns constructing bunk beds for a family in need in March through the nonprofit Sleep in Heavenly Peace.
Winston Erevelles, left, and his wife, Chritine Erevelles, take turns constructing bunk beds for a family in need in March through the nonprofit Sleep in Heavenly Peace.

Erevelles has turned the five characteristics of Marianist education into his guidebook. For instance, he said, a class working on an engineering project for a company in the area of ergonomics offers an example of students helping restore a worker’s human dignity by ensuring their health and safety. He also embraced the family spirit. For instance, several times a year, he would cook dishes, especially his special South Indian coconut-based meat stew, originating in the State of Kerala, for students living in the Science Living and Learning Community.

Jillian Pierucci, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Psychology, still recalls walking across campus 11 years ago, soon after joining ƵƬ’s, and Erevelles was already greeting her enthusiastically by name.

“I was floored,” Pierucci said. “This man, in his true form, cares to know others by name. Yes, ƵƬ’s is about the family spirit. But to me, the epitome of showing the family spirit is knowing someone by name. He has that warmth. He takes information and just humbly leads while being collaborative and bold in his vision.”

Erevelles said students “don’t just attend ƵƬ’s for a transactional education; they come here to be part of this community of faith and be surrounded by people who will support them.”

“We embrace our students as they are and work to meet them where they are on their journey,” he said. “And then, we are invited by the students to walk with them. It’s a privilege when you can walk with a young person for several years and be part of their growth.”

On a personal level, Erevelles knows better than most what happens when that privilege of sharing the journey with a young person is cut short. In 2020, his 17-year-old son, Joseph Erevelles, died by suicide. Erevelles and his family found support from many at ƵƬ’s “not because it was a dean who lost a child, but because it was a community member struggling.”

“When we lost Joe, I was flat on my back,” Erevelles said. “I could not see to the following day. This community propped us up with prayer, with caring. What premium would you place on a community that does that for one of its members in distress?”

The Erevelles family has continued their son’s legacy with a personal service project, building 1,000 beds for children in need through the nonprofit . They’ve built about 340 beds so far and include ƵƬ’s students in the volunteer work as often as possible.

“As adults, we make our own beds, right? We live with the consequences of the things that we do. Life will throw curveballs at you. We make decisions, and then we get to live with them,” said Erevelles, reflecting on his work building beds. “Children come into this world innocent, and no matter what happens with the families, no kid asked to be born into poverty or neglect. That’s heartbreaking for me.”

At the end of the day, the legacy or the future of ƵƬ’s is not about any one of us. It’s about all of us working together. Deans come and go. Presidents come and go. The handprints we leave on the University determine the next chapter.”

Winston Erevelles

Erevelles has continued to say “yes” to the ƵƬ’s community that lifted him up at his lowest point. When approached with a project during his subsequent sabbatical in 2021, he automatically said “yes.” What began as a smaller-scale idea for a new building blossomed, first, into a two-story innovation center concept and, finally, into a three-story design — now named the Blank Sheppard Innovation Center — that will house the new Nursing Program launching in Fall 2024.

“Since 2009, Winston has demonstrated his leadership and commitment to the University’s Marianist mission. He has shown our community his open heart and his ability to propel the key objectives and projects that will shape the University’s future, such as the Blank Sheppard Innovation Center,” said Lynda Ellis (B.A.S. ’81), Chair of the Board of Trustees. “Without a doubt, these traits will make him a great champion for ƵƬ’s as its 14th president.”

As the building approaches completion and the sounds of construction wind down, Erevelles strides the floors of the Innovation Center with evident eagerness for both the structure and the possibilities it represents for both ƵƬ’s students and continuing the mission. Beneath lies a strong foundation. Above soars a scaffolding of support beams. Each brick of the exterior forms a web of community unified by purpose.

“At the end of the day, the legacy or the future of ƵƬ’s is not about any one of us. It’s about all of us working together,” Erevelles said. “Deans come and go. Presidents come and go. The handprints we leave on the University determine the next chapter.”

Read more about President Winston Erevelles and his wife, Chris Erevelles

Honoring our legacy, shaping our future

This summer, ƵƬ’s University will celebrate its 172nd anniversary. It is deeply moving and inspiring to reflect on the hopes and aspirations the Marianist brothers must have had as they helped boldly lay the first stones of St. Louis Hall in the late 1800s. 

Chris Erevelles highlights her trusting partnership with husband Winston Erevelles

Since a faith-inspired 2001 meeting in Pittsburgh placed Christine “Chris” Erevelles, M.D., in touch with her future husband, Winston Erevelles, Ph.D., their trusting partnership has grown along with their dedication to ƵƬ’s. Learn more about her in this Q&A.

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