Harry Albers, Former General Manager of the SDSU Research Foundation
Born in Jersey City, New Jersey in 1938, Harry Albers earned his B.S. in Physics from the University of Pittsburgh before obtaining his M.S. in Physics from Cornell University. Albers later earned his MBA at Boston University and George Washington University.
Prior to his service at SDSU, Albers held various financial and administrative positions, including Executive Director of the Smithsonian Research Foundation, Director of Administration for the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, and Manager for the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory Satellite Tracking Program. Before his long tenure at SDSU, Albers also served as Vice President for Finance and Administration at Barnard College, New York City.
Beginning in 1978, Albers worked as General Manager of the SDSU Foundation in addition to serving as Vice President for University Relations and Development for three years. During his 21-year tenure as General Manager, Albers helped the Foundation’s business grow from 13.5 million to over 143 million, including a huge increase in grants, contracts, and real property (e.g. Alvarado Medical Center).
Download the PDF transcript of the complete interview.
Dr. Susan Resnik briefly summarizes Albers' positions at various organizations, including the SDSU Research Foundation and the Smithsonian Research Foundation, before touching upon his academic background.
The offspring of American-born Italian and Irish parents, Albers pays tribute to the childhood friends and family of his hometown - Jersey City, New Jersey. Catholicism played a powerful role in the early life of Albers, but his primary interest seems to have been his passion for playing basketball. He expounds upon “the greatest revelation” of his elementary years - his uncommon athleticism - which would continue to profoundly impact his life until college, but often at the expense of his academics. The interview segment concludes with Albers increasing his focus on academics, a drive which earns him a seat at the University of Pittsburgh.
With little college preparation or money other than that which his track scholarship provides, Albers embarks upon the next chapter of his life, the University of Pittsburgh. Due to an administrative error involving his membership on the track team, Albers becomes the first white person at the University of Pittsburgh to room with an African-American. After focusing primarily on track and becoming enamored with English, Albers’ true passion, physics, sparks due to a casual read. The interview segment concludes with Albers gaining acceptance into Cornell’s graduate program and marrying his childhood sweetheart.
Albers decides to forgo a Ph.D. in experimental physics after discovering a bulletin posting on campus which offers a chance to work abroad for the Smithsonian Institution. A collective effort among the Smithsonian, NASA, and Harvard professors, the program as a whole would consist of satellite tracking, geodesy, and aerology from observatories located worldwide. After months of resisting another enticing work offer in addition to Vietnam conscription, Albers obtains military deferment by securing a position with the Smithsonian. He is sent to work at the Curacao observatory in the Netherlands Antilles, where Albers gains managerial experience as acting manager, witnesses the birth of his first two sons, and experiences short-lived fame upon discrediting a “new discovery”, culminating in a promotion to permanent station manager in Spain.
Albers’ arrival in Spain is met with friction at the hands of Admiral Planaius but upon addressing a past, recurring issue, Albers wins the Admiral’s respect and admiration. At the Spain observatory, Albers initially encounters difficulties in efficiency with his staff, causing him to modify a previously successful management style to suit the Spaniards. Albers replaces John Shia at the astrophysics branch of the Smithsonian in Cambridge, MA before resigning to take up a position at the Smithsonian headquarters in Washington D.C. After a few years, Albers becomes head of administration at Kitt Peak in Arizona. This interview segment concludes with Albers accepting the position of Vice President of Finance at Bernard College in New York City.
Declining an offer for vice presidency at the University of Oklahoma, Albers accepts the position of general manager of the SDSU Foundation. Albers spearheads a more proactive and aggressive foundation, focused on attracting larger grants and tapping into new sources of revenue, including local real estate. Abroad, Albers aids in the organization of a trilateral effort among Israel, the U.S., and Egypt, aimed at implementing new agricultural technologies in arid environments. The interview segment closes with Albers detailing the activities of his immediate family.
Interview digitally recorded by Susan Resnik, Ph.D.
Image credit: Harry Albers, University Archives Photograph Collection, Special Collections and University Archives.