Our Founder, John Daniel Hertz, was an Austrian emigrant who came to the United States and lived the American Dream. He arrived from Europe as a very poor young boy and matured into a prominent man of many accomplishments, most notably as a leader in the advent of the automotive age.
Throughout his life, he reiterated his appreciation for the opportunities which this land afforded him for the achievement of success in business and finance, as well as for the attainment of leadership in the avocation of his and Mrs. Hertz’s choice – the breeding and racing of outstanding horses. These opportunities, he often stated, would have been denied him in the land of his birth.
He expressed his gratitude in many ways, but the Fannie and John Hertz Foundation, representing one of the culminating activities of his life, was perhaps the most eloquent and enduring. It was designed to fulfill a need which Mr. Hertz sensed long before Sputnik: this nation, in order to survive, prosper, and lead, had to increase substantially the ranks of its most competent engineers and applied scientists. He felt that the Foundation could perform a notable service to the nation by fostering the education and training of outstanding students in these areas, and, in the spirit of the country which he revered, by doing it without discrimination by reason of race/color, creed, sex or geographical origin. The wish of Mr. Hertz, in establishing the Foundation, was to enhance the technological stature of the United States.
In 1957, the Fannie and John Hertz Foundation was formed with the goal of supporting applied sciences education. This was originally accomplished by granting undergraduate scholarships on a national scale to qualified and financially-limited mechanical and electrical engineering students undertaking a curriculum fully accredited by the Engineering Council for Professional Development.
In 1963, a special committee of the Foundation’s Board of Directors, after consultation with a large number of distinguished engineering and science educators throughout the United States, recommended a major modification in the Foundation’s program. The Foundation, in accordance with the recommendation of this committee, decided to phase out the national undergraduate scholarship program, and adopted in its place a plan for the granting of postgraduate fellowships leading to the award of the Ph.D. At that time, the scope of the studies to be supported by Fellowships was enlarged to include both the fields of engineering and applied sciences, with special emphasis placed on physical sciences and the stimulation of exceptional competence and innovation-oriented development in these fields.
The Foundation’s Board of Directors believes Mr. Hertz’s purpose is most effectively accomplished by supporting the graduate studies of excellent young men and women. We attempt to select Hertz Fellows who will become leaders in applied scientific and technological advances, exemplars of teaching skills in the applied physical sciences, and key contributors to the advancement of national technological capabilities on which the long-term well-being of the United States largely depends. We hold an annual, national competition for Hertz Foundation graduate fellowships as a means of identifying these future leaders and offering them our support.
Should an applicant be offered a Graduate Fellowship by the Hertz Foundation, she or he must formally accept it before commencing its tenure. This acceptance includes a statement that the Fellow makes a moral commitment to make his or her “skills available to the United States in times of national emergency.”
What does this mean, and why does the Foundation require it?
John Hertz felt he owed the United States more than he could repay for the opportunities he had been given when he arrived here as a very young immigrant, fleeing ongoing oppression in central Europe. Thus it is not surprising that he wanted any young person who was going to be supported by his wealth through the course of their graduate education to deliberately answer, on at least one occasion, the question
“What do I owe my country?”
Hence, the statement on the Foundation’s Fellowship acceptance form.
Please note that this is not a legal or contractual obligation, but rather a freely given moral commitment.
No one from the Foundation has ever approached a present or former Fellow and told him or her that the United States faces a national emergency and she or he is obligated to address it. No one ever will.
The Foundation believes that each individual Fellow must decide for him/herself, at any point in time, whether the country faces a truly serious problem and, if so, whether he or she is capable of employing the technical skills they possess to help address it.
The Foundation offers no definition of what constitutes a “national emergency” – these are reasonably well-recognized only in distant hindsight – but one might consider as examples the following historical events in which scientists and engineers have played a major role:
the development of radar by British scientists and engineers in the late 1930s that enabled the RAF to win the Battle of Britain;
the Manhattan Project in the United States;
the Apollo Program that fulfilled President Kennedy’s declaration: “I believe this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before the decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to Earth”.
In the future, we might reasonably expect our nation to face emergencies in
fuel shortages and quests for new energy sources, e.g. nuclear fusion
transportation and communication system overloads
deterioration of environmental quality
malevolent utilization of cyberspace
misuse of modern molecular biology
In every case, the Foundation believes that it is up to the individual Fellow to determine for herself or himself whether a serious problem exists and whether or not she or he can help. We believe that any Hertz Fellow answering the Hertz Question in the affirmative in any of these respects has a clear moral obligation to go to work accordingly.S