Not many undergraduate students are CEOs of publicly traded companies when they receive their diplomas on graduation day. When John Conklin ’15, the 2016 Distinguished Alumnus from the School of Individualized Study, walked across the commencement stage, he was mostly like the only one who could claim that honor among his RIT peers.
By the time Conklin enrolled at RIT, he had almost 30 years of experience in industrial process innovation and design for companies like Frito Lay, IBM and Lockheed Martin, but he had longed to get his bachelor’s degree from RIT.
“Getting back to school was a passion of mine,” Conklin said. “RIT has a lot of concentrated creativity and offers functional, purposeful and real-world education. It’s been a home away from home.”
RIT was a natural fit for Conklin, in many ways, as even the campus itself resonated with another passion of his—renewable energy.
Since his days as a Boy Scout when he turned light energy into electricity, Conklin has been involved with renewable energy, in some capacity, for the majority of his career. In 2010, while an RIT student, he was named the president and CEO of SolarWindow Technologies Inc., a company developing electricity-generating see-through coatings for windows and flexible plastics using organic photovoltaics (OPV).
When Conklin took the helm of SolarWindow Technologies, their eponymous product was just a tiny proof of concept. As an SOIS student studying physics, business, social leadership, and safety and science technology, he could immediately apply what he was learning in the classroom to developing the product—a process that is still ongoing.
“After seven years we are now on the product development phase,” Conklin said. “Although it takes time, you can’t get frustrated in the process. Most people tend to quit before they finish. Persistence is key.”
With dramatic reductions of PV system installation costs from $10 per watt just a few years ago to under a $1 a watt today, Conklin’s persistence in developing an OPV product for skyscraper and tall tower windows should be paying off shortly.
“Everyone has to gain from renewable energy. There is no slowdown in sight for at least the next 20 years.”
He is currently working on his Master of Professional Studies degree in the School of Individualized Study.
Conklin will be honored during Distinguished Alumni Award Week, April 11-15, and the RIT Community will have a chance to network with him at the Meet the DAAs event from 2 to 3 p.m. on Friday, April 15, at The Wallace Center.
The Distinguished Alumni Award is presented to a certified alumnus/a who has performed with distinction at the highest levels of his or her chosen profession; or who has contributed significantly to the advancement and leadership of noteworthy civic, philanthropic, or service organizations over the course of many years. Those honored have brought distinction to their colleges and RIT through their professional, community and/or philanthropic achievements. Check back every Thursday for more from RIT’s 2016 Distinguished Alumni.