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Father’s legacy at Concordia honoured with scholarship for mechanical engineering students

New gift from Kathryn Xistris will give undergrads an ‘extra push’ in final year of study
April 4, 2024
By Jordan Whitehouse

A woman with shoulder-length, brown hair wears circular gold earrings, a black jacket and a scarf. Kathryn Xistris, BEng 85

Kathryn Xistris, BEng 85, has spent her career thanking her father, George, for encouraging her to pursue a vocation in tech. But sometimes, words are not enough.

So, last year the computer science grad established the Dr. George D. Xistris Scholarship Endowment in Mechanical Engineering, honouring her father, who had a storied career as a professor in mechanical engineering at Concordia.

Kathryn says it is the least she could do to show her gratitude.  

Her 39-year career has taken her from sales leadership at Digital Equipment Corporation to executive roles at Microsoft and now Amazon, where she is a managing director and sits on the board of directors for Amazon Payments Europe, based in Luxembourg.

“Who would have known back in the 1980s that tech would become what it has?” Xistris says. “Somehow my dad had the vision, and I’m so fortunate to have been able to get in early, be well educated and be successful.”

The annual scholarship — in support of the Campaign for Concordia: Next-Gen Now — will go to one student in their final year of a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering at the university.

The first scholarship will be awarded this September.

‘A beautiful journey’

Kathryn and her father, who is now 87, spent about a year developing the idea for the scholarship.

“It was a beautiful journey,” she says. “He is very touched by this.”

In the process, Kathryn got to learn more about her father’s career at Concordia, which began in the mid-1960s.

Dr. X, as he was known to his students, held various roles, but he most notably served as associate professor and researcher in in the mechanical engineering from 1968 to 1995 and as assistant dean from 1973 to 1993.

He was also instrumental in establishing the Faculty of Engineering — now the Gina Cody School of Engineering and Computer Science — by leading the first accreditation of the Mechanical, Electrical and Civil Engineering program at Concordia (then Sir George Williams University) in 1969.

George also led the accreditation of the Building Engineering program in 1982 and the Computer Engineering program in 1983, as well as the re-accreditation process until his retirement in 1993.    

Kathyrn says she wanted the scholarship to honour a final-year student because he usually taught fourth-year classes.

“He was a really respected teacher who held a very high passing bar for his students,” says Kathryn.

But he loved teaching, and has been a lifelong learner, she adds.

“His whole life has been around education. He’s an educator. He cultivated a love for learning in his children, all of us have university degrees.”

Set up for success

Kathryn can still remember the day back in the 1970s when her father brought home a little box from Concordia.

He set it down on a table, gathered his kids and opened it up.

Inside was one of the first Commodore computers, remembers Kathryn. “It was fascinating to see that up close. It was all new.”

That kind of exposure to new technology and encouragement from her father to learn more was what led her to computer science at Concordia in the early 1980s, she says.

Back then, Concordia and the University of Waterloo were the only two universities in Canada with accredited computer science programs.

“We were very avant-garde,” says Kathryn. “We had state-of-the-art equipment and I learned so much. It built a lot of confidence, and I was really fortunate to be there at that time.”

Concordia was also where she met her future husband, Jonathan Trent, BEng 84, on an engineering week ski trip. The two have been married for 35 years.

By the end of her final year at Concordia, Kathryn had interviewed with 11 companies and had 10 job offers. She picked the best one — a position with Digital Equipment Corporation — and went on to an “amazing career,” she says.

“There’s no doubt: Concordia set me up for success.”

Now Kathryn hopes this scholarship will help set other Concordia engineering students on similar paths.

“It’s a small effort, but I want it to give them that extra push to get through their final year,” she says. “And I think it’s a vote of confidence for them to believe that they are at the top and to go for those big career opportunities.”

She also hopes the scholarship inspires others to give, she adds, and that it honours her father’s career and his impact on Concordia.

“I can’t thank him enough,” she says.

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