Stephen Fantone Elected Chair of Hertz Foundation’s Board of Directors

March 14, 2023

The Fannie and John Hertz Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to empowering the most promising innovators in science and technology, has announced the election of Stephen D. Fantone as chair of its board of directors.

Fantone is the founder and president of Optikos Corporation, which provides innovative applications of optical technology, both products and services, to commercial, government and consumer products organizations worldwide. Fantone is a recognized expert in optical engineering and optical product development. He has been awarded over 70 patents and is a member of the National Academy of Engineering.

“Stephen's wide-ranging scientific and organizational leadership expertise, along with his long-standing devotion to our mission, make him an ideal candidate to lead the board,” said Robbee Baker Kosak, president of the Fannie and John Hertz Foundation. “I am delighted he was elected to this important position and look forward to working with him and the board as we expand the impact and reach of the Hertz Foundation.”

Fantone has been a highly respected leader on the Hertz Foundation's board for 14 years and has chaired many of its committees during his tenure. He was previously vice chair and served as acting chair since April 2022, when former Board Chair David Galas stepped down.

Fantone will continue the exemplary leadership of Galas, who served with remarkable generosity and unending dedication as board chair for 14 years. During Galas’ time as board chair, the foundation made the successful transition from a private to a public charity foundation. Since then, gifts have grown steadily nearly every year, from less than $2 million in 2013 to a high of $6 million in 2019.

As the new board chair, Fantone hopes to bring even more focus to the Hertz Foundation’s fundraising efforts to allow additional deserving students to be brought into the Hertz community and foster their success. He also hopes to further cultivate the mentorship and nonacademic side of the fellows’ experience to make them even more effective in their future leadership roles.

Stephen Fantone

“As board members, we have a courtside view into the latest technological insights and innovations — the very things that will shape our collective future.”

Stephen Fantone Arrow Right
1975 Hertz Fellow

President & Chief Executive Officer, Optikos Corporation

“On the macro level, supporting the future leaders of American science and technology is an investment in this country’s security and economic success, which are directly tied to each other,” said Fantone. “Whether it is the commercial or geopolitical world, countries with robust science and technology sectors lead the way. On a personal level, I feel a responsibility to do everything possible to give my grandchildren and theirs a solid foundation for their future.”

Fantone received his S.B. degrees in electrical engineering and management from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and his Ph.D., which he received during his Hertz Fellowship, from The Institute of Optics at the University of Rochester. He is a senior lecturer in the Mechanical Engineering Department at MIT and also serves on the boards of the Pioneer Institute for Public Policy Research and the Optica Foundation. He is a fellow and past president of Optica (formerly named The Optical Society) and served as its treasurer for over 18 years.

The Hertz Fellowship provides financial and lifelong professional support for the nation's most promising graduate students in science and technology. Fantone’s own Hertz Fellowship provided him with a motivating vote of confidence during his years as a graduate student. His fellowship reinforced his belief that he was on the right track, and that support brought even more intensity to his Ph.D. research.

“The freedom the fellowship provided allowed me to explore technical areas that were beyond the original, narrower direction of my research, and through the presentation of that research initiated my lifelong involvement and leadership roles in a professional society,” said Fantone. “The fellowship helped hone my ability to assess technical risk and develop insight into things that just might be possible. Refining that risk-taking insight has served me well in life, in both the technical and business world.”

The Hertz Foundation board of directors is made up of an accomplished group of individuals, many of whom were beneficiaries of Hertz Fellowships themselves. For Fantone, witnessing the willingness of his fellow board members to dedicate their time and resources to support the foundation is energizing.

Robbee Baker Kosak

“Stephen’s wide-ranging scientific and organizational leadership expertise, along with his long-standing devotion to our mission, make him an ideal candidate to lead the board.”

Robbee Baker Kosak Arrow Right

President, Hertz Foundation

“As board members, we have a courtside view into the latest technological insights and innovations — the very things that will shape our collective future,” said Fantone. “The foundation’s impact is extraordinary by every metric — companies founded by fellows, national academy memberships, advisory roles to governments, professional society leadership, patents, publications and academic roles. We expect that to continue and have even greater impact given the accelerating rate of technological progress and believe that this will manifest itself in an even stronger and more vital national security and economic environment, and overall well-being.”

In addition to Stephen Fantone’s service to the Hertz Foundation through the board of directors, the Fantone family funded the Hertz Fellowship of recent graduate Christopher Panuski through the Elizabeth and Stephen Fantone Fellowship.

“What I have learned is that it is individual drive and creativity that propels advancement of the scientific and engineering enterprise and that cultivating, encouraging and preparing those individuals to be leaders is essential and also very satisfying,” said Fantone.

About the Hertz Foundation

Founded in 1957, the John and Fannie Hertz Foundation accelerates solutions to the world's most pressing challenges, from enhancing national security to improving human health. Through the Hertz Fellowship, the Foundation identifies the nation's most promising young innovators and disruptors in science and technology, empowering them to become the future leaders who keep our country safe and secure. Today, a community of more than 1200 Hertz Fellows are a powerful, solution-oriented network of our nation's top scientific minds, working to address complex problems and contributing to the economic vitality of our country. More information can be found online at