State Representative Tackling Societal Challenges

By Aaron Ye (COM MS ’19)

Dr. Thomas Vitolo (P.h.D. SE ’11) is a newly elected Massachusetts State Representative, advancing policies to benefit the community. Before politics, Vitolo worked with corporations to modernize their operating systems for results that benefited the company’s bottom line and the livelihood of the community in which it functioned.

Vitolo came to Boston University with a diverse academic background. While there, he integrated and leveraged his knowledge of mathematics, economics, and computer science with systems engineering research. After graduation, Vitolo launched into a career as a technical expert and policymaker.

“Everything looks like optimization to me,” he said. Vitolo acts as the optimizer when it comes to policymaking. “We make laws about very technical things.”

Vitolo values diversity in government affairs and prides himself on offering a distinct perspective to the House. Vitolo said that there are very few politicians with STEM backgrounds, especially considering the technical element within so many policies.

“I like talking about technical things in a non-technical way with people who are uncomfortable with a lot of numbers,” said Vitolo.


Before his term at the Massachusetts State House, Vitolo was a senior associate at Synapse Energy Economics. In this position, he worked with companies across the nation to make operational updates that resulted in environmental and ethical gain. He remembers a project in North Omaha for the public electric utility. The company had five local coal-fired plants. According to Vitolo, the plants were expensive to maintain and were polluting a low-income neighborhood. Ultimately, Vitolo and his colleagues terminated three coal-fired plants and converted the other two to natural gas-powered.


Vitolo has always been interested in the art of mathematics and how applications solve real-world problems.

“The mathematics and the optimization continue to be interesting, so I continue to learn more,” Vitolo said.

Vitolo earned Bachelor’s Degrees of Science in Applied Mathematics, Computer Science, and Economics. His aptitude for solving mathematical applications and drive to address community problems led him to operation research. At Boston University, he connected the dots. In 2011, he graduated from BU with a Ph.D. degree in Systems Engineering and the know-how to make a difference in the world.

Vitolo’s experience at the Division of Systems Engineering was marked by strong relationships with faculty members, who offered both academic and extracurricular guidance. Vitolo remembered his advisor Professor David Castañón (ECE, SE) encouraging timely research delivered to the utmost standards. ”Everything was where it needed to be,” Vitolo said.

Under Professor Castañón’s no sloppiness rule, Vitolo was able to get his research done and graduate on time.

“He had a way of getting the best out of me without being heavy-handed,” Vitolo said. “He made me want to do really good work for him.”

As a graduate student at Boston University, Vitolo did not only connect with his professors through academics but also in leisure time. “I spent time with all of them,” Vitolo said. “Thinking about what they were interested in and what I was interested in.”

Vitolo recalled playing basketball with Professor James R. Perkins (ME, SE) and discussing Greece with CISE Director Professor Ioannis Paschalidis (ECE, BME, SE).

Outside of the Division of Engineering, Vitolo also enjoyed other academics. He says that Boston University has a broad range of academic programs that are highly valued. This offered Vitolo opportunities to enjoy conversations with people over topics from sociology to French literature.

Outside of the campus, Vitolo also enjoyed the City of Boston.

“Not every school, in fact, not very many top engineering schools are in first-class cities,” Vitolo said. “Boston is a wonderful place to live and there are so many different cultural opportunities.”

Easy to get around with many places to explore, Boston offered another level of learning to expand Vitolo’s experience at BU. With an alluring environment that encourages a healthy work/life balance, Vitolo remembers leaving the lab for a drink and returning later that evening to finish his work.

In late 2018, Vitolo was elected to represent Brookline in the state legislature as one of the 160 House of Representatives.

“I’ve always been interested in my community and making sure that I’m helping,” Vitolo said. “So thinking about service has always been important.”

Climate change is one of the biggest issues that Vitolo wants to address as State Representative. Vitolo believes that not only climate change, but the side effects that come with it, such as flood and drought, will further damage low-income communities. But for Vitolo, he thinks issues like this can be solved. “It’s going to take a lot of policy changes,”

Vitolo thinks that it is critical for public policies to be enacted by a diverse group of politicians. He identifies engineers and scientists as one of the populations underrepresented in the state house.

Vitolo believes that meaningful change is in the hands of each community member. The collective contribution from each one of us will make a difference.
”We as communities, as societies, can make those improvements. We need to all work together,” Vitolo said.