Reunion 2017 Kick-Off Honors Outstanding Columbians

Jun 29 2017 | By Jesse Adams

Columbia engineers spanning decades, professions, and research interests convened at Low Library June 1 to kick off Reunion Weekend 2017 and celebrate the outstanding recipients of the School’s highest honors.

“To all of you celebrating a reunion, whether it’s the fifth or 50th, welcome home to Columbia Engineering,” said Dean Mary C. Boyce, bringing alumni up to speed on accelerating developments at SEAS in recent years, including interdisciplinary partnerships like the Data Science Institute, recently elevated to a university-wide initiative.

“For the past several years our faculty has been developing a vision to capture this moment in history and articulate the role of Columbia Engineering in this new and ever changing world,” Boyce said. “This spring we publically announced a strategic vision called Columbia Engineering for Humanity. This vision reflects our history of innovation and impact and guides us as we move into the future, focusing on the areas where we can have the greatest impact.”

Leonard Blavatnik MS’81, an entrepreneur, investor, and founder and chairman of Access Industries, received the Samuel Johnson Medal from Jonathan Schiller ’69CC ’73LAW, Chair of the Trustees of Columbia University. He discussed game-changing biomedical advances unfolding over the next few decades and recalled coming to Morningside Heights from Russia in the late 1970s.

“I wanted to live in the best city in the world, New York City, and go to the best university in the world, Columbia,” Blavatnik said.

Exemplifying Columbians’ longstanding impact in STEM was Dr. Jacqueline Barton ’74BC, ’75GSAS, ’78GSAS, chair of the Division of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering at Cal Tech, who received the Michael I. Pupin Medal—Columbia Engineering’s most distinguished honor—from Provost John H. Coatsworth. Barton, a molecular chemist who taught at Columbia for several years, is a pioneer in better understanding the chemical and physical properties of DNA molecules.

“Barnard is where I fell in love with chemistry and Havemeyer Hall is where I fell in love with the DNA molecule,” said Barton, a MacArthur Fellow and recipient of the National Medal of Science. “What I learned at Columbia is what I do every day.”

One of the world’s foremost scholars in the areas of optics, photonics, and high speed optical networks, Dr. Alan Willner MS’84, MPhil’88, PhD’88, chair of engineering at the University of Southern California, received the Thomas Egleston Medal from Rene B. Testa BS’60, MS’63, professor emeritus of civil engineering and president of the Columbia Engineering Alumni Association. Willner looked back on earning his PhD under Professor Emeritus Richard M. Osgood, Jr., at the beginning of what has become a multigenerational relationship with the university.

The medals memorialize some of the most illustrious figures in the history of engineering and the sciences at Columbia. The Pupin medal, which recognizes service of lasting and broad significance to society as a whole, was established in 1958 in memory of Michael I. Pupin 1883CC, the renowned inventor, author, faculty member, and co-founder of Columbia Engineering’s Department of Electrical Engineering. The Egleston medal, awarded annually since 1939, honors distinguished achievements in engineering and is named for a key founder of the Columbia College School of Mines, which grew into today’s Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science. The Johnson medal, named for the first president of King’s College, the forerunner of Columbia University, was established in 2007 to recognize distinguished achievement in a field other than engineering and the applied sciences.

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