Reconnecting at Reunion

Low Rotunda during the June 2 Reunion kickoff and alumni awards dinner (Photo by Timothy Lee Photographers)

From honoring some of Columbia’s most esteemed engineers to examining the future of STEM education, and from conversations among generations of alumni to explorations of interdisciplinary research across the University, there was something for everyone at Reunion 2016.

“Welcome home,” said Dean Mary C. Boyce at the June 2 awards dinner and Reunion kickoff in Low. “As the public increasingly recognizes the impact of science and engineering, Columbia has become the place for partnerships across fields, with incredible collaborations across schools, faculty, and students.”

The recipients of the Engineering School’s most distinguished honors exemplify the diverse contributions of Columbia engineers to advancing the frontiers of knowledge in engineering and beyond.

Ronald Breslow, University Professor and a pioneer in designing and synthesizing new molecules, and Paul A. Marks ’46CC, ’49P&S, president emeritus of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and a longtime Columbia faculty member, each received the Michael Pupin Medal for their collaborations exploring new compounds to fight cancer and even potentially restore cancerous cells to normal. The Pupin Medal, which recognizes service of broad significance to society as a whole, had never before been awarded to two recipients in the same year since being established in 1958.

Rene B. Testa MS’60, EngScD’63, professor emeritus of civil engineering and president of the Columbia Engineering Alumni Association, presented the Thomas Egleston Medal to Sheldon Wiederhorn BS’56, an authority on the mechanics of stress and fracture whose work has contributed to a wide variety of products, including spacecraft windows. The Egleston Medal, named for a key founder of the School of Mines, honors distinguished achievements in the profession.

Testa also presented the Samuel Johnson Medal to Ralph Izzo BS’78, MS’79, PhD’81, CEO of Public Service Enterprise Group, Inc. (PSEG), and a thought leader on energy policy. The Johnson Medal recognizes outstanding achievement in a field other than engineering and the applied sciences.

G. Michael Purdy, Columbia’s executive vice president for research, noted: “Tonight we honor the curiosity and imagining that are constantly expanding the bounds of human knowledge and bringing benefits to all life on the planet.”

Reunion continued with departmental luncheons, tours of the campus and neighborhood, gatherings with old friends throughout New York City, and sessions featuring Columbia faculty. Among talks examining literature, law, and the fine arts, Kristin Myers, associate professor of mechanical engineering, shared an engineering perspective on why preterm births occur.

Adam Cannon, senior lecturer in computer science, discussed a new course, Computing in Context, that he is continually developing with Columbia colleagues to help students harness the power of algorithms in other fields.

“The modern liberal education is about building the foundation for a lifetime of learning in a changing world,” Cannon said at the Great Teacher Lecture. “The next crop of faculty will be computationally empowered, and our students are going to lead the charge.”

Following a barbecue for alumni, Reunion-goers got an in-depth progress report from Jamey Barbas BS’83, project director of the new replacement for the Tappan Zee Bridge connecting Westchester and Rockland counties, detailing its design and ongoing construction

“The proposal was selected based on the best value, shortest construction time, least dredging required, and studies suggesting no need for major structural repairs for 100 years,” Barbas said, noting that the bridge is designed to reduce congestion, offer paths for bicycles and pedestrians, and accommodate potential expansions of mass transit. “We’ve learned a lot from studying our long-span bridges.”

Reunion also included a range of receptions for the School’s diverse communities, convening veterans, alumni of color, LGBTQ engineers, and former athletes, among other affinity groups, as well as class dinners and a starlight reception on Low Plaza.

—by Jesse Adams