Mourning George Bugliarello: Scholar, President Emeritus of Polytechnic Institute of New York University and “Mastermind” of MetroTech Center

George Bugliarello, president emeritus and former chancellor of Polytechnic Institute of New York University (NYU-Poly), an acknowledged visionary who brought about significant changes in engineering and education, died after a short illness on February 18. He was 83 and lived in Port Washington, N.Y., with his wife, Virginia.

A pioneer in developing ways that universities can advance cities through collaboration and innovative thinking, Dr. Bugliarello is credited with a number of scientific inventions and educational innovations. These include Hydro, a computer language for water resources; the creation of pioneering graduate programs in biological and financial engineering; and the founding and co-editorship of the journal Technology in Society. He was dean of engineering (1969-73) at the University of Illinois at Chicago. As the first president of Polytechnic Institute of New York, formed by the merger of Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn and New York University’s School of Engineering and Science in 1973, he also was the “mastermind” of MetroTech, one of the first urban university-industry research parks in the United States. At the time MetroTech opened in 1990, it was the largest university-industry research park in the country, and led to a revival of downtown Brooklyn. It continues to thrive today.

In recent years, Dr. Bugliarello remained active as an engineering professor, wrote significant reports on engineering and technology for UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) and consulted with international governments on the design of sustainable cities. The recipient of several honorary degrees, he served as foreign secretary of the National Academy of Engineering, was president of the scientific research society Sigma Xi, and was a member of numerous other engineering and research organizations including the American Institute of Medical and Biological Engineering and the Council on Foreign Relations. He was also a fellow of the American Society of Civil Engineers, the American Society of Engineering Education, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the New York Academy of Sciences and the Biomedical Engineering Society. He was a founding fellow of the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering.

Born in Trieste, Italy, in 1927, Dr. Bugliarello studied engineering at the University of Padua and graduated summa cum laude in 1951. He earned a master’s degree in civil engineering at the University of Minnesota in 1954 and a doctorate in civil engineering and hydrodynamics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1959. That year he joined the faculty at Carnegie Mellon University, where he taught fluid mechanics and established a program in bio-engineering.

While dean at the University of Illinois, Dr. Bugliarello examined how natural, mechanical, information and energy systems affect society. This intertwining of biological organisms, social institutions and machines, which he called “biosoma,” became a lifelong investigation and formed the basis of the courses that he taught as recently as the fall of 2010. In 2003, he published The Biosoma: Reflections on the Synthesis of Biology, Society and Machines.

As president of Polytechnic Institute, a position he held for 21 years, he was confident that the university, situated in a decaying neighborhood and saddled with a mounting deficit, could use its strengths in science and engineering to help attract technology-based businesses to Brooklyn. This, he believed, would benefit the city and the university.

At that time, however, there were economic problems beyond Brooklyn. New York City and its financial industry were suffering from a severe loss of jobs during the 1973-75 recession and from a crippling lag in computer technology. Dr. Bugliarello knew Poly could address the financial world’s computer technology gap. With help from the New York State Legislature, he founded the Center for Advanced Technology in Telecommunications at Poly in 1982, one of the first four Centers for Advanced Technology in New York State. Its mission was to stimulate economic development in information technology, and it continues to fulfill that role today.

Dr. Bugliarello also proposed a unique education program. Realizing that existing MBA programs lacked a crucial mathematical background, he spearheaded, with support from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the first American graduate program in financial engineering in 1996. Dr. Bugliarello believed the program would produce people who were catalysts for new companies, which would enhance economic development in New York City. Today, NYU-Poly’s financial engineering graduate program is the largest in the country, and its alumni work for companies on Wall Street and throughout the world.

Perhaps Dr. Bugliarello’s greatest accomplishment was MetroTech. In 1975, during a recession, he foresaw that a university-industry collaboration would revitalize the city, its faltering financial industry and its economy. Dr. Bugliarello and David Rockefeller of the Chase Manhattan Bank, collaborating as members of the city’s Business-Labor Working Group, explored what New York City needed and how Poly, as a top science and engineering university, could help. Dr. Bugliarello proposed an urban research park called MetroTech and shepherded its planning for 14 years.

In 1989, NYU-Poly and the city finally broke ground for MetroTech, a 16-acre, 4.7 million square-foot development. In 1990, the first tenants to move in were Brooklyn Union Gas (now part of National Grid) and the Securities Industry Automation Corp., which processes stock-exchange trades, followed by other major companies. At full capacity, MetroTech attracted more than 20,000 jobs.

“Along with the NYU-Poly community and engineers and scientists around the world, I admired George’s high ambitions, his unfaltering professionalism and his endearing enthusiasm, energy and vigor,” said NYU-Poly President Jerry M. Hultin. “In his leadership as president of Poly, his teaching and research throughout his life and his grappling with some of the 21st century’s greatest challenges and opportunities, he felt a compassion for the world and the conditions in which we live that is a worthy goal for each of us.”

Robert Dalziel, a 1956 NYU-Poly electrical engineering graduate and retired vice president of global marketing for AT&T, served with Bugliarello on the NYU-Poly Board of Trustees. “A lot of people have a vision,” Dalziel said, “but George had a vision and he made it happen. MetroTech was at the heart of the renaissance of downtown Brooklyn.”

In addition to his wife, Dr. Bugliarello is survived by his sons, Nicholas and David.

There will be no funeral service; plans for a memorial service are pending. In lieu of flowers, donations may be sent to City Harvest.