Celebrating Engineers Week in Style

NYU Tandon School of Engineering Gets the Party Started Early

Depictions of engineers in popular culture tend to paint them in broad strokes—solitary figures hunched over their computer keyboards or lab benches, eschewing human interaction in favor of testing algorithms... it’s far from an accurate picture.

Engineers like to have fun and socialize as much as anyone, and Engineers Week, which officially runs from February 21-27 (dates chosen because of their proximity to the birthday of George Washington, considered the nation’s first engineer because of his surveying work), provides the perfect opportunity.

Silicon City Celebration

The Office of Alumni Relations kicked off the festivities early; on February 17 they hosted a large gathering at the New-York Historical Society, which had mounted the exhibition Silicon City: Computer History Made in New York. The exhibit featured a wide array of images and artifacts illustrating the important role the city and its innovators played in the development of computer technology. The curators asserted, “Long before Silicon Valley became synonymous with all things digital, New York was a hub for imagining, developing, and selling the technology that ultimately reshaped entertainment, commerce, and daily life.”

Dean Katepalli Sreenivasan concurred, pointing out that Tandon alumni had contributed to more than a few of those technologies. He cited, for example, the fact that Eugene Kleiner (’48) had helped found Fairchild Semiconductor, a pioneer in transistor and integrated-circuit manufacturing, and that the chief architect of Intel’s 8086 chip was Stephen Morse (’63)

Sreenivasan was on-hand to introduce the evening’s speaker, Paul Horn, the Senior Vice Dean for Strategic Initiatives and Entrepreneurship and a Distinguished Industry Professor in the Department of Technology Management and Innovation. Before entering academia, Horn had served as a Senior Vice President of IBM and the Executive Director of Research. In that capacity, he led efforts that resulted in a number of technological marvels, including the chess-playing supercomputer Deep Blue. He played a significant role in moving IBM Research into the realms of software and services, and he gave attendees a no-holds-barred, insider’s look at a transformative time in the iconic company’s history.

Between the stellar exhibition and the lively talk, guests agreed that it had been both an unforgettable evening and a fitting early kick-off to Engineers Week. “It’s very easy to get caught up in your day-to-day job,” Brian Gill (’11) said. “Going to events like this reenergizes you and reminds you that engineers are really unsung heroes. Here we are on Central Park West in New York—a city other cities try to emulate. In large part, that’s because of its incredible infrastructure, and engineers play a big part in that. We really make a difference in the world.”

A Group on a Mission

On February 18, the revelry continued, when the Metropolitan Engineering Societies Council (MESC)—an umbrella group connecting professionals from such fields as aeronautics, civil engineering, fire protection, automotive engineering, and a host of others—gathered at the historic Wunsch Building on the MetroTech plaza for an elegant dinner and a talk by Dr. Imin Kao of Stoney Brook University, whose topic was the engineering of robotics systems for use in the medical arena.

“I compare preparing for our annual Engineers Week event here at Tandon to preparing for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade,” Wasyl Kinach (’83), Chair of the MESC, laughed. “The minute it’s over we begin planning for the following year, because we are focused on getting the most interesting and informative speakers available.” While the engineers in attendance hail from a wide variety of disciplines, the chosen topics have broad appeal. “Everyone is fascinated by robotics now, and the implications for medicine and healthcare are amazing,” Kinach said. “Last year our guest discussed the Large Hadron Collider and was so engaging that even the laypeople in the audience grasped the topic.”

The MESC’s mission, however, goes well beyond hosting celebratory events and compelling speakers. “We want to empower new engineers to work for societal good,” Salvatore Galetta, MESC Program Chair, explained. “Engineering is getting increasingly multi-disciplinary, and young engineers must be able to collaborate with doctors, lawyers, ethicists—a whole range of other professionals.” He continued, “We also aim to educate the public about the role of engineers in society. After all, the history of engineering is the history of civilization itself.”

Even the mayor of New York City agrees with those sentiments. MESC received a signed proclamation from Bill de Blasio stating, “From healthcare to bridges and from planes to housing, the work of engineers is all around us. As we endeavor to ensure every New York City student has access to STEM classes in our schools and empower young people to pursue their interest in these subjects, we are grateful for the work of MESC and the outstanding example its members provide for children and teens interested in a career in engineering. I applaud the council and all those associated with it for their efforts to improve and transform life in our city and for their commitment to paving the way to a better tomorrow for us all.”