Dean Katepalli Sreenivasan Honored for Bringing an Ethos of Social Responsibility to NYC’s Tech World

Srteenivasan holding award

In an otherwise dog-eat-dog world of profit margins and bottom lines, Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) awards are often one way in which giant companies can feel good about their business practices. But on June 30th, City & State held a CSR awards ceremony that was much more than merely a feel-good exercise. The event brought together thought leaders, founders, strategists, company
executives — and one academic — to honor them as role models in the areas of Technology, Energy, and Utilities and to celebrate their deep commitment to doing societal good as they conduct their enterprises.  

NYU Tandon School of Engineering’s Dean Katepalli Sreenivasan was that lone academician, and it is not hard to see why.  While his list of accomplishments includes memberships in the U.S. National Academies of Sciences and Engineering, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Indian National Academy of Engineering, and Italy’s Accademia de Lincei, those illustrious affiliations do not begin to convey the enormous positive impact he has had on New York City and its tech landscape. In 2014 Sreenivasan helped oversee the merger between Polytechnic Institute and NYU, bringing engineering back to the latter institution after a 40-year absence. In doing so, he ensured NYU’s role as a leader in technology and innovation — at a point in time in which those sectors were increasingly shaping the world socially, economically, and morally. 

Under Sreenivasan’s leadership, NYU Tandon is educating the world’s next generation of technologists, engineers, and scientists, and as he pointed out, the university has a responsibility to instill in them a bedrock philosophy: it is not enough just to develop technology — however cutting edge and exciting it may be. Technology must, instead, be used in service to society — to make the world a safer, healthier, greener, and more equitable place.

“We are indeed devoted to the eternal values of the academy,” Sreenivasan explained during the event. “There will always be a focus on learning and dissemination of knowledge, and important research on new and exciting topics will always take place. As examples, we are democratizing technology thanks to work being conducted at research centers such as NYU WIRELESS; we are encouraging start-ups to develop clean-energy technologies at our incubators; we are creating devices in our mechatronics lab to make rehabilitation easier for stroke victims and communication easier for children on the autism spectrum; we are helping communities harness the power of data to achieve more transparent and collaborative forms of government in our GovLab. The list could go on. However, even beyond this, we have to be socially responsible and care about the larger context of the society and neighborhood within which we are embedded. It is always a balancing act, and successful institutions know where the proper balance lies.”

After the awards were presented to the honorees — who in addition to Sreenivasan included such innovators as Paul Tyno, who oversees energy initiatives at the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus and whose focus is on sustainability and modernization, and David Rose, whose financial-tech company, Gust, is devoted to providing a platform for the global start-up ecosystem — the Dean joined a panel also comprised of Tom Gray from Capalino and Company, a consultancy that works extensively with nonprofits and other worthy organizations; Reshma Saujani, the Founder and CEO of Girls Who Code, a group dedicated to bridging the gender gap in the STEM fields; and Jeff Merritt, the Director of innovation in the Mayor’s Office of Technology and Innovation, whose aim is to make New York the most innovative, tech-friendly, and equitable big city in the world.

Dean Sreenivasan (second from right) participating in the social responsibility panel at the CSR Awards in Tech, Energy, and Utilities

Dean Sreenivasan (second from right) participating in the social responsibility panel at the CSR Awards in Tech, Energy, and Utilities

The panel discussed the social responsibilities the technology and innovation sectors can take on within the urban arena, and it became clear that Sreenivasan is thoughtfully and efficiently shouldering many of those responsibilities: he has engaged in numerous fruitful partnerships with the public and private sectors to speed innovation and cement Brooklyn’s status as one of the most important tech hubs in the country, and he feels a strong sense of stewardship towards the world’s future problem-solvers.

“We work towards having a diverse student and faculty body not simply for diversity’s sake but for the value that women and other still-underrepresented groups bring to the table,” Sreenivasan said. “The differences of perspective and varied experiences that are found in diverse groups are invaluable when an organization is seeking to innovate ways to meet pressing societal needs. Quite often, the diversity of ideas and diversity of people cannot be distanced from each other.” Tandon graduates, as City & State acknowledged with its award, will be well equipped to take their own places as socially responsible members of the tech world.