THE CONSTELLATION PRIZE
reimagining what engineering is for
Winner of the 2021 Constellation Prize for Engineering Philosophy and Education
Photo credit: (L) pressconnects; (R) Binghamton University
“You can’t talk about engineering without being in the context of social justice...I see it as almost a neural network that all these things are connected.”
George Catalano, Emeritus Bartle Professor and Distinguished Professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering at Binghamton University, is recognized for his groundbreaking contributions to the infusion of the ideals of peace and social justice into engineering education and practice.
A Vietnam War veteran and former West Point professor, George saw the need for a world in which engineers worked for peace and justice, not war and profit. Over the last several decades, through community building, innovation in education, theorizing, and creating practical tools, George has played a foundational role in bringing ideas of peace, social justice, and engineering together. Given the outsized role militarism plays in shaping the engineering enterprise, some might find it hard to conceive of "peace" and "engineering" in the same breath. But years before it was in fashion, and with significant pushback, George began publishing articles about love, compassion, animals rights, and engineering. Engineering in Morally Deep World (link to download pdf) is just one example.
Beginning in 2004, George has helped build the Engineering, Social Justice, and Peace network, which has now has under its umbrella an annual conference, multiple book series, and a journal. Inspired by his work, more and more younger engineers are coming to ESJP and strengthening the social networks to drive the community forward. George has inspired engineering students taking his classes to get out into communities to address issues ranging from the intersection of disabilities and art, to the strengthening of non-profits and indigenous rights. To help engineering students learn about compassion, George said he "give[s] students a small amount of credit…to just do something for somebody other than themselves and use an engineering design approach to…identify what to do.”
According to Caroline Baillie, who nominated George for this year's prize, "Many may not even know the pivotal role George played for all these years, silently watching, remaining quietly in the background with his beloved dogs, listening and loving truth and beauty, and especially representing out non-human partners on earth. He has inspired countless engineering academics and students. George is behind all of us and this award."
Note: The words of Caroline Baillie, who nominated George Catalano for the Constellation Prize, have been integrated into this write-up.