NASA Goddard deputy center director, a National Academy of Engineering Fellow and a prominent researcher are among the 2016 inductees.
By T. Kevin Walker
The School of Engineering and Applied Science (SEAS) inducted six alumni into its Hall of Fame Thursday evening. The new members join 60 others who have been so honored since 2006, when the program was established to celebrate those who have made significant strides in engineering, technology, management or public service.
SEAS Dean David S. Dolling kicked off the ceremony at the Ritz-Carlton Washington with effusive praise for the inductees—William Austen, M.S. ’84, president and CEO of Bemis Company, Inc.; Bahram Javidi, B.S. ’80, Board of Trustees Distinguished Professor at the University of Connecticut; Christyl Johnson, Ph.D. ’12, deputy center director for technology and research investments at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center; Gerald McNichols, D.Sc. ’76, philanthropist and angel investor; Çağatay Özdoğru, M.S. ’91, CEO and board member of Turkey’s Esas Holding; and Rodolfo “Rudy” Rodriguez, M.S. ’69, founder and chief scientific officer of Advanced Animal Diagnostics.
“These are individuals who bring distinction to GW through their achievements and their contributions to their professions,” Dr. Dolling said. “They represent truly the best of the best of engineering and computer science.”
After hailing the honorees as embodiments of this year’s theme – Excellence in Engineering Leadership – George Washington President Steven Knapp said successful alumni are key elements of the formula that has made the engineering program world-class.
“SEAS as a whole has now truly assumed its rightful place as a leader in engineering education and research,” Dr. Knapp said.
Indeed, the inductees credited their experiences at GW with their success.
Dr. Özdoğru’s first leadership role came when he was elected president of GW’s then newly-formed Turkish Student Association. He said the “big vision” GW encourages students to adopt has guided him along his path to success.
Mr. Austen said the “critical thinking, problem solving and collaborative methods” he was taught in and out of the classroom have carried him in his career.
Mr. Rodriguez described being aimless when he visited GW nearly 50 years ago seeking new skills to propel him toward gainful employment. Marvin F. Eisenberg, who was then a young professor and is now professor emeritus of engineering and applied science, convinced Mr. Rodriguez that medical engineering was the field of the future and that GW was the institution that would help him make his mark.
“’Come to GW. We will prepare you to have an impact on society,’” Mr. Rodriguez said, recalling Dr. Eisenberg’s words. “And Dr. Eisenberg was right on all fronts.”
Ceremony attendees included several Clark Engineering Scholars, current SEAS students with such promise that Dr. Dolling predicted they will one day be Hall of Fame inductees. The honorees offered advice to the scholars and to all with big dreams.
A self-described “serial investor,” Dr. McNichols said he has had to pick himself up on more occasions than he can recall. “We learn by failing, not by succeeding,” he said. “Learn from your failure and start again.”
Dr. Javidi suggested that career resolves should be fortified with steel.
“It is not about working hard, being smart and being lucky…it is about mental toughness and really believing in yourself,” he said.
Dr. Johnson, whose first experience with NASA came when she was accepted into a summer program while an undergraduate at Lincoln University, encouraged the educators and business leaders on hand to “feed the pipeline” by providing learning and mentoring opportunities to students.
“Giving them that first exposure, that first experience is really what does it. I am a product of that,” she said.
More about this year’s inductees:
· Mr. Austen joined Bemis, a global giant that produces a polymer material used for packaging everything from food to medical devices, in 2000 as a division president. He was promoted several times prior to his elevation to CEO in 2014. Mr. Austen, who earned a Navy commission while an undergraduate at SUNY Maritime College, began his career as a field engineer at General Electric.
· Dr. Javidi is a fellow of eight scientific societies and the recipient of numerous research awards, including the Alexander von Humboldt Prize, Germany’s most prestigious award for science researchers. Dr. Javidi’s research at UConn has been revolutionary and includes exploring biophotonics to identify diseases and the uses of 3D visualization and 3D image sensing. Dr. Javidi received GW’s Distinguished Alumni Scholar Award in 2010.
· Dr. Johnson oversees research and development and formulates science and technology goals at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. She previously served as a NASA assistant associate administrator and in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, where she helped develop national science and technology goals. She is a 2015 recipient of the GWU Alumni Achievement Award.
· Dr. McNichols, chairman and CEO of McNichols and McNichols, Inc., created a foundation in 2000 that has supported the goals of many organizations. He founded MCR in 1977, guiding it to a Fast 50 company before its sale to GRC in 1999. He subsequently aided GRC’s sale to AT&T. Mr. McNichols has also been a business advisor, author and adjunct professor.
· Mr. Özdoğru leads investment and operating committees at Esas, one of Turkey’s largest and most successful private equity firms. He previously served as president of IT and telecommunications at Sabanci Holding of Turkey and held several leadership positions within France Telecom Group.
· Mr. Rodriguez has made numerous contributions to the bioengineering industry over the past 50 years. He has developed and/or patented several breakthrough products, including the first automated blood separator, and was recently elected to the National Academy of Engineering.