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Virginia Tech News / Articles / 2007 / 06 

Gary Downey appointed Alumni Distinguished Professor

June 29, 2007

Gary Downey of Blacksburg, professor of science and technology in society in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences at Virginia Tech, has been named a Alumni Distinguished Professor.

The rank of Alumni Distinguished Professorship recognizes extraordinary academic citizenship and distinguished service within the Virginia Tech community. In recognition of the importance of alumni to the university, the alumni distinguished professorship is a pre-eminent faculty appointment, reserved by the Virginia Tech Board of Visitors for recognition of faculty who, over time, have made outstanding contributions to the instructional program of the university and, in so doing, have touched the lives of generations of Virginia Tech alumni.

An appointment as Alumni Distinguished Professor is conferred by the board upon an individual for a period of eleven years; the appointment may be renewed. Currently, ten active members of the faculty, university-wide, hold these endowed professorships.

Downey has earned international recognition for his pioneering approach to engineering education. He bridges the technical and human dimensions of society using the integrated view of an engineer and an anthropologist. He developed and teaches the award-winning course Engineering Cultures, and is credited for helping students develop strategies for understanding cultural difference and engaging in shared problem solving.

Since 1983, Downey has designed 15 new courses in Science and Technology in Society. He is the chief curricular architect of the highly successful, interdisciplinary graduate program in Science and Technology Studies as well as the principal adviser to its students since its founding.

Downey’s gift for teaching has been recognized with the Virginia Tech’s 2004 William E. Wine Award for career excellence in teaching and the university’s 2003 XCaliber Award for high-quality instructional technology. He is the recipient of the university’s 1997 Diggs Teaching Scholar Award for original scholarship in teaching, and three Certificates of Teaching Excellence.

Downey has shared his expertise through curricula conversations not only across the university but in such prestigious national organizations as the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, whose president describes Downey as having “rare pedagogical imagination.” The foundation will feature the Engineering Cultures course in tow of its reports.

Downey has been a contributor to the emerging field of engineering education. He serves as Senior Fellow at the U.S. National Academy of Engineering and is cofounder of the International Network for Engineering Studies. A keynote address to the World Congress of Chemical Engineering has become an influential policy document at the National Science Foundation (NSF) and at the National Academy of Engineering.

He is the author or co-author of three books, one special journal, 22 peer reviewed articles and 11 book chapters. He has been principal investigator on 13 NSF projects totaling $1.1 million.

A NSF director wrote, “If we are truly able to transform engineering education for the 21st century, we will look back at his writing as the seminal work that defined what we should be doing.”

Downey received a bachelor’s degree and master’s degree from Lehigh University and a master’s degree and Ph.D. from the University of Chicago.

The Board of Visitors also awarded the title University Distinguished Professor to Hanif Sherali, the W. Thomas Rice Chair of Engineering in the Grado Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering, and Michael F. Hochella, professor of geosciences in the College of Science.

The College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences at Virginia Tech embraces the arts, humanities, social and human sciences, and education. The college nurtures intellect and spirit, enlightens decision-making, inspires positive change, and improves the quality of life for people of all ages. It is home to the departments of apparel, housing and resource management, communication, educational leadership and policy studies, English, foreign languages and literatures, history; human development, interdisciplinary studies, music, philosophy, political science, ROTC, science and technology in society, sociology, teaching and learning, and theatre arts. Virginia Tech, the most comprehensive university in Virginia, is dedicated to quality, innovation, and results to the commonwealth, the nation, and the world.