Gary Downey, a scholar internationally recognized for his pioneering approach to the study and education of engineers, has been named the Alumni Distinguished Professor of Science and Technology in Society at Virginia Tech for a second decade-long term.
The rank of Alumni Distinguished Professorship recognizes extraordinary academic service within the Virginia Tech community and an outstanding record of accomplishment in creative scholarship. The university’s Board of Visitors reserves this preeminent appointment for faculty members who, over time, have made exceptional contributions to the instructional program of the university and, in so doing, have touched the lives of generations of Virginia Tech alumni.
Only 10 members of the Virginia Tech faculty hold these endowed professorships; half of those, like Downey, are in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences.
Downey integrates the perspectives of engineering and anthropology to bridge the human and technical dimensions of society. His pioneering scholarship in the field of engineering studies, of which he is a founder, has received broad recognition and support, as evidenced by 17 National Science Foundation grants, a National Academy of Engineering grant, and a Boeing Company grant. He has published four books, three special journal issues, and nearly 60 refereed journal articles and book chapters.
Downey, a former senior fellow at the National Academy of Engineering, has served as president of the Society for Social Studies of Science, for which he currently co-leads a movement advancing the scholarship of making and doing. He is also a cofounder of both the International Network for Engineering Studies and its journal, Engineering Studies. He now edits that journal, the "Engineering Studies" book series published by MIT Press, and the teaching-oriented "Global Engineering" book series of Morgan & Claypool Publishers.
At Virginia Tech, Downey has been a chief curricular architect of the highly successful, interdisciplinary graduate program in the Department of Science and Technology in Society, as well as a principal advisor to its students. He is known for his dedication to student mentoring. He has served on 92 graduate committees, 52 of which he has chaired or co-chaired.
In addition, Downey’s undergraduate Engineering Cultures course has attracted large enrollments for more than two decades, and he has mentored 33 graduate assistants to teach it. He also produced 27 hours of video lectures from the course that instructors throughout the world use for free.
Downey’s gift for teaching has been recognized with multiple awards, including the university’s William E. Wine Award for career excellence in teaching, XCaliber Award for high-quality instructional technology, Outstanding Dissertation Advisor Award in Humanities and Social Sciences, and Diggs Teaching Scholar Award for original scholarship in teaching.
Since his initial appointment as Alumni Distinguished Professor in 2007, Downey has received several prestigious honors and awards, including the Outstanding Faculty Award of the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia, the Sterling Olmsted Award from the American Society for Engineering Education, and three named visiting professorships.
Downey earned bachelor’s degrees in mechanical engineering and social relations from Lehigh University and a master’s degree and doctorate in cultural anthropology from the University of Chicago.