Students, faculty and alumni, along with professional engineers from Broome County and neighboring counties, gathered at the Holiday Inn in Downtown Binghamton on Tuesday for the annual Engineers Week Dinner, which was headlined by a much-anticipated keynote speaker.
The four-hour event included research poster presentations by undergraduate students and a keynote speech by M. Stanley Whittingham, the 2019 Nobel Laureate in Chemistry and a distinguished professor of chemistry and materials science and engineering.
Frank Roma, former president of the Broome Area Chapter of the New York State Society of Professional Engineers (NYSSPE) — the organization that sponsored the event — said Whittingham’s participation as keynote speaker was responsible for boosting this year’s attendance to a record level.
“The turnout is much higher than past years,” Roma said. “It’s not every day that we have a Nobel Prize winner in the area, so we’re pretty excited about that.”
The dinner was part of Engineers Week, a series of events organized by the Watson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, such as Monday’s trivia night and Wednesday’s paper airplane competition. Peter Partell, associate dean of academic affairs and administration at the Watson school, said the week is not only an opportunity to foster growth for Binghamton University students, but also a chance for interaction with surrounding communities and future generations. On Saturday, the week will end with the Community Day event.
“School-age kids come to campus and interact with our undergraduate students, with a few graduate students mixed in, who come up with different projects for the students,” Partell said.
According to Partell, events such as these are helpful because they cultivate an interest in engineering starting from a young age.
“This is the culminating event [of Engineers Week] because we’re trying to keep young kids — the next generation — inspired,” Partell said. “Get them excited about being an engineer by building things and understanding how things work.”
Roma said about 130 people made reservations for Tuesday evening’s dinner, an increase of more than 30 percent compared to past years.
“We have a lot of students from [BU], students from the clubs and professors from the Watson school,” Roma said. “And I know we have alumni from [BU] because they are working in the area, which is great to see.”
Among those BU alumni was Joseph Caza III, ‘08, who was presented with the NYSSPE’s 2020 Engineer of the Year award. Caza is a structural engineer and associate for Elwyn & Palmer Consulting Engineers, PLLC.
“[Engineers] do a lot of work and we don’t get recognition, so it’s good that you guys come along to do these types of things for us,” Caza said when accepting the award. “I’m just truly grateful for it and thank you very much.”
Following the award ceremony, Whittingham was invited to take the stage by Partell. Whittingham’s nearly hourlong speech centered around his research on the lithium-ion battery, his experience receiving the Nobel Prize and the importance of renewable energy for engineering going forward.
“The real issue coming up these days in energy storage is enabling renewable energy — we can store the energy,” Whittingham said. “We should be able to get into recycling — it’s going to make things more sustainable.”
One of the poster presentations exhibited before dinner was created by a group of five undergraduate students, which included Evan Halstead, a senior majoring in systems science and industrial engineering, and Lydia Hanchett, a senior majoring in systems science and industrial engineering. Hanchett said being part of the event was inspirational because of Whittingham.
“We actually got to meet [M.] Stanley Whittingham, and got to take a picture with him,” Hanchett said. “Last semester everyone was talking about him and the lithium-ion battery and how he just won the Nobel Prize, so to meet him, it was a really cool experience.”
Whittingham ended his address with a quote from Albert Einstein, some advice on choosing a career and his thoughts about what is most valuable in life.
“The message I want to leave with all engineers, and this is something Einstein said many, many moons ago — ‘Imagination is more important than knowledge,’” Whittingham said. “That’s really what I’d encourage all of you to do, young or old. Imagine what you’d like to do. And particularly for the younger folks, don’t do it just for the money, do something you enjoy doing.”