Apartment Communities (Hillside/Susquehanna)

George D. Catalano, Faculty Master

George D. Catalano, Professor and Undergraduate Program Director, Department of Bioengineering, Thomas J. Watson School of Engineering and Applied Science

Education: BS, aerospace engineering, Louisiana State University, 1973; MS and PhD, aerospace engineering, University of Virginia, 1975 and 1977

Research/teaching specialties: a socially just engineering profession and education paradigm, environmental ethics, engineering ethics, fluid dynamics of the natural world, turbulence, aerodynamics, creativity, liberative pedagogy, predator-prey modeling, cellular automata

How long have you been at Binghamton and what appointments have you had on campus?

I started in June of 2000. I was hired to head the freshman engineering program in the Watson School. At that time, we had common freshman and sophomore years [now only the freshman year is common], and I was recruited to take that over. When I got here, I was also asked to take over the senior capstone design course. The dean of Watson at that time, Lyle Feisel, wanted to integrate the course for all engineering disciplines — mechanical, electrical, computer and bioengineering — creating one course where students from different backgrounds would work together just like in the real world. Since I had a lot of experience in senior design, he asked me to develop and teach the interdisciplinary course. We did that and it continues to this day.

I directed the freshman engineering program until 2004, and then headed the BU Scholars program from 2004 to 2009. I joined the Department of Bioengineering full-time in 2009, and since then I've been doing research, teaching and writing [Catalano is the author or co-author of eight books]. I'm also director of the undergraduate program in bioengineering.

You've been at the University for 13 years. Why apply to be Faculty Master now?

It seemed to me to be a great opportunity to do what I enjoy most, which is spend time with students and help them develop their skills to be successful ... successful in a way that demonstrates a commitment to the world, to aspects of society that too often are neglected, like the poor, like the Earth. College, I think, should be about making the world a kinder, gentler place, and I think being Faculty Master allows me to publicize that view and maybe encourage students to take those paths.

Do you think being Faculty Master gives you a greater opportunity to do this than being a professor does?

I have always done this to some extent. I teach the capstone engineering design course and typically, these courses have corporate clients. But I think it's important to give back, so I've tended to focus on projects that help others. My students' clients primarily come from the Southern Tier Independence Center and are the disabled and the elderly. They don't need advanced gadgetry; they just need a simple design project. I find those are the greatest projects of all for students; they get the most out of them. So, I've always had a social agenda in my classes, and I'll bring more of that into being a Master. That's the primary reason I decided to take the job.

What is your agenda as Faculty Master of the apartment communities?

Each of the Masters has adopted a "Big Idea," a theme we're focusing on in our communities for three years. Mine is "A Community of Peace." I see three aspects to this — being at peace with yourself, being at peace with others and being at peace with the planet. My hope is that working with the community directors, RAs, RDs and others, we can identify ways that will move us toward being at peace with ourselves, with others and with the planet. There will be a lot of service activities that focus on making a difference.

Coming up with this theme was easy for you, wasn't it?

You're right! There is kind of a selfish motivation with this theme. I was drafted and I served in the Air Force during the Vietnam War, and so the issue of peace is something that is incredibly important to me, having seen the lack of peace and what it does.

Do you think students living in Susquehanna and Hillside will embrace this?

My impression, after talking to several students, is that they're really searching for a way to give back. They want to make a difference, but with their schedules it's hard for them to come up with ways to do that. I think my role as Master will be shepherding them in this. I like the metaphor of Faculty Master as border collie ... sort of a "let's go off in this direction" approach.

How do you think Faculty Masters help students?

I think we're available in an environment that's not as threatening or scary as our academic offices or classrooms. I think oftentimes students just want to bounce ideas off you or maybe see what your thoughts are on certain subjects or career paths. I think it humanizes the professors in a way that is often very difficult to do in more traditional settings.

Do you think the relationships you'll have with students as Master will be different than those you have in the classroom?

I don't think so. I've always had a wonderful relationship with students, ever since I started teaching back in the '70s. I think they know that I value them and that I care about them, and I think once students feel a professor cares, they are willing to open up.

What is it about the apartment communities in particular that attracted you to become Master?

The apartment communities are smaller and not as structured as some of the other communities. I think the way it's set up here with separate apartments and less structure is a good fit for me. Before I accepted the position I talked extensively with Libby Tucker, who was Master here previously, and she said it fits my personality very well. [Tucker was Faculty Master in the apartment communities from 2006 to 2009 and Master at Dickinson Community from 1991 to 1999. She is professor and undergraduate program director, Department of English, General Literature and Rhetoric.]

What do you think will be the most challenging part of the job?

I think for me it will be wondering if I've done enough ... have I made a big enough difference? I have no doubt that students will be enthusiastic about helping others, helping themselves, helping the planet. But, I think at the end of the year I'll wonder if I could have come up with others ways in which they could have participated.

What part of the job are you looking forward to most?

I'm looking forward to watching students' faces when they see they've actually accomplished something and made a difference. It's an incredibly rewarding experience as a teacher!

How do you plan to juggle teaching, research and being a Faculty Master?

That is going to be a challenge! I'm still the undergrad program director in bioengineering and I'm still teaching the senior capstone design course, and those are both very time consuming. And, while I'm not doing much research this year, I am writing a couple of books. One book is on turbulent fluid mechanics, which is my research specialty, and the other is on engineering social justice and peace. [Catalano has written three other ethics-related books: Engineering Ethics: Peace, Justice and the Earth (2006); Engineering, Poverty, and the Earth (2007); and Tragedy in the Gulf: A Call for a New Engineering Ethic (2011).]

What immediate plans do you have for Susquehanna and Hillside?

We have a big event scheduled for September 15. Atka, an arctic wolf, is coming to campus! I've done a lot of work with wolf issues, particularly with a wonderful group at the Wolf Conservation Center in South Salem, N.Y. A good friend there, Maggie Howell, is the education director, and she and I have worked together on different projects. So, I thought, what better way to kick off the new year than to bring Atka back? The visit will tie into our "peace with the planet" theme, focusing on issues of endangered species.

Is there something that students might not know about you that you're willing to share?

I'm an avid motorcyclist! I have a Ducati Multistrada, which I love riding. I also work with Alaskan malamute rescue societies, and my wife and I have had seven Alaskan malamutes. There isn't a New York rescue group, but there's a national group called CHAAMP (Chesapeake Area Alaskan Malamute Protection) that I work with. So, if you ever want to adopt an Alaskan malamute, I would come to your home and see if it's a good environment for that type of breed. They're not difficult, but they're not people pleasers either. That's great for some people, but others would rather have a golden retriever. For me, it's great because that fits my personality perfectly: I don't want to control you, I want you to be who you are.


Last Updated: 7/23/14