August 13, 2022
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Madhavan honored with alumni award for public service

Senior scholar at National Academy of Engineering earned MBA, PhD at Binghamton

Guru Madhavan, MBA ’07, PhD ’09, is the Norman R. Augustine Senior Scholar and senior director of programs at the National Academy of Engineering. Guru Madhavan, MBA ’07, PhD ’09, is the Norman R. Augustine Senior Scholar and senior director of programs at the National Academy of Engineering.
Guru Madhavan, MBA ’07, PhD ’09, is the Norman R. Augustine Senior Scholar and senior director of programs at the National Academy of Engineering.

In his 2016 book Applied Minds: How Engineers Think, Guru Madhavan praises the importance of applying modular systems thinking to inspire breakthroughs in science and technology.

“Systems-level thinking is more than just being systematic,” he wrote. “Rather, it’s about the understanding that in the ebb and flow of life, nothing is stationary and everything is linked. The relationships among the modules of a system give rise to a whole that cannot be understood by analyzing its constituent parts.”

That transdisciplinary mindset is one that Madhavan, MBA ’07, PhD ’09, honed and shaped during his time at Binghamton University, studying healthcare management and leadership at the School of Management and biomedical engineering at the Thomas J. Watson College of Engineering and Applied Science.

As the Norman R. Augustine Senior Scholar and senior director of programs at the National Academy of Engineering, he has led analyses for making prescription medicines affordable and developing a national strategy for cancer control in the U.S., directed a global health forum on infectious diseases, and developed a platform for prioritizing new vaccines and related interventions.

Madhavan often has the ear of U.S. lawmakers and other officials around the world, and he also has been a strategic consultant for technology startup firms and nonprofit organizations.

On March 18, the Binghamton University Alumni Association honored Madhavan with the Edward Weisband Distinguished Alumnus/a Award for Public Service or Contribution to Public Affairs, which recognizes contributions that “exemplify the highest standards of service and deepest dedication to the sustenance of the common good.”

In a recent interview, Madhavan called the award “deeply meaningful” to him.

“It’s a reflection of how Binghamton University has allowed me to not only work across different specialties of thinking, but also to transcend them,” he said. “When it comes to matters of public policy and civic affairs, having the capabilities to better engage with complex dynamic systems is a prerequisite. It shouldn’t be an add-on or afterthought.”

Growing up in a rural part of the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, near Chennai, Madhavan earned his bachelor’s degree in instrumentation and control systems engineering at the University of Madras. He came to the U.S. for his Master of Science in Biomedical Engineering at Stony Brook University, then worked in industry as a researcher and product manager for various companies before arriving in Binghamton.

His MBA focused on healthcare management, and his PhD studies at Watson were in biomedical engineering. He also worked closely with faculty members from the Decker School of Nursing and the Harpur College of Arts and Sciences, particularly Distinguished Professor David Sloan Wilson from the Department of Biological Sciences and the Evolutionary Studies Program. He also has strong memories of School of Management Professor Thomas Kelly’s course on business ethics.

Madhavan’s Binghamton education led to a role as an economic policy fellow at the National Academy of Sciences at the peak of the 2008 global financial crisis, and subsequently to his current senior leadership role at the National Academy of Engineering.

“The NAE position comes with great responsibility given the academy’s role as an advisor to the nation on science, engineering and medicine,” he said. “I am the first engineer in my family’s history and the first one to board an airplane to come to the United States. As an immigrant and a biomedical systems engineer, the opportunity that I have at the National Academy of Engineering is to help shape the tools, practice and insights of engineering for the benefit of society, and also help to shape engineering in the process.”

Over his career, Madhavan has been a technical adviser to the European Union Malaria Fund, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and a vice president of IEEE-USA and a founding member of the Global Young Academy. Among numerous honors, he received the National Academies’ Innovator Award, National Academy of Medicine’s Cecil Medal, the AAMI–Becton Dickinson Award for Professional Achievement, and the Washington Academy of Sciences’ Krupsaw Award for engineering sciences and education. He was named a distinguished young scientist by the World Economic Forum.

For his books and lectures (including Applied Minds, published by W.W. Norton and translated into many languages), Madhavan has received the IEEE-USA Award for Distinguished Literary Contributions Furthering Public Understanding and the Advancement of the Engineering Profession, and the Technological and Engineering Literacy/Philosophy of Engineering Division Meritorious Award of the American Society of Engineering Education. He is an elected fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering.

Among his many current projects is a book exploring the deep engineering heritage of the Greater Binghamton region, which he expects to be published in 2022.

“We can certainly do better in communicating the forgotten history of the Binghamton region,” Madhavan said. “The people and the tightknit community in Binghamton have in part led to the industrial prowess and the current top-notch research at Binghamton University. Industry, research and the community are inseparable, and they have always been synergistic, which makes Binghamton distinctive.”

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Madhavan spent some time back on the Binghamton campus to do some research, and the experience brought back a flood of memories.

“When I was a grad student, I was given a carrel in the Bartle Library, and that place provided me a break from every other intense thing I was doing, I would go there to get some rest and sleep!” he said with a laugh. “Two years ago, I went back to the very place where I spent so much time to do research for this new book in the Binghamton University collections, and that was an inspiring moment for me.”