Lowenstein, Catalano named distinguished professors
The SUNY Board of Trustees recently approved the appointments of two Binghamton University faculty members to the ranks of distinguished professors – the highest system honors conferred upon SUNY faculty. Tim Lowenstein has been appointed distinguished professor and George Catalano has been appointed distinguished service professor. They join the more than 80 Binghamton University faculty who have achieved distinguished rank.
Distinguished professorships are conferred upon individuals who have achieved national or international prominence and a distinguished reputation within a chosen field. This distinction is attained through significant contributions to the research literature or through artistic performance or achievement in the case of the arts. The candidate’s work must be of such character that the individual’s presence will tend to elevate the standards of scholarship of colleagues both within and beyond these persons’ academic fields.
Lowenstein, professor of geological sciences, is an internationally recognized leader in the study of the origin and significance of salt deposits. He combines the petrography, sedimentary features and geochemistry of salt deposits to deduce major characteristics of and changes in the ancient Earth’s hydrosphere, atmosphere and biosphere.
“He occupies an interdisciplinary space that has allowed him to make major advances in our understanding of critical environmental issues and has even influenced our understanding of the planet Mars,” President Harvey Stenger said. “The breadth and depth of Professor Lowenstein’s research is remarkable.”
“Given the originality of his methodology and the transformative nature of his scholarly findings, it is not surprising that Professor Tim Lowenstein is one of the most distinguished geologists in the U.S.,” said Donald Nieman, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs. “A prolific scholar, he has had an abiding influence on how we understand the Earth – its future as well as its past – and worlds beyond Earth.”
Lowenstein’s work on the chemistry of ancient seawater impacts virtually every field of Earth. His work on how ancient lake deposits record past climates has led to his involvement with an international paleoclimate research group drilling cores in lakes in the East African Rift system to investigate connections between human evolution and the climate history of East Africa. The impact of the research Lowenstein and his students have conducted on the long-term survival of microorganisms in ancient salt has implications not only for life on Earth, but on other planets as well. He has authored more than 90 peer-reviewed papers and 120 conference presentations, and has served as associate editor for the journals Geology, Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta, and the Journal of Sedimentary Research. He was awarded the Israel C. Russell Award in Limnogeology from the Geological Society of America in 2012, and is a Fellow of the Mineralogical Society of America, Society of Economic Geologists and the Geological Society of America.
Lowenstein feels honored and grateful for the promotion but underscored that it is not possible to achieve such a rank without the help of students and collaboration with colleagues both on and off campus.
“I’m very grateful and I take some credit,” he said, “but the thing that’s the most important is that you really can’t do it by yourself anymore. Especially as a scientist, you really need the help of so many people – your students who do the bulk of the research from graduate students, to undergraduates, to post-docs – and colleagues.”
Lowenstein is heading into a time of change, taking on a whole new group starting this fall to study ancient climate. He hopes to soon drill a new climate core in Searles Lake, Calif. “We want to get a really long, 3 million-year-record of climate in the U.S.” he said. “We haven’t done that yet.”
Distinguished service professorships honor and recognize extraordinary service. Candidates must have demonstrated substantial distinguished service not only at the campus and the State University, but also at the community, regional and state levels. Further, many candidates for appointment have rendered influential service contributing at the national and international levels. Service must exceed the work generally considered to be a part of a candidate’s basic professional work and should include service that exceeds that for which professors are normally compensated. It must also extend over multiple years and, very importantly, must involve the application of intellectual skills drawing from the candidate’s scholarly and research interests to issues of public concern.
Catalano, professor of biomedical engineering, has dedicated his professional life in service to his profession and to others. An inspiring educator and mentor for countless students whose lives he has touched, he challenges both his students and his profession to broaden the sense of responsibility they hold for the well-being of the planet and all of its inhabitants.
“Professor Catalano is the epitome of the service-oriented scholar,” Stenger said. “His service is directly tied to his publications, his teaching, his profession and his community. Through principled actions, he has had a direct impact on the field of engineering, his students and people within his community.”
“Professor George Catalano is an inspiration to students and colleagues, helping them look beyond themselves to embrace a world view that encompasses a broader perspective than typically found in a classroom,” Nieman said. “His goal is not simply to teach his students engineering or any particular discipline, but rather to teach them to consider how they might use their understanding of a discipline to serve others and improve their community.”
Catalano founded, along with others, new professional organizations whose purpose is to improve the quality of life for those who are stuck in an unending cycle of poverty. At Binghamton, he developed the current, exemplary format used for the freshman engineering programs; served as director of the Binghamton Scholars Program, adding to the program a strong foundation of service-learning, leadership and a focus on advances in the sciences, humanities and engineering; was a collegiate professor for the Apartment Communities; played a pivotal role in establishing the Center for Civic Engagement; and has held countless other service roles.
As an engineer and educator dedicated to improving our planet, he has given his time and talent to his discipline’s international governing body, the Accreditation Board of Engineering and Technology (ABET), to ensure that the quality of undergraduate and graduate engineering projects continues to improve. As a member of the American Society of Engineering Education (ASEE), he founded its ethics division, ensuring that engineering ethics remains at the forefront for all engineers.
As someone who has focused his life and career on service to audiences large and small, Catalano believes the main reason for having state-funded universities is to make the world kinder and gentler. He sees his new rank as a sign that he is helping to accomplish that.
“I believe life is all about service, especially service to those who have not been as fortunate,” he said. “I also believe we have a moral obligation to see, to listen to the millions and millions of faces and voices who are all too often ignored perhaps because they are weak or more humble or speak a different language or belong to a different species.”
Though he considers himself fortunate in his life, Catalano understands misfortune as well, having watched as his older sister fell victim to rheumatic fever and has suffered from severe mental disabilities since. And he works to impart that sensitivity to his students as well.
A recent trip he took with students to Pine Ridge Reservation reinforced this need to see, to hear and then to act for the students and for him. While making bunk beds for Lakota children who had always slept on dirt floors, one child in particular stood out for him.
“We brought the bed into her trailer, she clutched it with all the strength she could muster and she began to cry. When asked why, she said that soon winter would come and her bed would be chopped up for wood for the fireplace as they had no money for any other fuel,” he said. “That shouldn’t happen in the U.S. There ought not to be a little girl who worries about losing her bed because the family needs fuel for their stove.”
For Catalano, he wants to know that he did the things he did because he thought they were right, not because he worried about the consequences down the road. “Whether it’s a big or a little impact, who knows,” he said. “But I can do what I think is right.”