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October 26, 2009

Engineering Society Honors Sheldon Weinbaum as Diversity Pioneer

 Dr. Sheldon Weinbaum, CUNY Distinguished Research Professor of Biomedical and Mechanical Engineering in The Grove School of Engineering at The City College of New York (CCNY), has received the National Biomedical Engineering Society’s Inaugural Diversity Award.  The award honors exceptional contributions to improving gender and racial diversity within biomedical engineering.

Professor Weinbaum was chosen for his long-standing efforts to integrate women and under-represented minorities (URM) into engineering and, more recently, into biomedical engineering as co-founder of CCNY’s Biomedical Engineering Department.Professor Sheldon Weinbaum 

“I have worked towards equality for all my 42 years at CCNY, so this award signifies recognition of how much I have been able to change the social fabric of the College and the Grove School of Engineering since I became an activist,” Weinbaum declared. 

An advocate for equal opportunity throughout his career, Professor Weinbaum jokes that he has been trying to make up for missing Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963.  The following year, Weinbaum was fired from his first full-time position for being too outspoken on hiring issues.

In his early years at CCNY, he often acted as an intermediary between minority students, anti-war protestors and the College administration.  Later, he was the lead plaintiff and initiator of a civil rights lawsuit, “Weinbaum vs. Cuomo,” which sought to end disparities in state funding for the senior colleges of CUNY and SUNY.  He charged that the formula was discriminatory since CUNY’s student body was two-thirds minority, while SUNY students were predominantly white.

Creation of CCNY’s Biomedical Engineering Program, in partnership with colleagues Distinguished Professor Stephen Cowin and Professor Susannah Fritton, gave Professor Weinbaum the opportunity to build a program focused equally on excellence and diversity.  He fulfilled this dream with support from three Whitaker ‘Special Opportunity’ Awards, two Sloan grants, a challenge grant from the Wallace H. Coulter Foundation and a diversity grant for minority undergraduate education in the life sciences from the National Institutes of Health.

Biomedical engineering at CCNY began as a research consortium with major medical centers in New York City, the New York Center for Biomedical Engineering.  It has since grown into a full-fledged department of The Grove School offering bachelors, masters and doctoral degrees. 

The program has successfully integrated undergraduate and graduate students and faculty into a national model for diversity in engineering education.  The BME Department is currently the only ranked science and engineering department in the nation where half the tenure-track faculty are either female or URM.

“CCNY has become a symbol to the rest of the nation for what can be done when women and minorities have equal opportunities,” Professor Weinbaum noted.  “With 60 percent of undergraduate NIH minority scholars going on to get their Ph.D. or M.D., CCNY is unique among the more than one hundred BME programs nationally.”

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