See all NewsEngineering News
Honors and Awards

Dean Julio M. Ottino Receives Prestigious Gordon Prize

Award ceremony took place Tuesday, May 30

Whole-Brain Engineering integrates left-brain thinking (analysis, logic, synthesis, and math) with right-brain thinking (intuition, metaphorical thought, and creative problem solving) to help solve the world’s most pressing problems.

Whole-Brain Engineering, the principle guiding strategy for Northwestern Engineering for more than a decade, has transformed the school and dramatically increased connections between engineering and the rest of the University and outside partners. 

In honor of developing this new philosophy for engineering education, the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) presented Dean Julio M. Ottino with the 2017 Bernard M. Gordon Prize for Innovation in Engineering and Technology Education. Established in 2001, the Gordon Prize is the nation’s highest honor for engineering education.

Left to right: Morty Schapiro, Dan Mote, Julio M. Ottino, M. Ross Brown, and Dan LinzerOttino received the award on Tuesday, May 30 in the Ford Motor Company Engineering Design Center in a ceremony with students, alumni, faculty, friends, NAE members, and members of the McCormick Advisory Council (MAC). NAE president Dan Mote, BMG Charitable Trust officer Ross Brown, and Northwestern president Morton O. Schapiro presented the award on behalf of the National Academy of Engineering. 

“Receiving this award is a great honor, and I share it with many, many people,” Ottino said during his acceptance speech. “Northwestern is a place that is full of good partners who have stretched my thinking in many directions.”

Whole-Brain Engineering is a reimagining of engineering education; it merges the analytical and technical components of engineering (left brain) with creativity, design, and divergent thinking (right brain). This interdisciplinary approach for developing leaders has led to new Northwestern programs and initiatives for engineers and non-engineers alike and has sparked partnerships between the McCormick School of Engineering and Block Museum of Art, School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Shirley Ryan AbilityLab, Shedd Aquarium, and more.

“At its core, Whole-Brain Engineering is a way of thinking,” said Kenneth J. Porrello (BSIE ’78, KSM ’82), MAC chairperson and the ceremony’s emcee. “It’s a way to educate the leaders of tomorrow to solve the future’s most pressing problems.”

Two recipients of a Whole-Brain Engineering education — alumnus Mert Iseri (’11) and Wendy Roldan, senior in mechanical engineering — shared their personal experiences of how whole-brain thinking has shaped their mindsets, studies, and careers.

“When I met Dean Ottino, I was fascinated by him,” Iseri said. “He’s an executive — the CEO of the school — and a scientist, scholar, and artist…Where else are you going to have a dean of an engineering school who is a painter?”

Along with fellow Northwestern alumnus Yuri Malina (’12), Iseri founded health startup SwipeSense, which aims to redefine hand hygiene to reduce hospital-acquired infections. The duo has raised more than $17 million in funding for SwipeSense, a feat for which Iseri partially credits Ottino. 

Iseri shared a photo from the cover of the summer 2011 Northwestern alumni magazine, in which he was featured as a “senior to watch.” The snapshot shows Iseri, with shoes untied, mid-jump on the Technological Institute’s plaza. He contrasted the photo with his current, more polished appearance and how he now runs a company that “has saved lives.” He believes that Whole-Brain Engineering and Ottino’s support helped him make the transition from excited student to CEO.

“I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart,” Iseri said to Ottino, “for believing in me when I was a young boy with untied shoes.”

Roldan, an English minor who is also in the Segal Design Certificate program, said that Whole-Brain Engineering redefined her understanding of the field. Before, she strictly viewed engineering as analytical thinking and technical skills. But since joining Northwestern Engineering, she has “added design to the definition of engineering.” This expanded definition helped Roldan find a passion for design-based research, which she is applying to better understand the experiences of women and minorities in maker spaces.

“Whole-Brain Engineering has helped so many students combine their passions and find new directions within engineering,” she said.

Ottino concluded the ceremony by thanking his leadership team, Northwestern administrators, advisory council members, colleagues, and friends who have supported the development and implementation of Whole-Brian Engineering at Northwestern.