While Karen Panetta was serving as 2013-14 IEEE-USA Vice President for Communications, which includes oversight of the Awards & Recognitions Committee, she took special note of the Engineering Professionalism Award. Named in honor of Robert S. Walleigh, a respected, longtime member and volunteer, it is the highest recognition that IEEE-USA presents to an individual.
But when she looked for the name of someone she expected to see among the past recipients, “Arthur W. Winston” wasn’t listed. “After my shock that someone with such a distinguished career in industry and academia, important service to IEEE, and phenomenal mentoring wasn’t included, I decided to do something about it,” she says.
That’s why Panetta was delighted to learn in late 2015 that her nomination of Winston for the Engineering Professionalism Award had been approved and he would be honored during the IEEE-USA Awards & Recognition Ceremony, in January 2016, in Las Vegas. As it turned out, Winston was unable to attend, so he will officially accept the award at an IEEE-USA event later this year.
“Surprised, flattered and honored” is how the IEEE Life Fellow describes his reaction when he learned that he had been named — a modest response from somebody whose many achievements reflect the lofty standards for the Walleigh Award.
During his more than 60 years as an engineering professional, Arthur Winston, now 86, has amassed an astonishing record in industry, in academe, and as an IEEE leader:
- An expert in instrumentation and measurement, he developed the NASA Apollo re-entry temperature measurement system; it monitored the heat shield that protected the command module upon its return from the Moon to Earth’s atmosphere.
- Winston co-founded, and is Director Emeritus, of the Tufts University Gordon Institute — the first educational institution designed specifically to develop engineering leaders.
As IEEE’s 1999 Vice President of the Educational Activities Board (EAB), he expanded EAB interests to include pre-university education. And as 2004 IEEE President, he helped to influence the landmark OFAC decision, while also energizing strategic planning and streamlining governance.
Winston is proud of his Canadian roots. His inventor grandfather, who worked with Guglielmo Marconi on wireless experiments in Africa for the British government, inspired young Arthur’s curiosity to build things. Many decades later, Winston recalls how he almost lost his thumb — while dismantling a clock to study how much energy was stored in a spring.
At the University of Toronto, he enrolled in a special engineering physics program (today known as engineering science) that trained him as both an engineer and a physicist. Then, drawn to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), he moved to the United States to obtain his Ph.D. in physics. Upon graduating, MIT offered him a job, but Winston and his wife, Lily, moved to Houston for a better salary with Schlumberger. Three years later, and longing for the Boston area, the Winstons returned.
Back in Boston, he worked for several companies, including the National Research Corporation, and Allied Research, now part of Boeing. He became increasingly successful. But Winston admits his pattern has always been that after he masters something, and it no longer excites to him, he starts thinking about what he could do next. His two most celebrated technical professional achievements — the re-entry temperature measurement system for the Apollo heat shield, and a global nuclear test monitoring system that enabled the United States to take part in the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks — took place in companies he started.
Nevertheless, Winston insists his greatest accomplishments have been in academe. “I’ve always had a love for explaining things and helping people along,” he says. At Northeastern University, a particular course that he taught attracted hundreds of students — many of them sitting in the aisles of a large lecture hall.
“I had a textbook I didn’t open, and I gave them examples instead,” he explains. “I had lived it, and I worked with engineering principles to show them techniques and methodologies for solving problems.”
When the engineering entrepreneur and philanthropist Bernard M. Gordon wanted to establish an academic institution to educate industry leaders, Winston offered to help create The Gordon Institute. He eventually joined fulltime as director, and when Tufts University leaders expressed interest in such a program, Winston oversaw the merger. In 2007, the National Academy of Engineering presented him and two colleagues with the $500,000 Gordon Prize for developing the multi-disciplinary graduate program. Now Director Emeritus of The Gordon Institute, Winston takes justifiable pride in it. Currently, 130 students from 70 different companies are enrolled in the M.S. in Engineering Management Program, and more than 600 alumni work in organizations around the world.
Winston takes special delight in keeping up with many of the students he mentored at both Northeastern and The Gordon Institute. “I get emails from as far away as Saudi Arabia just to say hello, and sometimes to ask me for information to help them solve a problem at work,” he says.
IEEE Fellow Karen Panetta, associate dean for graduate education at Tufts and his nominator for the 2015 IEEE-USA Engineering Professionalism Award, recalls Winston as “a great mentor for a young professor.” Like him, she started in industry and gradually transitioned to academia. “Arthur helped me to connect with people who eventually wrote tenure letters for me, encouraged me to get involved with IEEE Women in Engineering and generally opened doors for me.”
Winston’s IEEE membership goes back to 1955, when he joined the Institution of Radio Engineers (IRE), one of the two IEEE predecessor organizations, while with Schlumberger. Back in Boston, he joined the Section but didn’t become active until the early 1990s. After several Section offices, he served as IEEE Region 1 Director, and then as IEEE Vice President of Educational Activities (EAB). In that office he expanded EAB’s activities from primarily accreditation to include pre-university education. He was instrumental in the development of tryengineering.org, the engineering career resources website developed with IBM and the New York Hall of Science.
As 2004 IEEE President, Winston considers his role in IEEE’s victory for the scholarly publishing community one of his most important contributions. After he presented IEEE’s position about why peer review, editing and publication of scholarly manuscripts submitted to IEEE by authors living in countries under U.S. trade embargoes should be exempt, the U.S. Department of Treasury Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) ruled in IEEE’s favor.
He also points to his emphasis on IEEE being a global organization. For the 2004 IEEE Honors Ceremony, Winston coined the theme “Making a Global Difference” — and he insisted on displaying the flags of all the Awards recipients’ nations. In another instance (a trip to Warsaw to sign an agreement with the Polish national engineering society), he asked for the U.S. flag to be removed from the room, because he believed it indicated that IEEE was a U.S. ” not a global ” organization.
Winston has continued to serve both IEEE and the engineering profession on the IEEE Foundation Board, and he is a past president of the United Engineering Foundation Board. His current activities include the Boston Section Executive Committee, the Region 1 Board of Governors for strategic planning, and EAB’s Student Educational Resource Committee. He also remains involved with IEEE/IBM joint pre-university programs.
In retirement, Winston admits he “hasn’t done any of the things I’d hoped to do,” and what leisure time he has is mostly spent responding to emails or reading mysteries or adventure novels. His most recent book: John Grisham’s Gray Mountain.
Helen Horwitz is an award-winning freelance writer who lives in Albuquerque, N.M. She was with IEEE from 1991 through 2011, the first nine as Staff Director, IEEE Corporate Communications.