SSIT has two major awards:
- The IEEE SSIT Carl Barus Award for Outstanding Service in the Public Interest
- The Brian M. O’Connell SSIT Distinguished Service Award
- Managed by the SSIT Awards Committee
From about 1985 through 1990 Carl Barus chaired SSIT’s Awards Committee. He carefully and thoroughly gathered and evaluated information about each proposed candidate. Published articles, internal reports, memos, and letters were supplemented, as appropriate, by oral interviews with knowledgeable people. Thus, when SSIT gave its Award for Outstanding Service in the Public Interest, which, by its very nature goes to people involved in controversies, we were confident that the society would not be embarrassed by the sudden surfacing of information detrimental to the awardee. The high reputation of this award owes a great deal to the work of Carl Barus. In many other ways this very able, wise man quietly contributed to the development of SSIT and its predecessor committee. It is therefore highly appropriate to have the award named in his honor, and dedicated to his memory. –S. H. Unger (3/23/95)
Carl Barus Award Recipients
Marc Edwards – 2013. Water treatment expert Marc Edwards was the recipient of the IEEE Carl Barus Award for Outstanding Service in the Public Interest, at a ceremony held in June 2013 as part of the 2013 International Symposium on Technology and Society (ISTAS`13) in Toronto, Canada. The award was presented at a cocktail reception on the first evening of ISTAS`13 by Luis Kun of SSIT. Prof. Edwards was recognized by IEEE-SSIT with the Barus Award for his achievements over the past two decades in exposing extreme levels of lead contamination in Washington, DC, drinking water. For many years the water quality problems were denied by U.S. Government agencies including the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In 2004, The Washington Post published articles drawing attention to the problems. Edwards also testified before Congress in 2004. At this point steps finally started to be taken to address the severe contamination issues affecting the Washington DC public water supply. Edwards is a civil engineer and an environmental engineer and is the Charles P. Lunsford Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Virginia Tech. In accepting the award, Edwards spoke eloquently and humbly about how, difficult as his work was, he was at least protected by the fact that he held a tenured faculty position. Edwards pointed to the countless engineers who take bigger risks acting in the public interest, who may not have the same level of job security, and who often face terrible financial hardship after they become whistleblowers.
Michael DeKort — 2008. Michael DeKort’s Barus Award was presented t a ceremony at the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington, DC, on January 28, 2008, by SSIT President Janet Rochester. DeKort’s Award citation reads: “Michael DeKort’s courageous and competent adherence to the highest ethical standards under difficult conditions set an inspiring example for his fellow engineers.” Michael DeKort was a lead engineer working for Lockheed-Martin on the Deepwater Project, which was working to modernize the U.S. Coast Guard fleet. In 2005, DeKort discovered problems in an advanced state of a 123-foot patrol boat project that could endanger Coast Guard sailors, compromise their ability to carry out missions, and pose potential threats to national security. DeKort made great efforts to correct the problems and bring them to the attention of higher ups working within his company on the project. However, his efforts were rejected. He continued to work through appeals procedures inside the company. Finally, he was fired from the project. Shortly before leaving Lockheed-Martin in August 2006, he made a final effort to bring attention to the situation by posting a ten-minute YouTube video. The posting finally brought immediate media attention to the Deepwater project problems. Soon, DeKort appeared on 60-Minutes and on other national U.S. broadcasts, and articles about the situation and issues he raised appeared in major U.S. newspapers. The Inspector General for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security initiated an investigation, and the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee of the U.S. Congress also initiated hearings. “Through his actions, Mr. DeKort embodied dedication to excellence,” said U.S. Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, sho spoke at the award ceremony for DeKort. “A former member of the United States Navy,” Cummings added, “he exhibited a commitment to ensuring that the products … supplied to the U.S. Coast Guard could be relied upon by the 41,000 men and women of that service ….” “Like previous winners of the Barus award,” Cummings continued, “Mr. DeKort’s commitment to excellence came at a cost to him personally, and yet it was a cost that he was willing to bear to do what he believed was right…. I also applaud IEEE for giving this award today, and for their work to recognize integrity in public service. … The central lesson of Mr. DeKort’s example is that one person committed to excellence and to demanding that commitment of those around him can make a difference.”
Nancy Kymn Harvin —2006. Dr. Nancy Kymn Harvin, a former senior manager at the PSEG Nuclear Power Plant in Lower Alloways Creek, NJ, was presented with the SSIT Carl Barus Award in recognition of her contribution and personal sacrifice in drawing attention to significant safety problems at the Salem and Hope Creek nuclear facility. Her actions, the Award states, “led to much improved maintenance of our nation’s second largest nuclear power plant… avoided a potential disaster and changed procedures at other plants and at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.”
David Monts — 2003. David Monts made tireless efforts as an engineer within the Physical Plant Services Department of the University of Louisiana to report and rectify safety risks created by what he perceived to be the result of improper planning and budgetary constraints. Monts’ positions inevitably resulted in his termination and a subsequent and protracted civil suit. In contrast with such widely-followed issues as the World Trade Center investigation, Mr. Mont’s actions were important examples of the everyday ethical challenges which engineers face within modern practice.
Salvador Castro — 2001. In recognition of his commitment to the public safety, in reporting a dangerous product design to the Food and Drug Administration at the cost of his job. Read his speech entitled “Experience of a Whistleblower.”
Rebecca Leaf — 1997. In recognition of her work, under particularly dangerous conditions, in directing a project to make electricity available to people in a remote rural area of Nicaragua, and to educate local people in the rudiments of technology.
Demetrios L. Basdekas — 1991. In recognition of his long-standing efforts to improve the regulatory process in the nuclear power field.
Benjamin Linder — 1988. Awarded posthumously, in recognition of his “courageous and altruistic efforts to create human good by applying his technical abilities” while working on appropriate technology projects in Nicaragua.
Rick Parks — 1986. In recognition of “his courageous adherence to the highest standards of professional ethics” in challenging procedures instituted by his employer in the nuclear power industry as unsafe and in violation of regulations.
Virginia Edgerton — 1979. In recognition of her efforts to protect the public safety, despite losing her position, in filing a memorandum on possible degradation of police emergency dispatch response time by a computer program for which she was responsible.
Max Blankenzee, Robert Bruder, and Holger Hjortsvang — 1978. In recognition of their efforts to protect the public safety, despite great personal sacrifice, in expressing their concern regarding uncorrected design problems in the BART rail system.
The Brian M. O’Connell SSIT Distinguished Service Award
This award was established in 2006, SSIT’s 25th anniversary year, to recognize distinguished service to the Society over the years. The award is given to an SSIT member who has served the Society with distinction as a board member, contributor to publications, conference organizer, or any combination of these or other activities. Criteria for judging are length, breadth, and impact of service to SSIT. The award consists of a plaque to be presented at a meeting of the Society
SSIT Awards Committee
Bradley Kjell, Chair