Benjamin Pawlik named 2019 Engineer of the Year

Jordan Walbesser and Benjamin Pawlik.

UB’s Engineering Alumni Association named Benjamin Pawkik (right) its Engineer of the Year. Shown with Pawlik is Jordan Walbesser, secretary of the Engineering Alumni Association. Photo credit: The Onion Studio.

by Nicole Capozziello

Published February 27, 2019

UB alumnus Benjamin Pawlik has the job many space enthusiasts dream about - working in NASA’s Mission Control. In his over 30 year career at the Johnson Space Center, Pawlik has kept both feet firmly planted on the ground while supporting 50 shuttle missions and is currently a mission manager in the NASA Commercial Crew Office in Houston, Texas.

“Engineers, it is your responsibility to evaluate and deal with things as they are – truths – because that is the best way to deal with design, or testing results, or failure investigations. If you deviate from using facts, you are compromising technical, ethical and sometimes even legal issues. Sometimes facts tell you things that you don’t want to know, but it should be your obligation to deal with them honestly and professionally.”
Benjamin Pawlik, 2019 Engineer of the Year
and mission manager, NASA Commercial Crew Office, Johnson Space Center

Pawlik, a Buffalo native who earned his BS in mechanical engineering in 1982, was selected as this year’s Engineer of the Year by the UB Engineering and Applied Sciences Alumni Association.

Each year, the award goes to a school alumnus or closely affiliated person with distinguishing activities in alumni, community, business and professional affairs. A UB supporter since graduation, Pawlik has hosted many visits to NASA, sharing his expertise and connections with students, faculty, and alumni from his alma mater whenever possible.

The Engineer of the Year award is presented during Engineers Week, in conjunction with the Order of the Engineer Induction Ceremony and Pledge of the Computing Professional Oath Ceremony.

All senior engineering and applied sciences students in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences are invited to participate in the event, which focuses on professionalism, and promotes ethical and moral behavior of engineers and computing professionals as they transition to careers of service to society.

In keeping with the theme of professionalism, Pawlik talked about the tough decisions engineers can face, particularly at the intersection of business and ethics. He emphasized the importance of continuous ethics training and self-evaluation to upholding the values of good engineering, virtues demonstrated to him during his time at NASA.

“Engineers, it is your responsibility to evaluate and deal with things as they are – truths – because that is the best way to deal with design, or testing results, or failure investigations. If you deviate from using facts, you are compromising technical, ethical and sometimes even legal issues. Sometimes facts tell you things that you don’t want to know, but it should be your obligation to deal with them honestly and professionally,” said Pawlik.

After graduating from UB, Pawlik began his engineering career in the oil and gas industry as a design engineer of high-pressure flow control systems components in corrosive environments. This experience led to the start of his NASA career, beginning as a reliability engineer with Boeing, evaluating the Space Shuttle Orbiter fuel cells and cryogenic supply systems as part of the post-Challenger return to flight certification process. He then became trained and certified as a shuttle electrical power systems flight controller for Rockwell Space Operations, expanding his responsibilities to include overall electrical power distribution, pyrotechnic, and caution and warning systems of the Shuttle and Spacelab.

In 1989, Pawlik was among of a group of contractors selected by NASA to work directly for the agency in preparation for future leadership positions, which led to roles including flight controller in Mission Control.

Starting in 2000, Pawlik began a series of leadership roles for NASA Program Management, including shuttle launch package integration manager, space station increment payload manager, shuttle mission evaluation room manager, space station increment manager and commercial crew mission manager.

In his current role as a mission manager, Pawlik acts as the NASA liaison between the International Space Station and Commercial Crew Offices representing the new SpaceX and Boeing crew vehicles.

Pawlik has received numerous NASA awards, including several Group Achievement awards, Space Flight Awareness Award, Superior Accomplishment Award and the NASA Exceptional Achievement Medal.

Over 250 SEAS students, faculty and staff, members of the UB Engineering and Applied Sciences Alumni Association, NYS Society of Professional Engineering and Technical Societies Council, and family and friends attended the event, which was held on February 19, 2019, in Slee Hall.