Professor Cato T. Laurencin of the University of Connecticut is the 2021 recipient of the prestigious Spingarn Medal, the highest honor of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
“This is the most iconic award of the NAACP,” says Laurencin, who serves as the University Professor and Albert and Wilda Van Dusen Distinguished Endowed Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery, Professor of Chemical Engineering, Professor of Materials Science and Engineering and Professor of Biomedical Engineering at UConn.
“I am so blessed and honored to receive this amazing recognition, and join the historic ranks of my fellow Spingarn Medal honorees that began its legacy 106 years ago,” says Laurencin, also of UConn School of Medicine.
Laurencin is the first engineer to receive the Spingarn medal honor, the fourth physician, and the fifth scientist. Some of the past Spingarn Medal winners include George Washington Carver, Jackie Robinson, Martin Luther King, Jr., Duke Ellington, Charles Drew, and Maya Angelou.
Named after the late J.E. Spingarn–then NAACP Chairman of the Board of Directors– this gold medal, awarded annually since 1915, honors “the man or woman of African descent and American citizenship who shall have made the highest achievement during the preceding year or years in any honorable field.” The award is intended both to draw the attention of the general public to African American achievement and to inspire young African Americans.
Laurencin’s seminal and singular accomplishments in tissue regeneration, biomaterials science, and nanotechnology, and regenerative engineering, a field he founded, have made him the foremost engineer-physician-scientist in the world. His breakthrough achievements have resulted in transformative advances in improving human life. His fundamental contributions to materials science and engineering include the introduction of nanotechnology into the biomaterials field for regeneration.
“Dr. Laurencin’s contribution to furthering humanity’s collective achievement in the field of science and engineering is extraordinary,” says Derrick Johnson, president and CEO, NAACP. “As a pioneer of the new field, regenerative engineering, he is shaping the landscape of cell-based therapy, gene therapy, and immunomodulation. Named as one of the 100 Engineers of the Modern Era by the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, he has received countless awards for his transformative work. The NAACP is proud to present Dr. Laurencin with our highest recognition and join the chorus of those that realize what his work means globally.”
Laurencin is the first surgeon in history to be elected to all four national academies: the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, the National Academy of Medicine, and the National Academy of Inventors. He is the first person in history to receive the oldest/highest award of the National Academy of Medicine (the Walsh McDermott Medal) and the oldest/highest award of the National Academy of Engineering (the Simon Ramo Founder’s Award). In science, he received the Philip Hauge Abelson Prize given “for signal contributions to the advancement of science in the United States.” In technology and inventorship, Laurencin is a laureate of the National Medal of Technology and Innovation, America’s highest honor for technological achievement, awarded by President Barack Obama at the White House.
Laurencin received his BSE in chemical engineering from Princeton University, his MD, magna cum laude from the Harvard Medical School, and his Ph.D. in biochemical engineering/biotechnology from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He is the CEO of The Connecticut Convergence Institute for Translation in Regenerative Engineering.
As the nation’s oldest civil rights organization, the NAACP remains a fixture in fighting for civil rights and social justice for all. Through its annual awards, it highlights the achievements of individuals and our branches, trailblazers who are actively on the front lines driving progress in business, law, education, and other sectors. In honoring their work and commitment, the NAACP aims to further the legacy of its organization, while championing future generations of civil rights leaders.