Bawa, a distinguished professor of biology and a faculty member for nearly 40 years, was honored for his teaching and research at a dinner in the Campus Center Alumni Room.
“Beyond the biology department and across colleges and fields, even from retirement, people have come here tonight to celebrate you,” Chancellor J. Keith Motley said to Bawa during his opening remarks. “And that’s as it should be.”
Bawa, who joined the UMass Boston faculty in 1974, received a pair of notable honors on the same day in April. He traveled to Norway to receive the first-ever Gunnerus Sustainability Award, which is billed as the Nobel Prize for work in sustainability.
He was also elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in the public affairs and journalism field, alongside Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Boston Globe publisher Martin Baron.
The recent awards show that people outside UMass Boston have realized what the university community already knew, Motley said.
“Now, at the University of Massachusetts Boston, we’ve always known that our professor was special,” he said. “As a researcher, as an instructor, as a mentor to his students, as a mentor to colleagues.”
Bawa said he was humbled by the recent recognition.
“Awards evoke very strange feelings,” he said. “If you don’t get the recognition, you wonder what is it recipients have done and you have not done. But when you receive the award, you feel that there are literally hundreds of others who are doing a better job than you are.”
But few can match Bawa’s accomplishments. Considered a leading authority on sustainability, Bawa founded Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (ATREE), a conservation think tank that was ranked nineteenth in the world in a recent University of Pennsylvania study.
Winston Langley, provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs, told the audience that Bawa’s work has been vital to international sustainability efforts.
“If one were to examine these in total, I think one would be right to say this is somebody who has made a contribution not only to the world in general, but to a still not well-defined future,” Langley said. “We are very proud to be a colleague of this global citizen.”
In addition to his academic work, Bawa has also proven to be a valuable fundraiser for UMass Boston. Chancellor Motley told a story of how Bawa advised him to give donors a copy of “Sahyadris,” a book he co-wrote.
“I remember he came to me and said, ‘Chancellor, I have a book.’ And I think it works magic. If you give this book to your donors after they make a wonderful donation, I think they’re going to send you another check.”
“So I tried it with one book. A check came in. I tried it with another book. A check came in. Now I’m out of books.”