José Manuel Mendonça led us in a journey through his memories and some of the most remarkable moments of his life: from his “kindergarten” days, with his paternal grandmother in Esmoriz, through the path – and passion – for martial arts, experiences abroad (in countries like Switzerland, Denmark or the United Kingdom), and the beginning of his academic career, in favour of the country’s Scientific and Technological System and public policies. In the end, he also reflected on the role played by the Universities and Science in addressing the challenges posed to the country and society. This was the Last Lecture of José Manuel Mendonça, Full Professor at the Faculty of Engineering of the University of Porto (FEUP) and Chairman of the Board of Directors at INESC TEC.
On January 4, the auditorium at FEUP was jam-packed with people to attend the session that marked the retirement of José Manuel Mendonça, under the motto “The University beyond itself and other lessons learned”. “It is a great privilege to be able to share this moment with close family members and so many friends and companions”, said José Manuel Mendonça, before inviting all those in attendance to get to know him “a little better”. “I’m a product of genetics, family and upbringing, but also of the people, projects, places, decisions and the knowledge that paved my path”, he mentioned.
During the session, José Manuel Mendonça led us in a journey throughout his life, while recalling key–moments: for instance, when he returned to Portugal, after finishing his PhD at Imperial College (London), and became fascinated by the work carried out at the then newly established INESC – where he began working; those were times that he recalled as brave and daring, especially considering the contact with Industry. José Manuel Mendonça also mentioned his work with the Innovation Agency and the Ilídio Pinho Foundation – and how he wrote the biography of Ilídio Pinho, together with him; the establishment of the Department of Industrial Engineering and Management of the Faculty of Engineering (DEGI); his participation in the foundation of some start-ups; the kick-off of FCT international partnerships; his involvement in the creation of Collaborative Laboratories, e.g., Forestwise; the contribution to public policies and the presidency of the National Council for Science, Technology and Innovation, among many other milestones of his career.
He ended the session by showing the development of the Scientific and Technological System in Portugal over the last few years, reinforcing the country’s capacity in situations of crisis, while asking for more ambition in creating more complex products and services, with greater added value, in attracting young people to STEM areas, and in improving research careers, while reducing bureaucracy, and prioritising science and innovation. “Torga said that ‘life cannot be postponed’; to this, I add neither can people, institutions and the country”, he concluded.
The Last Lecture – with João Claro, INESC TEC’s CEO and professor of FEUP, as formal host – also featured interventions by Rui Calçada, Dean of FEUP, José Fernando Oliveira, DEGI Director, and Pedro Rodrigues, Vice-Rector of the University of Porto. Pedro Guedes de Oliveira, former president of INESC Porto and current consultant to the INESC TEC Board of Directors, was responsible for closing the session with a Eulogy. The session also featured testimonies by Sérgio Castedo, geneticist and long-time friend of José Manuel Mendonça, Luís Valente de Oliveira, Full Professor at FEUP, Ilídio Pinho, President of the Ilídio Pinho Foundation, Manuel Heitor, former Minister of Science, Technology and Higher Education, Arlindo Oliveira, President of INESC, and Sofia Canada, who recently completed a Master’s Degree in Management at the Faculty of Economics of the University of Porto – with a thesis supervised by José Manuel Mendonça that earned her the José da Silva Lopes 2022 Award.