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David Spooner

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David Spooner

David Spooner was a junior-high student in the late 1960s when he was first exposed to computers through friends who worked at the large computer center at nearby Pennsylvania State University.

“It was a time of big mainframe computers with flashing lights, buttons, and switches that took up rooms of space. They looked very impressive,” says Spooner, who serves as associate dean of science and information technology (IT) at Rensselaer.

The Pennsylvania native would eventually earn his bachelor’s and doctoral degrees in computer science from Penn State before he took his first job as assistant professor of computer science at Rensselaer in 1981. Since the computer science department had not yet been established, Spooner taught computer courses in the math department.

Spooner, whose research in database systems put him in the forefront of IT even before it was recognized as a separate discipline, has remained in his ever-expanding role in technological transformation at Rensselaer. As chair of the undergraduate curriculum committee in IT, he helped lead the efforts to establish a separate IT program, which began offering a bachelor’s degree in fall of 1998. A master’s degree was established in 2000.

“An IT program struck me as a very good idea,” Spooner says. “There were many students majoring in computer science who I really thought didn’t want to be in computer science but still wanted to be able to work with computers.”

One may assume that the study of IT is synonymous with majoring in computer science. But, Spooner says there is a distinct difference.

“In computer science, the focus is on creating that technology, whereas IT majors use that technology to build information systems and solve problems in other disciplines,” he says. “The ideal job for IT graduates is to be a liaison between the technical and nontechnical components of a company. IT graduates understand the technical issues but they also have a command of the social, managerial, political, and user issues involved.”

In his ongoing efforts to shape and expand Rensselaer’s IT program, Spooner is exploring the creation of Ph.D. opportunities. As a first step toward that goal, Spooner plans to incorporate an IT concentration within the multidisciplinary science doctoral program.

“The multidisciplinary science degree is set up to allow multiple advisers to advise a student who’s doing interdisciplinary research. I’d like to set up a framework within this Ph.D. program that focuses on IT as an interdisciplinary research area to make it easier for students to pull together appropriate faculty to address an IT research issue,” Spooner says.

Other activities that Spooner plans to undertake include expanding student recruitment strategies; developing co-op, internship, and study-abroad exchange programs for IT students; and continued refinement of the curricula for the degrees.

“We’ve established at this point that there’s a lot of interest in IT students from employers,” Spooner adds. “We’ve had two years of graduates from the bachelor’s program and in both of those years, IT was among the top majors at Rensselaer in terms of job offers to students as well as starting salaries.”

Ricardo Dobry Ricardo Dobry, director of the Geotechnical Centrifuge Research Center and professor of civil and environmental engineering, has been elected to the National Academy of Engineering (NAE). Dobry was elected for his fundamental contributions to multiple aspects of geo-technical earthquake engineering. Election to the NAE is among the highest professional distinctions accorded an engineer.

Robert Palazzo Robert Palazzo has been appointed acting director of the Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies. In this position, Palazzo will have responsibility for intellectual leadership in biotechnology research at Rensselaer, for the coordination of the center’s research programs, and core facilities development during the center’s critical phase of development. Palazzo is professor and chair of the Department of Biology and will continue in those roles. He joined Rensselaer in August 2002.

Houman Younessi, professor of engineering and science at Rensselaer at Hartford, was appointed category editor for the ACM Computing Reviews. He will be editing the software engineering category. Younessi also was named editor-in-chief of Advice: the Journal of Aspect Orientation, an international publication of research in aspect orientation.

Theodorian Borca-Tasciuc Nikhil Koratkar, assistant professor of mechanical, aerospace, and nuclear engineering, has been awarded the Francois-Xavier Bagnoud Vertical Flight Award by the American Helicopter Society (AHS). The Bagnoud award is the highest honor conferred by the society to young scientists/engineers in recognition of outstanding contributions to the field of vertical flight technology. Koratkar was honored for his research related to advanced materials development for aerospace applications. Koratkar also has been awarded a Faculty Early Career Development Award from the National Science Foundation. Koratkar will use the $400,000 grant to develop a new class of nanostructured materials used to reduce vibrations in mechanical equipment and electronic devices.

Theodorian Borca-Tasciuc Theodorian Borca-Tasciuc, director of the Nanoscale Thermophysics and Energy Conversion Laboratory and assistant professor of mechanical, aerospace, and nuclear engineering, has been awarded a Faculty Early Career Development Award from the National Science Foundation. Borca-Tasciuc will use the $451,413 grant to study heat transport and energy conversion in materials and electrical devices at the nanoscale.

Lisa Trahan Lisa Trahan, dean of the first-year experience, was elected to the board of directors of the National Orientation Directors Association. Trahan will serve a three-year term beginning in November.

Kevin Craig, professor of mechanical, aerospace, and nuclear engineering, has been named a fellow of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. ASME describes Craig as a “pioneer in university and professional mechatronics education, developing undergraduate and graduate courses and laboratories and delivering mechatronics workshops for numerous companies.” Craig joined the Rensselaer faculty in 1989 and is the founder and director of mechatronics research and training programs at the Institute.

Ken Gertz has been named assistant vice president for research. He will work with government agencies, corporations, foundations, federal laboratories, and academic and medical institutions to identify and develop opportunities for new programs, projects, and funded activities. Gertz has been at Rensselaer for more than 15 years, most recently as director of research development and administration.

Patricia Search, professor of communication, has won a Fulbright Senior Specialist Grant in Communications and Journalism. The grant will allow her to travel to Sydney, Australia, where she will work to incorporate multimedia communications strategies and interactive digital artwork in online indigenous studies programs. The programs, being developed at the University of Technology and at the University of Western Sydney, will be geared toward Aboriginal college students.

Donald Siegel, professor and chair of economics, is president-elect of the Technology Transfer Society (TTS). The TTS is dedicated to developing and sharing best practices in technology transfer, from universities and federal laboratories to firms. The society sponsors the Journal of Technology Transfer, which is edited by Siegel. As president-elect, Siegel will organize the TTS International Conference, which will be held in Albany in late September.

Biplab Sikdar Biplab Sikdar, assistant professor of electrical, computer, and systems engineering, has been awarded a Faculty Early Career Development Award from the National Science Foundation. Sikdar will use the $402,682 grant to develop “immunization” techniques to safeguard against the spread of computer viruses. Computer viruses cause instabilities in the Internet’s routers — devices that forward information from one network to another. Sikdar is merging biology and computer science to develop programs that will detect instabilities in the routers and shut down the flow of “contaminated” information.

Theodorian Borca-Tasciuc Christian Wetzel, a research pioneer in semiconductor device design and manufacturing (pictured), and Shawn-Yu Lin, a recognized authority in photonics research, have joined Rensselaer’s Future Chips Constellation, the first of several “critical mass” groupings of world-caliber faculty in focal research areas. A new concept in academia, a constellation is led by outstanding faculty in fields of strategic importance. The Future Chips Constellation will focus on innovations in materials and devices, in solid state and smart lighting, and will extend to applications such as sensing, communications, and biotechnology.

Joseph “Doc” Pahl ’39 Joseph “Doc” Pahl ’39, who served as director of Rensselaer’s infirmary from World War II to 1985, died April 28. Pahl created and directed Rensselaer’s Student Health Service. He is credited with focusing attention on alcohol and substance abuse issues on campus and in the community. In 1983, he founded a residential treatment program in Troy for young people with drug and/or alcohol problems; it was later named the Pahl House in his honor. He received numerous state and local awards for his work in substance abuse prevention. “Thousands of RPI students and Troy residents were touched by Doc Pahl’s compassionate care over the years,” said David Haviland ’64, vice president for institute advancement.
Rensselaer Magazine: Summer 2004
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