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‘Bekey Changed My Life’ - The robotics pioneer’s true gift is not with machines but with people

By Admin | July 18, 2022

‘Bekey Changed My Life’

 | July 28, 2022

The robotics pioneer’s true gift is not with machines but with people

I’ve been writing all kinds of stories for USC Viterbi for six years now. Stories about impactful research and major awards. About new hires and new grants. Stories about life at USC Viterbi and even stories about beloved colleagues who have passed away. I like to think I’ve come to understand this school and its vision for engineering rather well. One thing I can tell you about this place is that the people here take care of each other.

And arguably no one — I mean, no one — has taken care of more people at USC Viterbi than George Bekey.

Bekey, 94, professor emeritus of computer science, electrical engineering and biomedical engineering, is considered one of the fathers of modern robotics. A professor for half a century, he co-founded the school’s Department of Biomedical Engineering, is a member of the National Academy of Engineering, holds the title of University Professor, and is otherwise decked out in all kinds of honors and titles.

“There is no fact in my professional and academic life that I am prouder of than my association with my advisor, Professor George A. Bekey.”
– Arvin Agah, Ph.D. CS ’94. Dean of the University of Kansas School of Engineering

Yet his greatest impact was on the lives of his students.

“It’s not that I chose my students,” said Bekey. “They chose me. I always felt our relationships went beyond my office and the lab.”

Now, thanks to generous gifts from some of those very people, a fellowship has been established in Professor Bekey’s name to support a new generation of Ph.D. students.

But to understand the true depth of his impact and how it has reverberated through the decades, let’s go back to the year 1970. That’s when Bob Sclabassi, Ph.D. EE ’71, was a 27-year-old doctoral student in the USC electrical and computer engineering department. Today, he is the CEO of Computational Diagnostics, which provides care to patients through its intraoperative neurophysiological monitoring services. Back then, he and his wife were raising four children under the age of 6 while Bob split his time between school and a job with Space Technology Laboratories.

“The most important thing that shaped where I am today was George,” said Sclabassi. That’s a strong statement coming from a man with an engineering Ph.D. and a medical degree, who has served on the faculty of Carnegie Mellon, UCLA and the University of Pittsburgh, and who is the CEO of his own company. Bekey wasn’t even Sclabassi’s adviser! What could he have possibly done to play such a major role in this man’s professional trajectory?

Well, it’s quite simple really: Bekey truly saw him and cared for him.

At the time, Sclabassi was struggling with the types of challenges that many young graduate students face. Getting through a rigorous education with limited time, resources and...(More)

For more info please read,‘Bekey Changed My Life’, by USC Viterbi

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