Start-up packages for new faculty members are increasingly common in higher education these days. Much less common is reinvestment by colleges and universities in their more senior faculty members. Thanks to an innovative endowment from an alumnus and a bold proposal by a faculty member, the Case School of Engineering seeks to buck this trend. The potential result for Case could be a whole new academic and research enterprise in robot intelligence.
The endowment is the result of a $2 million gift from Robert J. Herbold, a Case alumnus and former university trustee. Herbold, an Ohio native who received a B.S. in math from the University of Cincinnati as well as an M.S. in math and Ph.D. in computer science from Case, has held senior-level positions with Procter & Gamble and Microsoft. Now retired from Microsoft, the Seattle resident is managing director of Herbold Group LLC, a consulting business focused on profitability.
“The purpose of this gift is to recognize senior faculty members who have a track record of success in engineering research and education, but want to take on some new challenges,” Herbold says. “Specifically, it seeks to support individuals who want to redirect or reenergize their research efforts, start a new interdisciplinary research program or take on special projects, such as writing a book and other scholarly activities.”
Case’s first Herbold Fellow fits the bill. Wyatt Newman, professor of electrical engineering and computer science, has spent 18 years at the university. But Newman, who already has nine U.S. patents to his credit, has even bigger plans for the future: He plans to apply principles of neuroscience to his existing expertise in robot control.
It’s an area where Newman sees a market need as well as scholarly potential.
“The dominant robot customer over the past two decades has been the automotive industry, but that market is effectively saturated” Newman said. “The next – and much larger – robot market deals with things like batch manufacturing and domestic services. And we’re going to need much smarter robots for that.”
The Herbold Fellowship will provide Newman with financial resources to work with international leaders in neuroscience and computational intelligence. He also will develop graduate and undergraduate student opportunities in the field and will coach two Case-sponsored FIRST Robotics teams, including one at a Cleveland public high school and one at a local all-girls high school.
According to Robert F. Savinell, dean and George S. Dively Professor of Engineering at Case, it was ideas like this that made Newman’s proposal such a good fit for Herbold’s vision for the fellowship and his own vision for the school.
“Our field historically has not re-invested adequately in its star performers,” Savinell said. “Bob Herbold and I see this as a unique opportunity to invigorate engineering research and education by providing new opportunities to individuals we already know can get the job done.
“Not only does Wyatt Newman have a proven track record in research, his plan opens the pipeline for even more talented students to develop an interest and acumen for engineering.”
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