By David Brand
John Hopcroft is stepping down June 30 after eight years as dean of the College of Engineering. On May 24, his friends and colleagues, many of whom were hired during his tenure, met to praise his accomplishments during a day-long seminar at Olin Hall.
The tributes came from Charles R. Lee '61, chief executive of Verizon, Cornell President Emeritus Frank H.T. Rhodes and from John Silcox, vice provost for physical sciences and engineering, among others. Said Lee, who also is a Cornell emeritus trustee and a presidential councillor, "Dean Hopcroft, you have left your mark. I stand here for all alumni to thank you for your many contributions."
During the tributes, much was made of the fact that the makeup of the college has changed greatly over the past eight years. The faculty has shrunk to 200 from 230, but it is much more diverse. Of the 40 new faculty hired during the Hopcroft administration, 25 percent are women and 12 percent are underrepresented minorities. "In a period where we hear constantly about the dearth of women and minorities in engineering, it is heartening that John has presented a view of the possibilities that have attracted them to Cornell," said Rhodes.
Among engineering students, Rhodes also noted, applications have soared to 5,000 a year from 3,000, while the admission rate has dropped to 28 percent from 38 percent. And as Rhodes pointed out, "If you want a measure of the success that John has brought to the educational component of the program, it is those student application and student admission figures." Said Rhodes, "Generations of students will pay tribute to John as somebody who not only made college obtainable, but introduced them to a rich career in engineering."
The symposium was opened by Silcox, the David E. Burr Professor of Engineering, School of Applied and Engineering Physics, who recalled that he was one of the three candidates for the deanship eight years ago. When Hopcroft was selected, Silcox called him with congratulations. "John's reaction was, 'you really didn't want to do it, did you?' I said, 'no, John.' So, out of the depths of my heart, John, thank you so much."
During his tribute to Hopcroft, Lee, whose company was formed last year from a merger of GTE and Bell Atlantic, noted that Hopcroft spends 20 percent of his time on fund-raising. "He has traveled all over the world. I know that he once nailed me on the golf course," he said. But fund-raising, he said, has helped put the engineering college in the forefront of technology.
"Silicon chips and fiber optics are to today's generation what steel and oil were to an older generation," Lee said. And he asked, "Where's the next big thing?" He answered by advising the audience to check out their children's bedrooms ("If your kid has a PC, I bet you will find he has 10 instant messages while he is doing his homework"); to check out Japan ("There are 12 million people on wireless internet, a very high percentage"); to check out Napster ("They had 50 million customers in two years, yet it took 10 years to get 50 million wireless customers, 20 years to get 50 million cable TV customers, and 50 years to get 50 million phone customers"); and to check out broad-band users ("they spend more time on the Internet than they do watching TV.")
He recalled meeting a young New Jersey high schooler who had on his PC, 200 songs, 15 games, many movies and all 200 episodes of "Seinfeld." "We have a very interesting world , and Verizon is very lucky to be a part of it," he said.
Lee was introduced by Clifford Pollock, whose chair, the Ilda and Charles Lee Professor of Engineering, is endowed by Lee and his wife. Pollock is the incoming director of the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering. Other engineering faculty who gave presentations during the day included Yuri Suzuki, George Malliaras, Ulrich Wiesner, Rajit Manohar, Mark Heinrich, W. Evan Speight, Martin Burtscher, Antje Baeumner, Francisco Valero-Cuevas and Lois Pollack.
At a reception, which followed the symposium, Hopcroft was toasted by Steven Strogatz, professor of theoretical and applied mechanics, and Susannah Hobbs, founding president of the Graduate Student Association.