Aaron F. Bobick, dean of the School of Engineering & Applied Science at Washington University in St. Louis, was installed as the James M. McKelvey Professor January 21.
Bobick is a pioneer in action recognition by computer vision. In addition, he has extended his research to robot perception for human-robot collaboration. While at Georgia Tech, he served as director of the Graphics, Visualization and Usability Center, an internationally known research center in computer vision, graphics, ubiquitous computing, and human-computer interaction, and helped develop a computational media bachelor’s degree program and doctoral programs in robotics and human-centered computing.
“Aaron Bobick is the perfect person for this professorship honoring long-time dean Jim McKelvey,” Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton said. “We are especially grateful for the continued generosity of long-time friend and Trustee, John McDonnell, who understands the importance of engineering and interdisciplinary education and is committed to ensuring the growth of the School of Engineering & Applied Science.”
The James M. McKelvey Professorship is named in honor of James M. McKelvey, who was dean of the School of Engineering & Applied Science from 1964 to 1991. It is one of three professorships established in 2003 with a gift from the JSM Charitable Trust and from John F. McDonnell, retired chairman of the board of the McDonnell Douglas Corp., to support the Center for Materials Innovation, now known as the Institute of Materials Science & Engineering.
“I am so pleased that Aaron Bobick will hold the James M. McKelvey Professorship,” McDonnell said. “Jim had a tremendous impact on the growth of the School of Engineering & Applied Science into one that prepares students exceedingly well for careers in engineering, entrepreneurship, and academia. I’m certain that under Aaron’s leadership, the school’s faculty and students will continue to influence new discoveries and technologies that will better our world.”
Bobick earned bachelor’s degrees in mathematics and computer science and a doctorate in cognitive science from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Prior to joining the Georgia Tech faculty, he served as a member of the MIT Media Laboratory faculty and led the Media Lab Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Video Surveillance and Monitoring Project, as well as its Dynamic Scene Analysis research effort.
He also has served as a senior area chair for numerous international computer vision conferences and as program chair for the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Conference on Computer Vision and Pattern Recognition. He has founded a variety of successful startup companies, is a distinguished scientist of the Association for Computing Machinery, and was elected a Fellow of the IEEE in 2014.
McKelvey grew up in University City, Missouri. After earning an undergraduate degree in chemical engineering from the University of Missouri–Rolla, McKelvey returned to St. Louis and earned a master’s in chemical engineering in 1947 and a doctorate in chemical engineering in 1950 from Washington University.
After earning a doctorate, McKelvey joined DuPont in Wilmington, Delaware, and conducted research in polymer processing, an area in which he became a leader. In 1954, McKelvey joined the faculty of Johns Hopkins University, and in 1957, he returned to Washington University as an associate professor of chemical engineering. In 1960, he became a full professor, and in 1962, he was named department chair. Two years later, McKelvey became the seventh dean of the engineering school.
During his 27 years as dean, McKelvey led the school to national prominence in engineering research and education. He also was responsible for many innovations, including the Engineers’ Scholarship Program, the Dual Degree Program, and the Cooperative Education Program. Under his leadership, three new buildings—Bryan, Lopata, and Jolley—were constructed. The school’s endowment grew from $4 million to nearly $52 million, and research expenditures grew substantially.
“It is an honor to be named the James M. McKelvey Professor and to follow in the footsteps of Jim, who as dean during such a fundamental time, set the School of Engineering & Applied Science on an aspirational course,” Bobick said. “Building on Jim’s legacy of excellence, we will work to make engineering more fundamental to WashU and an integral part of who we produce and the research we do as a university.
“I also am extremely grateful to John McDonnell for both his support of me personally and his deep and ongoing commitment to the School of Engineering & Applied Science,” Bobick said. “Also, I thank Chancellor Mark Wrighton and Provost Holden Thorp for this extraordinary opportunity to build an outstanding engineering school framed for the 21st century.”
About John F. McDonnell
McDonnell, who earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in aeronautical engineering from Princeton University, began his professional career at McDonnell Douglas in 1962. As chairman of the company in the 1990s, he retired after overseeing the 1997 merger of McDonnell Douglas and The Boeing Co., to create the world’s largest aerospace company.
A member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, he is a Life Trustee of Washington University’s Board of Trustees. He was first elected to the Board in 1976 and has served as chairman and vice chairman. He was founding chair of the Arts & Sciences National Council and now serves on the School of Engineering & Applied Science’s National Council. He and his wife, Anne, a Washington University graduate, are Life Members of the William Greenleaf Eliot Society’s Danforth Circle Chancellor’s Level. He holds an honorary doctorate of science, and in 2014, he was awarded an MBA by the Olin Business School, 52 years after he enrolled in the program on a part-time basis.
McDonnell and the McDonnell family, with their associated foundations, are committed supporters of the university and have extended their generosity throughout the Danforth Campus and the campus of Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. In addition to their strong support for professorships, they have given substantially for scholarships, academic initiatives, and buildings.
In 2005, McDonnell and the JSM Charitable Trust made a $10 million gift to establish the McDonnell International Scholars Academy, creating a global network of partner universities and providing scholars with undergraduate degrees from those institutions the opportunity to earn a graduate degree and experience broad leadership exposure at the university.
McDonnell has provided personal support since 1961. In addition to his other roles, he chaired the leadership phase of the $1.55 billion Campaign for Washington University, and, with Sam Fox, guided the leadership phase of the current Leading Together campaign. In 2010, McDonnell and the JSM Charitable Trust committed another $50 million. Most of the gift—$48 million—was used to endow the McDonnell Academic Excellence Fund. Income from the fund provides the chancellor with some flexible spending for one-time purposes in response to new academic opportunities and to launch new initiatives that build on the university’s strengths and maximize its impact on the world.