David B. Thorud Leadership Award
Photograph of Edward Lazowska

Edward Lazowska

Bill & Melinda Gates Chair

Nominated by Henry M. Levy, Chairman and Wissner-Slivka Chair, Computer Science & Engineering

Awarded 2015

I write to nominate Ed Lazowska, Bill & Melinda Gates Chair in Computer Science & Engineering, for the 2015 David B. Thorud Leadership Award.

Ed has been a truly extraordinary leader for many years and in many settings – national, regional, institutional, and departmental. I will touch on all four in this letter, but the recent leadership accomplishment that stimulates this nomination is Ed’s role in creating and leading the University of Washington eScience Institute, a cross-campus collaboration that has established UW as a recognized leader in data-intensive discovery.

National leadership

Ed is widely viewed as the computer science research community’s highest impact national leader and spokesperson. He has served as Co-Chair (with Marc Benioff) of the President’s Information Technology Advisory Committee (2003-05), as Co-Chair (with David E. Shaw) of the Working Group of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology to review the Federal Networking and Information Technology Research and Development Program (2010), and as Founding Chair of the Computing Community Consortium, whose goal is to catalyze the computing research community and enable the pursuit of innovative, high-impact research aligned with pressing national and global challenges (2007-13). He also has served as Chair of the Computing Research Association (1997-2001), Chair of the NSF CISE Advisory Committee (1998-99), and Chair of the DARPA Information Science and Technology Study Group (2004-06). All of the nomination criteria for the Thorud Award were hallmarks of Ed’s approach to each of these high-profile endeavors.

A long-time advocate for increasing diversity and participation in the field, Ed currently serves on the Executive Advisory Council of the National Center for Women & Information Technology, and on the National Research Council’s Committee on Women in Science, Engineering, and Medicine.

In recognition of his national leadership Ed has received the Computing Research Association Distinguished Service Award, the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) Presidential Award, and the ACM Distinguished Service Award. In addition, Ed’s citations for national technical awards (Member of the National Academy of Engineering, Fellow of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, and Fellow of the ACM, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science) inevitably cite his leadership as well as his technical contributions, beginning with his ACM Fellow citation in 1995 “for advancing the state of the art in computer systems and computer system performance analysis, and for significant technical, educational, and disciplinary leadership.” He is the “go-to person” on a variety of tech topics for the New York Times, quoted in at least 50 articles in recent years.

Regional leadership

Ed is one of UW’s most visible and effective advocates with the region’s civic leadership. He serves on the Boards of Directors and the Executive Committees of the Washington Technology Industry Association, the Technology Alliance of Washington, and until recently, the Washington State Academy of Sciences. He serves on the Board of Directors of the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence, on the Scientific Advisory Board of the Institute for Systems Biology, on the Advisory Committee for PNNL’s Fundamental and Computational Sciences Directorate, and on the Seattle Convening Board of T4A.org (Tech for America). He served on the Board of Lakeside School from 2001-04, and was the higher education sector’s representative on the gubernatorially appointed Washington State Information Services Board from 1995-2011. He has served on the Technical Advisory Board for Microsoft Research since MSR’s inception in 1991, and serves as a board member or technical advisor for a number of high-tech companies and venture firms. He has emerged as a leading spokesperson for advancing STEM education at all levels in our state.

Departmental leadership

UW CSE’s rise from a “top-ten also-ran” to the first rank of the nation’s computer science programs began during Ed’s 8 years as department chair. During this period –1993-2001 – UW CSE began to blossom in three important ways (1) activism enabled significant expansion in faculty and in educational offerings (e.g., our Professional Masters Program); (2) CSE began to behave as, and to be perceived as, a “unit of the entire University” vs. a department belonging to a school or college – looking, and working, outward vs. inward; and (3) despite a seemingly insurmountable sequence of obstacles, we created a new “home” that has had a transformative effect the Paul G. Allen Center for Computer Science & Engineering. (Ed created the political momentum that moved this project forward, and led the fundraising effort that ultimately secured $42 million from more than 200 donors, including 10 at the $1 million or greater.)

Institutional leadership

Ed’s role in creating and leading the University of Washington eScience Institute – a cross-campus collaboration that has established UW as a recognized leader in data-intensive discovery — illustrates his extraordinary performance in all of the areas identified as nomination criteria for the Thorud Award. I will thus focus on this achievement, ignoring the countless search committees, technology advisory committees, and standing advisory committees for academic programs on which Ed has served with distinction. (Actually, I’ll mention just one of these, because it illustrates Ed’s relentless commitment to collaboratively advancing the University of Washington as a whole. Ed was a “ringleader” (although not the chair) of the committee that recommended the transformation of UW’s Graduate School of Library and Information Science into a modern Information School; then on the committee that recruited the visionary Mike Eisenberg as the iSchool’s first leader; and finally on a small cabal that convinced then-Provost Lee Huntsman to provide Mike with the resources necessary to accomplish the task at hand. The result an iSchool that today is ranked #3 in the nation and is an enormous asset for UW.)

The story of the eScience Institute goes back to 2006, when Ed discussed his vision of pervasive data-intensive discovery with then-President Mark Emmert. In a nutshell, Ed foresaw that nearly all fields of discovery would transition from “data poor” to “data rich,” driven by a proliferation of sensors and by dramatic advances in computation, storage, bandwidth, and algorithms. The ability to extract knowledge from large, heterogeneous, noisy datasets — to move “from data to knowledge to action” — would lie at the heart of 21st century discovery. To remain at the forefront, Ed argued, UW would need to be a leader both in advancing the methodologies and tools of data-intensive discovery, and in putting these methodologies and tools to work for researchers in the broadest imaginable range of fields.

Mark immediately “got it” and encouraged Ed to form a team to pursue this vision. With Mark’s support, modest core funding was secured from the Legislature in 2008 to establish the University of Washington eScience Institute. Research grants were secured to “grow the core” — from NSF, Microsoft, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, and others. Partnerships were established with leading faculty in fields including Astronomy, Biology, Geography, and Oceanography. Research scientists were recruited to drive the effort forward.

In the past year, the core team &mdahs; led by Ed and including 19 leading faculty from 13 departments spanning 5 schools and colleges — has secured a $37.8 million award joint with Berkeley and NYU from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, a $9.3 million gift from the Washington Research Foundation, and a $2.8 million NSF IGERT award to develop an interdisciplinary Ph.D. program in data science. Allocation by the Provost of a number of “half faculty positions” for truly interdisciplinary hires have resulted in extraordinary new faculty members in Astronomy, Biology, Mechanical Engineering, and Sociology. These successes, and many more, have established UW as a leading center of data-intensive discovery.

Data science has become a land-grab, both between institutions, and also within institutions. Under Ed’s leadership, the UW eScience Institute has established truly extraordinary levels of collaboration, trust, openness, partnership, and excellence — putting UW in the catbird seat. Activities will further accelerate next month, with the opening of the new campus-wide Data Science Studio collaboration space on the top floor of the Physics/Astronomy Building.

For all of the leadership accomplishments that I have described — but most particularly and most recently for his role in creating and leading the University of Washington eScience Institute — Ed Lazowska would be an outstanding choice for the 2015 David B. Thorud Leadership Award.

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