Logo: University of Southern California

Bekey @ 80

The 'Bekey tribe' of faculty and research scholars gathered recently to celebrate its chief

December 05, 2008 —

More than 70 faculty, colleagues, friends, students, family and admirers — including the 'Bekey tribe' of USC engineers who earned their Ph.Ds during his many years of teaching and research — gathered at Annenberg Center's Kerckhoff Hall Nov. 18 for a daylong symposium and dinner to celebrate the robotics pioneer on his 80th birthday. 

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The Bekey Tribe (left to right): Jim Chang, PhDEE '78, Monte Ung, PhDEE '70, Gaurav Sukhatme, PhDEE '97, George Bekey, Stergios Roumeliotis, PhDEE '00 (standing directly behind Bekey), Fred Hadaegh, PhDEE '84, Pete Schmid, PhDEE '76 and Tasos Chassiakos, PhDEE '86.

Bekey, who is a legend in the fields of biomedical research, man-machine systems and robotics, is adored by the "Bekey tribe" — all 40 of the Ph.D. students who received their degrees under his tutelage. Bekey founded the Viterbi School's Robotics Research Program and Department of Biomedical Engineering, and was also an early influential member and former chair of both the electrical engineering and computer science departments. 

"We revere him, we love him," said Monte Ung, PhDEE '70, an adjunct professor in the Ming Hsieh Department of Electrical Engineering.   "All 40 of his students — the tribe — love him.  He was so supportive of us and helped us so much.  All of us went on to very successful careers."

The university honored Bekey in February of this year with its USC Faculty Lifetime Achievement Award at the 27th annual Academic Honors Convocation. 

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Gaurav Sukhatme, left, looks on as Bekey receives an honorary plaque from USC Viterbi School Dean Yannis C. Yortsos.  Computer science professor Gerard Medioni is second from right.
"For decades, George Bekey is, and has been, one of USC's greatest intellectual assets and he richly deserves this award," said Viterbi School Dean Yannis C. Yortsos at the convocation. "The Viterbi School has risen to prominence largely because we are standing on the shoulders of giants like George."    

Bekey's list of accolades includes numerous awards and appointments within and outside of the university, including USC's Presidential Medallion. He is an NAE member and Fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, where he helped found the Robotics and Automation Society and edited its first journal, "Transactions." 

The honorary symposium included a full slate of talks by promiment individuals in the academic and research community, including a talk by Bekey, entitled "'Aha-s,' 'Oh, Well-s,' and Interesting Moments Inbetween.'