Logo: University of Southern California

University Professor Emeritus George Bekey Gives Back

He and his wife's namesake award recognizes robotics students’ service.
By: Marc Ballon
February 10, 2014 —

(From left to right) Award winner Stephanie Kemna, University Professor Emeritus George Bekey and award winner Jillian Greczek
USC Viterbi School of Engineering Ph.D. students Jill Greczek and Stephanie Kemna have received USC Robotics Bekey Service Awards, along with an award stipend, for their excellence in the research lab.

The award recognizes each student for having demonstrated outstanding service in her respective research lab. Greczek works in the Interaction Lab, while Kemna is in the Robotic Embedded Systems Laboratory (RESL). They received their honor at a Jan. 8 ceremony.

George Bekey, a USC Viterbi university professor emeritus, and his wife, Shirley, a USC Ph.D., established the namesake award in 2007 with a generous gift, which the couple has renewed annually ever since.

“I give back, because I believe in the program,” said George Bekey, who founded the Robotics Research Lab in the 1980s and led it until the late 1990s. “In some sense, it’s my baby, and I want to see it continue to thrive.”

After becoming associate dean for research at USC Viterbi in 1998, Bekey turned the lab over to Maja Matarić, whom he recruited to the university.

“We are indebted to George Bekey for having the vision to start the USC Robotics program and to recruit top students and faculty into the program,” she said. “George has made a lasting and well-recognized mark on the field of robotics, and we are proud he did it from USC.”

A renowned robotics expert, Matarić serves as USC Viterbi vice dean of research and is director of the Robotics and Autonomous Systems Center (RASC, formerly the Center for Robotics and Embedded Systems (CRES)). Additionally, Bekey served as Ph.D. advisor to Gaurav Sukhatme, now chairman of the Department of Computer Science and RESL leader. Matarić and Sukhatme select co-winners of the Bekey Awards from a list of nominees put forth by researchers in their respective labs.

USC’s robotics program is recognized as among the strongest and most innovative in the country.

Bekey is currently working with USC Viterbi Dean Yannis C. Yortsos on a book about USC Viterbi's history. The work is expected to be published in the next few months.