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2017 Kaufman Award: Rob Rutenbar’s Right Place, Right Time, Right Thing

Thursday, December 7th, 2017

 


Academics are a special breed of animal
, especially those who have also succeeded in business. They vacillate wildly between the conventional and the visionary, between the tangible realities of life and the far-flung concepts of blue-sky, what-if thinking. And this year’s Kaufman Award winner is no exception.

Professor Rob Rutenbar grew up in the suburbs of Detroit, did his undergrad at Wayne State University, his PhD at University of Michigan, was on the faculty at Carnegie-Mellon for 25 years, during which time he co-founded Neolinear and sold it to Cadence, and then picked up and moved to the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, where he put the university and his own perseverance to the test by igniting the move to massively available online education. Now just this year, he has returned to the East Coast as Senior Vice Chancellor for Research at the University of Pittsburgh.

All of this is very comprehensible and logical, but only on the face of things.

In fact, by his own admission, no small part of Rutenbar’s success is based on attendance at a random barbecue years ago, a bit of simultaneous happenstance, and a restless interest in what’s around the next corner. Which of course, is the classic definition of a bohemian. Or in Rutenbar’s case, the definition of a Kaufman Award winner.

[Spoiler alert: The following may include narrative that will appear in Rob Rutenbar’s talk on Thursday, February 8, 2018, when he accepts the Kaufman Award at the CEDA/ESD Alliance dinner in his honor in San Jose.]

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