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Voiland College of Engineering and Architecture Innovation 2014

Providing a Spark for Future Students

When Doug Allred (’73 BS CS) was a student in computer science, he found a tremendous community for learning and unique opportunities at WSU. “I found I was surrounded by people who were really passionate about what they were doing,” he said.

It’s that spark of excitement that spurred Doug and Loretta (’72 BS Home Economics) Allred to build capacity for the artificial intelligence program at Washington State University. Through support of the Allred Distinguished Professorship in Artificial Intelligence, the Allred Distinguished Lecture in Artificial Intelligence, and the school’s new, flourishing Intelligent Robot Learning Laboratory, they have created a synergistic nexus of new activity.

Matt Taylor quote: I love seeing so many students working together on different robotics projects and not only learning a lot, but also having fun.“Doug and Loretta’s investment in our AI program has built a groundswell of enthusiastic participation from our students, and students from many disciplines are flocking to the robotics lab,” said Dean Candis Claiborn. “The lecture series has challenged and inspired students and faculty, and provided new research collaborations.

“We were able to attract Matt Taylor because we could offer him the Allred Distinguished Professorship,” she added. “In the months that Matt has been here, he has reinvigorated the program, has garnered over $1 million in new research, and is successfully publishing his research. We are incredibly grateful to Doug and Loretta, as all of these new opportunities sprang from their generosity and simply didn’t exist a year ago.”

The Allred Professorship allows the school to attract or retain a world-class, internationally-recognized faculty member conducting research in artificial intelligence. The professorship provides support for materials, equipment, staff, and graduate student salaries that furthers the faculty member’s research program.

For Taylor, assistant professor in the School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, the Allred Professorship helped him build his program and establish his successful laboratory.

“As a new professor, these funds have played a key role in recruiting top students, purchasing equipment necessary to conduct our research, and helping us to attend international conferences to present our results,” he says.

The Allreds are also supporting the Intelligent Robotics Laboratory (IRL), a thriving research hub, where students get hands-on computing experience in advanced robotics.

“All you have to do is take a peek inside Matt Taylor’s lab with rotocopters flying around, a robotic submarine, and many busy and enthusiastic students, and you can immediately see the huge impact that the Allreds’ support is having,” said Behrooz Shirazi, Huie-Rogers Chair Professor and director of the School of EECS. “They are truly making a difference that will impact an entire generation of our computer science students.”

The IRL lab has been a great space to support teaching, research, and student clubs, says Taylor.

Doug Allred and Matt Taylor“I love seeing so many students working together on different robotics projects and not only learning a lot, but also having fun,” he says.

The Allred Distinguished Lecture, meanwhile, allows the school to bring leaders in artificial intelligence research and industry to campus. Jaap Suermondt, vice president and director of the analytics laboratory at Hewlett-Packard Laboratories, lectured earlier this year on his perspective on the implications of Moore’s Law in Silicon Valley. Suermondt is an inventor on 38 granted U.S. patents and is responsible for research investments in analytics systems, technologies, and infrastructure as well as applications and visualization at HP. His campus visit has led to a research collaboration with Diane Cook and her smart home team.

“The multiple investments that Doug and Loretta have made in our program provide a powerful springboard for accelerating our activity in both research and undergraduate learning. They are touching many lives, and we are working hard to leverage their generosity to grow the program,” said Claiborn.

From his time at WSU, Allred remembers professors who were passionate and loved what they were doing, and showed him endless possibilities for his future.

After graduating, Allred worked for Boeing Computer Services and then assumed increasing management roles at Evans Products Company and General Electric before making his way to the Silicon Valley. There, he joined Oracle in its earlier years and moved on to executive management at Cisco when it only had 200 employees. His responsibility included 48 of these employees, growing to more than 10,000 in the next eight years as Cisco grew to nearly 40,000 employees over the same period. His worldwide technical services and executive consulting businesses grew from scratch to a more than $3 billion business, playing a foundational role in establishing Cisco as the industry leader.

“For Loretta and me both, a lot of the success in our lives comes from things we learned at WSU,” he says.

As was the case with him, once students get to WSU, “it’s a matter of kindling that interest, connecting those dots, and helping them see that they can apply this – and that it’s really cool.”

Allred says he wants to encourage that same spark of excitement for current and future WSU students that he found during his time here, particularly in computer science, cutting-edge robotics, and artificial intelligence research.

Most of all, the Allreds wants students to know that WSU offers them unparalleled opportunities – if they take advantage of them. “This is a place where students can find that spark, are surrounded by people with passion, and can know that they are advantaged,” he says.

“They can do something with their education and feel confident and proud that they chose to come to WSU. Given that spark, they can go on to great things for themselves and change the world.”

If you are interested in supporting the Voiland College students, programs, or faculty, contact Devon Anderson, senior director of develop- ment at 509-335-2197 or danders@wsu.edu.